Love Languages Interpreted: Contextualizing Our Love Languages

love languages chart

We’ve all probably heard about or have had some firsthand experience with Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages. Aside from our apparent addiction with personality tests and all their variants, I will agree that Chapman’s work has been helpful for many people trying to understand how to cultivate important relationships in their lives.

I have some questions about the quiz itself, however. I’m hoping you readers will give me some feedback about your experiences walking through the questions. If my working hypothesis is correct, we all may be missing vital information possibly skewing the results of the quiz, thereby what we’re teaching ourselves or our children about who they are and what they need to thrive.

My Love Languages, as of 10:30am MST today, are:
1. Quality Time — 11
2. Physical Touch — 8
3. Words of Affirmation — 6
4. Receiving Gifts — 3
5. Acts of Service — 2

Having taken this specific quiz before, it came as no surprise that quality time remained at the top of the list. However, physical touch blew me over because it swapped places with acts of service. Words of affirmation dropped a little bit, but was usually tied with acts of service. Receiving gifts has always been lower for me.

So I began to ask some questions:

  1. As someone who has been clinically identified to be somewhere on the autism spectrum, how does physical touch speak a love language to me?
  2. As an introvert, how do all of these languages speak to me, for me, about me, and through me? I can’t imagine the kind of quality time I need from a loved one is the same as an extrovert’s needs.
  3. What if the capacity to give or receive ANY of these languages is systemically absent from my community or culture?

The Experience

As I walked through the quiz again, I began to take notice of a few things:

  1. The quiz is heteronormative. That is, it automatically assumes a person is straight. Even in registering for the quiz, one has to identify as “male” or “female”. The wording of the questions lends subtle support to the reality that this quiz assumes everyone is straight. As someone who identifies as bisexual & demisexual, I started becoming uncomfortable with how I was being led to understand love. How would the results change if LGBTQ+ people were included in designing the actual questions? Would the results change at all?
  2. The quiz assumes a good deal of white privilege. Like many North Americans, the writer assumes that everyone taking the quiz will see the questions largely through a white Euro-centric lens. If this quiz was designed to include people of colour, how would the questions change (or would they)? Would we discover more/less love languages than have been presented here? In oppressed communities where messages of “you are subhuman”, “you have no right to exist”, or “you are lazy”, how are these love languages measured? If a small child has a great need for physical touch, but is born into a community that has learned through oppression that touch is evil and thus does not readily express that love, how does that child gain what they need? Do the parameters of these languages expand? Contract? Become redefined? Demand freedom? I didn’t have to think about how my skin colour/community would shape my answers to this quiz because this quiz speaks my language (grammar, tone, shared experiences, etc). What about people for whom these experiences are foreign or denied?
  3. As I already mentioned, how are these love languages expressed through introversion, extraversion, or ambiversion? Physical touch may have grown higher on my list, but there’s no way on earth I’m letting just anyone give me a touch on the shoulder. And, as far as it’s slipped down on the list, I will start clearing the table at a dinner or be the social gathering photographer or look after the kids while the adults chat because they give me ways to control my extreme discomfort in social situations. Would I be the person to offer someone a ride home? Only if I’m the last resort. Giving a ride implies small talk. Small talk = death.
  4. The quiz, while not replete with Christian-ese, is still decidedly Christian. Is that bad? No. But it does have the potential to exclude people of other faiths or no faith traditions who might not understand the language of the Love Languages Quiz. Even if people of different traditions have similar, if not the same, ideas about love, the quiz’s very words have the potential to create confusion.

I don’t think Chapman was intending for his small quiz to be the be-all, end-all of how we express love and affection for one another. However that absence of intention only exposes privilege. He didn’t have to think about how his questions would affect LGBTQ+ children or adults because he doesn’t identify as LGBTQ+. He’s straight. Likewise, he didn’t have to think about how his questions might not factor in race and ethnicity. He didn’t have to, because he’s white. That’s privilege right there. It’s not that his intentions or questions were wrong per se; only incomplete.

If we were to ask these questions in a community where men of colour are free to hold hands, kiss each other on the cheek, walk down the street arm in arm, the perspective on physical touch (I believe) would have radical implications on the quiz’s answers.

If we were to include people of other faith traditions with questions of their own, or to perform original research about love languages, how would the categories change? Would the Christian aspect of the quiz feel threatened by the added ideas? Would we be welcoming of different love languages we have never seen before because they have not been present in our traditions?

So, my friends, what are your thoughts? Love and affection between people, within ourselves, and with God is a most powerful aspect to our lives on earth. Yet if we categorize love in such ways that still exclude how love is expressed or received in other people, how can these categories be stretched or reimagined? Or could they?

By way of context, this post is gearing up for a more central one asking about gifts and passions. We hear a lot about gifts — what we seem to be made to do or be in the world — and about passions — the things we love to do and the people we love to be/be with. The curious thing is: the two rarely match up, despite words to the contrary. What happens when we love math, but really, really suck at it?

What happens when we’re terrified/drained/frustrated with people but we’re called (“gifted”) into a vocation that is almost 100% people-exclusive? (ding! ding! ding! Seminarian, right here!)

My starting point is to question our starting points. We have this helpful little quiz about how we express and receive love between ourselves. But how helpful is it amongst the diverse populations growing in our communities?

Maybe we need to look at expanding our language.

Love, being the Infinite Source of all of who we are, has no end of expression. Of that, I am certain.

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