Book Review: How Love Works

in ‘White Papers’, Reports, Articles

A review of How Love Works: How to Stay in Love as a Couple and True to Yourself Even with Kids by Steven and Sharon Biddulph.

“We do not have a culture for making marriage work, only for making it endure.” “When our generation rejected traditional ideas of marriage it sought to replace a social form with a genuine experience.” “Family relationships were often an appearance one kept up. People did not expect intimacy or authentic communication.” “Then we began to discover the dramatic fact that a couple in isolation does not work. A family on its own is about as stable as a tent with no pegs”.

This is, above all, a book of telling phrases: a perspective on the state of marriage defined as two people in a committed long-term project of loving and learning; it is an emotional explanation of love; a realistic guide to having fulfilling sex; parenting tips; and some self-help in the form of practical steps. And, if that does not work: how to choose a counsellor.

It uses accessible language, no psychojargon, in exploring some reasonably complex psychological concepts. Being of Australia, the authors comment on life as it is which is refreshing for those of us frustrated by the British tendency to shuffle around reality or to be morally superior. They refer to ‘the vigour and earthiness of this lovely Anglo-Saxon term” and its preference to the “rather-fey-sounding bonking of the post-modern gender-neutral generation”. There, it was not mentioned.

“The child-raising process of the modern world means shutting down many of our natural talents … we are seeking, largely unconsciously to balance ourselves, by locating someone who is still activated in the areas in which we have shut down.” This concept of marrying your twin seemed in conflict with Harville Hendrix view of being drawn most towards a person carrying the negative traits of our parents. But these two views of love are reconciled. “As any relationship unfolds, we are soon brought into contact with parts of ourselves that we may have trouble owning. The more we repress in ourself, the more intolerant we are of others”.

The book talks of three kinds of attraction: liking, loving and lust and the absence of the latter when many young women are frustrated by the wimpishness of new man. The book intertwines communication via the 4c’s – caring, co-valuing, co-operation and closeness – with the Adult, Parent, Child components of personality. “The problem comes when we are stuck in one or two parts and not firing on all three cylinders”. It asks why do couples fight and concludes that healthy fighting can rebuild closeness that has been drowned by apathy. And sets out the equivalent of the Queensberry rules to avoid lasting damage. You can have little fights or wait a few years for World War III. “Remember that the aim of all fighting is closeness”. Perhaps this is the book’s highest value: it validates one’s intuition where it has become muddied by upbringing and society’s mores.

Swiftly onto children: “young children seem to winkle out your deepest hang-ups and bring your inner psychopath to the surface”! “Everyone thinks their childhood was normal. It’s only with the perspective of adulthood that we can see what was really going on.” “But a normal childhood for the twentieth century is far from normal in the sense of being what human beings real need”. It places teenage sex in an excellent context.

Very occasionally the book lapses into the sinking sand of most self-help books. Practical Step 12: Getting Back to Happy; answer, be happy. I paraphrase, but only just. Better to have left this out.

Overall, in the journey of self-understanding which never ends, this book took me to some fresh places, reinforced what may be regarded as my radical views, and made me laugh. Recommended for clients, the waiting list, friends and particularly teenagers.

It closes with: “You are here on this planet to learn to love. And that’s all”.

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