Help me help him . . . before I lose my mind
April 12, 2009 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Help me help him . . . be a better boyfriend. Specifically, looking for book recommendations to help him understand his 'role' as boyfriend.

I'll try to keep it short-

We were dating for a little over a year, and after much back-and-forth I decided to break it off. Even though we loved each other, we were having a hard time relating- I was his first serious girlfriend, and I think he has some issues relating to others, including me. Basically, even though I loved him, he didn't know how to be a good boyfriend and I figured he would never learn. He has a hard time listening to what I'd say, and then internalizing it.

Well, now we've been broken up for a week and we're both basically falling to shit. It's horrible. I've never missed anyone so much (and I've broken up with several long term boyfriends.) He is saying all the usual stuff too- he loves me, misses me, realizes now that he took me for granted, wants to try harder. etc. I'm not 100% sold yet, but I kind of want to give him another chance- with conditions. one of the things i want to do now, while he's feeling open to suggestion, is drag him to a bookstore and find some sort of book that will help him understand what a relationship is really supposed to be like, and what i should be able to reasonably expect from him. (I realize I can tell him all these things myself, but I like the idea of him having it there in black and white, written by an expert, to refer to whenever he's feeling unsure.) Besides, I think it's only fair considering I've done plenty of that sort of reading in order to be a better girlfriend. I know these types of books must exist for men as well, I'd like to know which ones you've actually read and found useful.

Please don't judge me for my decision to get back together with him. If anything, this is kind of one-last-chance to get his shit together like he says he wants to, or it's off for good. And I know counseling is helpful, but neither of us can afford it, plus I don't know whether it's really appropriate for two people who have only been together a year.

Thanks everyone.
posted by lblair to Human Relations (59 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I kind of want to give him another chance- with conditions.

You can't. It's called unconditional love for a reason.
posted by torquemaniac at 11:02 AM on April 12, 2009 [4 favorites]

What is the role you think he fails to understand?
posted by raf at 11:02 AM on April 12, 2009

Specifically, looking for book recommendations to help him understand his 'role' as boyfriend.

Basically, even though I loved him, he didn't know how to be a good boyfriend and I figured he would never learn.

s drag him to a bookstore and find some sort of book that will help him understand what a relationship is really supposed to be like, and what i should be able to reasonably expect from him. (I realize I can tell him all these things myself, but I like the idea of him having it there in black and white, written by an expert, to refer to whenever he's feeling unsure.) Besides, I think it's only fair considering I've done plenty of that sort of reading in order to be a better girlfriend. I know these types of books must exist for men as well, I'd like to know which ones you've actually read and found useful.

Don't assume all men are or should be the same, don't assume that all relationships are or should be the same, don't assume that you can get two people to relate to each other by buying a book, don't assume that other people are pets to be trained, don't assume that the fault - in whole or even in part - lies with him. If a woman I was dating came up to me, handed me a book, and said "Act like these people do", I would laugh and leave. Relationships are worked out between two people, not cast from some template. Either he'll take your suggetions (and you his) or he won't and both of you will be happier with other people. But this Oprah-club self-help-book-of-the-month shit is only guaranteed to piss him off and make him totally unresponsive.

And it's a particularly shitty thing to do now, insofar as breakups are usually mutual admissions of fault and/or incompatibility. At this point, it's an "oh by the way..." move that denigrates him as person.

posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:05 AM on April 12, 2009 [16 favorites]

I doubt the best relationships come from a book. Worse yet, if the relationship fails again, who will be to blame, your boyfriend or the book? You're pretty vague in what it is you expect of him, and perhaps that's the problem. Most guys like straightforward requests (even if we don't react to them as nicely as expected) and don't have the ability to read minds. Let me repeat that, MEN DON'T HAVE THE ABILITY TO READ MINDS. So maybe you should both work on communication, you communicating on what you want/expect, and him communicating on if he finds that reasonable and how he might go about doing that.
posted by furtive at 11:11 AM on April 12, 2009 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: wow. thanks, everyone. harsh.

you know, people aren't just born understanding the way functional relationships work. some people are lucky enough to have good role models, some aren't, and they have to learn by trial and error. in myself, i recognize that i used to be a horrible, shitty girlfriend who only cared about myself. it took failed relationships to make me see this. i wanted to change, so i sought out resources to help me understand what was going on and what i was doing wrong. and i read lots of books. they helped me.

im not forcing him to do anything. he wants another chance, i want to give it to him. he wants to be a better boyfriend, so instead of giving him a laundry list of shit, i thought i'd suggest something written by an expert to help him understand the way women think. i've certainly done a lot of reading to help me understand how men think.
posted by lblair at 11:14 AM on April 12, 2009

Yeah, no, this is not how to do this.

His role as a boyfriend is the intersection between what you want/need and what he can provide. That's it. You cannot find this in a book, because nobody has written a book about the two of you.

If you want to give him another shot, you need to sit down with him and explain what you need out of a relationship. And then he needs to explain what he needs out of a relationship. And then you both need to explain what you can give to each other.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:15 AM on April 12, 2009 [29 favorites]

Besides, I think it's only fair considering I've done plenty of that sort of reading in order to be a better girlfriend.

