If Books Could Kill

The 5 Love Languages

April 20, 2023 Michael Hobbes & Peter Shamshiri
Show Notes Transcript

Peter: Michael. 

Michael: Peter. 

Peter: What do about The 5 Love languages

Michael: Yes, this is when I had to update my deal breaker on dating sites from the Myers-Briggs personality type indicators. 

[If Books Could Kill theme music] 

Peter: The core thesis of The 5 Love Languages is that people have different preferences in how they express and receive love, and that those preferences fall generally into five categories - words of affirmation, quality, time, receiving gifts, physical touch, and acts of service. 

Michael: Yes. 

Peter: The basic lesson that Gary Chapman, the author, is teaching here is that if you want to be a good partner, you need to learn to speak your spouse's love language. 

Michael: This is why I've been slightly nervous about this episode because it honestly just seems so harmless and constructive to me. I don't know about these five categories specifically, but the idea of having this meta conversation with your partner about the ways that you appreciate them and the way that you appreciate being shown love seems totally fine to me. 

Peter: I actually agree, and I think that of all the books we've covered so far, this one is the least objectionable on its face. There is a real utility to this core concept of realizing that your partner may not receive affection the way that you do and trying to understand what makes them feel loved and appreciated.

I think the simplicity of that idea is the reason that everyone knows this book. It's just a useful way to think about relationships, about how you and your spouse might differ and what it means to be a good partner.

Michael: I never actually knew that this was based on a book. I thought it was just something that started appearing in framed posters in Airbnbs starting in 2015.

Peter: There are some other really good elements within this book. Chapman uses the love language idea to discuss how love is not just like a magical feeling, but something that requires effort to maintain. He says that being loved gives us a sense of purpose and makes us feel valued and significant, which I do just for the purposes of our canon. Want to point out is also what Fukuyama said about liberal democracy. 

Michael: He's got the thymus section of the poster up in all the Airbnbs.

Peter: Just trying to connect as many threads as I can through our episodes. 

Michael: He also has some good real estate investing advice. [crosstalk]

Peter: The book has sold over 15 million copies. It was originally published in 1992 and was fairly popular, but actually took off in the late aughts and early 2010s. An updated version is published in 2015, which is important because I read the updated version. And then I went back and read through the original version. Several of my friends like you, when I told them I was doing the book for the show, they said they didn't think the book was too bad and they thought the ideas were good. What I said to them was, "I bet you read the 2015 version."

Michael: Oh, so it's the misogyny minus version? Like they cleaned it up for the #blessedcrowd? 

Peter: Now, interestingly, the main way the love languages concept has been absorbed by our popular culture is as a self-directed personality test. People love to describe their own love languages. It seems functionally a meme now where people just tweet like, "Having a giant laundry pile I never put away is my love language." I think it's important to note that's not what Chapman was trying to get across. He wanted people to understand their partner's love language so that you can learn how to make them feel appreciated. So, our culture has sort of done a classic American culture thing of taking something and repackaging it, and it's like shallowest and most selfish iteration.

Michael: It's supposed to be how to be nice, and it ends up being how other people can be nice to me. 

Peter: Yes, correct. [laughs] No, I want gifts, I want gifts. So, when you did Men Are from Mars, you got suspicious of John Gray's credentials halfway through the book, and you started digging around and found out that his PhD is pretty much fraudulent. Gary Chapman does not put PhD on the cover, but he holds himself out as Gary Chapman, PhD. I was like, “Okay, fool us once.” As of now, there is a zero-tolerance environment for marriage counselor authors on this podcast. [Michael laughs] His PhD is real. He got his master's and PhD in religious education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as a master's in anthropology from Wake Forest. 

Michael: One of those sounds real. [crosstalk] 

Peter: Yeah, I didn't want to get into the merits of seminary schools but suffice it to say that we are treading in more legitimate waters than we were with Gray. 

Michael: So, Gary Chapman is a pastor essentially. He's coming to this from a religious angle?

Peter: He is a pastor. And, yeah, it's important framing because, again, the core concept of this book, I think, is quite good. The actual book sucks, [Michael laughs] and that's basically what we're going to talk about. Before we get into the substance of the book, I think it would be useful at this point in our podcast to talk about the hallmarks of shitty best-selling self-help. 

Michael: We need the five types of best-selling books and then write a bestselling book about it. 

Peter: Yes. So, I think first and foremost, a lack of science, a thesis that is presented as if it is scientific when, in fact, there is absolutely no science being done. 

Michael: So, is this 5 Love Languages thing just something he fully made up? 

Peter: Yes. He is pretty explicit about that. He basically says, “I was talking to couples over the course of my counseling career, and I sort of formulated this concept,” so it's not predicated in any real science. There's no psychology hiding somewhere behind it or something. He just sort of vibed this out. 

Michael: This also makes it harder to debunk because he's not citing any studies. He's just saying stuff. 

Peter: The sad truth of this is that had he relied on some science and cited it, we would now be pulling apart his application of that science and explaining why it's so stupid. But you can't incorrectly cite scientific research when you're not citing scientific research.

Michael: I'm tapping my head right now like the GIF of that dude. 

Peter: Chapman hints at science. He'll occasionally say things like, "Psychology supports this. Psychological research supports this." And you're like, “Oh.” And then, you look back at the footnotes of the book. There are four, and three of them are to the Bible.

Michael: No way. What's the fourth one to?

Peter: The fourth one is just to an article on a website by someone named Kelly Flanagan titled Why One Text Message is More Romantic Than a Hundred Valentine Cards. 

