Move Past the 5 Love Languages

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Starting in the early 1990s, I had couples in therapy start to mention something about their “love languages”. As a trained therapist, I was confused by this term “love language”. I had never heard it used in any context before, and I asked my clients to explain it to me.

Eventually they pointed me to the book by Gary Chapman called “The Five Love Languages”. I did a quick read and felt it reflected the approach taken by many pop-psych books. I mistakenly predicted it would have no impact on the counseling world.

I was wrong. At least, I was wrong about one aspect. It certainly does have an impact on the counseling world, if one refers to people going to marriage counseling. It has virtually no impact on therapists. There are some pastoral counselors who made extensive use of the material in their pastoral offices. But the concept itself does not line up with any therapy modality accepted by psychologists.

The premise of the book is very simple.

  1. There are five ways we show love to others
  2. Each of us prefers two of these languages
  3. Our partner will appreciate us more if we express love in their language.
  4. Couples should buy the book, identify their love languages, share this information with each other, and have a happy life together.

Boom! Instant marital success. Well, to Chapman’s credit, he never says this is a panacea to solve all difficulties in long-term relationships. Though, after reading the book, that implication is not hard to pick up. More to the point, desperate people in difficult relationships viewed it as a fix-all for their relationship. And on the surface, following this formula can improve some elements of a marriage.

But it can also make some existing relationship problems worse.

Long-term relationships are difficult and nuanced. Tricking out one element of the relationship may mask other problems. Following the principles in this book produce only a temporary fix. And when a couple puts all their hope in a temporary fix, the result can be devastating.

Chapman’s concept, and all the subsequent spinoff books, have several significant problems connected to it.

It is a Reductionistic List

Some people claim that Chapman never said this was a comprehensive list. But he actually does claim that. He goes into detail explaining his background in pastoral counseling and that the love languages that made the cut are the five he sees most often with couples. In fact, he claims several times that all expressions of love can be placed in one of these five categories.

To be fair to Chapman, research psychologists are always trying to reduce relationship and personality characteristics to three, four, or five categories. And Chapman may have seen that and wrote his thesis accordingly.

So in essence, these are five love CATEGORIES. But he doesn’t say that.

My first caution about the book is that it is dead wrong. Not only are these five love languages not the only ones, they may not even be the most important ones.

Let me give several examples of other love languages. Note that these are not even close to being all of the remaining love languages. There could be thousands of love languages for all I know. The five that Chapman chose are very Americo-centric, cis-heteronormative, and very much based in white culture. I am sure that individuals from other cultures would have a tough time identifying Chapman’s five as their subset of love expressions.

Sex: Chapman mentions several times that sex is just a type of Touch. But in this, he is wrong. There are many people that come into sex therapy with me who distinctly don’t like being touched. But they love sex. And then there are some who love to be touched and held, but do not have any desire for sex. Sex would never mean love to them, but touch would.

Sex is a completely different category on its own. Some find rough sex to be loving. Others find the same with oral sex, slow sex, BDSM, group sex, ethical non-monogamy. There are ways that other people find some sex to be unloving. As a love language, sex can have many expressions. But it is ludicrous to place sex under the Touch category.

Respect: Some would say Respect is different than love. But that argument could be made about quality time, and any of the other love languages. Many people believe that if a person shows respect, this shows their love for a partner. And there are hundreds of ways respect can be offered.

Example: A University of Washington study showed that couples married more than 40 years had one thing in common more than any other: The husbands respected their wife’s opinion. That is the only common identifier they found in interviews with these couples. Yet it does not show up on Chapman’s list.

Gentleness: In this sense, I am using the word “gentleness” as the opposite of “violence”. This is one of my major criticisms of Chapman. He does not differentiate between the five love languages shown in a gentle atmosphere versus a violent home. If a person is violent and then buys their partner gifts, the gift does not equal love. Neither does quality time if there is violence. Affirming words do not mean much if someone has bruises from last night’s fight. On their own, gentleness and safety are important ways that love is expressed. Most people would identify that as their first love language if they knew it was an option.

Partnership: This is the willingness to partner with someone you love as they attempt something difficult or painful. There are many examples of this. Being willing to sacrifice money, time, and effort to see your partner get a degree or a better job. Going with them to a funeral. Standing by them as they confront a difficult person. All of these rise above and beyond Chapman’s limited categories of ‘acts of service’ or ‘quality time’.

Listening With Understanding: One of the most loving and effective things a partner can do is to listen in a conflict with the goal of understanding. Most of us in conflict get defensive or want to win. But when someone listens with the goal of understanding, this shows the partner there is a greater goal; to love and work through the issue. The Gottmann Method, a standard in partner therapy, claims this is the greatest of the expressions of love.

There are too many more love languages to mention. Food, giving space for your partner to have time alone, inability to be easily offended, telling the truth, living in integrity; these are all love languages in their own right and should not be diminished because they didn’t make Chapman’s five.

The Basic Premises are Simply Not True

Since the book has now been in existence for over 30 years, it is not surprising a number of studies have been done to determine if the book is accurate.

