“Characteristics of poor mentalizing include rigidity, claims of all-knowingness about states of mind, lack of curiosity, and black-and-white thinking.”*

*(Bateman & Fonagy, 2016, pp. 116-120).

The concept of love languages was coined by Baptist pastor Gary Chapman some 30 years ago to help him in his task of counselling couples. At the last count, 20 million copies have been sold worldwide of Chapman’s 1992 book The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts. The five “love languages” he proposes are: words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service and receiving gifts.

Chapman’s book has been translated into 49 languages. He’s also co-authored The Five Languages of Apology with Dr. Jennifer Thomas, and The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Paul White, though we hear less about those.

A point I haven’t seen emphasised is that he was working in a context of religious practice, and it is perhaps a residual zeal that keeps sales healthy. That and the natural drift towards the self-help and diet shelves in the bookshop, especially those volumes with a number in the title.

Just in time for Valentine’s this year, The Conversation posted two pieces which pondered Chapman’s concept: the first on 10 February by Martin Graff, Senior Lecturer in Psychology of Relationships, University of South Wales; the second on 13 February by Gery Karantzas, Professor in Social Psychology / Relationship Science, Deakin University.

As Graff observes, “If you’ve ever flipped through the pages of a women’s lifestyle magazine, there’s a good chance you’ve stumbled onto a quiz promising to answer the question “what is your love language?”.”

Karantzas describes “the catch” as: “There is little evidence to support the idea that love languages are “a thing”…”. (My personal view is that they’re only a thing insofar as anything is “a thing”.)

In more emollient language, Graff concludes: “There is little doubt there’s value to be found in expressing your love for your partner in a thoughtful way.”

For the purposes of this post, I’ve skimmed the book (“Singles Edition”), which – wouldn’t you know it – also enumerates seven common purposes of marriage, and five objectives in dating.

The extracts given below will give you a flavour of the text:

“…Affirming words is one of the five basic love languages. Within that language, however, there are many dialects…”

“…As always, my wife, Karolyn, has been supportive of this project.
She has worked with me through the years as we have sought to develop friendships with singles. Our lives have been greatly enriched from these relationships…”

“…The singles’ world is filled with people who are worthy of praise…”

“…For some singles, this is already their native tongue. They grew up in a positive linguistic environment, hearing many affirming words from their earliest childhood. It will be relatively easy for them to speak this language, because they have been practicing it for many years. These are the people who are known in their social circle as encouragers…”

“…The single adult in contemporary society must make the choice between Freud and the facts…”

“…we must be realistic and admit that dating is a very integral part of Western culture…”

“…I do not mean to convey the idea that dating should be done in a spirit of martyrdom – “Poor ol’ me. I have to do this service as my duty,”…”

“…There are appropriate and inappropriate ways to touch members of the opposite sex in every society…”

“… “Do you have any idea what your brother’s primary love language is?” I asked. Steve had never heard of the love languages and didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.
I proceeded to explain the love languages and that each of us has a primary love language that speaks to us more deeply than the other four. I suggested that love is the most powerful way to improve a relationship.

I didn’t see Steve again for about six months. When I saw him next the first thing he said was, “I discovered my brother’s primary language, but I’m having trouble figuring out how to speak it.”…”

“…At a singles conference in the mountains of North Carolina, Josh approached me after a lecture on the five love languages with a perplexing question. “I believe in all five love languages, but what if you try to speak a love language and your dating partner is not willing to accept it?” he asked…”

From: Vera (1921), by Elizabeth Von Arnim:

“She had never met anyone so comfortable to lean on mentally. Bodily, on the few occasions on which her aunt was out of the room, he was comfortable too; he reminded her of the very nicest of sofas – expensive ones, all cushions. But mentally he was more than comfortable, he was positively luxurious. Such perfect rest, listening to his talk. No thinking needed. Things according to him were either so, or so. With her father things had never been either so, or so; and one had had to frown, and concentrate, and make efforts to follow and understand his distinctions, his infinitely numerous, delicate, difficult distinctions. Everard’s plain division of everything into two categories only, snow-white and jet-black, was as reposeful as the Roman church. She hadn’t got to strain or worry, she had only to surrender. And to what love, to what safety!…

…The most that could be said for her father’s friends was that they meant well; but oh, what trouble the well-meaning could bring into an otherwise simple situation! From them she hid – it was inevitable – in Wemyss’s arms. Here were no arguments; here were no misgivings and paralysing hesitations. Here was just simple love, and the feeling – delicious to her whose mother had died in the very middle of all the sweet early petting, and whose whole life since had been spent entirely in the dry and bracing company of unusually inquisitive-minded, clever men – of being a baby again in somebody’s big, comfortable, uncritical lap.”


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