Michael: What? 


Michael: I would like to see Kelly Flanagan's footnotes, please. 

Peter: It's that, Proverbs and Luke twice. So, quality number two of the best-selling self-help book, it's presented as a cure all. There's no nuance. It's not like this is a useful thing to keep in mind. It's like, here is how to fix your relationship flat out, period. 

Michael: This is the one thing you need to know to solve every single relationship problem. This is what John Gray was doing, too. 

Peter: Number three, filler. A book that is 200 pages long when you can get the entire message from the back cover. That is like quintessential self-help. 

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: Now, a big reason that these books get popular is the simplicity of the central concept, which generally means that you're going to need filler.

Michael: Something I forgot to mention in our Rich Dad, Poor Dad episode was that he includes an entire Robert Frost poem, [Peter laughs] just like start to finish, because it takes up a page and a half.

Peter: The tactics that these people use to take up space are incredible. So, first you have the chapters themselves, which all start with an anecdote that is very repetitive. A couple comes in and they're like, “We don't get along anymore.” And Chapman is like, “What if you spoke each other's love languages?” They're like, “Whoa, you saved our marriage.” And then he extrapolates a bit. End of chapter. If you remember in The Secret, the last 40 pages were biographies of the contributors. For this book, the last 30 pages are FAQs and a love language quiz. 

Michael: Hell, yeah. 

Peter: Also, at the end of each chapter, there's a little listicle summary of the advice the chapter contained. 

Michael: Man, he couldn't even do that with the footnotes though? He couldn't add some extra links to HuffPost?

Peter: I didn't realize how funny the footnotes were until you asked what the other footnote was. I think the last feature of the best-selling self-help book is not actually within the book. It's the cash grab spinoffs.

Michael: Is there like Love Languages for Kids

Peter: Yes, there is. 

Michael: And like Love Languages for Her, Love languages for Him

Peter: You've got The 5 Love Languages of Children, The 5 Love Languages Singles Edition. The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers. The 5 Love Languages for Men. There is no for women. 

Michael: Okay. [laughs] 

Peter: The 5 Love Languages Military Edition. 

Michael: Okay. 

Peter: Teen’s Guide to the 5 Love Languages. Now, you might think that's duplicative, but The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers is for parents to understand teenagers. The Teens Guide to the 5 Love Languages is for teens. And there is also, I forgot to mention, my apologies, The 5 Love Languages of God. 

Michael: Oh, okay. 

Peter: Now that one, I actually read a little bit because I was like, “What does he mean by giving gifts to God? Is he talking about human sacrifice?” That's what I was wondering. But no, it's actually like God is speaking the love languages. It's like God is giving you gifts.

Peter: But then, isn't God's number one love language retribution, if you actually read the Bible? 

Michael: All right, I think it is time to dive into the book. The opening little vignette takes place on an airplane. He is seated next to a man who turns to him and says, “What kind of work do you do?” Chapman says, “I do marriage counseling and lead marriage enrichment seminars.” The guy goes, “I've been wanting to ask someone this for a long time. What happens to love after you get married?” Chapman's like, “Well, what do you mean?” The guy goes, “I've been married three times. And each time, it was wonderful before we got married. But somehow after the wedding, it fell apart. All the love I thought I had for her and the love she seemed to have for me evaporated.” 

He then walks Chapman through his three marriages. He says, “In the first one, we had three or four good years before the baby came. After the baby was born, I felt like she gave her attention to the baby, and I no longer mattered.” He talked about the second marriage, which was following a six-month dating period. Then, they split. The third marriage, he dates her for longer, but he just says, “She became a negative person after a bit, and I began to resent her, and we broke up.” 

Michael: See, if she had this on her Hinge profile, he would have known [Peter laughs] [crosstalk] 

Peter: And then, he turns to Gary Chapman and says, “So my question is, what happens to love after the wedding? Is my experience common? Is that why we have so many divorces in our country? Those who don't divorce, do they learn to live with the emptiness? Or does love really stay alive in some marriages? If so, how?” This is quintessential Gary Chapman dialogue, just the most transparent exposition you could imagine. 

Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Peter: “If so, how? What's with the divorce rate in this country, Gary?”

Michael: “Can you lay out the premise of your work for me, please?”

Peter: Right. “Are there languages of love, Gary? Would you say so?”

 Michael: This is every scene in the first half of Tenet. Can you just explain didactically to me what the fuck is going on right now? 

Peter: So, he uses that little question as sort of prompt for the book, and then he makes his way to the love languages themselves. The first love language, Words of Affirmation. We start the chapter, like almost all of his chapters, with a wife asking for help. She says that she's been asking her husband to paint the bedroom for nine months, to no avail. 

Michael: Has she tried a different modal verb? 

Peter: No matter how she asks him, she says, no matter when, he doesn't do it. Now, what Chapman advises is, “Don't ever mention painting the bedroom again, and instead start complimenting on the things he does do in the hope that these words of affirmation will motivate him to paint the bedroom.” In metaphor Mars, like you were hinting at, the author, talked about using the term "would you" instead of "could you", when asking your husband for a favor. Now, we have Chapman saying, “Stop asking. Start giving him compliments for other housework he did.” At the end of the day, how many psychological tricks are we as a society prepared to deploy to get these guys to do their chores? 

Michael: This actually came up a lot in Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. This idea that as soon as you stop asking him to do things, he will spontaneously do them for you, which seems just totally wrong to me, because if all you're doing is being nice to me, how would I even know that you want me to paint the bedroom?