If you tell us the names of these books, or at least about the broad categories they fall into or something, we might be better able to determine what you have in mind.
posted by box at 11:15 AM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

No.. he needs to understand how you think, not how 'women think'. Likewise, you need to understand how he thinks, not how 'men think.' Speaking as a man, all those 'men think like this' books are fucking hooey. I doubt the 'women think like that' book are any better, somehow.

Relationships are about connecting as people, not stereotypes.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:16 AM on April 12, 2009 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: also- this is just one little thing to supplement the discussions we will certainly be having. I'm not asking for advice about THAT aspect of it. I've found lots of good book suggestions myself in these threads, so it seemed like a good place to come- for book suggestions. So maybe just ignore all the backstory and pretend like I'm asking 'for a friend' so we can drop the judgment?
posted by lblair at 11:17 AM on April 12, 2009

There is a reason that relationships work best when both parties communicate with each other openly and honestly. What if the book says that women want something that isn't in line with what you *actually* want, or isn't enough of what you want? Why would that be a good idea?

Also, it may be a huge struggle for him to not be able to relate to people easily. It's not exactly a positive move to shame him for it, and tell him that he needs to be instructed properly. Why can you not help him by instructing him personally, and, especially, accepting that he is not anything less than another human being who has feelings too?
posted by so_gracefully at 11:20 AM on April 12, 2009

what a relationship is really supposed to be like

This is a nonsense phrase. Everybody needs and wants different things out of a relationship; even the high-level things we think we agree on - "Someone to love me" mean very, very different things in practice for different people. I know people who've explicitly said to me that they require at least some kind of communication daily, even if it's just a "hey I love you" text, and others who think anything beyond contact every couple of days is getting into "clingy" territory. And believe me, in each case there are people who think that's how "relationships" work, not just their own preferences.

Communicate. Tell him what you need/want. Ask him what he needs/wants. Maybe it's something easy - "Call me a little more often." Maybe it's something tricky but doable. Maybe it's something that's impossible for one of you, even if it seems reasonable/necessary to the other! These things happen. But "a relationship" doesn't exist. Your relationship does.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:21 AM on April 12, 2009

Trying to answer the asked question--the one about books:

I've got an... incomplete idea of the kinds of books you want, but I'm beginning to suspect that you're looking for a class of books that, for the most part, doesn't really exist. Male self-help books are mostly about either physical fitness or business success. The closest male-targeted equivalent to stuff like The Rules and He's Just Not That Into You is probably pickup-artist material. And, honestly, I'm not sure if the female-targeted relationship books are about being a better girlfriend as much as they are about finding and keeping a better boyfriend.
posted by box at 11:23 AM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't have a book suggestion for you at all, but I totally see what you're asking. It's like you said, not everyone has a role model or has had the luck of experiencing many relationships and learning from them. I know great guys who are dating girls who constantly have to tell them how to be a boyfriend and what is 'expected' of them (not in a demanding controlling way!!), because they really are clueless and have just never dated anyone before - they don't realize how they should act and what they should do. And they don't have many friends in relationships who they can learn from, and never bothered to learn this stuff before because all they did was play video games. I'm sure it would be easier if there was a book or movie or a way for them to understand everything that goes into a relationship without having to learn from their gf constantly about what 'most' girls want. Sure, guys aren't mind readers but it's also annoying to have to be like their mother in the relationship and constantly point out what they 'should' be doing just because the guy means well but is clueless.

So if no one knows a book maybe you need to have a LONG talk with him explaining EVERYTHING you want and how you want to him to act towards you and everything so he sees the big picture and knows what both of you need to do to make the realationship work.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 11:27 AM on April 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Maybe you don't need books on relationship but books on communication.
Here are some I can think of...
Deborah Tannen wrote a book based on anthropological differences between men and women and basically is about the different language that they use. It helped us understand what we were talking about and what we meant.
Similarly, something like this might also be helpful with language.
And since, everybody here is suggesting conversations. I found this one quite helpful.
posted by Lucubrator at 11:28 AM on April 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm not trying to shame him for anything. He's expressed to me that he has a hard time relating and that he wants to work on it. I thought that by suggesting a book or something it would feel less confrontational to him than saying 'here's a list of things that I say you need to do.'

i know everyone is different and needs to communicate. but i came to the mefi community specifically for advice on books because i percieve you all as a bunch of people who like reading and find books helpful in some instances. and for some of us, reading and writing are a good form of communication. in his case, i think sometimes he feels a little bit defensive and put on the spot when we have 'discussions of serious issues.' i thought this would be a good way for him to explore some ideas on his own without me putting him on the spot. and also maybe if he was able to read that 'having a discussion of serious issues' can be constructive, and realize it's not necessarily me criticizing him personally, he would be more open to it.

anyway, one example would be that sometimes when we fight he gets defensive. in another thread, i saw people recommending books by . . . well, i can't think of the name, but he's the one who said he could predict how long a couple would last by how well they tackled issues when fighting. there are good and bad ways to tackle issues. that's the kind of thing i'm looking for.

i don't just want to hand him a book and say 'go fix yourself.' im hoping that by finding a GOOD (non-hooey, because i agree there are lots of them) book of relationship advice, it would give him time to maybe read and think and digest within his own comfort zone, and give us a jumping-off point for discussion to follow.
posted by lblair at 11:32 AM on April 12, 2009

I don't think this is a bad idea at all. There seems to be a feeling, expressed in the comments here, that a book can't be helpful in navigating the waters of a relationship. I think that's wrong.

