Does your partner avoid resolving arguments by cleaning the kitchen instead of giving you a hug?
Do you miss cuddling with your partner, and wonder why they don’t hold you?
Have you tried using the love languages to show love to your partner, but feel like it’s just not clicking?
Are you frustrated that your partner never seems to understand what you need in a moment of crisis?
Out of all of the contemporary books ever written about relationships, Gary Chapman’s 1992 classic, The 5 Love Languages might be the most famous.
But are the love languages really all they’re cracked up to be?
In this post, you’ll discover how the love languages may be causing you to make some major mistakes in your relationship. Don’t underestimate the conflict and distance this may be creating between you and your partner!
For over twelve years, I’ve been a Licensed Professional Counselor and relationship expert and my practice is grounded in the science of what makes relationships work.
Today, I’m going to show you how you and your partner may be using the love languages as a way to avoid dealing with your relationship insecurities. It’s time to debunk some myths about the love languages so you can build a warm, affectionate relationship with your partner!
Let’s dive in.
What are the 5 Love Languages?
Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages has sold over 12 million copies. One relationship expert after another recommends this book to couples.
Out of all the books that couples mention to me, this is by far the one that they talk about the most.
The basic premise of the book is this: There are five love languages or ways in which people both prefer to express and receive love. According to Chapman, it’s important to know what your love languages are-and your partner’s-so you can learn how best to communicate and meet each other’s needs.
Here are Chapman’s 5 Love Languages:
- Quality Time
- Acts of Service
- Physical Touch
- Receiving Gifts
- Words of Affirmation
Fact: There Is No Science Behind The Love Languages
With the intense popularity that the love languages have enjoyed, you would think that this theory would have been well-researched and supported by the science of what makes relationships work.
It turns out that the love languages are not based on any scientific research whatsoever.
They’re simply one person’s ideas about the ways that people give and receive love. But in actual fact, there is no evidence behind the claims in Chapman’s book. Beware of people who advance ideas about healthy relationships with no data to back them up!
How The Love Languages Create Problems In Relationships
According to the love languages theory, the reason the love languages matter is because when partners don’t have the same love language they can experience problems in their relationship.
In my view, there are two major problems with the love languages that can lead to big relationship mistakes.
Let’s unpack these problems one by one, and figure out where the love languages may be breaking down for you.
Problem #1: Expecting Your Partner To Accept Love The Way You Want To Give It
Chapman states that you should know your partner’s love language and accept that they will show you love in the way that makes sense to them.
Here’s an example: Let’s pretend you and your partner have an argument. If your partner’s love language is receiving gifts, they might buy you a bouquet of flowers as a way of saying sorry. For you, receiving gifts does not make you feel loved because your love language is physical touch. Being held, kissed and hugged is what makes you feel truly loved. Even though receiving that bouquet might not really do it for you, you’re supposed to recognize that that’s the way your partner likes to express their love and just take that in a kind way.
Sounds simple, right?
When your partner expresses love in their love language, you just accept that expression even if it’s different from how you wish they would express love.
Wait a minute!
If your partner thinks that you should just accept however they want to express their love to you, it is a bit like a French-speaking person expecting a Spanish-speaking person to understand French when the other person doesn’t speak French.
Can this problem go both ways?
If you assume your partner will just accept your expressions of love, your partner will feel misunderstood and unloved. If you’re an acts-of-service person, and your partner wants physical touch, you may choose to take out the garbage to express your love.
Chapman claims your partner has to accept that, too, even though they really want a hug or some cuddles.
Taking out the garbage is no substitute for a hug when a hug is needed.
Think about how babies communicate. When a baby is hungry and needs to be fed, the baby starts to cry. If you come to that baby and you think, “My love language is changing that baby’s diaper. So I’ll do that because that’s how I show love.” How do you think that’s going to go over with that baby?
Not so well.
The baby will continue to cry, because you did not meet the baby’s actual need in the moment. Instead of trying to figure out what the baby needed, you decided to do what felt best to you, and missed an opportunity to care for and love them best.
It’s no different for adults. When your partner needs a kiss on the forehead and you do the dishes instead, Chapman claims that’s fine, they should just accept it. But your partner feels like you don’t really understand them, and that makes them feel unloved which is the opposite of what you’re trying to do!
Problem #2: Using the Love Languages to Avoid Intimacy
Chapman does not address a very important element in relationships, and this is another area where his theory falls short: different attachment styles.
If you or your partner have an avoidant attachment style, you can easily misuse the love languages as a way to dodge intimacy. People with avoidant attachment often hide behind certain love languages, like acts of service and gift-giving, as a way to avoid expressing affection, engaging in repair and direct face-to-face contact with their partner.