Peter: I'm trying to think of something that would work less on me than just never asking me. I would immediately be like, “Oh, she doesn't care anymore.”

Michael: Yeah, exactly what I would do too. "I just didn't do anything. And then, she dropped it. Awesome."

Peter: It seems to me like it's a way of just redirecting the fact that you're annoyed that you're being nagged about it and trying to turn it into, like, “Well, I would do it if you weren't nagging.” 

Michael: Exactly, which I don't think is actually true. I think you just don't want to do it, and you're too chicken shit to either nut up and do it or launch a negotiation of, like, “I don't want to do this for these reasons.”

Peter: Right. Exactly. 

Michael: It's like, “Well, if you were different, I would have done it by now.”

Peter: Right. What you mean to say is, "I don't want to do this, and also, I don't want to be bothered about not doing it." [Michael laughs] There is some good advice for couples in here, compiling lists of your partner's positive traits and then using them as a reminder to give affirming compliments. I thought that was a nice little suggestion. Then, he has one particular couple, who is struggling, make their lists, and I'm going to send them to you. 

Michael: Okay. Andrea's list looked like this. “He is aggressive in his work. He has received several promotions through the years. He's a good financial manager. He's always thinking of ways to improve his productivity. He's generous with finances and agrees I can use the money from my job any way I desire.” Mark's list looked like this. “She keeps our house clean and orderly. She helps the kids with their homework. She cooks dinner about three days a week. She teaches first-grade Sunday school. She chauffeurs the children to all their activities.” 

Peter: Again, this is supposed to be a list of positive traits that the spouse has. The prompt was "things you like about the other person". That is the quote from Chapman. His list about her is essentially a list of chores that she does.

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: Hers about him is just, "He has a job."

Michael: If someone described me in these terms, I would not feel like they loved me. 

Peter: How could you? 

Michael: “Mike's podcasts come out on time. Mike's really passionate about his podcast.” I'm like, “Do you think I'm smart or funny? This is my LinkedIn profile that you're giving me."

Peter: It's not even framed in terms of, like, “Oh, I admire his passion or something like something that feels more of a real compliment. It's just like, "He is doing business successfully."

Michael: Yeah. He's always working, and he's very good at working. 

Peter: Bizarre. In the earlier editions of this book, the lists are longer. It's still all chores for him and finance stuff for her. The husband says in the older version that one of the positive traits of his wife is she does the washing and some ironing. The wife's list includes, "He bought us a recreational vehicle." Side note, this is one of, I think, two parts of the book where a wife mentions that she loves that her husband owns an RV. I think it's probably worth floating the real possibility that Chapman has made some of these up or that they're just gussied up versions of much simpler anecdotes from real life, which means that maybe he's creating fictional dialogue where men express appreciation for women, and he's just continuously listing chores. 

Michael: This is also where his background as a pastor comes in. It's not like he came up with the five love languages after working with a broad swath of couples. He was presumably working through the church with fairly conservative Christian couples.

Peter: Yes. There's a layer here that I think is the book's central flaw, which really didn't hit me until I was staring at this little list. He is proposing the idea that you can solve marital problems by speaking the other person's love language, but the question lurking unanswered behind nearly every anecdote in the book is, “Should these people be married?”

Chapman's anecdotes always end in all of the couple's problems being resolved, no matter how dire the situation seemed before. That creates a sense in the reader that any problems in a relationship can be solved using these tactics. That's just not true and maybe even veers into being dangerous advice if you're in a particularly unhealthy or abusive relationship. And again, Chapman is a conservative pastor. The only times divorce are mentioned in the book are when he's either talking about how close a couple came to divorce before he saved them, or how unfortunate it is that divorce rates are so high.

Michael: Maybe his love language is just reactionary boilerplate about how society is crumbling all around us. Millennials need to get off their phones.

Peter: All right, quality time. This is number two. The chapter is about the idea that some people feel most appreciated through quality time spent with their partner, which she makes clear involves giving your undivided attention. The primary anecdote is that this couple comes in and the wife is like, “He never spends any time with me.” The husband, Mark, says, “She's always complaining about me not spending time with her.” Chapman is like, “Well, maybe try spending time with her.” And Mark is like, “Dr. Chapman, you've saved my marriage.” [Michael laughs] I'm not exaggerating. This is the course of events. Chapman tells the guy to spend quality time with his wife and he goes, “Dr. Chapman, that is what she has always complained about. I didn't do things with her.” It's like, “So, she was telling you, Mark.” 

Michael: Yeah. So, do you just need a man to tell you this? You think it's real? 

Peter: I mean, that's genuinely what's happening. This is not the only time that this exact dynamic plays out in this book. Like, his wife has just been telling him the same thing for years. They go to counseling and Chapman is like, “Yeah, spend time with her.” And he's like, “Without you, Dr. Chapman, we would be divorced.” 

Michael: I would say, “The main issue in our relationship is that my wife keeps asking me to walk the dog. What should I do?” “Well, I don't know, man.”

Peter: If you sort of take a step back and look at these books, I'm coupling Men Are from Mars and 5 Love Languages together, even in their telling, they can't put together a tale of normal, competent and loving men. These guys are just hapless losers. 

Michael: This is in John Gray's book too, where there's very few examples and the examples that they have, it's not even sitcom episode levels of complexity. It's just like, “He never brings the groceries in from the car,” and like, “Well, yeah, then he should just do that.” These are not real human problems. 

Peter: All right, let's move on to receiving gifts most of this chapter relatively anodyne advice about how some people like to receive gifts and different ways to become a better gift giver and how to balance it with finances. 

