Thinking About Thinking

Why Do Some Relationships Fail?

Posted in Books, Pop Culture by larrycheng on March 13, 2010

I like to blog about different, random, more personal things on the weekends.  Hence, I’m starting a series on books that I think directly or indirectly answer an interesting question with an interesting point of view.  The first installment last weekend was Why Are 80% of Harvard Students First-Borns?.  Today is the second installment and is about one of my favorite relationship books – The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman

If we look around – it’s pretty undeniable that there are broken relationships within marriages, families, and friends.  What’s underlying some of the challenged relationships between spouses, parent/children, etc.?  Clearly, there’s not one simple answer.  Yet, Gary Chapman lays out a relatively simple but profound theory based on a very straight forward framework that may have broad relevance.  First the framework:

He believes that there are 5 primary love languages and everybody has a primary (usually one, maybe two) love language which makes them feel loved.  Importantly, their primary love language is not necessarily the way they communicate love to others – but it’s how they feel loved by others.  The 5 languages are:

  1. Physical Touch – hugs, kisses, physical play, affection, etc.
  2. Words of Affirmation – words of praise, encouragement, adoration, admiration, etc.
  3. Quality Time – focused, attentive time in a joint activity, conversation, etc.
  4. Gifts – self explanatory: meaningful, thoughtful gifts
  5. Acts of Service – helping out with projects, responsibilities, homework, tasks, etc. 

So, that’s the framework.  The theory on why some relationships are strained is pretty straight forward: 

  • Everyone has a primary love language – which is how they receive love.
  • People tend to communicate love to others with their own primary love language.
  • But, if the other person has a different primary love language, they will not feel loved.

For example – your primary love language may be words of affirmation.  But, if your child’s love language is physical touch – no amount of verbal praise will replace your child’s need for hugs, physical play, and so forth.  Or your love language may be physical touch, but your spouse’s may be acts of service.  So, no amount of affection will replace the love communicated through service acts like cleaning up the house, cooking a meal, or taking out the garbage.  That’s why two people in a relationship can be trying hard but not communicating love to each other because they don’t recognize the distinction in each person’s primary love languages.

Though it’s a relatively simple framework – I recommend getting the book if it’s at all interesting to you.  The book gives more insight into how to determine someone’s primary love language, practical ideas around each love language, and more insight and detail on what each love language means.  OK, I never thought I’d write a blog post with the word “love” in it 25 times.  I think my next post will have to be about ultimate fighting or something. 

11 Responses

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  1. Larry Grove said, on March 13, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    Gary’s book is excellent, however, what it is teaches is just practical application of an even larger concept.

    All relationships are built on common value systems. Our friendships are based on interests that we value in common. And in our relationships that fail, the reason is because there weren’t enough things that we valued in common. (We see in failed marriages, that the irreconcilable differences are differences of value systems.)

    All conflicts that occur in relationships are conflicts over value systems. We value things differently than the other person. Our desires flow out of our values, and when we don’t get what we want, we have conflict (and unpleasant emotions).

    In contrast, when we receive our desires, we have pleasant emotions. Gary’s 5 love languages are a practical application of this principle. We desire that love be expressed to us a certain way, and when it is, we experience that love in great clarity.

    The long-term success of the relationship, however, is based on the truth of the common values that are expressed in the present by the love languages. The pleasant emotions that result from the expressions of love reinforce awareness of values held in common.

    The great difficulty in relationships is sustaining shared values. This is because natively we are quite selfish. The solution is in finding a core value system that can be shared.

    Please

  2. Joanne said, on March 13, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    You might be the first guy I “know” to have publicly declared that they’ve read this book. When I was a second year student at HBS, it came out over the course of one evening that every single one of my girlfriends had read this book. Not a single male classmate had heard of this book. At least, they wouldn’t admit it to me. Which says quite a lot about the intended and actual audience.

    • larrycheng said, on March 13, 2010 at 7:18 pm

      I hope I didn’t lose my street cred through this post :).

  3. Nivi said, on March 13, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Check out Emotions Revealed. I think you’ll like it. I wrote about it here:

    • larrycheng said, on March 13, 2010 at 7:19 pm

      Thanks Nivi – I’ve watched Lie To Me – didn’t realize the guy behind it had written a book. Seems worth perusing.

  4. Milind Pandit said, on March 15, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    Hey Larry, we spoke on the phone a couple of times when I was at Corillian/CheckFree/Fiserv. Funny how the internet works–your name came up today in a completely different context and here I find you blogging about a key secret to a successful marriage! I’m sending a buddy of mine to this post.

    • larrycheng said, on March 15, 2010 at 10:48 pm

      Hey Milind, great to hear from you! I hope no one’s taking marriage advice from me – the book maybe, not me! Hope all is well.


  5. Lorrine Nieratko said, on March 16, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    Fantastic post, many interesting points. I believe 6 of days ago, I have saw a similar blog. Does anyone know how to track future posts?

  6. Ravi Sharma said, on November 20, 2010 at 5:21 am

    A very interesting and engaging article. It requires two people having different primary languages of love to work very hard on maintaining a relationship and only a few are able to do so. Sadly most fail due to irreconcilable difference, which is simply in the language of receiving love.

  7. […] Why Do Some Relationships Fail? March 2010 9 comments 5 […]

  8. SooSang said, on January 12, 2011 at 1:41 am

    I’m a guy, and i’ll admit that i read this book. But then again i’m a pastor, and it’s a book that pastors should read. It’s good. Worth reading. Though i think it’s marketed as if it’s some kind of panacea, that if couples just figure out the right techniques of how to love your significant other in their love language, magical results occur. What if the deeper problems in the relationship involves an UNWILLINGNESS or INABILITY for someone to work harder or acting in way which is unintuitive to themselves as to how to love someone else?

    Btw, for a good book in this vein of inquiry, i recommend Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, by John Gottman. Gottman’s group has studied tons of couples and observes them in a “Lie to Me” style. They claim that after 15 minutes of observation they can predict to 90% accuracy if your marriage will last 5 years from the time of the observation based on how they tally indicators in your interactions.

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