Communicating Love: A Book Review

This week I read a book entitled The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Dr. Gary Chapman. I did this in response to my girlfriend who is making crucial decisions concerning our relationship, her career, and the fringe responsibilities we all have surrounding the things we treasure. It isn’t often I write book reviews or ponder on the word “love,” but those are my two goals with this entry.

The Five Love Languages is directed at married couples rather than premarital relationships, but seems to apply to just about every type of relationship one could have in this life. The book centers around every person having one of five languages of love. This is defined as the way a person best shows and receives interpersonal communications of love. I seem an odd candidate to read this book. An obviously Christian authorship which can be seen from his other titles. Such catchy lables as The Love Languages of God and The Other Side of Love: Handling Anger in a Godly Way (quite a claim on that second one). Then you only have to consider the fact that I don’t believe in love, at least not in the context of a great many, to notice there doesn’t seem to be an avenue for me to embrace this book like many of my favorite texts. Yet, it touched me deeply.

Now, before all of the silent objections begin, I was in no way converted. The religious sentiments did not come up often, and were most evident in the anecdotes, as his subjects often went to church, and in the chapter end notes which were mostly scriptural references. There was a much more aggressive nod to God, but I’ll cover that later. The truth be told, I found myself affirmed in the hard determinism which has made life so much more simple and livable. His tone and style had a mostly-scientific feel, and his intent of making marriages last wafted with stout integrity. I liked the guy. I would later tell my partner that “I wonder if I secretly wrote half of it without knowing.” He spoke of ideas and themes which I value at the highest level. He writes of the connection of commitment and forgiveness, and this also is one of my principle assertions, as well as the value of being first being in a relationship to make a large change as a springboard for fulfillment; the value of being vulnerable is a springboard for life. So from the get-go, I was engaged and one of his audience.

This is a good moment to say admit the reason my girlfriend wanted me to read the book. Things have been rocky for a long time. We have been firm in our desire to be with each other for the foreseeable future and beyond, but that hadn’t stopped the miscommunication and angry, harsh exchanges. We were all but done. We made a bit of a turn around which included a long conversation held on a bench on the west side of Wilson Park, the corner of the trail, and a subsequent joyful dinner at Hugo’s (both local hot spots for good times).

Taking to the book quickly meant tears quickly. He spoke of people being so out of touch with feeling loved that they sort of forgot what it is that makes them feel loved by others. He refers to this as the “love tank.” I admittedly rolled my eyes at that one, but being a fiction writer, the desire to suspend criticism held fast. He uses his anecdotal evidence from counseling sessions to illustrate just how learning and applying the languages work. I wasn’t overcome with tears constantly, but from what I hear during testimonials and my own mate’s difficulty with reading it, one could expect several tear breaks as things and stories from the book hit different folks with varying levels of emotional intensity. I found myself in study mode from the beginning and even that didn’t keep me from emotional investment.

Going on any further without revealing the languages would be silly so I’ll do that here.

  1. Words of Affirmation: these are support statements to someone when they do something selfless for their mate or family. Things like, “You did an amazing paint job on the bedroom, thank you.” or “The car looks amazing, thanks for washing it.” People who speak this language will feel most loved when they are told with words of affection that they are supporting the shared invironment.

  2. Quality Time: this language is used by those that wish for undivided attention in order to feel loved. This is my daughter’s language at first guess (he mentions his belief that this is also his daughter’s primary love language; I think the evidence that he and I are a lot a like on many levels becomes nearly overwhelming by the time I finished the book). This type of lover will not feel as loved as when you are giving them personal attention with conversation, board games, over dinner, etc.

  3. Receiving Gifts: this is fairly self explanatory language. These people communicate love through the giving of gifts. He makes a good point that this doesn’t mean buying a bunch of stuff to throw at loved ones. Gifts given from a pure place for another fits his attitude better. He acknowledges that gifts crafted or made by hand fit the bill just as well assuming that is the dialect of this language spoken.