Michael: This one has always resonated with me because I do not give a shit about gifts. This has always been something that I was not aware of about myself until I found this framework. I was like, “Oh, okay, note to self, note to others, when dating me, I just don't really care if you give me flowers. I'm not going to remember that in six hours," and that seems vaguely useful to me.

Peter: One of the most useful things about this framework is just a simple reminder that because you don't like something or don't think something is important, it doesn't mean that other people have the same feeling. It's just reminding you that other people's brains don't operate the way that yours does. 

One weird little aside about this chapter is that in the new version, he uses the term "friend zone" offhand. I was like, “Oh, that's weird," because that is a term that originated primarily with the pickup artist community. It's just sort of weird to see a marriage counselor using the language. I'm not sure that he understands what he is saying, frankly. 

Michael: How does he use it? That's a weird thing to bring into a couple's paradigm.

Peter: He basically leads off with anecdote being like, "Jeff had been in the friend zone with Becky and then Jeff catches a baseball at a game and gives it to her," and then they fuck or whatever. I don't know. It was bizarre. 

Michael: This one also feels faaaake. 

Peter: Yeah, no, I didn't understand that one either. But again, I was sort of like, yeah, maybe this is just not the love language, I assume.

Michael: Yeah, sure. 

Peter: Maybe it is normal for someone to just get a gift and be like, “I like this guy now.” [laughs] 

Michael: Yeah, this is something I always trace to Hollywood, but I wonder if it also goes back to these pop bestsellers. The idea that you've expressed interest in someone and they're like, “No, no, I don't like you.” And then, you do some grand gesture or give them a gift and they're like, “Okay, I'm into you.” Just as one of the dumbest and most pernicious myths in American life. In real life, people like you less when you do that.

Peter: Yeah, in real life, you need to be mean to women and treat them like shit and then they'll like you. 


Michael: The way out of the friend zone is through negging.

Peter: Oh, God. He talks about giving the gift of yourself, which means just being present. 

Michael: Oh, that's just the other one. That's just the quality time one. 

Peter: Right, exactly. It's quality time. I was like, “All right, this is more filler.” He was like, “All right, what other kind of gifts can you give?” I guess you can gift yourself? The gift of self-part contains another example of a situation where you're just looking at it straightforwardly, awful relationship and you're supposed to believe that he has salvaged it using the power of love languages. I am going to send you an excerpt.

Michael: It says, “Sonya once said to me, ‘My husband loves softball more than he loves me.’ ‘Why do you say that?’ I inquired. ‘On the day our baby was born, he played softball. I was lying in the hospital all afternoon while he played softball,’ she said. ‘Was he there when the baby was born?’ ‘He stayed long enough for the baby to be born, but 10 minutes afterward, he left. It was awful. It was such an important moment in our lives. I wanted us to share it together. I wanted Tony to be there with me.’ That baby was now 15 years old, and Sonya was talking about the event with all the emotion as though it had happened yesterday. ‘Have you based your conclusion that Tony loves softball more than he loves you on this one experience?’ ‘No,’ she said. ‘On the day of my mother's funeral, he also played softball.’ ‘Did he go to the funeral?’ ‘Yes, he did. He went to the funeral. But as soon as it was over, he left to get to his game. I couldn't believe it. My brothers and sisters came to the house with me, but my husband was playing softball.’” Okay, this guy's clearly having an affair, clearly doesn't like his wife.

Peter: I mean, look, this man is a demon. These are the most important days in her life over the span of 20 years, and he just strategically picks them to play softball.

Michael: "I'll see if I can make it. I'll try to pop in at some point for the birth of my child."

Peter: So, Chapman goes to the husband, and the husband says, “I knew she would bring that up.” And he says that he actually went to the softball game to brag to his team about the baby. He was shocked that she was upset when he came home.

Michael: I don't know.

Peter: And then, paraphrasing his response about the funeral, he basically says, “Well, I bet she didn't tell you this, but I spent the week prior to her mother's death helping out. So, after the funeral, I wanted to play softball to relax.” So, those are the reasons he provided. And Dr. Chapman is like, “Well, look, this is a well-meaning, sincere guy who just doesn't understand his wife's love language.” The final advice that he gives here is, “If the physical presence of your spouse is important to you, I urge you to verbalize that to your spouse.”

Michael: It sounds like she has. It sounds like this is a story that she's told throughout the marriage. 

Peter: Literally has been mad about the softball game for 15 years. And then, he did it again on the day of her mother's funeral.

Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Peter: What else is she supposed to do here? But again, this is a situation where Chapman is like, “Hey, the next time she has a once-in-a-decade trauma, don't go play softball.” He's like, “Gary, you're a miracle worker. How do you come up with this?” 

Michael: It's like he's chalking this up to a misunderstanding. "He just doesn't understand the gift that you need of time."

Peter: This is not the gift of yourself. This is an obligation that you have as a human being who cares about another human being. There is no saving this man. 

Michael: Maybe this is another feature of these self-help books, is they give this advice that is the starting point of understanding each other's love languages. That seems like a useful framework, but ultimately you have to implement it. The problems in the relationship aren't necessarily people not knowing this stuff. The information is available, but they're just not doing anything with it.

Peter: I can't believe these guys. The way he frames it is like, “Oh, I wanted to go tell them,” he makes it seem as if there's this perpetual softball game going on that he can pop in and out of. “No, he was trying to make the game.” He was like, “Push, push.”

Michael: Although, to be fair, on the day that I was born, my dad did get an oil change on the car. 

