Skip to content ↓

Those Exquisite Forms of Love That Do Not Speak Your Language

The book has been out for years, and by this time just about every Christian has been introduced to the “love language” parlance. We know that love languages refer to the varied ways people give and receive love. Some feel loved when they receive affection, others when they receive gifts or affirming words. There are five of these languages and most of us have been taught to rank them in order of personal preference. Well and good. God has created us in different ways and vive la difference.

Still, one of the most helpful things I ever learned about love languages came not from the book but from a critical review. In an issue of The Journal of Biblical Counseling David Powlison expressed a mix of admiration and concern for the love languages, and even years after I first read his comments, one of the central critiques stands out: “The love language model does not highlight those exquisite forms of love that do not ‘speak your language’.” That packs a powerful punch. Let me explain how.

I am never far from making my preferred love language the ultimate expression or even proof of my wife’s love for me.

When we are honest about love languages, we admit they are prone to begin to speak with a “dark and greedy growl.” Here’s how it works for me: I am never far from making my preferred love language the ultimate expression or even proof of my wife’s love for me. When I have it I feel loved; when I lack it I feel unloved. It takes surprisingly little time for “I feel most loved when you are affectionate with me” to become “I don’t feel loved unless you are affectionate with me” to degenerate all the way to “You need to speak my language if you expect me to love you in return.” For another person, “I feel cherished when we spend quality time together” may soon become, “I feel loved when you drop everything to focus on me, are completely understanding, give me unconditional love, agree with all my opinions, and never disagree with me, question me, or interrupt me.” These are good languages filtered through a bad heart.

That is one genuine concern and every marriage counsellor has run into it: “I just don’t feel loved.” But there is a related issue—the one that Powlison highlights in his review. When I demand that people speak my preferred love language, when it becomes the one way I receive love, I unnecessarily narrow my experience of love. I miss out on all of those “exquisite forms of love that do not ‘speak my language’.” Sure, I experience the language I prefer, and it is good to be loved this way! But I miss out on so many others including the ones others may most love to speak. The challenge and joy of love languages is not in demanding someone else learn to speak my language or manipulating them until they learn to do so. It is in learning how to speak other languages, to receive love in new ways. As long as I am satisfied with only the language I prefer, I miss out on the joy of those other four languages and the millions of others that exist beyond the reductionist categories.

The greatest love ever shown does not speak the instinctively self-centered language of the recipients of such love.

It helps to think about it this way: God speaks a language that doesn’t suit any of our natural preferences. He didn’t woo or win us by condescending to our preferred language, but by teaching us a whole new one. Powlison says, “You and I need to learn a new language if we are to become fit to live with each other and with God. The greatest love ever shown does not speak the instinctively self-centered language of the recipients of such love. In fundamental ways, the love of Christ speaks contrary to your ‘love language’ and ‘felt needs’.” God loved us so much he spoke a language we didn’t want to hear, and we learned to receive it as the best language of all. There are other languages we need to learn that will teach us more truths, deeper truths, about love.

It is God’s grace that keeps us from such narrow views of love, from receiving love according to only our preferences. Yes, we all have a preferred language. But there is joy to be had beyond it. Says Powlison, “God’s grace aims to destroy the lordship of the five love languages, even while teaching us to speak the countless love languages with greater fluency.”


  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (May 21)

    A La Carte: A theology of immigration / Christian catholicity in an online age / Violent pornography’s assault on the marriage bed / Heresy that warrants no apology / Franchising church / With each passing moment / Kindle deals / and more.

  • Why Do I Feel Such Profound Loneliness?

    This week the blog is sponsored by Moody Publishers and is written by Steve DeWitt. The story of human loneliness has its roots in the character of God and God’s purpose in creating us.  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created…

  • Stop Swiping Start Serving

    Stop Swiping, Start Serving

    I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that in the past few weeks, you have probably not gotten rip-roaring drunk nor participated in a debauched drinking party. You have probably not given yourself over to rampant sexual immorality or a life obsessed with sensuality. At least, I hope not

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (May 20)

    A La Carte: What media got wrong about supposed Christian self-immolation / We are walking on holy ground / “His Glory and My Good” / How pop Nietzscheanism masquerades as Christianity / Why a full calendar doesn’t necessarily produce mature church members / Thinking biblically about social justice / John Piper Kindle deals / and…

  • One Measure of Greatness

    One Measure of Greatness

    While all of us ought to see evidence of marked growth in our knowledge of God, our relationship with him, and our obedience to him, none of us ever evolves beyond our need for the ordinary means of grace. We never “level up” to such a degree that we gain access to some hidden extraordinary…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    Weekend A La Carte (May 18)

    A La Carte: What it takes to survive ministry / The power of prayer / The dog’s game / Why do Christians do bad things? / Does it matter whether seminary education is in-person or online? / Greet one another with a … what? / and more.