How the hell did I get through life without learning the basics here?
November 27, 2011 6:04 AM   Subscribe

I just realized i am dumb. will you please help me?


i JUST realized how dumb I am about relationships and marriage.

I heard something basic, and I researched it. And the research was as basic as: 'listen more = good'. My mind blew the fuck up.

I went to the library with the faith that any book on the relationships will do exactly what it says on the cover. a LOT of faith, no snark. a few hours of reading and it was mostly fluff. a LOT of fluff. But there were 10 things that I had to write down. And things made total sense that I had never thought of before. Different parts of my brain lit up. It seriously was like reading some kind of secret ancient text that will give me immortal life or laser cats or something.

I came from a lot of illegal abuse. I kinda realized that way after the fact…and I think I was better off for that. I researched it a lot in college. I thought I was a success because I was not causing the same types of abuse in my life.

And yeah, total success. But I realized that just because I've learned not to do that shit, doesn't mean that I'm at 100%.

And I kinda missed some of the basics in relationships. So yeah, kinda dumb.

After some of my research, I told my wife I was going to try out this stuff, and she was all ?!?. THIS is all it took to make it obvious to me? I think she had given up on some stuff, thinking these human concepts were beyond me. She's pretty sure I'm pulling some kind of prank on her which will end with me saying, 'them feelings and communications exercises we've been doing is for sissymen, now go fetch me a sammich. extra mayo this time, woman" but its not. Its actually something useful that I want to learn about to become a more conscious and better person. and definitely a better husband. I don't even think i read any fantastic books…its just that these basic accepted ideas are kinda new to me so they blew my mind.

Rather than defining specific needs...what are some excellent research and books on the topics of marriage, relationships, self-improvement, etc? Practical stuff that has the potential to improve one's self and relationship is what I'm looking for. Feel free to list the it DEFINITELY won't be obvious to me. Seriously, I know nothing about this topic.

Thanks mefites.
posted by hal_c_on to Human Relations (30 answers total) 119 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Five Love Languages is a book that is really great in this regard. Good luck to you on your journey!
posted by DWRoelands at 6:12 AM on November 27, 2011 [9 favorites]

Best answer: You might find The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work helpful.

And, you're hardly alone in feeling this way.
posted by SillyShepherd at 6:16 AM on November 27, 2011 [10 favorites]

Best answer: +1 for Gottman. I really got a lot out of Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch, but it's a pretty heavy book in both senses of the word.
posted by crocomancer at 6:22 AM on November 27, 2011

Best answer: Try reading The Myths We Live By by Dan McAdams. While it isn't explicitly about relationships, it is about the stages people go through and how they view the world in different stages of life. I've found it very helpful when interacting with people in other stages.
posted by Nackt at 6:23 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The book Nonviolent Communication gives lots of good practical advice and examples to help you become a better listener and communicator in general.
posted by gubenuj at 6:37 AM on November 27, 2011 [8 favorites]

Best answer: In the 1990s, I read a book that had a simple statement that blew my mind as much as "listen more = good" did for you. I can't point you to the specific book, because it seems to have affected so many other writers that there are now over 1,000 search results for books with this phrase. So, I leave it to you as just a research topic or something to ponder:

"Love is a verb."

Note that it is not, love is a feeling. It's an action, something you actively and purposefully do. Maybe that's kinda basic, but you said basic was ok! And it gave me a whole new way of thinking about relationships.
posted by Houstonian at 6:41 AM on November 27, 2011 [26 favorites]

Best answer: @Nackt, do you mean The Stories We Live By? I was only able to find The Myths We Live written by Mary Midgley.
posted by eatcake at 6:54 AM on November 27, 2011

Best answer: The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm opened my eyes to a lot of things.
posted by pecanpies at 7:03 AM on November 27, 2011

Best answer: Adding a note: The Art of Loving is not specifically about marriage or romantic love. It explores love in many facets, including self-love, a parent's love for a child, even love of the divine. I do think that learning and reading about all of those things can make one a better partner, though.
posted by pecanpies at 7:06 AM on November 27, 2011

Best answer: Another pretty easy read is "The Seven Principles of Highly Effective People" by Steven Covey. (Thanks for the memory-poke, SillyShepherd!) It is often though of as a work/management book, but it's really a book about balance and mindfulness, I think. Some of it is tripe, but there is some good stuff in there too.