Peter: But dad-- That's an investment. 

Michael: I mean, it was like, labor takes a while, so he was on the way. He's like, “There's not really anything for me to do for the next four hours. So, I might as well go get an oil change.” And that's why I'm like this. That's why I'm like this, Peter.

Peter: That's an incredible dude thing to do. 

Michael: I know. The dudest imaginable thing. 

Peter: Acts of Service is essentially what it sounds like, people who feel appreciated when the other person does something for them. 

Michael: Isn't this just the same as all the other categories though? I've never actually understood this one, because isn't a gift a type of active service? Isn't quality time a type of active service? 

Peter: Look, it's not a perfect science. But Acts of Service to Gary Chapman again mostly means chores. 

Michael: Oh, that makes sense. "Yeah, I took care of this thing for you."

Peter: It would sound less romantic if the category was called "Chores, But That's What It Is."

Michael: Oh, God, logistics. Oh, this is mine, Peter, holy shit, this is mine. 

Peter: So, Physical Touch is the last one. This chapter has the standard anecdote where there's a miserable couple that ends up loving each other again after they figure out their love languages. Chapman takes a moment to criticize non-monogamy.

Michael: Okay, great. 

Peter: He says, “This age is characterized as the age of sexual openness and freedom. With that freedom, we have demonstrated that the open marriage where both spouses are free to have sexual intimacies with other individuals is fanciful. Those who do not object on moral grounds eventually object on emotional grounds.” 

Michael: Yeah. Tell me you've never worked with gay couples without telling me you've never worked with gay couples. 

Peter: There's no citation or anything. It's just sort of like, “Open marriages don't work. Moving on."

Michael: As a kid who grew up in a Christian household, I will say whenever Christians talk about sex, it gets really weird, really fast, because the only framework they have for it is marital intercourse, and so they have no idea how dating works. 

Peter: If I was a 24-year-old virgin and someone was like, “You're a few legal documents away from having sex,” I can't tell you how quickly I would have jumped into it.

Michael: Oh, yeah.

Peter: There are a lot of gender tropes in the Physical Touch chapter. “Men want sex all the time, while women need to feel a close emotional connection for sex to be satisfying.” 

Michael: Women be talking, women be emoting. 

Peter: I was reading an article by someone who was in a seminary learning these and mentioned that people in the class kept accidentally describing women having sex with men as an act of service rather than physical touch. [Michael laughs] That basic thought recurs throughout the book, like, the sexual desire of men is a given, and the sexual desire of women is not discussed. 

Michael: Does he only mean sex here, or does he also-- I always thought this meant cuddling and--

Peter: No, he does not just mean sex. No, he means cuddling, massages, things like that. It's meant to be inclusive of all sorts of touch.

Michael: With friends, I always really appreciate it when friends are just touchy people. It feels like I know where I stand with them.

Peter: I hate it. 

Michael: Oh, do you? 


Michael: You're just recoiling. 

Peter: I shouldn't say I hate it, but when guys do the back pat, I'm like, “Oh, okay, what's your problem? Are we in a fight?” So, I think this is as good a time as any to discuss the sexism that runs through the book. Chapman, again, is a conservative pastor. He very plainly subscribes to certain gender roles in marriages. In one late chapter, there is a story about a marriage that appears to involve a potentially abusive husband. According to her, he is mistreating her, verbally berating her, telling her that he hates her frequently. He refuses counseling and therapy. She goes to Chapman. She says all of her friends were telling her to leave him. In the early editions of the book, Chapman theorizes that the guy's love language is physical touch, and his advice is for the wife to start initiating sex frequently and more aggressively.

Michael: No way.

Peter: She says that will be hard for her because sex with him makes her feel used and unloved, and Chapman tells her to deal with it by remembering Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in order to gather the strength. 

Michael: Holy shit. 

Peter: Look, I wanted to make a "Sermon on the Mount" joke, but it's a little too serious of a situation. 

Michael: It's a really dark anecdote, actually, that he's super presenting. This is like, "Fuck him until he's nice to you," basically, or give him what he wants. 

Peter: There's a husband who is fairly strongly implied to be abusive or at least mistreating her significantly. He's not involved in the therapy. The advice, based on a guess about his love language, is to fuck him more.

Michael: He doesn't need to change his behavior at all. It's only her that needs to change how she reacts to it.

Peter: In the newer editions, he changes the story so that his advice is just to be physically affectionate. Ruffle the guy's hair, things like that. And then, she asks about sex, after which his advice is to engage in it more slowly over time as she begins to feel more loved and appreciated. 

Michael: But that's, again, "Just do this thing and he will spontaneously treat you better," which is not my understanding of abuse dynamics. If you're nice to him and ruffle his hair, he'll get less bad? I don't know. 

Peter: He basically toned down how problematic the advice is, but I'm not sure that it actually changes how effective it would be. There's a sort of "every marriage can be saved" vibe running through this. Every problem can be solved by doing love language analysis, no matter how severe the crisis is. And when you're looking at a little anecdote like this one, it really jumps out at you, where you're just like, “Oh.” 

Michael: Now, I'm becoming more shocked that he didn't tell that one lady to start playing softball. That’s actually your problem. 

Peter: Since that anecdote was in the first book, that softball league was taking place in the 1980s, so I don't think she was allowed. This is a no wife zone. This is where we go when our wives are giving birth or their moms are dying.

Michael: What do you think your love language is, Peter? Did you get more insight into yourself reading this? 

Peter: Truly, I don't know. I can mostly do a process of elimination. I didn't do the quiz at the end of the book. 

