“What’s Your Love Language?” Apparently, That’s the Wrong Question

(Jeanette Williams)

“What’s your love language?” 

Has a date ever asked you this question, hoping to scope out if you’d make a good partner? Well, a new review paper by York University psychology professor Amy Muise says this might not be the best question to ask. 

The paper, titled Popular Psychology Through a Scientific Lens: Evaluating Love Languages From a Relationship Science Perspective, was written in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Toronto. It reviews the concept of love languages, which was originally introduced by author and pastor Gary Chapman in his 1992 book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate

The book is based on Chapman’s experiences offering marriage counselling to members of his congregation. The premise of the book is that there are five main ways people in relationships can express and receive love to and from their partner — quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. It also argues that everyone has a primary love language that they prefer to engage in, and that differences in the language preferences of romantic partners can lead to conflict in a relationship.

Chapman’s concept has been very popular since it was published, with the book having sold over 20 million copies and translated into 50 different languages. Chapman also developed an online love language quiz in 2015, which has seen over 30 million uses. 

“We think the love languages are popular in part because they provide an intuitive metaphor,” explains Muise. But despite its popularity, she and her colleagues have questions about the scientific validity of Chapman’s theory. 

“We were skeptical of the claims that Chapman makes in the book and wanted to evaluate the evidence,” she tells Excalibur. To do that, the researchers looked at three key assumptions made by Chapman’s theory and then checked in with the relationship science literature to see how the assumptions hold up.

The first assumption is that everyone has a primary love language that they prefer to use. Muise’s paper counters that, when surveyed, people “tend to endorse all five love languages as meaningful ways of expressing love.”

On a 5-point scale, participants were asked to rate how positively they considered each of the love languages. The majority of ratings for each language fell above the midpoint of the scale, and the average rating for all of the languages was approximately 4 out of 5, indicating generally positive ratings.

The second assumption Muise et al were skeptical of is that there are precisely five love languages. In Chapman’s theory, the love languages are what psychologists call a “construct” — a “cluster or domain of covarying behaviours.” Chapman’s theory purports there are five of these clusters — no more, no less.

But Muise reviewed several relationship science papers that actually point to the existence of only four, or even only three, love languages. The fact that these papers “significantly deviated from the proposed five-love-languages structure” points to a lack of scientific credibility in Chapman’s proposal.

The final assumption of Chapman’s theory, says Muise, is that partners “speaking” the same love language tend to have higher relationship satisfaction, while a mismatch in love language preference leads to relationship problems. A review of previous studies confirmed that there is little empirical evidence of the first part of this assumption — that love language overlap is associated with relationship satisfaction. 

Some of the aforementioned studies observed couples and looked at whether they reported having the same or different love language preferences. They then compared the relative relationship satisfaction of the “same” group and the “different” group. The result, consistent across four studies, was that there is no correlation.

“In our review of the evidence for the central claims related to the love languages, we found no support. People tend to feel loved when their partner expresses love in any of these ways,” summarizes Muise.

When asked if applying the concept of love languages could actually cause harm in a relationship, Muise posits that “if we think that our partner prefers to receive love in a specific way, it might limit our ability to be responsive to their needs by situation or as they change over time.”

She believes the type of love partners ought to give or receive depends largely on contextual factors. “It is very likely that in one situation someone might need a certain type of love or support — perhaps after losing out on a promotion, you just need your partner to listen and provide you with words of affirmation; maybe on an anniversary dinner, affection makes you feel special; or, during a particularly stressful time at work, having a partner take on extra household tasks is the best way to support you.”

However, Muise admits the utility of a framework as simple as the love languages. “We didn’t want to take this away without offering a new metaphor for thinking about love.” 

She proposes that people could instead think about relationships like a “nutritionally balanced diet.” According to Muise, this means that “while people can certainly stay alive if they only consume some ingredients — for example, a diet with mostly carbs — we ultimately need all five key nutritional ingredients — carbs, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals — to be in the best state of health.”

Applying this concept to relationships, she says “the best relationships will be ones in which partners spend quality time together, express appreciation, show affection, help and support each other, make each other feel special (which is presumably the intention behind gifts), among other behaviours, like support for personal goals and autonomy, not captured in Chapman’s five love languages.”

As a final piece of advice, Muise says to “be skeptical of any popular lay theories suggesting that there is a simple and straightforward fix for improving relationships. Instead, aim to understand your partner and their changing needs over time and communication about your own needs in relationships.”

About the Author

By Hale Mahon

Health Editor


Hale is a third year student in Public Administration with a Minor in Psychology. He loves politics and sits on a few boards and committees at York, including the Student Centre Board of Directors, the Student Council for LA&PS, and the university’s academic senate. As health editor, he wants to see how medical and scientific research can inform political and organizational decisions, and believes that well-communicated science can improve outcomes for everyone. Outside of work, he enjoys cooking, traveling, hiking, camping, photography, and watching 90’s sitcoms.


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