There’s one big secret to loving someone — and that’s loving them on their own terms. Not yours. You can shower someone with tender kisses, and they’ll still feel unloved.
That’s the real message behind Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages. There could be more than five, or less. Something you consider a “gift” might look like an act of service to someone else.
You might need something that’s not addressed by any of the love languages. It doesn’t matter. You still need it.
Or you need to give it.
Last week I posted my own spin, describing a sixth love language as distance, or personal space. So far it’s helped a lot of people who felt a certain need, but couldn’t explain it. It’s something I’ve struggled with in my own relationships, which is why I wrote it.
A few people saw the post as a chance to point out how I’d misinterpreted the 5 love languages. As expected, the trolls came calling.
Here’s an especially lovely comment:
Someone didn’t actually read the books on the Five Love Languages.
Respecting your partner’s need for space is covered in simple respect — Gifts of Space, the Service of Doing Something Alone, these things are actually covered by Chapman’s books.
Not saying he has all the answers, but clearly, this author is just looking for clicks and never read the material.
There’s only two things you can do with something like this. You can ignore it, or turn it into another article.
In the end, we don’t know exactly how many love languages exist. Even a few of the original 5 overlap so much, you could slap them together and nobody would know.
Get creative enough, and they’re interchangeable.
Everything is a “gift,” in a way
Chapman’s book breaks love down into five categories: words of affirmation; quality time; gifts; acts of service; and physical touch. But the categories overlap, and you could call them all a kind of gift. Gary Chapman’s a smart guy — he gets this. The entire nature of categories is that you can combine them and nest them under each other.
Look at the end of chapter 6, where he talks about the gift of self:
Being there when your spouse needs you speaks loudly to the one whose primary love language is receiving gifts…
Your body becomes a symbol of your love.
That sounds a lot like quality time, which Chapman defines this way:
By quality time, I mean giving someone your undivided attention. I don’t mean sitting on the couch watching television together. What I mean is sitting on the couch with the TV off, looking at each other and talking… It means taking a walk, just the two of you…
So quality time qualifies as a kind of gift. You’re giving them yourself and your attention for a few hours. And if you really wanted to, you could also define words of affirmation as a gift. You’re giving them compliments and verbal encouragement, to show you appreciate them. You could define acts of service as a gift, just like physical touch.
The “love language” of gifts is literally about stuff
Chapman is pretty literal when it comes to his discussion of gifts. It’s not any of the other four. It’s specifically about buying something, finding something, or making something.
You can’t just buy them an iPod. It has to be something they actually want. Or better yet, something they didn’t know they wanted.
He defines gifts as “symbols of love.”
Some gifts double as acts of service, and vice versa. But some gifts are just gifts, and so on…
His specific examples include wedding rings, cards, takeout, jewelry, potted plants, photo albums, and fancy desserts. The one exception he makes to stuff is you — your physical body.
Why did he stop at five?
Because it’s a nice round number.
Because if you’re a writer, you eventually have to stop somewhere. “The Six Love Languages” doesn’t sound quite as good.
Because psychology lore tells us we can remember 7 things max. So 5 is a pretty safe bet. Chapman was trying to write a helpful book, and a best-seller. It makes perfect sense to stop at 5.
But it’s not like he was writing the 10 commandments. And besides, we all know there’s way more than 10 bad things you can do to someone. Moses told us the worst ones and then basically said, “These are the big ten. I think you guys can figure out the rest.”
We get the idea of love languages. There’s probably more than 5, but not too many. It depends on whatever fills up your love tank.
The one who decides what counts as what
Who decides? Not me. Not you. Your partner does.
They’re the expert.
We can debate semantics all day long. In the end, it’s a huge waste of time, because this is about pleasing your partner. It’s not about winning an argument with someone online.
You can get too clever with love languages
There’s a reason why Chapman broke down love languages into at least 5 different categories. If your love language is physical touch, you wouldn’t appreciate it if your partner played word games with you in order to define words of affirmation as “virtual hugs.”
That’s just bullshit.
As most of us know, there’s a big difference between giving your spouse a massage yourself, and hiring a masseuse.
The first one speaks the love language of touch.
The second one is a gift. Someone who speaks in touch might especially appreciate a professional masseuse. But it’s still a gift. It’s not the same as being touched by someone they love.
Kris Gage has covered this point…
One love language doesn’t substitute for another, no matter how clever you get in defining what a gift is (or anything else).
Love languages are about simplicity
Gary Chapman wrote a great book, but even he says he wasn’t trying to solve the equation of love for all time.
Still, he doesn’t really talk about how personality or brain types influence how we speak the love languages differently, or how some of us might need extra ones. Buy a digital copy of his book and do a search for words like “alone” or “by yourself.” There’s nothing that talks about allowing someone time to themselves counts as a gift, or an act of service.
Anything we think we know about personal space as a gift or act of service is inferred, not explicit.
Most of us wouldn’t normally think of leaving our loved ones alone as a gift, or an act of service.
That’s the whole point of making it a separate love language.
Distance and personal space count as “gifts” in the same way that physical touch or an act of service do. They’re different enough from every other love language that they deserve their own category. So there you have it. Distance is the sixth love language.
Figure out what fills up your tank
What matters most is learning how to satisfy your partner, and yourself. The thing you need might fall neatly into one of the existing categories. If it doesn’t, then don’t feel bad about adding your own love language.
Your own personal love language could be distance, constructive feedback, or some form of fetish.
If you love someone, you’ll figure out how to love them on their own terms. And you’ll learn how what makes you feel loved.
It’s a little different for everyone.