Michael: I want to take it so bad right now. 

Peter: If I had to process of elimination it, I think I land somewhere around words of affirmation, acts of service?

Michael: So, does this mean I should tell you're smart and funny and do podcast chores? 

Peter: Absolutely. You'll learn more about that in The Five Love Languages of Podcasters, his next book. 

Michael: Right. Although I guess, as you said earlier, the question isn't what is your love language, but what is your wife's love language? 

Peter: Right. 

Michael: Why isn't it putting up the shelf that you said you were going to put? 

Peter: I was reading off that one anecdote to Lee about the guy not painting the bedroom, and she was like, “Interesting. Interesting comparison.”

Michael: She's tried every modal verb with you, Peter. She's tried should, would, could. 

Peter: Has she tried complimenting the things I do do? “Peter, you've been podcasting great today.” This is also a good segue into the updates in the new edition. Like I mentioned, there are a handful of additions of this book with the big mass market retool occurring in 2015.

Michael: Giving it the old Roald Dahl.

Peter: So, in the new version, there are a lot of little changes designed to make the book less expressly sexist, less reactionary overall, less overtly religious. Early editions are fairly expressly Christian. Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is an example of an act of service in the early editions. All of that gets removed.

Michael: That means I don't have to wash your feet when we hang out in New York.

Peter: [laughs] The sexism in the earlier editions, pretty much endless. There's one couple in turmoil, and Chapman asks the husband what he loves about his wife. The guy says, “She is a good mother. She is also a good housekeeper and an excellent cook when she chooses to cook.” 

Michael: Ooh, good one. Throw that, twist the knife. 

Peter: About 40 pages later, there's an entirely different couple and Chapman asks the husband how he knows his wife loves him. The husband says, “Oh, I've always felt loved by her, Dr. Chapman. She is the best housekeeper in the world. She is an excellent cook. She keeps my clothes washed and ironed. She is wonderful about doing things with the children.”

Michael: All of these seem to have come from the 1950s or some weird world where only the men are working, and the women are at home. This is the 90s. Most of these couples, both people are working.

Peter: Even if that was your dynamic, it still doesn't make sense to list off the chores as the reason that you feel loved. Surely, there is something more to traditional relationships, even in Christian households, than just this transactional, “He makes the money, I do the cooking and cleaning.” I keep just reading this shit, being like, “This just is not what love is. I feel like I'm losing it."

Michael: Yeah, that's like that review of the Star Wars prequels where it's like describe the characters without describing their jobs or their clothes and no one can do it. 

Peter: All of that disappears from new editions. The end of the book, again, has two love language quizzes, one for each spouse. The way it works is it presents two statements, and you choose which one resonates with you more, and then it does that about 20 times, and by the end of it, you know your love language. The statements in the new edition are functionally identical for husbands and wives, just with the gender swapped. It's two versions of the same quiz. But in the early editions, they had all these weird differences.

Michael: Oh, hell yeah. So, like "When you're vacuuming," or whatever for the women.

Peter: Not super far from what's about to happen. Okay, so for men, the statement is, “I feel loved when my wife does the laundry.” For women, it's changed to, “I feel loved when my husband helps with the laundry.” For men, you have, “When my wife cooks a meal for me, I know that she loves me.” For women, it's, “When my husband helps clean up after a meal, I know that he loves me.”

Michael: So, basically, we're just assuming that the women are doing the laundry and the cooking. And it's like, “If he's doing this, it's as a helper.”

Peter: For men, you have, "Keeping the house clean is an important act of service." Do you want to guess what the women version is? 

Michael: “When my husband takes one chore off my hands.” 

Peter: It's, “I love when my husband helps clean the house.”

Michael: Helps clean the house. 

Peter: One of the funnier ones for men, it's, “I love having sex with my wife.” For women, it's changed to, “I love cuddling with my husband.” There's no representation in this book for horny women. There is absolutely none. Women are asexual creatures in this book. It is baffling. 

Michael: Yeah, especially considering that men get both sex and RVs. I feel like for a self-help book, that's pretty three dimensional. 

Peter: There are others, and many of them are very subtle but weird. There's one that I can't quite put my finger on, but it's odd to me. For women, it says, “I like it when my husband helps out despite being busy.” But then, the male version is, “I like it when my wife helps out despite having other things to do.” Like, the term "busy" is reserved for men. 

Michael: Right, because that's a work term. 

Peter: Yeah, it's work adjacent.

Michael: Yeah, you can't be busy with house stuff or kids.

Peter: No, you're never busy. You just have things to do. It's like, “Come on. You don't know what busy means, lady.” 

Michael: “I got a softball game. You don't have shit to do.” 

Peter: My favorite, my absolute favorite one for wives, it says, “I love it when my husband gives me a massage.” But for husbands, it says, “I love it when my wife rubs my back.” 

Michael: Oh, what? 

Peter: Less gay. It's like, “Come on, I'm not a lady. I don't get massages. I get my back rubbed.” 

Michael: You call it a massage, I call it heterosexual first base. I'm going to a spa to get my HFB.

Peter: So, that's the book. Now, with all of this weird sexist shit going on under the hood here, our attuned listeners, and perhaps you, Mike, are thinking, “What's this guy think about gay people?” 

Michael: Oh, shit. God, I hadn't even thought about this. I just took it for granted that of course it's heteronormative.

Peter: Gay people don't exist in this book. They are not mentioned. No anecdotes about them. 

Michael: Of course.

