The general content of Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts is easily summarized. Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch are the five ways that people are able to perceive the love of their partner. The presence or absence of these acts within the love relationship will determine whether the emotions evoked from the daily exchanges are good or bad. A repeated metaphor that Chapman uses is that of the gasoline tank. Having a full tank means that one is filled from one’s partner expressing love in the manner that they expressed they preferred to their partner while a low tank means there is no expression of love whatsoever or they are expressing it in a manner that is not aligned with their partners wishes. This is a very important distinction not only as it determines the quality of the love relationship, but the entire perspective of each party involved. Writing on the wider effects of this love tank, Chapman writes on page 37:
“When your spouse’s emotional love tank is full and he feels secure in your love, the whole world looks bright and your spouse will move out to reach his highest potential in life. But when the love tank is empty and he feels used but not loved, the whole world looks dark and he will likely never reach his potential for good in the world.”
As such a powerful determinant of our perception of reality, Chapman strongly encourages his readers to become more fluent in their understanding of their own desires and the desires of their partner so as to increase their capacity for and ease in obtaining peace of mind and happiness. If psychologist William James is correct is stating that the deepest human need is that for appreciation – these are the means of expressing that appreciation.
In order to better do this Chapman distinguishes between being “in love”, which he says is more aptly classified as limerence, and loving someone. The feeling of being “in love” is a more or less temporary madness that other research has likened to a period of intense intoxication due to the mind-body’s ready release of various pleasurable neurotransmitters. Being “in love” is a dangerous state of being as it is one of almost total fixation that will cause someone to pay no heed to work, school other aspects of life. Research tell us that this feeling, however, lasts at most a mere two years and it is only with the practice of these interpersonal exchanges that it can grow to a love that it more mature and rewarding as it is predicated on choice.
Chapman’s valorization of choice moves beyond this into his description of the first love language, Words of Affirmation. This is not just to give encouragement, but to also bring attention to the manner in which we comprehend the relationship and share that understanding with our partner. For instance, by bringing in the option of choice in exchanges, ie. “Could you please..?” instead of demands “I want you to…” a sense of autonomy is emphasized that allows for agency to develop. He further emphasizes the power of words as it relates to the role of forgiveness. He states that we can either chose to be Judges, and thus gradually disrupt and destroy the relationship, or Forgivers. Once Judgment is kept a permanent distance is created. Emphasizing the power of it’s opposite he states: “The best thing we can do with the failures of the past is to let them be history… Forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a commitment. It is a choice to show mercy, not to hold the offense up against the offender. Forgiveness is an expression of love” (47).
Chapman is clear that there is often more than one love language present spoken by our partner and that we must be open to listening to what it is that they say they want rather than expressing to them what it is that we want or what it is that we have learned that we are supposed to do based upon our familiar upbringing or cultural messages. Failing to be aware of them is, in essence, to fail the relationship as true love liberates and lacking such a mutually beneficial dynamic then it does not meet this standard.
Throughout the book, Chapman provides anecdotes based upon his counseling practice on how people’s increased ability to read their partner’s needs for Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch and giving it to them radically changed their relationship. The application of them, as the stories included by Chapman shows, is not always easy as a partner may be running on an empty tank and thus slow to register improvement – but over a long enough period the committed person is always able to accomplish their goal. Minor changes in inter-personal exchange can result in major changes for both the individuals and the relationship. There are plenty of short thought experiments in the form of questions directed at the reader to help them realize how it is to better obtain this knowledge about one’s relationship and they are in a format that does not break up the pacing of the book. For these and many other reasons I can foresee myself heartily recommending this book in my private practice to couples in search of counseling.