I do think that there are certain commonalities between successful romantic partnerships ... certain things that successful, enduring relationships have in common. You are looking for a book that describes these things, right?

I just don't know what book you're looking for.

(I am assuming, for the sake of the question, that you are correct in assigning blame to him for the breakup. However, I share other commenters' doubts about whether this is really fair to him, or based on a correct perception of what's going on.)
posted by jayder at 11:33 AM on April 12, 2009

What do *you* think women want? There's a million books out there about relationships, as many as there are authors who have different (and sometimes conflicting) ideas about what relationships should be. Knowing what 'you' want from a relationship & communicating this unambiguously to your SO is pretty much all you can do. I know how simple it seems when you've been out there and done the self-examination, but some people don't absorb like that.

You could try writing your own relationship manifesto together for him 'to refer to whenever he's feeling unsure'. After all, you're the expert on your own feelings.
posted by freya_lamb at 11:34 AM on April 12, 2009

How to Be an Adult in Relationships. Read it together.
posted by scody at 11:40 AM on April 12, 2009 [21 favorites]

I think you're kind of getting an uncharitable reading here—I can understand wanting some texts on how functional relationships work if you think he hasn't had good role models. I took a class in "Interpersonal Communication" in undergrad which was largely bullshit, but full of this stuff. If I had actually bought any of the texts required, I might be able to help you out more.

What I can suggest may seem kind of perverse, but there's a cartoonist called Jeffrey Brown whose books are full of incredibly dysfunctional boyfriend action, especially in a mopey, cloying way. Making fun of these with your boyfriend may be helpful, and I'll see if I can think of some actual positive examples.
posted by klangklangston at 11:42 AM on April 12, 2009

Re-reading the question and your followups, it occurs to me that you've been very vague about how he's falling short as a boyfriend. I think you are likely to get more helpful answers if you could clarify where he is so sorely lacking. For example, if the issue is that he is selfish, then one book might be appropriate, while if you have trouble communicating another book would be better.

The most specific things you've said is that he "has trouble relating to others" and "sometimes when we fight he gets defensive." These are still really vague (and often the "you're being defensive" thing is uttered by someone whose demands are unreasonable ... i.e., people often get defensive when met with unreasonable accusations or demands).

So can you clarify what the problems are?
posted by jayder at 11:48 AM on April 12, 2009 [4 favorites]

Seconding Inspector.Gadget. It will be infinitely more productive if you sit down and have one of those uncomfortably honest conversations about what went wrong (on both sides) and how you can both work to make sure it doesn't happen again the second time around. It's not a terrible idea for YOU to read a relationship book. It will help you understand where your boyfriend is coming from and maybe help you be a better communicator.
posted by kookaburra at 11:48 AM on April 12, 2009

in another thread, i saw people recommending books by . . . well, i can't think of the name, but he's the one who said he could predict how long a couple would last by how well they tackled issues when fighting. there are good and bad ways to tackle issues. that's the kind of thing i'm looking for.

You might be thinking of John Gottman. Link goes to his site, where you can buy his books (if he is who you're looking for).
posted by dogrose at 11:49 AM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think the author you're thinking of in your last comment is Gottman (the one who claims to be able to tell within 5 minutes whether a marriage will last). He has a book that looks like it's aimed at couples, not just women, about making relationships work: Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Caveat: I've never actually read this, but thought I'd throw it out there since you were trying to remember the author's name.
posted by iminurmefi at 11:50 AM on April 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think that a book assignment is a great way to further avoid the engagement that you and this guy are missing in your relationship.

"Communication" is not he problem here, as usual. It's the fact that you and he are not Willing to communicate. That where the book comes in. That whole "having issues relating to others" is just psychobabble code for being unwilling to deal with what is right in front of you. You won't say what needs to be said, he won't so rightfully you don't get to reap the benefits of a good relationship.

That being said, I'll still recommend "Passionate Marriage" by David Schnarch. It talks about your brand of relationship problems. But the book won't fix anything-- you two might though.
posted by No New Diamonds Please at 11:52 AM on April 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

There are no magic books. There are no 'right' definitions of relationships. Just what two partners are willing to accept and compromise about each other. No relationship is perfect, everyone fights sometimes, nobody is perfectly thoughtful/loving/courteous as books, TV, Movies, and self help books make out.

Explore the areas of compromise - You may find you're too demanding (...for him...) and he's not giving enough (...of what you want/need...)

Don't foist this off on a book. If it's a relationship that's truly important and empowering (your prior question about this guy) to you - you should go to a professional couples counselor.
posted by filmgeek at 11:57 AM on April 12, 2009

Since you weren't very specific about the ways he wasn't great at the boyfriend role, it's hard to give specific recommendations. I mean, was he too independent and not concerned enough for your feelings? Was he not great at compromise? Was he not a great communicator about his needs and feelings? Were you not great at communicating your own in clear, non mind-reading ways? Did he not honor his promises and plans?

