In our romantic fantasies, the path to true love is smooth, and partners know exactly how to make each other feel loved. But the couples we see in therapy aren’t always so adept. In fact, Gary Chapman, a North Carolina pastor and counselor, realized that people typically tend to express and understand emotional love through one of five “languages”—words of affirmation, quality time, personal gifts, acts of service, or physical touch. Further, one of the primary obstacles to emotionally connecting is the failure to speak each other’s love language. That core insight has led his book, The 5 Love Languages, first published in 1992, to sell more than 10 million copies and to stay on the New York Times bestseller list since 2009.
But why? What about this pastor’s simple categorization so captivates people from all faith traditions? In this conversation, Chapman tries to explain the remarkable appeal of his book.
RH: What inspired the love languages?
CHAPMAN: I kept hearing similar stories over and over again in the office. One person in the relationship would say, “I just feel like he doesn’t love me,” and the other would say, “Well, I don’t understand that. I do this and this and this. Why would you not feel loved?” I knew there had to be a pattern. Eventually, I sat down and read 12 years of my session notes to try to figure the patterns out, and later I called them the five love languages.…