What Are Attachment Styles?
If you follow my content regularly, you’ve probably learned something about attachment styles: the specific blueprints for interactions with our intimate partners.
These blueprints are based on our early childhood experiences with our parents that we carry into our adult intimate relationships.
Attachment styles have everything to do with feeling safe and secure in a relationship.
The behaviors that create safety and security aren’t about personal preference, but about a physiological reality.
For instance, couples need to touch each other every day. They need to hug, cuddle, snuggle, hold each other, stroke each other, and gaze into each other’s eyes. Touch is necessary for your physical health. Touch enhances immune function, leads to less physical pain, and releases endorphins and opioids into your system, creating a sense of well-being and safety.
Touch strengthens your intimate relationship, giving you a safe place to be vulnerable with your partner.
Can Taking Out The Garbage Really Replace a Hug?
If you haven’t noticed, a lot of people are very uncomfortable with touch.
These people tend to have an avoidant attachment style that makes engaging in touch more difficult.
Briefly, this means that they most likely grew up in families who didn’t receive much physical contact or affection. As children, they were expected to take care of themselves much earlier than a child should be expected to do so. Their parents did not accept their child’s’ basic need to be dependent and vulnerable.
As adults in intimate relationships, avoidantly attached people tend to be uncomfortable with physical intimacy. Touch makes them feel like their space is being invaded. They can even react in disgust when they get physically close to their partner.
A lot of times, avoidants don’t want to talk about this because they feel ashamed and embarrassed of how uncomfortable they feel.
The love languages can become a very easy way of covering up this aversion to physical closeness.. Avoidants can find it easier to handle managerial concerns, like taking out the garbage, picking up the kids, or mowing the lawn, rather than engaging in physical emotional intimacy.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s bad to take out the garbage or give your partner a bouquet of flowers. These are supportive actions, and can be really great for relationships.
But supportive actions and managerial concerns cannot regulate your partner’s nervous system like affection and physical intimacy can.
Couples who hug each other, hold each other, cuddle, gaze into each other’s eyes, and smile lovingly at each other every day — regardless of whether they feel that physical touch is their love language or not — are the ones who build relationships that last.
The Process of Repair
Misusing the love languages can create problems, particularly when you and your partner have had a fight.
After a fight, if you decide to take out the garbage in order to apologize, you’re missing a very important process: the process of repair.
You need to be able to repair any arguments with your partner quickly and effectively, especially when you’ve really screwed up. Taking out the trash is a nice thing to do, but it’s just not going to fill the same repair need as apologizing.
There’s no task that can substitute for sitting down face-to-face with your partner and saying, “Honey, I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. You have every right to be upset with me. And I want to make this up to you.”
You’d be amazed at how many people don’t have the words “I’m sorry” in their vocabulary. It’s just a little too easy to say, “Well, I took out the trash. What more do you want from me?!”
Your partner might need to get angry at you, and they might have a right to be angry.
They might need to talk about their feelings, understand why you did what you did without you blaming them for your actions. They might need time to process how they feel about the argument before they’re able and ready to forgive you.
If you’re out in the driveway moving stuff around or mowing the lawn, you’ll miss that opportunity to process and repair with your partner.
The bottom line?
Human beings have developed a certain way to connect with each other, to feel safe and secure with each other and build lasting relationships. This development has nothing to do with your preferences or how you like to show love. It’s a basic biological reality.
That means that as a couple, you need to practice acts of physical touch. Every day.
And you both need words of affection, gratitude, and praise every day, too.
Managerial tasks, while supportive and helpful, will never replace these basic behaviors that couples need in order to create satisfying, enduring relationships.
Love languages aren’t as simple as they seem, nor are they a guarantee for a peaceful and happy relationship!
While the five love languages look like helpful tools for showing love to your partner, they often exacerbate problems in the relationship like the lack of physical touch and repair.
Every relationship needs frequent acts of affection and time to heal together.
Instead of getting stuck in a love language limbo, attend to those basic physical and emotional needs to love your partner more fully, and resolve conflict more effectively.
Now let’s hear from you!
Do you think that your partner should show you loving care in a way that is personally meaningful to you?
Do you agree that all couples need physical intimacy to last?
Have you recognized ways that your partner has used the love languages to avoid their own challenges around expressing affection, touch, and words of affirmation?
How about yourself? Do you sometimes find yourself shying away from intimacy or apologizing, and instead just buying them a gift or sending them a text message?
Leave me your comments below and sound off on how you think the love languages can create a barrier for you and your partner and what you think you could try instead.