Peter: Nothing. It is like the female orgasm. It is just not discussed or implied. But Chapman maintains a website which at least at one point, included a little blog. And a few years ago, a blogger named Kristen May went digging around on it. This is a Q&A, and the question is, “My son has recently told us that he is gay. I'm having a very hard time dealing with it. How can I help him with this and still show love?” I have sent you Gary Chapman's response. 

Michael: He says, “Disappointment is a common emotion when a parent hears one of their children indicate that he or she is gay. Men and women are made for each other. It is God's design. Anything other than that is outside of that primary design of God. Now, I'm not going to try to explain all the ins and outs of homosexuality, but what I will say is this. We love our children no matter what. Express your disappointment and/or your lack of understanding but make it clear that you love them and that you will continue to love them no matter what. I would also encourage you to ask your child to do some serious reading and/or talk to a counselor to try to understand him or herself better while continuing to affirm your love.” 

Peter: Yikes.

Michael: I'd actually love somebody to follow up and be like, “Actually, could you explain the ins and outs of homosexuality? I'd like to hear what you think homosexuality consists of.” 

Peter: I want to know what he thinks of as the "ins and outs". 

Michael: I feel like this could be worse. He's like, “You love them no matter what. Uhh--” 

Peter: I mean, look, Chapman is not a psychopath. He is a dummy. But I don't think that he is truly evil in the way that Matt Walsh or whatever is. But this is the like, “Hate the sin, not the sinner" shit that keeps kids in the closet. 

Michael: Right. Express your disappointment and/or your lack of understanding. 

Peter: You will have two emotions disappointment and lack of understanding. There is also a section of the website titled Understanding Homosexuality. 

Michael: Oh, no. 

Peter: I will send you the text of that in full. 

Michael: “The top is responsible for bringing the lube.” Wow, Gary, that's really very detailed. He says, “I'm meeting more and more Christian parents who are struggling in their efforts to understand homosexuality. Almost all parents, even those who say we should tolerate all lifestyles, will feel shock and deep pain if one of their children announces that he is homosexual. The initial reaction is that they have failed their children in some critical way. The fact is that research has failed to discover the causes of homosexuality. We simply don't know why some people have same-sex attraction. So, what's a Christian parent to do? The example of Jesus would lead us to spend time with them, communicate with them, and demonstrate love for them, even though we do not approve of their lifestyle.” [sucks teeth] Okay, again, could have been worse.

Peter: Yeah, I think it's more of the same sort of like, “Look, they are awful and gross, but you must still love them.” I poked around on the archived version of the website and found at least one other section titled Relating Positively to a Child who is a Homosexual that suggests Christian counseling for your gay child and ends with, “Your child's choices need not destroy your life.”

Michael: [laughs] Me being gay has destroyed my parents' lives. I think that's fair.

Peter: These dated to 2013 and 2014 again. They're discovered by this blogger a couple of years ago, I think 2021, and then scrubbed from the site a few weeks after. So, all of this has vanished. I found one other interesting little tidbit. In 2012, he did an interview with The Christian Post where he said that part of what led to the topic of sex being perverted by our culture was belief in evolution. [Michael laughs] There's a lot going on with Chapman behind the scenes, and basically all of your instincts about his shitty religious beliefs, probably correct. 

Michael: I mean, one explanation of them scrubbing this from the website, to be slightly generous, is that maybe this just isn't his belief anymore. He's like, “Oh, that's where I was ten years ago, but that no longer reflects who I am.” 

Peter: It's possible, but I do think that, A, we might have seen him say that in some format and I couldn't find it. And B, we know that they're trying to market this book to a mass audience. My best read on it is that they were like, “Whoop, that's not good. That's a little outdated. Let's knock that off the website and we are good.” I agree there's some possibility that he's softened on it, but I don't see any specific reason to believe that's true.

Michael: Yeah, there's not love languages for same-sex couples. 

Peter: Right. I also don't think that you go from evolution-denying pastor to LGBT positive. 

Michael: That sound you hear is thousands of gay people removing their love language from their Hinge profile. 

Peter: [laughs] So, there's a meta item here as we're talking about his religion and what comes out of it. There's this phenomenon of Christian pastors publishing this sort of self-help and relationship advice that I think is worth drilling down on because it's so ubiquitous. I think the blog, the old website, is a good example of how pernicious it can be because not only do the books have some weird undercurrents, but also there's a pipeline into some more expressly reactionary shit. And then at the macro level, you have the Christian publishing industry, which I kind of want to talk about a bit, if you will allow me.

Michael: I love this shit. Because I grew up in the church, I kind of grew up straddling these worlds that there's a whole sector of the economy of Christian music, Christian books. None of these activities follow the same rules as secular world. There's all kinds of weird bulk buying that goes on. There's these bands that are huge in Christian world who no one has heard of outside of that world. It's really interesting, there's this weird insularity, but it's like 30% of the US population. It's a huge market. 

Peter: By the way, I would have pinned you as having a religious upbringing when you said the word "Jesus" because you were like, "Jeesus." You really, really hit it, Jeesus. I was like that. 

Michael: Wait till you hear me say Beelzebub, Mephistopheles. 

Peter: I think it's hard for most people to comprehend how influential and vast the Christian publishing industry was, especially in the 80s and 90s. There's a book written a few years back by Daniel Vaca, a Professor at Brown, called Evangelicals Incorporated, that tracks the origins of this industry. It was a pretty good primer. So, the modern Christian publishing company traces back to about the 1930s when two evangelical publishing companies spring up, Eerdmans and Zondervan. 