This study looked at the questionnaire that Chapman uses, the five languages themselves, and whether participants could adequately measure their own preferences from the list. Their study showed that one could not determine their love language consistently from this questionnaire. So, the bottom line is that Chapman’s questionnaire is not accurate by any metric.

You should be aware that Chapman is not a psychologist. Neither is his theory based on any scientific research at all. He never claims it is. He simply says that the book is based on his own observations as a marriage counselor with no degree in counseling. That’s it. He is very up-front about it. So it should not surprise anyone that his results cannot be reproduced by scientific research.

There are several other studies that debunk his hypothesis, but I’ll just mention one more. In 2013, Polk and Egbert published this study in which they proved that people do not have two primary love languages, that they do not respond better if someone shows love in those languages, and that it can’t be proven that learning about and utilizing love languages helps relationships.

That pretty much says it all.

‘Love Languages’ Concept is Manipulative

We manipulate others when we do something for the purpose of getting them to behave the way we want them to. This is the underlying premise of Chapman’s book. He is telling us that if we learn another person’s love language and use that love language with our partner, they will respond better to us. This is manipulative and many people have identified it that way.

I was in therapy with one person who made it quite clear how he felt about his partner doing this. He knew when his partner was trying to get him to agree with him when he bought him expensive gifts over a short period of time. His partner would always follow it up with a big “ask” for something he wanted him to do. It was blatant manipulation. He wasn’t buying gifts out of love or concern.

Now, not everyone does this. But the book lends itself to this kind of use. And though this is an obvious misuse of the book, Chapman’s only caution about it shows up in a subsequent edition, suggesting that he didn’t see this kind of misuse until long after people were trying to implement the book into their relationships.

(Note: It is impossible to find original copies of the book unless you already own one. The book has been revised many times due to outlandish claims in the original edition).

Many therapists have written about the co-dependent nature of the Five Love Languages. They note that many people who are already co-dependent can be easily manipulated via love-bombing using this format. Though I would hope Chapman would be mortified by narcissists and other abusers using the Love Language modality in this way, it is exactly what love-bombing does. Nowhere in any edition of his many derivative books on the Love Language subject does he warn about love-bombing.

Nowhere is Trauma/Abuse Accounted For

One classic symptom of those who have been abused as children is the inability to trust that they are safe with other people. Therefore, a traumatized/abused person will notice how someone is using love languages and will immediately distrust it. If the person who is trying to love notices that the response is distrust, this will create further tension from the non-traumatized partner.

The best way to love a traumatized person is to keep checking in with them, holding space with them, and ask them how they would like to be shown love at any given juncture of the relationship. This is much better than trying to read your trauma-affected partner and guess what their love language might be on any given day.

Sometimes, the best expression of love is for one partner to leave the other partner alone for awhile.

Reviewing the Introduction of Jay Adams’ “Competent to Counsel”

As a sophomore studying theology in 1975, I read the textbook for my Pastoral Counseling class and was shocked. Though at that stage in my life I had taken no psychology courses–that would come several years later–I knew enough about the basic philosophy of psychology to suspect this textbook was not accurate.

Little did I know that book would sell millions of copies and affect the viewpoints on psychology for an entire generation. The book is called “Competent To Counsel” written by Jay Adams. The book, and Adams are the cornerstone of an entire counseling methodology called “Nouthetic” or “Biblical” Counseling.

Though the Nouthetic group (referred to now as the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors ) has many other resources they lay claim to, none is more influential than this book.

I do not like this book. I can state that up-front. I also do not agree with its premise: All psychology is humanism and must be rejected. Continue reading “Reviewing the Introduction of Jay Adams’ “Competent to Counsel””

Book Review: “Paul, Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess of Ephesus”

In the 90s, I attended a conference at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. The speaker was one of the translators of the NIV, and I had the privilege of sharing a meal with him. I told him I had two New Testament translation questions for him if he had the time and the inclination. He was fine with answering those questions as long as we talked sports after.

But then he added, “And I will not address 1 Timothy 2”. Unfortunately, that chapter was one of my two questions. I actually had a three-parter: What does the word “authentein” mean (1 Tim. 2:12, often translated “to have authority”). I also wanted to know what “saved” meant in v. 15, and if “keep quiet” really implied women be silent in verse 11. Sadly, I was not about to find out any of those answers that day.

What I didn’t know was that same year a female professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Sharon Gritz, was publishing a book which would have given credible, plausible answers to all those questions–and many more. This book “Paul, Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess of Ephesus”, was given a limited distribution by University Press, a publisher of academic books, and so it was not read by many people and is very difficult to find.

As with many academic books, I find the best route is to use some version of Interlibrary loan. In California, this is called “Link Plus”. I received a copy of Dr. Gritz’ book from Biola University’s library and quickly devoured the contents.

For an academic book, this is highly readable and the central concept easy to understand. Yet, even with its accessibility, this is still an academic book. A good third of the book consists of endnotes and bibliography. As such, it joins all the other studies done on this famous second chapter of 1 Timothy. I doubt any chapter in the Bible has had more recent essays written about it than this one.

