Friday, June 27, 2014

#34 [2014/CBR6] "The 5 Love Languages" by Gary Chapman

Words of Affirmation
Quality Time
Receiving Gifts
Acts of Service
Physical Touch

There you go, the entire book in a nutshell. You're welcome.

But I should probably go into more detail. One day at my gym, a spontaneous conversation erupted about love languages. As each person chimed in to say which "love language" they were, it made me wonder what I was missing. What are these mysterious love languages? Why don't I know my love languages? I also couldn't resist the allure of labeling my personality in some new way.

It wasn't hard to find The 5 Love Languages (1992) by Gary Chapman once I hit the internet. And it didn't take long to get it from the library. Although it was apparently once a bestseller, there's no wait for it now. The book is pretty straight forward. Chapman has been a marriage counselor for quite a long time and he believes that people are most receptive to love when it is given to them in specific ways. Some people feel most loved when they're given gifts, some people feel most loved when they're touched, some people feel most loved when their spouse does things for them, etc. The problems come up when you have two people who express love in ways that don't work for their partner. The spouses don't feel loved, and everyone gets bitter, resentful, and unhappy. It's also a problem when a partner simply doesn't express love at all.

I think I'll start with the good parts of this book because that section will be shorter. In a general way, the five long languages provides a good framework for intentionally making your spouse feel loved. Chapman focuses on how both partners should be willing to compromise and look for things to do to show their love and make their spouse happy. He uses many examples of couples that he's worked with, and he seems to be, for the most part, compassionate, realistic, and fair when giving them advice. These are all good things. I'm no expert, but if both partners are willing to follow his suggestions, I could see it helping marriages.

My least favorite aspect of this book was that it felt very conservative and traditional. Chapman is religious. He counsels couples at churches. This isn't necessarily bad, but he only speaks about marriages--marriages between men and women. He also reinforces traditional roles of women. This book sometimes made me feel suffocated by conventional expectations. This book isn't just about having a loving relationship, it's about having a good, christian marriage. I kept getting distracted when the author used awkward phrases, such as, "Love touches may be explicit and demand your full attention such as in a back rub or sexual foreplay, culminating in intercourse," (111) as well as Chapman's (probably trademarked) use of the phrase: filling up your "emotional love tank.".

One of the more irritating habits of Chapman was his false insistence on an old-fashioned view of female desire. For example: "For the female, sexual desire is far more influenced by her emotions. If she feels loved and admired and appreciated by her husband, then she has a desire to be physically intimate with him. But without the emotional closeness she may have little physical desire. Her biological sexual drive is closely tied to her emotional need for love." (125) Hmmm...that's interesting. Maybe she won't want to sleep with the husband she dislikes so much, but that's different from her entire biological sexual drive. Fortunately, I've just read me some Dan Savage and Daniel Bergner, both of whom have a drastically different perspective. Their perspective is also more firmly rooted in science. To be fair, this book was written in 1992. On the other hand, Chapman didn't look too far beyond his own presumptions when explaining to me how women feel desire. There are a total of eight endnotes in this book. One is a website. Four are bible verses. And the last three are other books that Chapman has written.

Another irritating thing about this book was the list of 30 questions at the end, used as a quiz to help you determine your love language. I dutifully flipped to the women's section and found that I'm "bi-lingual" with Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch in a dead heat with Quality Time following close behind. I got annoyed when I flipped to the men's section to see what their quiz was like. Most of the questions were identical with the words "husband" and "wife" interchanged...until I got to the questions discussing Acts of Service and Physical Touch. Here are some of the pertinent differences:

"I feel loved when my wife does my laundry."
"I feel loved when my husband helps with the laundry."

"When my wife cooks a meal for me, I know that she loves me."
"When my husband helps clean up after a meal, I know that he loves me."

"Keeping the house clean is an important act of service."
"I love that my husband helps clean the house."

"I love having sex with my wife."
"I love cuddling with my husband."

"I just can't keep my hands off my wife."
"I love it that my husband can't keep his hands off me."

I don't know if I can be irritated by a, most likely, accurate reflection of the people Chapman works with. Yet I still wish he wasn't reinforcing unnecessary stereotypes. Why does the husband always only "help" with the housework? Why can't women want sex? Seriously. Anyway, this book was short and easy to read with some information that some might find useful/helpful. It has it's problems, like many self-help books, but it wasn't too painful in the scheme of things.

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