Love Languages Are Fake. So What?

Love Languages were created by a somewhat problematic marriage counselor and are not evidence-based/supported by science. Does this mean that Love Languages should be scrapped entirely? I think that with some rehabilitation, the concept of Love Languages can still provide a lot of utility to people.

This article was tagged with: Loving Better, Love/Romance

There are 1718 words in this article, and it will probably take you less than 9 minutes to read it.

This article was published 2023-07-21 00:00:00 -0400, which makes this post and me old when I published it.

@rachelvanderbiltphd Let’s, once again, talk about the lore of love languages and why they aren’t real. And by not being real, I don’t mean they aren’t real ways to show your partner you care, but rather, the “theoretical” portion of this book isn’t valid. It was all made up by a random guy who put on britches ten sizes too big for his qualifications. #lovelanguage #love #lovescience #lovepsychology #lovelanguages #lovelanguages101 #lovelanguagechallenge #lovelanguagetiktok #lovelanguagegame #psychology #psych #psychfacts #data #research #communication #therapy #therapytiktok #therapist #advice #relationships #relationshipadvice #dating #datingadvice #coach #datingcoach #relationshipcoach #myth #mythbusting #pseudoscience ♬ original sound - Rachel Vanderbilt, PhD

Love Languages as a Conceptual Framework

I think that referring to Love Languages as “fake,” albeit true, is inflammatory on purpose as a way to increase the memetic potential of the TikTok video, which makes sense, as the creator wants to spread the message about warning against the dangers of relying too heavily on Love Languages. She is right to point out that Love Languages were created by a person with problematic beliefs and an unsound academic background in the field of relationship psychology. However, I think that the main issue with Love Languages when boiled down is that it is a truism. I think that at its core Love Languages are about doing things that your partner would like, and to not spend effort on things that they would not like, and this is not a revolutionary idea.

If you look at Love Languages not as a personality test, but as a conceptual language for people in relationships to use, then it opens up a lot of opportunities to add onto various concepts to reinforce the framework and set it on more steady ground. If we anchor Love Languages as a conceptual framework, then we get to sidestep the pitfalls of pseudoscience or appealing to science. Instead, it is just a way to have discourse about how you like to receive (and give) love.

Incoming vs Outgoing Love Languages

This is my biggest problem with the Love Languages framework as it is popularly discussed, there is no distinction between incoming and outgoing Love Languages. I think that it is definitely overlooked that people can be accustomed to/expect love in one way, but deliver love to other people in a different way. I think this is especially true with gender socialization and how people give and receive words of affirmation or gifts. For example, people socialized as women are generally raised to be more attentive to people’s wants and needs, which allows them to be more attuned to the people they love, and can thus give better gifts. This is a whole different topic though, so I won’t get more into it here. In my opinion, how we give and receive love is most likely more as a result of nurture rather than nature. Additionally, it is skills based, so you can practice and get better over time.

I think something like Words of Affirmation are really quite easy to learn, as long as both partners are able to work on the calibration process together. Similarly with gift giving, some people just aren’t taught how to give gifts. This calibration process can be quite challenging or long

Love Languages are Dynamic

You can let the idea of a “primary” and “permanent” love languages fall away. Some people might have one that they prefer above all others at all times, but most people are not like that. They can’t narrow it down to just one that they would prefer ultimately, and the rankings of the Love Languages probably changes day-to-day. People’s preferences change over time as well, so the results of a single Love Language quiz are just a pinpoint in time. I’ve taken the quiz a couple of times, and the results are usually consistent within a small time window, but over time I have definitely seen Quality Time rise up the ranks, where it used to be at the very bottom.

Love Languages vs Duty

Some things might not make you feel loved, but are still necessary for a healthy functioning relationship. Taking out the trash is not an Act of Service, but it is your responsibility as a member of the household. Doing something like that doesn’t make me feel loved, but instead just means that you are fulfilling your share of the domestic labor. However, something just as small, like refilling your partner’s water bottle without them asking, could be an Act of Service. It all depends from person to person and some gestures may be more akin to a maintenance task rather than a gesture of love.

Just because you do something does not mean that you are taking a burden off of someone. This is where the idea of mental load comes in, where there is cognitive labor (which is importantly different than emotional labor) of having to think through everything and keep it in the top of your mind. You could go to the grocery store to pick up groceries, but who is the one who is planning what to eat and what goes on the grocery list? If you have to go to the grocery store but have to text your partner which brand they use or where to find the chips, then you may be doing more harm than help.

Clarifying Some Love Languages

Is there a sixth Love Language?

Some people online have begun to say that there is “sixth Love Language” which is “Feeling Known”. However, I think that this more close the entire point of love. All of the Love Languages should be aimed at showing your love, appreciation, desire, and respect for your partner. Seeing your partner, understanding and noticing how they present and move through the world, is love itself, not so much a Love Language. Verbally, this happens through Words of Affirmation and how you talk and text each other, but non-verbally it happens through all the other Love Languages.

Reframing Words of Affirmation

I think of the 5 Love Languages, Words of Affirmation is the least understood, or at least it was the one that I had the most trouble with wrapping my head around. I first conceived of it only in a narrow frame where Words of Affirmation were just compliments, which is untrue. The way that I interpret this category now is that you are reminding the other person that you still love them. For some people, they may prefer more specific reasons of why you love them, but I believe the core concept is the same.

Words of Affirmation can be hard for some people because they don’t know how to go beyond just supportive statements. And for a lot of people, that just doesn’t cut it because such statements are simply a fundamental part of a healthy relationship. For them, they may not even register it as an expression of love for this very reason, they just expect it, or it is just the normal human thing to give and receive.

For me the reason why Words of Affirmation are so powerful is because they are a signal that the other person is thinking of you and paying attention to you, which goes back to the idea of “feeling known” by your partner.

Spending Time Together vs Quality Time

It’s already in the name, but I think that people often forget about the “quality” part of Quality Time. You can spend time together without it being Quality Time. I think that the main reason is that the time spent together lacks any kind of intentionality. For some people, spending time together and doing parallel play is perfectly fine, preferred even. However, for a lot of other people, Quality Time means going on some kind of date, or at least doing a shared activity that brings you closer together with your partner. This varies from person to person, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Love Languages and Compatibility

I don’t think that Love Languages is for everyone, but I also think that it is wrong to discount it as pseudoscience and thus immediately unhelpful or something that is not worth your time. It definitely should not be used as a weapon against your partner to say, “Well I want X, Y, and Z done for me because that is my love language” and that your partner has not choice but to give in because that makes you feel loved. However, I think that a person is able to make whatever request they want, but that the other person is equally able to reject that request as unreasonable.

Furthermore, I think that while Love Languages are dynamic, a mismatch in outgoing and receiving love languages between relationship partners can be a measure of compatibility. If a person is unable or unwilling to learn how to love their partner in a way that makes them feel loved, then that relationship will surely suffer. However, as discussed previously, Love Languages can be learned over time, but to a point of diminishing marginal return. These preferences are certainly socially conditioned, but I feel like some preferences are crystallized to a certain degree. This then becomes a point of compatibility sometimes it is just too much to ask of another person to adjust they way they love or want to be loved in order to fit your needs. All of this is to say that just because there is an initial mismatch, does not mean that the relationship is doomed to fail, but also that some things are too vast to be overcome.