The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman is a very popular book among girlfriends. But what I have found is that for grumpy girlfriends, this book is often used to fuel their grumpiness. They buy the book, hoping it will help them feel better and be happier in their relationships… but it just ends up giving them more reasons to feel like crap. Let me explain why.
First of all, if you haven’t read the book, it’s pretty easy to summarize. There are 5 love languages that describe how people display their love for someone and how they like receiving love from someone. Not everyone gives and receives love the same way. Gary Chapman has divided these different ways into 5 categories; acts of service, quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, and gift giving.
So far so good. There are parts of this book that make sense and it is a decent awareness tool for couples to understand each other better. However, I have some major issues with the book as well and it just so happens that these issues fuel my clients’ fundamental problems.
The book in and of itself is neutral. The power it has to make someone’s life better or worse is of course up to the individual who reads the book. But the way things are described and explained in this book makes it very easy for grumpy girlfriends to misinterpret and misuse its teachings.
So let’s break it down together.
Where do feelings come from?
The entire premise of the book is that we give and receive love from each other in different ways. Already here does my grumpy-girlfriend-spider-sense go off.
Love is a feeling that we feel in our bodies. Where do feelings come from? They come from our thoughts. No thoughts, no feelings. When we feel love in our bodies, that is not coming from a gift, a touch, or an affirming word from another person. It’s coming from what our brains are making that gift, touch, or word mean. No other human being can put a feeling into your body without your brain’s participation. Just as you can’t put a feeling in someone else’s body without their brain’s participation.
How can we verify this?
Well, if physical touch made you feel love in your body… your partner should be able to touch you during a fight or touch you after telling you they’ve been unfaithful and ta-da! You feel love in your body. But they don’t have magical love hands. No matter how much physical touch is your love language.
We also know that your love language can be receiving gifts, but your partner might get you the wrong gift or get you a gift that you make mean something completely different and that doesn’t magically make you feel love in your body.
As for a more extreme example, if a stranger on the bus touches you or gives you a gift, you’re probably going to feel a whole lot of other feelings than love. Because your brain is what creates your feelings. Not what the other person does or doesn’t do.
We don’t give or receive love from each other. We are always responsible for generating our own emotions of love in our own bodies. If we think that our partners are responsible for putting feelings inside of us, we are going to be very disempowered and constantly try to manage their behavior so that we get to feel the way we want to feel.
This leads me to the next problem I have with love languages…
What are you entitled to?
When we don’t understand that feelings come from thoughts and not from acts of service, quality time, or touch, we start thinking we need those things to feel love. That’s kind of what the book is all about. “Learn what your partner needs from you in order to feel love in their bodies, and then go do that thing if you love them.”
We start feeling entitled to have our partners “give us love” in the way that we want to receive it. This is pretty much aligned with a lot of couples counseling out there as well. You show up, make a list of what you want your partner to do more or less in order for you to feel good, and then you hand each other an instruction manual for managing each other’s feelings.
It’s one thing to use this information about yourself and your partner to experiment and play around with the different ways you display your love for each other. I want to be clear that there is nothing wrong with that. But it can very easily become a problem if you start expecting your partner to “give you love” in the way that your love language says they should.
When you think your partner needs to do the things that align with your love language in order for you to feel loved in your relationship, you’re in trouble. No matter how willing your partner is to try to follow your instructions, they’re never going to be able to manage your emotions for you. Because your brain and your thoughts are always the generators of the love in your body. This means that your brain and your thoughts can block love in your body no matter what your partner does or doesn’t do.
What does it actually mean?
So, what do The 5 Love Languages actually mean? What is it they describe in people and in relationships? The way it’s explained in the book and the way a lot of girlfriends interpret it, it means “Here’s how I work and here’s the key to making me feel good. I will now hand over this key to my partner and wait for them to do all the things.”
But what it actually means is “Here’s how I have been programmed to interpret love. My upbringing, my past relationships, my parents… all my past experiences have shown my brain what love is. So when you “speak my love language”, that activates my programmed thoughts that then make me feel love in my body.”
The 5 Love Languages can be used as an awareness tool to describe what you currently interpret as love and what you make things mean. The things themselves hold no meaning, it’s all happening in your brain! And this is good to know. What it’s not is hardwired into who you are as a person.
The 5 Love Languages do not define who you are going forth or how you have to interpret love until the day you die. You have so much more power over your brain than that. You can change your love languages simply by changing your thoughts about the things. You are 100% responsible for the meaning you assign to touch, time, words, and gifts.
The 5 Love Languages show you what things make it easier for you to think thoughts that generate love in your body. It might be easy and automatic for you to think “My partner loves me” when they give you a gift or hug you. But just because it’s easy or automatic doesn’t mean it’s out of your control.
Again — our love languages aren’t problems to be solved, but they can cause problems when we think they’re these rigid things that our partners must follow for us to feel the way we want to feel.
The thoughts you have that generate love in your body are available to you all the time. It’s up to you if you want to limit yourself and only think those thoughts when your specific love language is spoken or if you want to feel love more often than that.
The reason The 5 Love Languages make your grumpiness worse is that you might be using them to outsource responsibility for your emotions. You might think that how you feel comes from your partner and their actions. That your partner must “give” you love for you to feel love. But no one can give you a feeling in your body. You must give it to yourself.
The way I want you to use the 5 Love Languages is to become aware of your thoughts about these things. If your love language is acts of service, ask yourself what you make them mean. What do you think when your partner does something for you? How are you generating love in your body when your partner does that thing?
If you can take full credit for generating love when these things happen, just imagine how much love you’ll be able to generate on demand! You don’t need your partner to do xyz in order for you to feel all that love in your body. You just have to think the thoughts that make you feel that way.
If you want to dive deeper into this topic, this is a great podcast episode for you.
This episode will help you see how you are outsourcing your emotional life to your partner (an extremely common thing to do, by the way) and why that can make you very grumpy.