I dated a guy once who was just sort of immature. I was his first serious relationship and he just didn't have much of a sense of the logistics of living your life with another person in it. He'd be moody and uncommunicative. He was terrible at making and keeping plans. He wasn't great at acting like a grown-up in situations where that was helpful (dinner with parents, etc). He didn't really know how to do things that made me feel loved and nurtured on a daily basis of his own volition. He was a good guy, just immature, and that was eventually why we broke up. Some relationship skills you learn through communication and trial and error, but sometimes what one person needs from the relationship is just more or different than what the other person can give. That doesn't make either or you bad or wrong, it just means you can't meet each others' needs.

That said, the two books that well-adjusted people tend to recommend in these situations are (seconding scody) How to Be an Adult in Relationships and The Five Love Languages. I haven't read either book myself, but there ya go.

But really, promising to change to make someone happy when you're both in the midst of the immediate post breakup pain is an iffy proposition at best. Your best hope is probably to communicate honestly and thoroughly in a way where neither of you say what you think the other person wants to hear.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:59 AM on April 12, 2009 [4 favorites]

I haven't actually read it, but Peer Marriage by Pepper Schwartz has been recommended to me as a great book about building successful relationships. I like the suggestions of reading and discussing books together.
posted by aka burlap at 12:01 PM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think you're facing a rough decision and doing the best you can -- knowing that IF he were to improve you'd want to try again, but that things could not continue as they were before. I'm disinclined from books because even thoughtful ones can't really capture exactly what things were like between you and him. Love is a very, very individual experience, and a relationship is a complex intermingling of those two unique individuals.

What I would do is really think abut what didn't work and what would have to change. That in itself is enormously challenging, but I think would clarify a lot for both of you. Talk with him about it, and let him know exactly what things weren't working, and how both of you could work together to fix things and make it work right the second time around.

After that, if really sitting down together and hashing out the issues, what you can each do and do together to improve it, that's your answer about whether things can ever work. If you can't even have a meaningful, productive discussion about this together, it's a moot point. If the conversation happens and no improvement comes of it, again, that's it. But I think that, more than anything else, working on a relationship has to be direct communication between both people.
posted by davidnc at 12:19 PM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Although I am also one who questions the basic premise of this question, I do second Lucubrator's advice of Deborah Tannen's books on how men and women communicate. I also want to throw in here that I am the person who will read a book to find out what to do about a flat tire. I use books as a main source for just about every issue in my life. However, I am in the minority in this, I think, and your guy may not see the usefulness of reading some relationship manual. And finally, if you do go forward with this and somehow end up with trash like Men are From Mars, well, my blood pressure is rising just thinking about it.
posted by thebrokedown at 12:28 PM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding, "How to Be an Adult in a Relationship" and "How to Be an Adult"by the same author. These books are beautiful and enlightening and they will potentially change your life.

lblair, I don't know if has been mentioned but you should definitely check out, "How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It." This book and Passionate Marriage have totally changed my relationship with my husband for the better. I cannot recommend them enough. Don't get hung up on the titles, they are not just for married people. "How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It" is fascinating and is a very quick read, not because it is light on content, but because it was an epiphany and I couldn't put it down.

I agree that handing him a book is the wrong way to go about it. This tactic is a relationship killer. Hyperfocusing on his negative attributes and trying to fix him will only frustrate you both. It does nothing to bring more intimacy to the relationship. I hope you will understand this. Your goal should be to create a more loving, close relationship, not to list all of the ways he's doing it wrong. You can read all the books you want but you can't force or expect him to be interested in a book and implement strategies like some kind of robot.

Appreciating his efforts and letting him know how much you appreciate them will get you a lot farther than focusing on how you think he should change. And if there are serious flaws and you feel he can't relate to people or you, why are you with him? Oh, because you love him and miss him? You can take him for who he is and try to improve yourself and approach the relationship with a more positive and forgiving nature.

And, I'll bet you don't think too highly of yourself right now. I've been you. Don't try to change people. It won't happen. The best thing you can do right now is just chill. Relax, enjoy, and love him for he is. Be proud of him if you can muster it. It will make you so much happier.
posted by Fairchild at 12:37 PM on April 12, 2009 [11 favorites]

Wow, I don't get all the over-the-top negative reactions here. Fundamentally, this question makes complete sense: "My boyfriend wants some book suggestions that would give him some ideas and patterns that he might draw on to have a stronger and healthier relationship."

Sure, you can't force him to change, and it takes two to tango (meaning: if things weren't working, you need to look at yourself just as intensely as you want him to look at himself), and books aren't a substitute for personal change, blah blah blah. But there is nothing wrong with drawing on books for ideas for change, any more than it would be wrong to see a therapist, start meditating, or do any of the other things that are staples of relationship advice.

All that said, I don't have specific suggestions, because that's a genre I've never read much of. The two books linked by MostlyMartha are the two that I see suggested here on AskMe by people whose advice is usually really solid; those would probably make a really good starting point.

Good luck with your reconnection.
posted by Forktine at 12:38 PM on April 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

It seems like you're getting a little frustrated from the responses. Thing is, questions like this often reveal more about the person asking than about the situation. In this case, it sounds like you want mefites to understand that you're right, he's wrong, and you need us to provide a way for him to understand this and change accordingly.