The biggest "secret" to relationships I've learned is that we often think in terms of winning and losing. If I don't stand up for what I feel, part of "me" dies a little; I am being subsumed by the other person, or by the relationship. But there are really three choices: fight to win, give up and lose, or give up and win. Which is about being able to figure out whether the other person cares more than you and if so, you give up your "claim" on the "prize".

(I saw an example of this in a wikipedia article about chess- a middle of the roader was playing a higher ranked player and doing pretty well, but was probably outmatched. He offered a draw, because that got him a half a point against this higher ranked player, and because the higher ranked player only needed another half a point to move up to the next round.)

It is NOT "hey, I let you win last time, now you have to let me win", because that's just a passive version of fighting to win. You are not keeping score. Rather, you are demonstrating cooperation, and the other person senses that you care just as much about their feelings as your own. It's about choosing to give rather than allowing someone to take.

It's a form of something great I learned somewhere here on metafilter: assume good faith. Assume the other person is just as smart as you. Never assume the other person is just operating from a faulty assumption, and as soon as you "educate them", they will come around to your way of thinking.
posted by gjc at 7:14 AM on November 27, 2011 [17 favorites]

Best answer: Intimate Connections by Dr. David Burns. While much of the book is about finding someone, part is also on making relationships work. Plus the exercises are universal.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:27 AM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding The Five Love Languages. There are all sorts of tie-in workbooks and other editions, but the basic book is just fine.

In my experience a lot of these books are mostly fluff. But the helpful bits are absolutely worth the fluff.
posted by lilac girl at 8:13 AM on November 27, 2011

Best answer: I found that the best thing that improved my relationships was improving myself. Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh really spoke volumes about a lot of baggage I had carried over from my parent's marriage. It's made me a much calmer and more forgiving person.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 8:16 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Based on a suggestion here a week or so ago, I just ordered The High Conflict Couple. I'm only about 10 pages into it, and have had a few "doh" moments already. Reading it, it all seems so obvious. After the fact, of course. Very insightful and useful.

and I don't consider my relationship "high conflict", I was just looking to improve it
posted by Vaike at 8:26 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am probably even dumber than you are about relationships. But ....

I'm a huge fan of Harriet Lerner's work, particularly The Dance of Anger and The Dance of Intimacy.

The Road Less Traveled, despite some annoying bits, also has a lot to say about the nature of love that has really stuck with me.
posted by bunderful at 8:35 AM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You're not dumb. It bothers me to hear people say that about themselves. You can be unlearned about something, but that doesn't make you dumb.

Anyhow, the idea of mindfulness is one that I might explore if I were you. The book How to be an Adult in Relationships: 5 Keys to Mindful Loving, by David Richo, is a good one for this.
posted by k8lin at 8:44 AM on November 27, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: As you look up some of these books on Amazon, be sure to reference the "people who bought this also bought..." section, or whatever it's called. That should help you find other helpful stuff. Also read the reviews, since lots of folks mention other books in them.
posted by wwartorff at 9:36 AM on November 27, 2011

Best answer: I really got a lot out of Leadership and Self-Deception and The Anatomy of Peace.
posted by winna at 9:40 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It is chock full of woo and has a truly horrendous title, but If the Buddha Dated and its sequel If the Buddha Married were really, really helpful for me in the early stages of my now 16-year relationship.
posted by KathrynT at 10:17 AM on November 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: An idea that I first heard at work, but which I have found useful in many circumstances since, is that when two people have a disagreement, this almost always means that one of them has information that the other does not (this could of course be true in both directions). The mutual goal of a conversation around a disagreement should therefore be to learn what each other knows, not to "win."
posted by kindall at 10:19 AM on November 27, 2011 [29 favorites]

Best answer: @eatcake, you're right. It is The Stories We Live By by Dan McAdams. Thanks.
posted by Nackt at 10:24 AM on November 27, 2011

Best answer: All those books are going to give you conflicting information. Plan a way that you'll get feedback from your wife on new behaviors so you know what's working. You also need to let her know what's working/not working for you.

Coming from an abusive background, you may not have had the experience of "checking in" with family members on their feelings. It may seem foreign to you and setting up a schedule to do will force you to try a new, valuable behavior.

