Against Love Languages

post by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2017-12-29T09:51:29.609Z · score: 27 (12 votes) · LW · GW · 9 comments

The other day, a friend on facebook shared a post on love languages and asked their friends what their's were. I said that this did not fit my ontology for affection in a deep romantic relationship, and when someone asked me what ontoloy I used, I gave this short response (copied here so I can link people to it in the future).

Background: the notion of love languages is that there's five main ways humans express affection, and they are

The reason this is useful to think about (according to the wikipedia summary of the book) is that

[P]eople tend to naturally give love in the way that they prefer to receive love, and better communication between couples can be accomplished when one can demonstrate caring to the other person in the love language the recipient understands. An example would be if a husband's love language is acts of service, he may be confused when he does the laundry for his wife and she doesn't perceive that as an act of love, viewing it as simply performing household duties, because the love language she comprehends is words of affirmation (verbal affirmation that he loves her). She may try to use what she values, words of affirmation, to express her love to him, which he would not value as much as she does. If she understands his love language and mows the lawn for him, he perceives it in his love language as an act of expressing her love for him; likewise, if he tells her he loves her, she values that as an act of love.

My comment is below.


It often seems to me like the seemingly important things people say in relationships, even good relationships, are the sorts of things you could say in any relationship. "It was really great to see you" "Let's do this again sometime" "Tell me about your day" "I love you".

Alternatively, the compliments I most enjoy giving and receiving, are the ones that could only be said to that person. To pull an example from my recent life, I'd moved into a place for ~3 months, and was leaving to return to university. I gave someone the following goodbye (I'll pretend their name is John):

"Hey John, when I found out I'd be living with you for 3 months, I was initially disappointed. I remembered you from meeting you during my CFAR workshop as someone who had a chipper act all the time, and had a faux enthusiasm for trying out new ideas for better epistemology and productivity. However, for the past 3 months, you've been that person day-in-day-out, and I realise it's not an act at all - you're genuinely enthusiastic about new ideas and are a really fun guy to be around. I'm looking forward to coming back and seeing you in a couple of months."

I think they said it was one of the favourite goodbye's they'd had.

At other times in my life, I've seen people disagree for hours before coming to understand each other. Getting an accurate model of how someone thinks and really feeling what it's like to be them from the inside, is a difficult and time-intensive task, but one of the things I want most in a close relationship is to be understood.

This summer just gone, I was hanging out with a different person, and they said to me "Huh, I've just noticed Ben that I feel safe and happy talking to you right now, yet you've totally disagreed with everything I've said. That's really cool, I don't find this experience with many other people." This made me feel very seen, because on gut, S1 level it's definitely something I optimise for, but I'd never really put it into words before, and nobody else had noticed (or at least told me) either. I felt a *strong* affection for the friend.

The reason the ontology feels wrong is that the example I gave above was, I suppose, 'words of affirmation', but if someone gave me a wordless gift/act of service, I might feel it too, if I felt understood and seen in a way that rarely happens. Relatively, the other things don't matter too much to me. Being seen and understood is my love language, and are the things that cause the most natural affection for me.

9 comments

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comment by Raemon · 2017-12-29T10:06:45.501Z · score: 44 (14 votes) · LW · GW

This doesn’t really feel counter to the Love Language ontology to me. The point in my mind is not that there are 5 specific languages, the 5 languages are mostly useful for breaking through the naive conception that all love languages are the same. (I think this may be different from what the creator of the 5 languages intended, but when I first saw the love languages book I thought ‘here’s a model that’s wrong but useful and makes the correct, important meta point’)

And it feels like the ‘being seen’ thing is a) maybe something that’s a unique language or frame of its own, b) I think most of the original 5 language are spoken most strongly when they convey a clear sense of seen ness)

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-29T16:45:58.615Z · score: 23 (5 votes) · LW · GW

"Being seen" can be qualitatively different from "love languages" because it's causally upstream of things like being good at inferring someone's love language.

LL as often presented seems like an attempt to shoehorn some insights that depend on theory of mind, into a framework where you can just categorize someone as a "type" and then black-box them without understanding why different things work on different people. I've done this and it leads to lots of misunderstandings and hurt feelings, especially if you get too good at predicting black-box behavior & feeding the system its max-reward input, without thinking about what beliefs might be forming in the other person's head.

On the other hand, this could easily be an attempt to get across the higher-level point, to the sort of person who can't think abstractly, but can think conceptually through concrete examples; five quite different examples of a thing are going to be enough to make the general point. LessWrongers are reasonably likely to miss the point of a presentation like that, because we're used to thinking conceptually via explicit abstractions.

