3 Things The Bachelorette Got Wrong About The Love Languages
OK, we need to talk about the love languages for a second.
Last night's episode of The Bachelorette featured a whole group date about the love language theory, the buzzy relationship concept originally developed in 1995 by relationship counselor Gary Chapman, Ph.D., in his book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. The five love languages are words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, physical touch, and gifts, and most people have a primary one they prefer for giving and receiving love.
The love language theory is beloved by many relationship experts these days, but like many such typing systems (see: the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), it's sort of grown a cultish life of its own among that population of folks who love adding personality test results to their dating profiles without really understanding what they mean.
While The Bachelorette did an OK job at depicting most of the love languages, the show totally missed the core point of Chapman's theory. Here are just a few important clarifications to what you saw on TV:
The point isn't to use all five of the love languages.
The contestants were tasked with using each of the love languages on this season's star Clare Crawley, including showering her with words of affirmation, exchanging touch while blindfolded, procuring random gifts for her from their hotel rooms, and of course, stealing her away for some one-on-one QT.
But critically, the point of the love languages is not that you're supposed to use all five of them on your partner. In fact, it's basically the opposite of that: Chapman's theory asserts that most people have one primary love language (maybe two) that they prefer for giving and receiving love. So, couples are encouraged to find out what their partner's preferred love language is and focus on using that one rather than assuming they'll like all forms of expressing love.
For example, a person whose love language is quality time likely doesn't care much about receiving gifts, so that means their partner can probably worry less about bringing home souvenirs and more about actually spending time at home.
None of the love languages is more important than the others.
The show's host Chris Harrison remarks at one point that it's not clear which of the love languages is "most important"—and then immediately suggests it might be quality time. In reality, though, none of the love languages is inherently more important than any of the others. Which love language is the most important will depend on the individual, and it'll vary from person to person.
"It also depends on gender, culture, customs, and values," psychotherapist Fariha Mahmud-Syed, MFT, recently told mbg. "Certain love languages that are prevalent in the West are much less common in non-Western cultures. For example, in my South Asian culture, directly praising someone is very uncomfortable and often not well received. Instead, praising that person to a third party is more highly valued when they hear about what you said about them through the grapevine."
Two people in a relationship often have different love languages.
The main purpose of the love language theory is to highlight how different people are, says marriage therapist Linda Carroll, LMFT, and to learn to acknowledge those differences in our most intimate relationships.
"The wise book addresses one of the most important aspects of a healthy relationship, which is the understanding that my partner is not me," she writes at mbg. "One of the great lessons love teaches us is the ability to really see our partner as 'other' and find ways to understand and make room for someone who is not like us. Chapman encourages efforts to speak love in our partner's language, not ours, and to give not what we want but what our partner wants."
The Bachelorette completely glosses over this complicated truth, opting instead to romanticize relationships where people say things like, "It's like we're the exact same person." (Looking at you two, Clare and Jason.)
The bottom line.
The love languages are a way to learn exactly what kind of love one specific person likes to receive so you can make sure you're giving it to them in their preferred way instead of your preferred way.
When it comes to conveying all that, we give The Bachelorette an A for effort (hey, at least people are taking the time to learn about this stuff!) and a C- for execution.
"It's important to move away from the generalities of the theory," relationship coach Julie Nguyen writes at mbg. "Focus on being hyper-targeted with your partner so you can show up in your partnership the way that they need you to, on an individual level."
Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.
You can stay in the loop about her latest programs, gatherings, and other projects through her newsletter: kellygonsalves.com/newsletter