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Learning the languages of love

There are five ways to tell someone you love them –– or so says Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages.  

In his book, he lays claim that everyone expresses love with primarily one love language, because that’s the way they want to receive love. The five are: words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service and gift giving.  

Here’s an interview with Chapman himself, about why the love languages are still relevant and how you can use them in your own life.  

Dal Gazette:  When you were first writing the book, how did you narrow it down to only five love languages?  

Gary Chapman: I’ve been counselling for many years and I had heard similar stories over and over in my office, where one person would say, ‘I feel like my spouse doesn’t love me,’ and the spouse would say, ‘I don’t understand that. I do this, and this, why would you not feel loved?’  

So I knew people were missing each other. What I did was sit down and read several years of notes that I made when I was counselling people, and asked myself this question: when someone said ‘I feel like my spouse doesn’t love me,’ what did they want? What were they complaining about? And their answers fell into five categories.  

And since then, the book’s been out for 20-25 years, and no one has come up with one that I think is a valid sixth love language. One guy said for example, ‘There’s a sixth love language.’ I said, ‘What is it?’ He said, ‘Chocolate.’ I said, ‘Well if they bought it, it’s a gift. If they made it, it’s an act of service.’ One guy said ‘The sixth love language is shopping with my wife.’ And I said, ‘Well that sounds to me like a dialect of quality time.’  

DG: When you first came up with the love languages and wrote the book, were you expecting it to be as popular as it’s become?  

GC: No way. I knew the concept would help people, because I had used it. But I had no idea what has happened would have happened.  

DG:  Since the book was published over 20 years ago, why do you think they’re still relevant?  

GC: I think because almost everyone agrees the deepest emotional need we have as humans is the need to feel loved by the significant people in your life.  

If we don’t feel loved, life begins to look dark, the conflicts look bigger and we’re less likely to solve conflicts. I think because it deals with that deep emotional need, and it gives people information on how to communicate love effectively to the other person. As long as we’re human, that’s a fundamental need we have. 

DG: What would your response be to people who say there’s not really any research to support the love languages, or scientific backing?  

GC: The millions of people who have responded online to us, though it is not scientific research, certainly indicates that millions of people have found this to be helpful in their relationship.  

DG: What’s your love language?  

GC: Words of affirmation.  

DG: How did you discover that? 

GC: I knew long before I knew anything about love languages, that when people affirmed me verbally, I felt appreciated. And I would not have called it love languages in those days, but I also knew that when my wife gave me critical words, it was like a dagger in my heart. And in the early years of our marriage, we struggled greatly. My wife’s love language is acts of service. And so by nature, we all express love to other people in our language.  

So I gave my wife affirming words. I told her how nice she looked, how much I appreciated her; I would tell her several times a day I love you, I’m so glad I married you, and one day she said to me, ‘You know, you keep on saying, ‘I love you, I love you’. If you love me, why don’t you help me?’  

I started asking her three questions: What can I do to help you? How can I make your life easier? And how can I be a better husband? And she started giving me answers, and she started responding to them. Now looking back on it, her answers were really teaching me her love language. But I wouldn’t have called it that at the time. I think because of my own experience and our conflict, that’s probably why I’ve devoted my life to doing marriage and family counselling.  

DG: Aside from your marriage, how have you used the love languages in other relationships in your life?  

GC: The second book in that series was The 5 Love Languages of Children, and that helped me greatly. You can discover a child’s love language by the time they’re four years old. My son when he was that age, when I came home from work, he would grab my leg, jump on me; he’s touching me because he wants to be touched. Our daughter never did that. At that age, she would say, ‘Daddy, come to my room; I want to show you something.’ She wanted quality time.  

Now with the children, I make it very clear –– I’m not suggesting that you only speak the child’s primary love language. I’m suggesting you give heavy doses of the primary. Then you sprinkle in the other four. Because we would like for the child to learn how to receive love and give love in all five languages. That’s the healthiest adult, but most of us did not receive all five growing up. And some did not receive their primary, so they grew up not feeling loved. 

DG: The book, and the concept in general, have been really popular with a younger crowd. Why do you think it’s struck a chord with a younger group?  

GC: I think again because of a deep need that we have, whether we’re young or we’re old, to feel loved by the significant people in our lives. And I think many of the younger generation have seen their parents’ divorce, for example. And they went through the pain of all of that, when the two most important people in their lives pulled away from each other.  

I think any generation is going to be helped by this concept. And I think when they read it and they apply it to their relationships, then they want others to know about it. And of course a lot of colleges are using it now in various relationship classes that they have, because it does apply in human relationships. 

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