Why 5 Love Languages Won’t Fix Your Marriage
Just about everyone’s heard of the 5 Love Languages. The book’s been out for over 25 years now, sold over 20 million copies, and has been translated into 50 languages. The premise of “figure out what your spouse’s love language is, and love them in that way” seems simple enough and straightforward. But does it really work?
I’m Dr. Brent Mruz, owner and marriage therapist at Silver River Counseling.
As popular and successful as the book has been, you would think that if we all just did more of what our spouses asked of us, we would all feel more satisfaction in our marriages.
But, we are not robots. And even if we were programmed to consistently apply a selected love language to our spouse, it wouldn’t fix the broken areas in our marriage. We are much more complex than this approach either gives us credit for or holds us accountable to one another in our relationships.
As a Clinical Psychologist for the past 26 years specializing in helping relationships, it has been my experience that although people often agree that they would enjoy their partner paying more attention to the expressions of love they would prefer, they are nevertheless unlikely to feel good if what they have to offer isn’t deemed good enough. In essence, it feels like a message that says “I don’t want or accept your way of showing me love, but if you do it my way, then I will.”
It is this kind of experience that may explain why 99% of the women I work with who struggle with the 5 Love Languages approach, do so because their husband’s love language is exclusively “physical affection,” and theirs is….well, that and everything else….
As humorous and ironic as this may sound, it reveals that most women are not happy to simply supply what feels like a demand wrapped up in a palliative term called a “Love Language.”
In essence, it feels like a message that says “I don’t want or accept your way of showing me love, but if you do it my way, then I will.”
Now, to be fair, one clearly valuable message a book like this delivers well is that it is right to take a stand against the notion that happiness and satisfaction in a relationship can ever come from being either taken for granted, or expected to just be grateful for what you’re given.
The 5 Love Languages teaches us to respect the fact that “my partner is not me.” In other words, it’s an acknowledgment that there is a difference between myself and my spouse, and that since we are different from one another, it must be true that we sometimes like, need, and want different things as well.
However, it’s been my experience that despite our conscientious efforts to respect and apply the wisdom of “the Five,” our happiness and satisfaction has less to do with whether we reliably scratch each other’s preferred itches, and more to do with whether we can do so as measured against how we handle when things go wrong.
Unless we have training and practice, when we experience interpersonal conflict and lose our balance, we always fall down the same way. Our previous experiences in relationships, as well as the conflicts that occur along the way, have a major impact on how we learn to respond to conflict in our relationships today.
So, for example, if my wife unknowingly triggers strong feelings of rejection, simply because she doesn’t wish to gratify a desire I have in that moment, or because she doesn’t seem to value my own efforts to meet her needs, my automatic behavior will very likely be out of reaction to my memories, feelings and responses associated with these kinds of happenings and the emotions evoked from the past.
If we never previously experienced rejection, then it wouldn’t likely ever be the first thing on our mind in the here and now. Alternatively, if we have all-too-much experience with it, rejection is the first thing on our minds (usually before we even consciously realize it), and we quickly superimpose our need to self-protect onto the present situation, and we lash out or seek to escape.
Unless we have training and practice, when we experience interpersonal conflict and lose our balance, we always fall down the same way.
So, while it is well and good to recognize that as adults we are different people who sometimes need different things in order to feel loved by one another, ultimately our success at applying the 5 Love Languages is dependent on whether or not we have the emotional bandwidth to recognize, tolerate and resolve the negative emotions that arise when our partner’s behavior triggers radioactive memories from some of our worst relationship experiences of our past.
If you would like extra support in your relationship, I can help you both develop healthier communication patterns and guide your relationship to a deeper level of understanding and connection. If this is something you would like to explore, schedule an appointment today.