I haven’t thought much about Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages in a long time, but recently my Family Life Education class did a presentation on this subject. I tend to see most evangelical book empires of that sort as an attempt by publishers to cash in on an author’s popularity, and I am not a big fan of Christian pop psychology to begin with. Still, I am reasonable enough to acknowledge that there is something to the five love languages. I’m not crazy about limiting ourselves to a magical five, but the general principle that different forms of expression mean more to different people is hard to argue with.
I could argue, however, with the gender stereotypes I saw in our class’s brief discussion of the love languages. Skits tended to put women in traditional roles (whether the homemaker or the career woman with a second-shift), and the sorts of ideas thrown out by the class were also discussed in a stereotypical manner. For example, a wife putting on sexy lingerie and having some fun with her husband somehow got put under “acts of service,” rather than more appropriate categories like “physical touch,” or even “quality time.” Inspired by my frustration, I decided to survey the online love language quizzes for husbands and wives to see to what extent gender stereotypes just come with the territory. When we think of caring for one another through words of affirmation, physical touch, gifts, quality time, and acts of service, do we need to make intentional efforts to avoid unhelpful assumptions about gender?
Between my class experience (at a moderate seminary!) and my perusal of the online quizzes, I think so. It seems Chapman—in the quizzes, if not also in his books or various teaching materials—thinks certain love languages express themselves differently along gender lines, something that should be known by those potentially using his work in their churches or recommending it to friends. As innocuous as we might assume the five love languages to be based on their decidedly less-than-revolutionary level of helpfulness, we must be aware that along with the good, the decent, and the obvious lurks a potentially more damaging element.