I haven't read the book.

comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) · 2017-12-29T18:35:46.730Z · score: 43 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think the acts described in love languages are meant to be equally effective independent of feelings. The common use case is "I X for my partner all the time and they never X for me, why don't they care about me?" Love languages explains why not doing X/having to be prompted is not inconsistent with loving you. This comes up on r/relationships a lot.

I've also found it useful when love languages are actively opposed. An example: I show I value people by only making appointments with them I know I can keep and be present for. A good friend shows she values people by squeezing them in when she doesn't really have time, making her late and grouchy. My reaction to this was to feel unvalued at best, deliberately insulted at worse. From her perspective, I was taking this token of of her love and spitting on it. We will probably never be as close as we would be if we didn't have this inconsistency, but there were many fewer hurt feelings after I realized this is what was going on, that her actions didn't symbolize disrespect.

comment by crybx · 2017-12-29T19:26:42.147Z · score: 14 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I read the book almost 2 years ago. I also remember struggling to pinpoint what language would fit the way I want to experience love. For me, I want mental intimacy. "Being seen" is maybe a way of saying something similar, but I don't know for sure if you mean the same thing.

For me this means:

  • Ability to discuss anything. Nothing is off the table.
  • Feeling comfortable revealing the things you normally mask for the rest of the world.
  • Interest in ideas the other has and their mental processes.
  • The desire to actually talk about things.
  • No knee jerk reactions of disgust, i.e. there aren't assumptions that something unexpected the other person says is incredibly stupid or weird or wrong before discussing it more.
  • The ability to give honest feedback to each other.
  • Showing respect and appreciation for the other's views and their willingness to share them.

The love languages book really seems to conflate intimacy with physical touch in its descriptions. And it misses something to say that "deep conversations" would be purely a form of quality time. And that bit about respect and appreciation in my last bullet would fall under words of affirmation...

So for me, it's a book with a model that’s wrong. I really wanted it to be useful. It made the point that people have different expectations for love. But it left me with no clear sense of my own "love language," and I've also found that attempts to categorize past partners hasn't been any easier than categorizing myself.

comment by Viliam · 2018-01-05T19:21:35.471Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This could be a sixth language of love, perhaps not described in the book because it is quite rare in real world (probably only happens among nerds).

I find myself somewhere in the middle between what the book describes and what you describe. Both the physical touch and the ability to discuss anything are very important to me. (On the other hand, gifts don't mean anything, and spending too much time together can even feels creepy. I'd rather have my partner also spend some time doing their own hobbies; that makes the following conversations more interesting.)

comment by ChristianKl · 2017-12-30T00:14:03.786Z · score: 11 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I want to preface my comments by saying that I haven't actually read the book or otherwise deeply studied the concept and my view is likely superficial.

When I read your summary I feel like the analysis misses the point. When you bring the examples of giving the compliements you talk about the first order effect of the compliment. The example on the other hand doesn't talk about the second order effect of what effect the fact that the compliment was given has on the relationship.

To use more LW language, the fact that you give someone a compliment has the second order effect that involves signaling. People not only go through the world trying to signal high status but they also go through the world wanting to signal other things.

Irrespectively of the direct value that a person gets out of the relationship with their romantic partner, most people care about whether their partner loving them at a very primal level. Whether or not another person loves me isn't something about which I have direct knowledge and I might very well get value out of an relationship with a person who doesn't love me.

The only way I can know whether or not another person truly loves me is to look at what their behavior signals. Correspondingly, the only way I can prove to my partner that I love them is to engage in the correct signals.

This signaling game runs into huge problems when we have different ideas of what the signals are supposed to mean and that's the core idea of the 5 love languages as far as I understand i.

The other day, a friend on facebook shared a post on love languages and asked their friends what their's were. I said that this did not fit my ontology for affection in a deep romantic relationship

It's not called "languages of affection" but "love languages". It might be a valuable exercise for the reader to figure out why the name is one and not the other.

comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) · 2017-12-29T18:36:26.489Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

moved to front page

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2017-12-29T19:21:07.707Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wow. That's almost exactly the same as what I offerered in a discussion about the love languages. I also couldn't relate to either of the 5 strongly. I all see all of them of kind of having their place. But I was also missing point 6: making an effort to understand the other person. At least that was I have been desperately missing for most of my life and which I got mostly from basically one (male) friend only. Except for recently when a date turned out to not be a partner but the person being able to give me the feeling of bein understood and related to closely.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2017-12-29T19:23:59.740Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Added: I wonder whether this is a kind of niche need of our kind of folks. Or maybe it is the other way around and I project, because I had also trouble of understanding other people especially people my age. On the other had I could always relate well to older (adults when I was young) and younger, esp. children.