Chapman: Knowing Love’s Expression Can Heal

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Gary Chapman.  2010.  The 5 Love Languages:  The Secret to Love that Lasts.  Chicago:  Northfield Publishing.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

According to the U.S. Census, the share of children born to unwed mothers rose from 27 percent in 1990 to 40 percent in 2007, with the rate more than doubling among white women over this period [1]. This one statistic implies that in our generation the prospects for children in the U.S. have plummeted. Think more poverty. Think more drug use. Think more suicides. Marriage is not just a romantic idea. Broken marriages are probably the most important social problem of our time.

Gary Chapman gets it.  In his book, The 5 Love Languages, he writes:  Keeping love alive in our marriages is serious business (13).  Relational and emotional sophistication is especially important in a society where

  1. Time is measured in milliseconds;
  2. Families are mobile and both spouses work; and
  3. Community ties are weak

because little or no backup exists.  In this context, if husband and wife fail to commute their love concretely and in a way that meet each other’s needs (fills their “love tank”; 20), then the marriage comes under stress.

Chapman observes that the period of “falling in love” lasts about 2 years (30). This implies a learning period that permits couples to learn about each other and sort out their relationship.  In Chapman’s experience as a marriage counselor, he observed that in healthy marriages couples expressed love in 5 distinct languages:

  • Words of Affirmation;
  • Quality Time;
  • Receiving Gifts;
  • Acts of Service; and
  • Physical Touch (18).

This observation is complicated by two further observations:

  1. We are all by nature egocentric and
  2. Couples seldom communicate love in the same language (15; 32).

When couples fail to learn to communicate love in their partner’s love language, both partners begin to feel that their emotional needs are not being met (the love tank empties) and they feel neglected.

A key challenge in many troubled marriages is learning to identify your partner’s primary love language and communicate love in that language (124).  Chapman sees 3 clues in discovering your primary love language:

  1. What actions or inactions of your spouse are most hurtful?
  2. What things do you most often request of your spouse?
  3. How do you try to express your love to your spouse? (128)

Areas of sensitivity, requests, and expressions of love all point to your primary love language.  Because we are not all alike, expressing love the way we hope to receive it may come across to your spouse like speaking Chinese to an English speaker (15).

How can we love someone that we hate? (151)  At this point, Chapman turns to his faith citing Jesus:  But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28 ESV). While quoting scripture is fairly common, Chapman builds on it. He suggests:  try a little experiment—identify your spouse’s top 2 love languages and work for 6 months to offer them love through them without reacting to their comments or offering criticism.  Then, see what happens (153-162).  What do you have to loose?

Chapman is an interesting read. He peppers his advice with stories of couples experiencing the problem under discussion.  He also talks about his own challenges in marriage. Throughout this book I found myself applying his advice as I read along. Perhaps, you will too.

[1] U.S. Census Bureau. Economics and Statistics Administration. U.S. Department of Commerce. Statistical Abstract of the United States. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2011.

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