Monday, February 10, 2014

On "The Truth about Love" by Pat Love ***

Like so many self-help books, this one has its highs and lows and is full of simple, practical advice as well as pleasant anecdotes, enough that what is in some ways a difficult thing to actually live is made to seem simple. Love also packs the book with couple and self-quizzes that are supposed in some way to help you assess your relationship.

Love's practical advice is what redeems what was, for me, in many ways a disappointing text. The gist of her thesis is that our feelings about people change over time and that just because feelings might relax for a while, we shouldn't give up on love--that with work, they can return and build to something deeper. To demonstrate this, she breaks the book into four stages of love: infatuation, post-rapture, discovery, and connection. It is the post-rapture stage where "love" often falls apart, and it is sticking with things through that period that can allow us to harness a deeper love for one another. (Love is as much about acting like we are in love as feeling we are. Hence, when we seem low, a key to continuing on is to "act" loving even if we don't "feel" loving.)

Means by which we can do this include figuring out how we define love for ourselves, what rocks our boat, so to speak. For some, love is chiefly romantic, for others companionate, and for still others commitment. It is, of course, all three, but relationships are often built more on one than the other two--and what's important to a given person may be more one than the other two. Recognizing this allows us to better take into the account the needs of our partner.

Also of importance is trust--which can only be built over time, and which is not the same thing as honesty. Some things are better left unsaid, Love says. Finally, there's commitment, which is more than just "staying together." Commitment is commitment to the relationship itself, to making the relationship a happy and effective one.

The chapter on support goes into how loving relationships consist of people who support one another. She spends a good deal of time discussing how we can take someone else's personal problems personally, assuming we did something wrong when the problem is really one that has nothing to do with us. How exactly we are to navigate being supportive in such situations is difficult. Recognizing the signs of distress and how our partner wants to be treated in those cases can help. But Love does not provide concrete solutions, since they'll differ from couple to couple.

The main drawback to the book, as I see it, comes in the quizes themselves. Many of them are sets of questions with evaluative answers, but Love doesn't really clarify what those evaluative responses mean or what we are to do with them. They just sit on the page taking up space. Perhaps, they are to serve as a source for discussion with one's partner, but even here, some of the questions seem potentially more harmful than helpful. That the quizzes make up such a large chunk of the book seems unfortunate.

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