I’m treading on holy ground when I take Gary Chapman’s much beloved, best selling book, The Five Love Languages to task, but I ask you to hear me out. I believe it’s a book with a dangerous premise at its core.
If we don’t examine this book’s underlying premise, it will not be “The Secret to Lasting Love” as the subtitle promises. It will actually stunt your relationship’s growth, be the cause of conflict, and hinder your intimate relationship from ever becoming the beautiful communion it’s supposed to be.
Chapman’s book is dangerous because it’s not about the language of love, it’s about the language of co-dependence. Allow me to explain.
The premise of the book is that we feel loved when love is expressed in our particular love language: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time and Physical Touch. And that’s fine. My wife and I have our preferences, as all of us do.
Here’s the danger: The book unconsciously champions the notion that a good relationship is one in which each person depends upon the other to make them feel loved, happy and special. It supports the belief that it’s our partner’s job to meet our emotional needs.
That, my friends, is quintessential co-dependence. It’s the “you complete me” mindset. We depend on each other for happiness and fulfillment. We depend on each other for love, to take care of our emotional needs, to complete us.
As a side note, what Chapman thinks a single person is supposed to do is beyond me. I guess they’re screwed!, destined to a life of unhappiness and emptiness until they can find someone who will love them according to their language. But I digress.
The Five Love Languages promote co-dependent relationships. And what’s strange is that these kinds of relationships can work very well—if both parties do their respective “jobs.” For at the core of a co-dependent relationship is an unconscious complementary condition: “I’ll meet your need IF you meet mine,” or, “I’ll love you in your language IF you love me in mine.”
If that happens adequately and consistently, everyone is happy. But when someone drops the ball, here’s what happens: The one loving their partner according to their love language begins to feel cheated when it’s not being reciprocated. They’re not getting their needs met. The relationship is out of balance. It’s not fair. It’s not complementary.
Conflict then breaks out in order to get the other person back in line. “Hey, I vacuumed the house, did the dishes and folded the laundry (acts of service), and we haven’t had sex in two weeks!” Or, “We’ve had sex a bunch lately. You think you could get off your ass and help me with the kids a little?!
If that works, and sometimes it does, all is well. But if it doesn’t, then the cheated person, the one who feels they’re giving more than they’re getting, pulls back, thinking, “Why should I keep taking care of them, loving them in their language, if they’re not taking care of me and loving me in my language?”
If you want a “love languages” relationship, you’ll end up in a score-keeping relationship.
And a score-keeping relationship always devolves into a power struggle where each person blames, criticizes or even threatens the other person to get them to love them the way they need to be loved—to even the score.
If I’m not mistaken, Chapman comes from a Christian perspective, but his book produces a very non-Christian type of love. The Bible says, “love does not seek its own…does not take into account a wrong suffered,” yet that is exactly the result of Chapman’s teaching.
Listen to how I describe healthy love in my book, A Drink with Legs, a book that addresses this “you complete me” nonsense from start to finish:
“…authentic love is a one-way street. Love asks nothing, needs nothing and requires nothing. It needs no response, no return and no reason. Love has no strings, it has no memory, it incurs no debt, needs no vow and has no job description. If need exists, love can’t. If want is present, love is absent. Love is not mutual. It is not a two-way street. It is freely given with no thought of reply. Love, if it is actually love, is unconditional. Always.”
The purpose of this short article is merely to expose the danger in Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages. If you want to go deeper into the subject of how to create healthy, co-committed love and release yourself from the misery of co-dependent relationships, something that plagues 95% of all couples, I suggest you read my book. It’s a fun, creatively written memoir of my journey from score-keeping love to authentic love.
Finally, if you want to touch your partner, touch your partner. If you want to do an act of service, do an act of service. But if you think it’s your partner’s job to make you feel loved, happy, secure and special, you will not only be disappointed—because your thirst is unquenchable—but you’ll end up keeping score and resenting your partner for not “being there for you.”
As Eckhart Tolle has said, “The purpose of a relationship is not to make you happy (feel loved), but to make you conscious.” Conscious of what? Well, two things.
First, to become conscious of the “you complete me” mindset, a disease that has infected nearly all of us, and secondly, to become conscious of our true nature as spiritual beings.
The idea that we lack anything, especially love, and need someone or something outside of us to give it to us, is merely a sign of a severe case of spiritual amnesia. We’ve forgotten who we are. We’ve lost sight of our true nature. We don’t need love, we ARE love. To believe we need love, is like the ocean believing it needs water. I close with this poem from Zen Master Hakuin:
Not knowing how near Truth is,
People seek it far away—what a pity!
They are like he who, in the midst of water,
Cries out desperately in thirst.