Review: The Five Love Languages

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Author: Dr. Gary Chapman
Reviewed by Donald L. Hughes

This book is a perennial bestseller. It has been on Christian bestseller lists since it was first released in 1992 and has been a cash cow for both the author and the publishers. It has spawned a number of related books for different market segments, like teens, singles and study editions for groups.

The premise of this book is that people have “love tanks” that are empty in unfulfilled relationships, and that they can be filled by a spouse who knows how to communicate in a way that’s meaningful to the empty person. If this marital prescription seems naive and simplistic to you, then get on the bus.

Dr. Gary Chapman is a seasoned writer, speaker, broadcaster and marriage counselor. His Five Love Languages franchise includes similarly titled books for children, teens and singles.

In each chapter of Chapman’s book, the pattern of presentation is similar. He states his love language principle, uses an example from his own casebook about a couple suffering from lack of knowledge of the principle, records his interview with a couple where he imparts advice to them, then explains how they went on to live in wedded bliss.

Marital problems are complex, however,and often there are no easily identifiable connection between cause and effect in marital disharmony. Pioneer family therapist Nathan Ackerman was more correct when he said, “There are no individual problems, only constellations of problems.” People do not become dissatisfied in marriage because a husband does not help do the dishes—it is always something deeper and more complex than that.

The Five Love Languages franchise includes many different products.

It is extremely odd to me that Chapman does not credit Paul Tournier, the Christian Swiss physician in the chapter on the importance of gift-giving. Tournier wrote a rather seminal book, The Meaning of Gifts, back in 1963 and the ideas Chapman expresses are so similar to those found in Tournier’s work that it would seem appropriate that Chapman would make bibliographic reference to him. In fact, many of Chapman’s principles seemed to be rooted in Tournier’s work, (see particularly To Understand Each Other, John Knox Press, 1967) even though no credit is provided by Chapman.

This is definitely a “crossover” book. While there are eight Bible verses referenced in it, there is not enough other spiritual information to bother the head of a non-Christian reader, and may be evidence for its appearance on the New York Times Bestseller list. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this book is that people have bought 4 million copies. It has been on the Christian Bookseller Association list continuously since March 2003, an amazing feat.

The question about why this book has had such longevity is so important that I asked Dr. Chapman about it. In an e-mail reply Dr. Chapman said:

“That’s a question I’ve often asked myself! Actually, it has been a steady growth from the first year. Every year for 15 years the book has sold more than the year before. Each year it sells over 500,000 copies. It has also been translated into 35 languages around the world.

I have four thoughts: First, it addresses a fundamental human need – the need for love. Second, it is written in the language of the common man, giving an insight that when applied will immediately enhance the emotional climate in a relationship. Thus, third, when people read it they want to share it with their friends. And fourth, and most important God has chosen to keep His hand upon the process.”

Dr. Chapman added, “Of course, in recent years Moody Publishers has made it a priority in their publicity efforts.”

The Five Love Languages
By Dr. Gary Chapman
Northfield Publishing (Moody), Chicago, IL
$14.99, 208 pages, pb
Copyright 1992-2004
ISBN-13 978-1881273-15-8

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1 Response

  1. David says:

    I wasn’t aware of Tournier’s work – thanks for the head-up.

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