  4. Acts of Service: this language is composed of acts rather than gestures or vocalization. This is described as tasks which provide the communication of love. Washing the car, dishes, vacuuming are all examples given in his anecdotes of people using “acts of service.” I am sure we all can think of many more.

  5. Physical Touch: this language consists of all the different ways in which someone can achieve psychical connection. Everything is talked about in this category from sexual intercourse to shoulder rubs to holding hands. It is also mentioned that this is language most men believe they fall under, but it is also revealed he firmly disagrees with that assessment.

The brilliance in this book and the reason I’ve told people that it is a “very smart book,” is that he never claims that learning these will solve all the problems with communication. He states clearly that these are only tools, and if applied, may drastically change the way a partner or spouse will begin to treat and react to you. What he does not mention is when you start using these tools one begins to see themselves differently. I found that as the surprise effect the book had on me.

The lens of a loved one is the most scrupulous. When your partner starts to react in a positive way the mirror which you begin to observe the self through becomes a place of excitement and pride. My partner is reacting to me with excitement, and in a truly unexpected turn, she is now the one who from time to time is questioning her value in the relationship, her ability to meet my standards (fortunately she is reading the book as I write). What an incredible change. This is truly the work of a gifted writer mixed with an observant counselor. That being said, I do have some major issues.

I did not like that there wasn’t a single anecdote of failure. His life and everyone that ever listened to him according to this book lives happily ever after. This is a false depiction of life. The only way that anyone has ever failed who sought his council had to look “love” in the face a walk a way. This raises flags warning concerning intent. “Life is pain… Anyone who says different is selling something.” (Dread Pirate Roberts, Princess Bride) Low and behold, he is selling a book. This isn’t a bad thing, but he hides that intent behind principles of benign religiousness, and it just feels rotten that he would do that to sell a few extra copies. After pouring his heart out about being a born again Christian he reminds everyone, “I would be pleased if you would give a copy of this book to your family, to your brothers and sisters, to your married children (phew, I get out of this one), to your employees (dodged another bullet), to those in your civic club or church or synagogue.” (191) How many copies is that again? My book says that it is $13.99 on the back cover. Well, that would total, in my situation, $125.91 before tax. I bet he wants me to do that. I hope all of you donate the same sum under the same parameters to me for my spectacular blogging skills. The funny thing is the very next book I started to read is a book about potential alien biology and culture. That author asks that you read the questions he poses, and take the “spirit” of the text out, and ask the questions of your social groups. Why is Christianity so tied up with capitalism: answer Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and The ‘Spirit’ of Capitalism.”

Unfortunately for Dr. Chapman the god thing didn’t come through as the body text itself in very secular, and when I looked at my life, my parents’ lives, I see only hard determinism as described in his book. The facts he presents display that we can condition each other to respond to “love” in a controlled way. Chapter 10 “Love is a Choice” (yes, I must have written half of this under hypnosis) describes how we make the choice to love despite what we think of as compatibility with our mate. We are high apes. One ape works with another on most levels. You put the work in, you can handle almost any other person. If both of your goals line up and y’all like to “bump uglies,” all it takes is effort after that. Seriously that simple. It helps, of course, to have good tools. Dr. Chapman has provided those without fail.

I suggest this book to anyone having relationship issues or trouble finding love. Whether an antitheist like myself, or born again Jew, there are far reaching applications of the ideas within this book. There is even a nod towards children at the end, and I saw immediate and multi-day results when applied. I don’t think you’ll have to pay the fourteen bucks. I gave it to the very person who gave me her copy finding it at a local thrift store for $1.07, and I am sure Amazon is rife with used copies. I don’t mind publishing the price even though I gave it to my One. She and I are speaking our love at an unprecedented rate these days, and she loves a good bargain.

Works Cited

Chapman, Gary D. The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Chicago: Northfield Pub., 1995. Print.

The Princess Bride. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 1987. DVD.

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism. London: Penguin, 2002. Print.

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