As others have said, there's no book that's going to magically transform him into the boyfriend you have in your mind, and there's no guarantee that even if he read a book you gave him that he would permanently follow the advice. Life isn't scripted. You're not a soap opera couple. The "relationship" existing between any two people is as unique as they are. Perhaps you need to rexamine your expectations of him and of relationships in general. If your mental picture of how thing should be can't accomodate who he is, then the breakup was the right decision. If it hurts, well, that's how it's supposed to be.

But if you're certain that he is what you and your heart want, then working together to fix the major sticking points would be the best option. Sit down and discuss exactly what it is that's bothering you so much, and be specific. Just saying he needs to be a "better boyfriend" doesn't get him anywhere. It sounds like he's willing to try, but only you can tell him with your words and actions how you want this relationship to be. Don't forget that his opinions and attitude are every bit as important as yours.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 12:47 PM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Are there any fiction books or films, tv series etc. which have couples in whose dynamic you like? I agree that it can help to have examples and role models for this sort of thing, and perhaps this might be easier to show him what you're looking for than a self help-type book. You could sit down together and watch, say, How I Met Your Mother and then have a discussion afterwards about how Marshall and Lily treat each other and what behaviours from there you could try to fit into your relationship.
posted by teraspawn at 1:20 PM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think maybe this might not have to be about 'him being a better boyfriend' ( that may just have been an unfortunate turn of phrase) ... if he has trouble relating to 'others' then this relationship may not be the only one that has suffered.

And if he is the one looking for some way to make that change then perhaps Interpersonal Communication: Relating to Others might help. Actually, as suggested above, might be good to both read it separately and then talk about it chapter or subject as you go.

If you both want to be in this and both want to work together then I say good luck!
posted by Weaslegirl at 1:44 PM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just give him the books you read.

But I will say this--it appears you are attempting to substitute a book for communicating what you actually want out of this. What if the book tells him to do things you don't want him to do? He'd be perfectly justified in doing what the book said.

You need to tell him what you want. He can't read your mind.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:48 PM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's hard to address your need in that satisfying way that MeFites like to do without knowing much about what he's doing wrong from your perspective. "Doesn't know how to be in a relationship" is so broad that it's hard to recommend a book for it or really any other kind of guidance. Without knowing what the issues are, I guess this really is just a small question about general books on relationships that you can use as a minor supplement to larger discussions. I googled "book how to be in a relationship" and wound up at The first book there sounds like the general sort of thing you're after, at least by the title and description. You know what they say about books and covers, though.

A Practical Handbook For the Boyfriend

At some point, every guy - player, geek, mamas boy, "regular Joe" - meets a woman who makes him want to be a boyfriend. A good boyfriend. Problem is, unless he's had some first-rate training, he probably doesn't even know what that means. Felicity Huffman and Patricia Wolff come to the rescue with this rollicking - and whip-smart - handbook to navigating the minefield of male-female relationships.

Leads to Amazon eventually.

Personally I'd find it difficult to not be insulted if given a book premised on an assumption that I'm a child and an idiot in need of training. But I think if I had enough motivation, I might try to see past that and absorb what I could. You've mentioned you feel he gets defensive when confronted, so be gentle if you introduce a book designed to teach him how to stop being like himself. You might do it sort of indirectly when you all are having a conversation by saying something like, "I found something interesting in this book that I think may help us blah blah..." and then you read the section together and talk about its application in your relationship. That way you're not saying, "Here, dummy. Come back when you can walk upright." And it might not even look like you bought it for him if you introduce it indirectly that way. The title is kind of a giveaway, but maybe you could say a friend gave it to you because it was helpful in understanding the issues men frequently face in relationships. Maybe you get points for trying to understand his position that way. Then you can kind of just leave the book there after touching on a few other points, kind of like it wasn't really for him originally but now you think it might be useful if he was reading the same stuff as you. Now he has a reason to read it, an example of how it might help, an understanding of what you think some of the issues are, and a head start on some of the reading, breaking that don't-wanna-read-a-book resistance.

I think the reason you got some harsh responses to your question is that, based on how you worded your intro, a lot of us were probably thinking, "I bet she's the problem and doesn't realize it," and were just waiting for you to give us enough information to point out to you that your expectations of him were unrealistic (or whatever). I was getting a somewhat selfish/entitled/blind vibe from it, myself, but just hints. When I went back and read your previous two questions about him, it started to make a bit more sense. It sounds like you really have made a good bit of effort on this over time and put a lot of thought into it, though it does seem to center around changing who he is. He has the latent racism issue on the one hand, and despite your love for him, you haven't felt like he was truly the other pea in your pod. So now you've finally pulled the trigger on a long-contemplated breakup.

One thing to consider here, a week after your breakup, might be giving yourself a bit more time too cool off. I can hear the raw agony you're going through, but it has been a long build up to this point - maybe you should stick it out a bit longer. You've certainly shown now that you're serious, and he can now appreciate the consequences instead of calling your bluff, and that may be what winds up being effective. But I wonder if you give yourself a bit more time, if you'll still want to get back together. Maybe you'll be in a better position to assess if you can have a clearer head when you do meet back up to talk about things. Maybe time can help those wounds scab over a bit before then. Hurting sucks, but you will survive it. Can you put one foot in front of the other for another couple of weeks and then have the talk?

