This shows a couple and hearts.
“Based on our findings, we think it’s less ‘Happy Wife, Happy Life,’ and more ‘Happy Spouse, Happy House.” Credit: Neuroscience News

Debunking Love Myths: A New Look at Romance and Science

Summary: A new study challenges popular romance myths, debunking the Five Love Languages with evidence-based research. The work, proposes a ‘balanced diet’ metaphor for expressing love, emphasizing the need for diverse and evolving expressions of affection in relationships.

The findings, including critiques of concepts like “Happy Wife, Happy Life” and the appeal of unplanned sex, underscore the importance of mutual satisfaction and novelty in maintaining desire.

The research calls into question widely held beliefs, advocating for a more nuanced understanding of relationship dynamics.

Key Facts:

  1. Amy Muise’s research contradicts the Five Love Languages, suggesting a need for multiple expressions of love rather than one primary language.
  2. Studies led by Muise found that both partners’ perceptions are equally important in a relationship, challenging the “Happy Wife, Happy Life” notion.
  3. Muise’s work emphasizes the importance of planned intimacy and novel experiences in enhancing relationship satisfaction and desire.

Source: York University

From the Five Love Languages to the concept of “Happy Wife, Happy Life,” popular culture is riddled with ideas of how sex and relationships are supposed to work, but does the science back these ideas up?

According to Faculty of Health Assistant Professor and Research Chair in Relationships and Sexuality Amy Muise, the answer is frequently no. 

Ahead of Valentine’s Day, Muise, also director of the Sexual Health and Relationship (SHaRe) Lab, can offer alternative theories that are supported by her research and other literature in the field.  

Muise’s latest research debunks the Five Love Languages, offers ‘balanced diet’ metaphor as alternative 

The Five Love Languages is the invention of Gary Chapman, a one-time Baptist minister who provided marital counselling to couples in his church and wrote a book based on his experiences.

The theory goes that each of us has a primary love language – words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch – and problems arise in relationships when partners are speaking different languages.

Online dating sites encourage you to share your love language, 50 million people have taken the online test, and videos with the hashtag have half a billion views on TikTok – clearly, the concept has deeply ingrained itself in the popular imagination, but according to Muise’s latest review paper in collaboration with researchers from the University of Toronto, the theory doesn’t hold up. 

“His work is based on a very religious traditional sample of monogamous, heterosexual cisgendered couples and it is all anecdotal. We were pretty skeptical of the claims made so we decided to review the existing evidence, and his idea that we all have one primary love language really isn’t supported,” says Muise.

“His measure pits the love languages against each other, but in research studies when they’ve asked people to rate each of these expressions of love independently, people tend to rate them all highly.” 

Still, Muise sees why the concept has taken off. “It’s something people can really grab onto in straightforward way and communicate something about themselves to their partner. But we would suggest that love is not a language that you need to learn how to speak but it’s more akin to a nutritionally balanced diet, where partners need multiple expressions of love simultaneously, and that these needs can change over time as life and relationships evolve.” 

Other research Muise has done similarly questions pop psychology concepts, exposing flaws along the way: 

Happy Wife, Happy Life? 

Muise and a group of international collaborators looked into the idea that it is women’s perceptions that are the barometer for the relationships, carrying more weight than men’s. In two studies looking at mixed gender couples, one examining daily diaries and the other looking at annual reports over five years, they found instead that both partners conceptions of the relationship were equally important. 

“Based on our findings, we think it’s less ‘Happy Wife, Happy Life,’ and more ‘Happy Spouse, Happy House.” 

Is unplanned sex hotter? 

Not necessarily, says Muise. In research done last year with a York graduate student, Muise found that while many people endorsed the ideal of spontaneous sex, the researchers did not find evidence that people’s actual experience of sex was more enjoyable when not planned. If you are planning on sex this Valentine’s Day, Muise advises it might work out better to plan to have it before a big meal. 

Is too much closeness bad for sexual relationships? 

“In the research, we find couples who grow closer have more desire for each other, but we argue that what’s also needed for desire is otherness or distinctiveness,” she says. 

“It’s important to bring new things into the relationship, find ways to see a partner in a new light. Novel experiences have been shown to increase desire in long-term relationships, so when making plans for Valentine’s day, doing something together that’s broadening or expanding can increase desire.” 

About this psychology and relationships research news

Author: Emina Gamulin
Source: York University
Contact: Emina Gamulin – York University
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Popular Psychology Through a Scientific Lens: Evaluating Love Languages From a Relationship Science Perspective” by Amy Muise et al. Current Directions in Psychological Science


Popular Psychology Through a Scientific Lens: Evaluating Love Languages From a Relationship Science Perspective

The public has something of an obsession with love languages, believing that the key to lasting love is for partners to express love in each other’s preferred language.

Despite the popularity of Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages, there is a paucity of empirical work on love languages, and collectively, it does not provide strong empirical support for the book’s three central assumptions that (a) each person has a preferred love language, (b) there are five love languages, and (c) couples are more satisfied when partners speak one another’s preferred language.

We discuss potential reasons for the popularity of the love languages, including the fact that it enables people to identify important relationship needs, provides an intuitive metaphor that resonates with people, and offers a straightforward way to improve relationships.

We offer an alternative metaphor that we believe more accurately reflects a large body of empirical research on relationships: Love is not akin to a language one needs to learn to speak but can be more appropriately understood as a balanced diet in which people need a full range of essential nutrients to cultivate lasting love.

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