Love Languages: Now For The Bad

The Love Language series by Gary Chapman has become one of the more popular and even influential set of books on relationships within the Christian (and even non-Christian) community. While there are helpful aspects of the books which I’ve personally benefited from, I’m not sure that the book is all that profitable. In fact, I think that these concepts can really harm relationships and specifically marriages.

First a quick review. The core concept behind the Love Languages approach to relationships is that people give and receive love in five different ways: Acts of Service, Touch, Gifts, Quality Time, and Affirming Words. Our tendency is to assume that others share a similar love language with us. But that’s often a mistake. According to the book, our goal should be to love others in a way that really communicates love to them.

The problem that David Powlison finds is that Chapman’s philosophy is built on Jesus’ statement that “even tax collectors, gentiles, and sinners love those who love them” (Matthew 5:46ff and Luke 6:32ff). This translates roughly into something like “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” While this kind of love is common in the world, it isn’t what Christians are called to. In this very section of Scripture Jesus tells us that we are supposed to love our enemies not just those that love us. In this way Christians stand out from others and bring glory to Christ.

Another problem revolves around Chapman’s concept of the “emotional love tank” and his assertion that our “misbehavior, withdrawal, harsh words, and critical spirit occur because of that empty tank.” It sounds as if this is giving the sinner the right to play victim blaming their sin on the fact that they haven’t been loved properly.

Additionally it seems that it gives everyone the right to demand that they be loved in the “right way.” If I don’t get my love tank filled, then who knows what hurtful thing I’ll do or say. But does the Bible ever give us permission to act sinfully because our needs aren’t being met? I don’t think so. Yes, we all have ways that we enjoy being loved but that can’t ever become an excuse to demand that others treat us according to our self-described need. Our “needing” can quickly turn into our demanding.

Chapman seems to distill relationships down to a set of skills. No one has to deal with their heart. Relationships can be fixed if a person will just learn another’s language and make the effort to love them the right way. There is no real need to face our sin and selfishness. No need for a Savior but just improved skills. There is no need for a Redeemer as much as a counselor.

Powlison has a great section on how the five love languages become distorted by sinful human beings.

Affirming words? I feel loved when the crowd cheers and when you offer me flattering comments.

Quality Time? I feel loved when you drop everything to focus on me, are completely understanding, give me unconditional love. agree with all my opinions, and never disagree with me, question me, or interrupt me.

Gifts? I feel loved when you are my Sugar Daddy, giving me money, buying me lots of nice stuff, taking me on exotic vacations, and pampering me.

Acts of Service? I feel loved when you do exactly what I want, and don’t make any demands on me, and say, “Your wish is my command.”

Physical Touch? I feel loved when you go along with my perverted sexual fantasies and when you make me feel like the most special person in the world.

Our sinful nature can turn each of the love languages (along with everything else) into something dark and selfish. We usually can see it when others’ love languages grow perverse but it is more difficult to see it when it happens to us.

What we need is a redeemer–someone to rescue us from our sin. What we need is a changed heart so that we demand less and serve more. What we need is to know a greater love that can satisfy our hearts so that we don’t look for people to meet that deepest need. In other words, what our relationships need is for each of us to believe the gospel in deeper ways for it is in the gospel that we meet Jesus, experience his love, and gain a new heart.

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