Good luck with it. I hope it works out for the best one way or the other.
posted by Askr at 1:51 PM on April 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

I liked Getting the Love You Want. But you should both read it.
posted by vilthuril at 2:05 PM on April 12, 2009

This is your third AskMe question, since December about the problems you're having in this relationship. Perhaps it not meant to be, after all "you can love someone and still have them be fundamentally incompatible with you."

he wants to be a better boyfriend, so instead of giving him a laundry list of shit, i thought i'd suggest something written by an expert to help him understand the way women think. i've certainly done a lot of reading to help me understand how men think

That sounds horrible in the sense that you're not communicating, but instead saying "go read this book". It doesn't really matter what is in the book, what matters is what you want and need in a relationship and whether this guy can provide you with that. If he can, great, if not, then break up. That is not an easy decision, but it is a simple one.

You say you've read a lot of books to understand how men think. Are you sure they apply to your boyfriend? Are you listening to what he needs or wants in a relationship? Because based on your previously vague answers, he seems to want a guy friend, but with boobs. Nothing wrong with that, but is that what you want to give? Sometimes you seem to be treating him as a project, something to fix, while other times you keep waiting for him to grow up or for that fantastic person you believe is there to emerge. And then five days ago, you felt as though you attained enlightenment and peace about the breakup from a book titled Deal Breakers: When to Work On a Relationship and When to Walk Away, so I ask you, with honesty and empathy, what more do you need to know about this relationship?
posted by gnuls at 2:09 PM on April 12, 2009 [7 favorites]

I think the best type of book you guys could read together would be one that promotes healthy, honest communication. Try Feeling Good Together by David Burns. I love his style of no-nonsense, plain English discussion of how people behave, and there will be plenty in there about being more direct and truthful in your interactions with each other.

By the way, I think the idea of trying to improve your relationship by using other people's wisdom is a good one. I've often dated people who I felt had no interest in an honest, intimate relationship but rather wanted me to fill their predefined role of "boyfriend." I would be pretty excited to have an SO who was interested in trying to improve our relationship in this way. Then again, though, this will only work if your boyfriend is willing, and also if you don't treat it like, "Okay, so let me tell you using this book all the things that are wrong with you.
posted by malapropist at 2:16 PM on April 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

I previously listed seven relationship books I often see listed on Ask Metafilter. These have all been recommended countless times here. I agree you should read these together and discuss them.

I'd present your side less as "this is what a good boyfriend does (and here's how you're screwing up)" and more as "here's what I want from a relationship, and here's why it is so important to me, and here's how it would make me feel." This will help him hear it, and help it mean more to him. If you're impatient, it won't go well, but if you're learning and emotionally open, it might go better and could bring you closer. Also then, you'll learn something about yourself, so you'll get something out of the process even if nothing comes of the relationship.
posted by salvia at 2:29 PM on April 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

You need to be clear on how exactly he is failing as a boyfriend. You speak of a "laundry list" that you do not want to make. You need to make that list, even if just for yourself. Be realistic. What do you want him to do? What do you want him not to do? Are you able to be specific about this, or is the problem some general malaise?

If you are able to be specific, then tell him. Yourself. It is very simple. He is asking you directly, What do you want me to do/not do? Answer him yourself. Don't use a book as a shield, if this is his last chance then tell it like it is.
posted by st looney up the cream bun and jam at 2:33 PM on April 12, 2009

Ok, on rereading your responses several times, I think I get what you're saying and it isn't as offensive as it sounds on first read. Consider though, that if so many people find it offensive on it's face, introducing this to your boyfriend is going to require some masterful diplomacy.

My first reaction, and maybe his too:

So, you're going to give him this book, and say essentially, "I don't love you so much - can you be the guy in this book instead?"

I think I'd tell you to fuck right off.

Maybe you could pick a top one or three things that piss you off, discuss that with him first, then if he seems willing to work on that with you, maybe leave him a book later as a gift? I don't know - you're going to have to spin it more as "working on a couple of things" than as "change yourself to someone I like better".
posted by ctmf at 2:42 PM on April 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Previously discussed on MeFi (at least twice) is the research of John Gottman (and various collaborators). Check out his website, books, and a fascinating This American Life interview.

The thing I personally liked about his approach that might be appealing to both you and your boyfriend are the idea that you could look at your current communication patterns and have a good idea if your relationship really is headed somewhere or nowhere (Gottman summarized the problem areas as the "4 Horses of the Apocalypse"--Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.

If several of those have taken over the communications patterns of your relationship then that might be a good sign it's time to pack it in (Gottman and colleagues have demonstrated they can predict the future of a relationship with over 90% accuracy by analyzing just a few minutes of conversation for elements like these).

On the other hand if you feel you want to try to work things out the framework gives you and your boyfriend a number of specific and fairly non-threatening things to work on.

(Note that the above links & books use the word marriage a lot, which may scare off you or your boyfriend--but the certainly the same principles apply in most any relationship of the sort you're talking about. But it might be smart if introducing this to your boyfriend to look for the materials that frame it relationship terms rather than marriage terms if that would work best from his end.)
posted by flug at 2:43 PM on April 12, 2009 [5 favorites]

Mod note: few comments removed - if you can't answer somewhat dispassionately, please don't
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:15 PM on April 12, 2009

malapropist mentions Feeling Good Together, and I second that recommendation. One of the things I like about the book is how you are encouraged to look at and change your own behavior, even when it seems like the other person seems really obviously to blame. For a pattern to continue usually requires both people to keep doing what they are doing. This is a very empowering idea: you can make a change in the dynamics of your relationship all by yourself.

