The 5 Love Languages | Part 1
BookRemarks are not book reviews, but topical posts inspired by books. This post was inspired primarily by Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages.
In The 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman discusses a phenomenon that most people in long-term relationships have experienced: after a while, the thrill of being “in love” fades. As a marriage counselor, Chapman has listened to thousands of people express sentiments like, “I just don’t love him anymore.”
In fact, research indicates that the romantic feeling of being “in love” lasts, on average, for about two years (page 30). Too often, people who have lost that loving feeling start looking for it elsewhere. They might break up with their partner, or they might even start an affair.
But that type of response relies on a one-sided view of love: What am I getting out of this relationship?
Chapman challenges this self-centered perspective: “Love is something you do for someone else, not something you do for yourself” (pages 139-140).
In other words, real love is other-centered. To save a relationship, we shouldn’t ask what we’re getting out of it; we should ask, “What am I giving into this relationship?”
Chapman’s underlying idea is that many relationships can be salvaged if we are willing to meet our partner’s emotional needs by identifying and serving their “love language.” He identifies five love languages:
- Words of affirmation (e.g., speaking encouraging and kind words to your partner)
- Quality time (e.g., focusing on your partner and not on your phone)
- Receiving gifts (e.g., buying your partner a souvenir while away)
- Acts of service (e.g., taking out the garbage without being asked)
- Physical touch (e.g., touching your partner’s shoulder as you walk by)
The key to practicing the love languages isn’t to do for your partner what you wish she would do for you; it’s to do for her what she wants you to do.
Chapman uses this comparison: “Your emotional love language and the language of your spouse may be as different as Chinese from English. No matter how hard you try to express love in English, if your spouse understands only Chinese, you will never understand how to love each other” (pages 14-15).
So, if your partner longs for deep, uninterrupted conversations (Quality Time), a parade of presents (Receiving Gifts) isn’t going to meet her deepest needs. Or, if your partner longs to be encouraged (Words of Affirmation), his needs won’t be met by your efforts to cook dinner for him five nights a week (Acts of Service).
Serving your partner’s love language might not come naturally to you, but as Chapman says, “Love is a choice” (page 140). In order to be other-centered, make a conscious effort to learn how to speak your partner’s “language.”
Of course, we could talk about love and relationships all day – they are certainly worthwhile topics.
But romance isn’t the only place where love can fade.
Can we apply Chapman’s concept of love languages to our spiritual lives as well? In fact, the Bible often uses the metaphor of a romantic relationship between us and God (see, for example, Isaiah 54:4-8, Hosea 2:16-20, and Revelation 19:6-9).
It’s not uncommon for new Christians to experience an emotional high that is, in some ways, comparable to the romantic feelings experienced in human relationships.
Just as most people want to learn everything they can about a new love interest, and talk about him or her incessantly, new Christians often want to learn more about God and tell others about this wonderful new life they’ve found in Christ.
But for many of us, that newfound passion – like romantic love – has an expiration date. In Revelation, for example, Jesus remarks to the Church in Ephesus, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love” (2:4).
Perhaps our passion for God has diminished simply due to the passing of time; perhaps we harbor a deep, even unrecognized, resentment for a heartfelt prayer that went unanswered; perhaps our passion has waned due to unrepentant sin in our lives.
Or, perhaps we have just gotten too busy to attend church on a weekly basis, and we’ve let Jesus slip further down our priority list.
It’s time for us to remember: love is a choice. Not only in our romantic relationships, but in our relationship with God.
Unfortunately, sometimes we get too complacent, and even think, “It’s okay. God’s love is unconditional. He will never leave or forsake me, and He loves me just as I am.”
And there is truth in that. But, as with many theological beliefs, there is the risk of not considering this truth in its larger context.
God may not leave us, but he will withdraw from us, withhold his blessings from us, or allow troubles to enter our lives.
For example, in Chapter 4 of Amos, we read about multiple things God had withheld from his people (e.g., food, rain) or allowed to happen to them (e.g., plagues), but each thing listed ends with, “‘Yet you have not returned to me,’ declares the Lord.”
You see, God’s “love language” – the way he wants us to interact with Him – is obedience. Just as a spouse or partner who values Quality Time will grow distant from us if we do not “speak” that language to him or her, so will God grow distant from us if we do not speak the language of obedience to Him.
If our relationship with God seems to be in a slump, the Holy Spirit is doing its part by prompting us and making us aware of that slump – but then we have to respond and take action. We have to choose to love God the way He wants to be loved.
And that is all it takes for us to restore, or deepen, our relationship with God – choose Him by returning to Him and obeying Him.
As John put it, “This is love for God: to obey his commands” (1 John 5:3).
Plus, we’re told in 2 Chronicles, “He will not turn his face from you if you return to him” (30:9). We read in Job, “If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored” (22:23). Similarly, Zechariah reports, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty” (1:3-4).
Remember, in the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father let the son leave and put distance between them; it was only when the repentant son decided to return home that the Father ran out to meet him.
If we do that – if we return to God after a time away from Him – the epistle of James promises our efforts will be rewarded: “Come near to God, and he will come near to you” (4:8).
Next time, we will look at some parallels between Chapman’s love languages and how we can express our love to God.