It examines the ancient church’s approach to how women were viewed and treated. 1 Timothy 2 seems to set limitations on the entire church about women’s behavior in public. Because of this, many people question whether it has any relevance today.

For those who view the admonitions and instructions of Paul as valid today, their focus in studying 1 Timothy 2 is on understanding the context and the content of this chapter. Dr. Gritz addresses these exegetical and cultural questions more than some. She especially focuses on verses 9-15 for this book. And what she discovers has powerful implications.

First, she takes the reader on a broad study of all the cultures of the Ancient Near East (ANE). She examines in detail how each culture viewed and treated women, and how the women of the ANE practiced religion. One of the interesting details she highlights is that Israel’s view of women was radically different in the era of the Kings/Chronicles than it later became after the Exile.

During the era of the Kings, women had much more freedom in society and often worshiped the goddesses of the Canaanite nations. In particular, Jewish women were enthralled with Asherah. Gritz postulates through her reading of many rabbinical sources that the exiles coming back from captivity to Jerusalem began to blame women for the fall of Jerusalem. They especially blamed the worship of Asherah and the inter-marriage with foreign women.

In seeking to be back in God’s favor, the men decided to exclude women from many of the worship processes which they had access to before the exile. Significant among these changes was the building of the Court of the Women. This court was built around the main part of the temple. Women could not actually enter the Temple proper at any time. Yet Gritz shows that back in Solomon’s era they did not exclude women from the Temple. This came later.

This book shows how the post-exilic nature of the Jewish attitude toward women affected certain churches in particular. She points out that only in Ephesus and Corinth did the women face restrictions regarding leadership and public speaking. In Galatians, Philippians, Romans, and the Book of Acts, women play prominent roles in leadership. Yet in Corinth and Ephesus, women were restricted from both speaking and leadership.

Gritz addresses this adequately. Corinth and Ephesus had two things in common. First, they were centers of the Jewish Diaspora. Large numbers of Jews worshiped in both cities. Though this is also true in Philippi and Thessalonica, it is clear those churches were mainly Gentile. But Ephesus and Corinth had many Jews in the local church.

The second factor in common with both Ephesus and Corinth was the emphasis on goddess worship. Though goddesses were worshiped elsewhere, in those places the goddesses were not more prominent than the gods. But this is not true of these cities. Gritz speculates that only in Ephesus and Corinth did Goddess worship become the central religion along side Gnosticism.

The author does a good job at documenting every speculation she makes. Perhaps her greatest addition to the weight of scholarship on 1 Timothy 2 is her understanding of the nature of the Artemis cult. Artemis of the Ephesians and her temple were the main tourist sights of Ephesus.

Much has been written about Artemis. Gritz maintains some of what is written is misleading. She believes too many scholars have not taken into account the blending of cultures which resulted in the creations of Artemis. She shows clearly that the Artemis of the Ephesians was markedly different than the Artemis of Northern Greece.

Her contention is that if one misses that point, 1 Timothy 2 gets muddled and confusing. She’s right, of course.

When Alexander the Great conquered Ephesus, the locals had to change their religious allegiances. Greek culture was forced on them. But like many of the peoples whom the Greek conquered, they were syncretistic with their adaptation.

The Ephesians already worshiped a goddess. Her name was Sybele, and she was a goddess of fertility and sensuality. The worship of Sybele involved prostitution, orgies, and sacrifices. In addition, Sybele worshipers would work themselves up into frenzied states through the use of hallucinogens and alcohol. The more established priestesses could maintain emotional heights through dance and sexual dramas. Most temple priestesses of Sybele became ritual prostitutes.

When the Greeks took over, they imposed Artemis worship over top of Sybele worship. The result though did not look like the Greek version. The Greek Artemis (or Diana) was aloof, virgin, and sedate. Her worshipers were more Stoic and subdued. The worship of Artemis in Northern Greece was more inclined to be intellectual and ritualistic. When Greek Artemis met Ephesian Sybele, they formed an interesting symbiosis. They became Artemis of the Ephesians, an aloof Huntress who liked sex and music.

Her acolytes were the same. Some of them had polite social clubs. Others danced and partied into the night. Many members of both groups would have made their way into the church. Gritz describes how that must have looked and how the Jewish men in the church would have reacted to it. Paul, who at one time had been the pastor of this church, knew that some regulations should be established.

The book goes then into a detailed description of the passage and examines all the key words in detail. Others have done a better job of this. I commend the book “Exegetical Fallacies in Interpreting 1 Timothy 2:11-15″ by Rebecca Groothuis and Ronald Pierce for a much better approach. Their conclusions are more skilled as well.

This is the biggest disappointment with Gritz’ book. After spending 200 pages showing how the Pauline rules on women speaking, teaching, and having leadership in church were probably specific to this church only, she then reverses herself and draws some conclusions for the modern church which no Egalitarian could accept.

I can only guess she did this because she wanted her work to be acceptable to the Southern Baptist Convention, of which she is a member.

Read this book for its wonderful scholarship then, and not for its last chapter of conclusions.