And then, yes, read the book together, because the communication tips will be valuable for both of you.
posted by wyzewoman at 3:21 PM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thirding Feeling Good Together. Really good book.
posted by zeek321 at 3:32 PM on April 12, 2009

Sorry. Relationships are tough. When you are in relationships with someone who lacks first-hand intimate experience, you have to be prepared to accept several years of immature behavior (in your own opinion). After that, you might not have to deal with it as frequently. On the other hand, one benefit of being in relationships with newbies is that if you are an insecure, jealous person (like I am), then you don't need to obsess as much about whether your X is big enough, and you don't need to deal as much with patterns from previous lovers. But you do have to deal with patterns from parents and siblings, sorry!@ I'm in the same situation.

Now moving on to the books - your approach to this one is unlikely to lead to a mutually-appreciated situation. I say this because I completely do not see a space in your question where you say, "He genuinely asked me to provide a suggestion for a book that would help him to ____." If he hasn't asked for it, he'll never "own it."

If you are continuing to think highly of your own suggestion, the only possible resolution is to ask him to go to the bookstore with you, browse the books together, and maybe he'll find something that he likes. Then you go back the next day and buy it secretly and give it to him as a present.

Warning #1 he probably won't find anything he likes
Warning #2 he probably won't read much of it

There's always a 10% chance you are actually right that he would find a book he liked and take it from there; but you'll probably have to fight your urge to control ("he's not reading enough pages per day, OMG!" etc -- if you're not interested in dealing with these inner demons, either you want drama in your relationships, or this isn't the one for you).

If you still don't quite understand what I and others here are talking about, imagine that someone gave you books (after no initiating on your part) on "women's guide to enjoy sex more" and "how to understand your boyfriend" - it's just something that doesn't work unless the person is asking for it.

Good luck.
posted by peter_meta_kbd at 4:26 PM on April 12, 2009

Well, now we've been broken up for a week and we're both basically falling to shit. It's horrible. I've never missed anyone so much (and I've broken up with several long term boyfriends.)

I know you want us to ignore your actual situation, lblair, but I wanted to address this--feeling pain at separation, even an amount of pain that, right now, feels unprecedented, does not mean that you should necessarily get back together with this guy. You're mourning the relationship, and so is he--if it falls apart again, the best thing to do is go for total non-contact, and surround yourself with family and friends. They're the ones who will carry you through this, not him. And commiserating with someone you just dumped who also needs to grieve is slightly cruel.

Mr. WanKenobi and I went through a really rough patch around the second-year mark of our relationship. In retrospect, a lot of the problems were caused by by expectations of "boyfriendly" behavior--I expected love letters and big romantic gestures and verbal reassurance because, hey, that's what boyfriends do, right? The only problem is that, for a variety of reasons, these behaviors were just not him. I realized that I had to drop my expectations and love and appreciate the person who was actually there in front of me, or else risk a lot of frustration, arguing, and hand-wringing. I read a lot about love languages and the like back then. The only book I found helpful at all was Debora Tannen's You Just Don't Understand, which has been mentioned a few times upthread. Otherwise, I actually found it most helpful to ditch a lot of the self-help literature, which I found often just reinforced gender stereotypes that weren't present in our relationship and caused me to feel, somehow, like I was missing out, despite the great stuff that actually was in front of me. Really, I think one of the best things I did for our relationship was to quit reading women's magazines.

So take a look at both of you. Figuring out who you are, and who he is. Figure out what your actual needs are, as opposed to your plain old wants. If he can't meet your needs, your fundamental needs, the relationship is going to fail. Sorry. But, it might turn out that you realize that your expectations are unreasonable or unrealistic or not something totally necessary for you to go on--then you have a place to rebuild the relationship from.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:20 PM on April 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

That new book by Steve Harvey actually has some good material along the lines of what you are looking for for him, not just you.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:23 PM on April 12, 2009

Nth-ing the David Richo "How to Be an Adult" books, Feeling Good Together, and the Harville Hendrix books, especially Getting the Love You Want.

And nth-ing everyone's suggestions that you guys need to do this work together. It's not like each person practices on their own and then they're going to be great in relationships with anyone--relationships are about how two people interact, not how each of them acts.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:40 PM on April 12, 2009

You don't make it clear entirely clear what you perceive his failings to be, even in your follow-ups. "Relating to others" and "being a good boyfriend" are just far too vague to be useful descriptors for seeking recommendations for advice literature. The kind of book you'd recommend to someone who might have Asperger's is very different from the kind of book you'd recommend to someone who's a sexual clean slate, which itself is very different from the kind of book you'd recommend to someone who just needs a clue how to be more considerate and open.

Part of the reason why I think this Ask Mefi may have derailed somewhat is that you tell us you're looking for a book to "help him understand what a relationship is really supposed to be like." The problem is that this isn't a fixed, universally agreed-upon value; everyone has a different opinion as to it. The insertion of three words into that clause makes it appropriate: you're looking for a book to "help him understand what [you believe that] a relationship is really supposed to be like." Once those words are inserted as clarification, it becomes clear that we can't recommend a book for you without knowing what your beliefs as to a relationship should be ... and, in such a case, the best way of communicating that belief might be in your own voice, as opposed to that of an author's.

