One of the books that has most affected my way of thinking over the past few years (other than scripture, of course) is The Five Love Languages by Chapman. I recommend the book to anyone who would like a practical way to improve their relationships.
The basic thesis of the book is that different people have certain "love languages" that are more meaningful to them. These languages are ways of expressing and receiving love. The five love languages are:
Physical Touch (e.g. hugs and kisses, caresses)
Words of Affirmation (e.g. terms of endearment)
Quality Time (i.e. time spent in quality conversation with an intimate)
Acts of Service (e.g. doing chores and errands for the person)
According to Chapman, each person has a primary love language, meaning that each person prefers one of these ways for giving and receiving love. He has many examples of relationships in trouble where the people involved simply expected and gave love through different modalities, and when they were taught to be aware of and sensitive to their relationship partner's primary love language they were able to express and receive love in ways that they mutually understood.
This book has enhanced my way of understanding that people have different needs and expectations in relationships. As I recall there is a workbook at the back that can help you to identify your primary love language and answer questions that will help you in your relationships.
I appreciate Chapman for giving us all an easily manageable system for understanding how to give love to and receive love from others. I feel that reality is somewhat more complex than the five categories he gave, but this is a good place to start.
It's no surprise to people who know me well that my primary love language is physical touch. In any relationship I feel that the relationship is held back somewhat unless the physical element is there. I absolutely crave to be touched, held, and kissed. I find it rather unusual that this is such an important modality for me, since I grew up in a culture and in a family that isn't particularly physically intimate. But nonetheless, I feel that a relationship is somewhat held back unless the physical element is there. However, I also value quality time spent in conversation with my intimates very much, and I find that words of affirmation are also important to me. My ideal loving relationship would have lots of all three. Nevertheless I identify physical touch as my primary love language because that is the one that always seems to need to be present.
This is an example of one of the ways in which my thinking on the subject goes beyond what Chapman has written. Chapman has the idea that people can be "bilingual", meaning that they are equally happy to give and receive love through two of the above-mentioned languages. But the way I have described myself is somewhat different from this idea of bilingualism as I understand it. Rather than being satisfied with one or the other love language, I find that a combination of three is what I most desire. This is not "bilingualism" but more like a "simultaneous multilingual" experience that I want.
Another way in which my experiences go beyond the initial system outlined by Chapman is that I have found that people can have different primary love languages for giving and receiving love. I have one friend, for example, who is incredibly physically affectionate with people she cares for. However, when people show love for her, she most prefers gifts. So this is another extension of the idea of having a primary love language: people do not necessarily prefer to give and receive through the same modality, so apparently it's possible to have different primary love languages of reception and expression.
In addition I can also argue that the love languages overlap to some degree. For example, when you give someone a gift, do they most appreciate the gift itself, or the fact that you did an act of service while choosing the gift? And sharing words of affirmation with someone presupposes that you are spending some time talking to each other, which creates an overlap between words of affirmation and quality time. But this is a minimal argument. After all Chapman is not trying to create a scientific theory of relationships but rather trying to help everyday people improve the giving and receiving of love in their lives. And I have certainly benefited in this way from reading the book.
I would be interested to hear others' experiences with the ideas in this book. What do you think? How have the ideas helped your relationships and your life?