Valentine’s Day often brings our focus back to love and relationships. This question is one I am often asked by those who desire to love well. The exact question varies from person to person, but the heart of it remains, “Do I need to know the love languages in order to love this other person well?” The vocabulary of love languages stems initially from Gary Chapman’s seminal work The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate (Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 1992, 2015). Since then Chapman has written books specifically addressing the love languages to husbands, wives, parents, and teenagers.
So do you need to know the love languages if you are going to love well? Short answer, no. However, it is not that simple. There are some underlying strengths and weaknesses to the concept of love languages that are necessary to consider if you hope to love another person well.
The Five Love Languages
Chapman suggests each person functions primarily through one of five loves languages (5LL): 1) affirming words, 2) quality time, 3) gift-giving, 4) acts of service, and 5) physical affection. These 5LL provide his basic summary of how individuals are hard-wired to receive love from another person. Chapman depended upon his own personal observations and available research to create these particular categories. The 5LL are not explicitly drawn from Scripture. They instead are his observational assessment of how people function as it relates to love.
What are the strengths of considering the love languages?
Although it is true, you can love well without knowing the 5LL, as people have for centuries prior to 1992, there is some wisdom in what Chapman suggests.
Initially, the 5LL reminds us that we are all different; therefore, we express and receive love in potentially different ways. Taking time to reflect on the one you love, while seeking to discern insight related to how he or she is best loved well, benefits you and possibly your relationship.
Furthermore, how you express your love is worth contemplating at length. It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming the way you feel loved is the exact way someone else does too. Potentially your best efforts at sharing your love fall short of actually communicating the real extent of your love, because it is not received in the same way it is given. Many of us can use the ideas and suggestions contained in the 5LL to help our initiative, creativity and perseverance in loving well.
Potentially the greatest strength is that individuals may love more thoughtfully. How often do we actually ask good questions like: “What will bring the greatest amount of blessing to this other person?” “What interests this person?” “What does he enjoy most?” “What seems to make her happiest?”
What are the weaknesses of considering the love languages?
Because of the brevity of this blog, let me mention just three. First, many people have looked at the 5LL as a silver bullet for relational bliss. The thinking goes something similar to this: “If I speak her love language and she is fulfilled, then I’ll get what I want.” This is a version of “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” The problem of course in this scenario is the self-seeking heart of the individual, not inherently a problem with misunderstanding the various ways to express love to another person.
Secondly, when a person “discovers” the love language of another and assumes the work is done. “Now that I know his love language, this is the way I’ll express my love.” It is impossible to conflate the idea of sharing love with another person down to just one language. David Powlison challenges us to remember that love speaks many languages fluently.
Third, Chapman suggests the basic problem in relationships is foundationally an empty emotional love tank (ch. 2). No doubt there are many great blessings and benefits from emotional fulfillment. For example, emotional fulfillment often encourages more patience, kindness, and perseverance. However, impatience and harsh words are not caused by or are not simply the result of an empty love tank. They are expressions of a sinful heart. Jesus taught that “from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34; cf. Luke 6:45).
So do you need to know the love languages to love well?
No. However, we must seek to love with all the wisdom and creativity that the Scriptures demonstrate and demand. We must love like Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2). Chapman’s 5LL may provide you some valuable insight and help you be more creative in the process.
Happy Valentine’s Day
 David A. Powlison, “Love Speaks Many Languages Fluently,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, No 1, Fall 2002 21 (2002): 2-11.