Research, apply, check-in, modify as needed. Then start the whole process over again.
posted by 26.2 at 10:38 AM on November 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Getting Love Right continues to blow my mind. Very little fluff, more like a basic textbook on the mechanics of healthy relationships - lots of practical information like what feelings are, how to process them, what trust is and how to build it. It's been like someone handing me the keys to my car after 15 years of pushing it, cajoling it, praying over it, trying a different brand of gasoline, etc. "OH! So THAT's how it works!"
posted by Lot's ex-girlfriend at 11:24 AM on November 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: nthing that you're not dumb. You just didn't learn certain skills at a certain time, because they weren't modeled for you. Now you want to learn then, and you have the capacity to learn them -- which, in my book, is the total opposite of dumb.

That said: How to Be An Adult In Relationships, mentioned above, is my total go-to book for this. It was absolutely mind-blowing for me; it allowed me to reverse a couple of decades of bad assumptions/bad habits that had been leading me down the same (unsatisfying) paths in all of my romantic relationships, and many of my non-romantic ones, to boot.

I wish you and your wife well!
posted by scody at 11:40 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I so, so want to snark, since you've kind of been the master of that in these types of topics in the past but:

The epiphany I had in this regard was some time ago. I don't remember where I got it from, since I'm not a big self-help book reader, but somewhere I read this thing, and it was about me. See, I used to argue and be stubborn about the dumbest little shit, just because I knew I was right. My wife would say something like (made-up example) "I don't like when you stick the forks in the dishwasher pointing up. Can you put them pointing down?" I would have an automatic reflex to defend the way I did it. Pointing up gets them cleaner, yadda yadda.

The epiphany was, if I really thought about it, I don't really give a shit about which way the forks go. That's part of what annoyed me, that she would "make an issue" out of something so minor. But, and here's the part that seemed like magic to me and made a huge difference in our relationship immediately, if I don't give a shit, then her way is as good as any, right? Just say ok.
posted by ctmf at 11:41 AM on November 27, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I'm not going to add to the reading list, but here's the phrase that completely changed my own approach to relationships when a close friend said it to me when my marriage was ending. It's so obvious and simple -- I'd just never understood the concept within the context of an intimate relationship before. It blew my mind!! I was passionately relating something my husband said that was particularly hurtful and my pal looked up, shrugged and said, "That's his thought." That's it. That's his thought, not mine. He can think it, I don't have to share it, and I certainly should not try and change his thinking, as that's impossible and pointless. All I need to do is move away from it if it's so abhorrent or wrong-headed to me. It's his thought, and that's all it is.
posted by thinkpiece at 11:44 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This question has helped get me out of a rut in relationships: Do you want to be right, or do you want to be effective?

What is the end result that you want from Situation X? Keep that at the forefront of your mind when having discussions about it (aka arguments!). Don't let your ego, or the need to be right, interfere with getting the end result that you want.
posted by wwartorff at 4:17 PM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Also nthing that you are not dumb. The fact that you have the self-awareness to realize that these are skills you don't have, and that you want/need, means that you are not dumb. It just means you haven't been given the right opportunity for YOU to learn the skills, because we all learn differently. And coming from a background of abuse, you get a little extra dash of complication on top of an already complicated thing.

You've gotten some great advice upthread, and some great reading recommendations. I'd suggest flipping through a copy of He's Scared, She's Scared, sometime when you've got nothing else going on. It's aimed at people with commitment issues so it's not going to totally apply, of course, but I think there's some helpful information in there about the kinds of walls we put up to insulate ourselves from the people we love -- especially when we come from a background of abuse, where love might have had weird strings tied to it. Sometimes that wires us up to feel like love means having to be afraid, and then blammo, you've got subconscious walls up as a preemptive strike on an attack that might never come. Maybe this will help you shed a light on some of the walls you might have built around yourself.

Good luck to you!
posted by palomar at 4:24 PM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Try Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. There's a lot of great material in there about listening and other basic skills that we all neglect. I teach people the material in this book, and tremendously sophisticated people -- from lawyers to CEOs -- have epiphanies like yours every time.
posted by equipoise at 8:25 AM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Something that I did not learn growing up: Your spouse/partner is the person you should be nicest to every day. My parents were nice to others but mean to each other, called each other names, took things out on each other, etc. It took me a shockingly long time to realize that, hey, I should be nice to my boyfriend (now husband). If I wouldn't say it to a stranger, then I shouldn't say it to him, and if I get grumpy and I do say something mean, then I should apologize, and actually mean it. Out of all the people I come across every day, his happiness matters most to me, so he deserves the best of me.
posted by that's how you get ants at 6:11 PM on November 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

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