A lot of the literature that is specifically written for a male audience with the stated purpose of getting them to understand a woman's train of thought is written from the perspective of the pick-up artist (PUA) community, which isn't really aimed towards relationship advancement but more towards a somewhat mindgame-like (and often, but not always, creepy) attitude of meat-market pickups. Such recommendations wouldn't suit the purpose for which you're asking for recommendations. I mean, look at the top two bestsellers for Amazon > Health, Mind & Body > Relationships > Mate Seeking. #1 is Why Men Love Bitches: From Doormat to Dreamgirl: A Woman's Guide to Holding Her Own in a Relationship. And #2 is a PUA book for men: The Mystery Method. Nothing could be more demonstrative.

Both those books also rank in the top 15 of the "Interpersonal Relationships" subcategory of "Relationships" – but #16 looks to be the closest thing to what you're asking for. That is, assuming that the author's belief of what a relationship is really supposed to be like matches yours – and that is, by no means, a guarantee. However, the title is: For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women, ISBN #1590525728.

Best of luck with your relationship.
posted by WCityMike at 7:48 PM on April 12, 2009

I admit it - I almost always head for the library first to figure out, well, everything. So.....
A Practical Handbook for the Boyfriend: For Every Guy Who Wants to Be One, For Every Girl Who Wants to Build Felicity Huffman and Patricia Wolff here. I thought it was pretty straight foward. Nthing talking about what he reads together. Good luck!
posted by anitanita at 9:01 PM on April 12, 2009

....There's a book I think that maybe you BOTH need to read.

If The Buddha Dated is something I end up recommending about 60% of the time, largely because it is the one and only "relationship' book that I didn't dismiss as being full of crap.

The reason it helped me so much, and the reason why I think it would help the BOTH of you, is that it is not about "what a relationship is supposed to be like", or "what role a boyfriend is supposed to play," or anything like that.

You say that you don't want to give him a laundry list -- but that's exactly what you SHOULD be doing. He is NOT in a relationship with me, or any other woman in the world, he is in a relationship with YOU. You are both trying to figure out what the "rules" are that you think everyone lives by, when they don't. You are each other's best teacher, but only for this one specific relationship -- and each of you figuring out for each of your own selves what you want, and figuring out how to achieve that together, is what IF THE BUDDHA DATED is all about.

Which is why I think you should read this yourself, too. Because -- you also say that you have read plenty of books to figure out how "men" think -- but you're not in a relationship with "men", you're in a relationship with THAT ONE PERSON. You reading about what other guys do doesn't make any sense, when the guy you're dating is not any of those other guys. Why not just TALK to HIM about what HE wants, rather than reading a book about what strangers want?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:29 PM on April 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Is this thread any good to you?
posted by flabdablet at 9:59 PM on April 12, 2009

Wow. Can feel like the question was wondering about the best wood-chipper to kill kittens.

We all have our own learning styles and if the two people feel like the read-books approach has merit... . Haven't had much coffee this morning so I can't recall if the BF has been approached about this, likes the idea, etc.

Assuming he has been and does, perhaps you can find the books/passages in them that resonate best for you relative to your desires and things he's said he wants to improve, pass along those relatively specific things and discuss them.

I get where you're coming from, have met people who can be dismissive of something someone says (regardless of topic), but if it's in a book, from a respected source, etc. they're fine with it.
posted by ambient2 at 11:11 PM on April 12, 2009

Two parts here-

1.You want to help him understand his role as a boyfriend.
2. You want to give him a book to do that.

#1 won't work out no matter how well-meaning your intentions are for all the reasons already mentioned. Redundant but I'll repeat one here- unless HE wants to change, he won't change. Period.

Given your position as a girlfriend, #2 is just the kiss of death. It will sound very condescending to him (as does your question on the first read) and rightly so. You could approach the problem from a different angle- 'Hey, you know WE have been having problems with so and so lately so I thought why not WE do something about it eg read a good book on the issue TOGETHER? What do you think?'
posted by xm at 6:43 AM on April 13, 2009

Well, I think alot of this advice here is very good advice: Books are not the solution to this problem. However, this isn't the question.

In the hopes of answering the question, let me suggest a book for the both of you: Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when the stakes are high

It's the best book I've ever read about how to have serious, meaningfull conversations with people about difficult topics when there is disagreement.

As a boy who did not have alot of experience being in a serious relationship, I found this book to be tremendously enlightening. Note: this is not about relationships, it's by the same people that brought you seven habits of very effective people, and it's very business focused. However, I can't suggest it enough.

It's not about understanding roles, it's about how to have effective conversations about things that really matter. I would wager it would be a good book for you to read as well.
posted by Freen at 9:00 AM on April 13, 2009

"Fever Pitch" by Nic Hornby. Also "Hi-Fidelity" by the same author.
posted by awfurby at 9:54 PM on April 13, 2009

Have him listen to Dan Savage's weekly podcast. The archived programs are available for free on iTunes. Dan has great advice on relationship ethics and emotional maturity and realistic expectations.
posted by conrad53 at 10:48 AM on April 14, 2009

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