During the Great Depression and through the postwar era, these companies played a big role in creating the sort of distinctive culture of American Protestantism. They are early pioneers of this dynamic that we're kind of talking about, where you have this robust, culturally conservative media ecosystem that exists alongside the mainstream secular one. And if you're not looking right at it, you might not see it at all.

In the 80s, you start to see mainstream media recognize the scale of Christian publishing. In 1988, HarperCollins buys Zondervan. At their peak in the 90s, there were 4000 Christian bookstores in this country. Barnes & Noble, I don't think, ever got over a thousand locations to put that in perspective. For the last 50 years, has not been uncommon to see evangelical books top the nationwide bestseller lists. 

Now, these publishers would publish all sorts of expressly religious books, of course, but Zondervan in particular pioneers a space for books that contain what Vaca calls an "ambient evangelicalism". Books that include conservative Christian tropes and principles, but aren't expressly Christian, or at least aren't holding out their religiousness too aggressively. And I think that space is very firmly where this book sits. It's guided by conservative evangelical principles, it's written by an expressly religious pastor, and it nonetheless is carefully holding itself out as largely secular and non-ideological.

Chapman's not hiding that he's a Christian pastor, but I think he would say, “Well, this has advice for everyone.” It sort of maintains a deniability that the book is particularly religious or influenced by any particular ideology. And in recent years, Chapman and the publishers have clearly taken care to scrub much of the residual religiosity from the book. And I think that's important because I think the veneer of secularism allows them to launder some very reactionary thoughts and principles to a mainstream audience that doesn't actually understand what exactly they're being fed and also provides a way of entry into a more explicitly reactionary media apparatus. 

So, you have the latent homophobia and sexism of the book, but then if you take it to the next step and go to this guy's seminar or visit his website, you're just confronted with the express denial that LGBT people are valid.

Michael: And evolution.

Peter: Yeah. You're just one step away from a very conservative sort of worldview. I don't think people know that about this book.

Michael: Yeah. That was on the back of all the posters in the Airbnbs, but I never checked. By the way, gay people don't exist.

Peter: What's your love language? I love women and women only because I am a man.

Michael: Women and softball, baby. 

Peter: Sports. 

Michael: It is interesting because on some level, yes, this is true. But also, the vast, vast, vast majority of people who know about the love languages never bothered to pick up the book. It's sort of like, "Well, thank God nobody reads any of these fucking books."

Peter: Right. That's the thing is, like, it's great in this particular case that no one read the book, whereas The Secret sells 30 million copies, and no one knows that it's about quantum physics magic. 

Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Peter: With this, there's a two-sentence summary of this book that everyone would benefit from. If you hear that summary and that's all your brain processes and you move on, and that's great, but if you actually saw what that came out of, you'd be like, “Oh, it's actually kind of bad that this sold 15 million copies.”

Michael: Yeah, it's not ideal.

Peter: And one of the interesting things about that concept of ambient evangelicalism was that there were people in Christian media whose express goal was to drive Christian principles in the broader culture without it being clear what they were doing. And when you look at a book like this through that lens, it becomes a little more unsettling. Frankly, I don't know how much this is driving Christian principles, but the idea that someone can build a book around really rigid gender roles, really antiquated gender roles, and make it a 15 million book bestseller is a little bit disturbing. It doesn't make me feel good about the ability of our culture to digest this shit properly.

Michael: It's funny to me because the gender stuff actually bugs me more than the gay stuff. Just not having gay couples in your book is pretty bad but also, whatever, this is a book for straight couples, fine. But the gender stuff is so fucking pernicious. It puts all of the moral agency on women, no matter what the problem in their relationship is. That's so ubiquitous in the culture, just that women are in charge of fixing fucking everything.

Peter: Someone being like, “I don't like gay people,” is so transparent that it almost feels better than someone writing out 20 anecdotes that have really weird gender dynamics.

Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Peter: A, it becomes harder to explain why this sucks. And B, it almost speaks to someone's worldview more. I did a search for criticism of this book, and you find things here and there. Some people were questioning how scientific it is, etc. But what I also continuously stumbled into was on social media of various types, the individual comments from women raised in conservative households who read the book and were like, “The gender dynamics made me uncomfortable.” I didn't find too many people writing at length about that, but it was a common theme. 

Michael: Yeah, it says, “I should ruffle my abusive husband's hair.” 

Peter: Right. There were people noticing that this sucks, but it just didn't get a lot of play. 

Michael: But this is something that is becoming a theme on this show, how these books take over the culture without anyone really noticing or caring. Okay, 30 million people bought The Secret, but there's no reason for The New York Times to write a lengthy review or for anyone to publish a sort of thorough, authoritative debunking. Something like Rich Dad, Poor Dad, which I could not find lengthy reviews of. The only people that have debunked it are other fucking real estate grifters, like people trying to sell their own book.

If you're someone who is looking for 101 style advice or yeah, you see this on a poster somewhere and you're like, “Oh, I'm going to check this out,” there's really no authoritative source being like, "Here are the reasons why it doesn't hold up." It's like the elite liberal media has kind of just been like, “Eh, it's just for the plebes.” But these books are wildly influential.

Peter: Ands that's why you need to review them. 

Michael: Yeah, exactly. 

Peter: 30 million people are reading The Secret because 15 million people are reading 5 Love languages. So, yeah, maybe pick it up and see whether it says that women should be doing every household chore. I think you're right. It stems from an elitism. 

Michael: I can't believe the overwhelming advice from a show about books is like, “Whatever you do, don't read the books.” Thank God, nobody's reading these fucking books.

[If Books Could Kill theme music]

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