Relationship snake oil

CakeWed 2nd October 2019

There was this article in The Guardian recently. It is about the Gottmans’s new book: Eight Dates. John Gottman is famous for developing the theory of the four horsemen of the apocalypse (negative actions that damage relationships) as well as the counselling work he and his wife have done. I will write further about the tone of this article but what I wanted to say here was: anyone who tells you that there is one thing or one book / concept or “thing” that you need to make everything in your life work/last/be awesome is either selling something, simplifying to the point of uselessness, or both.

This book reminded me of Esther Perel’s work (conversations solve the challenges of monogamy and happy ever after is possible) as well as the recent scathing confrontations with GOOP by celebrated gynaecologist Jennifer Gunter.

Gunter’s new book (and blog) challenge the much-hyped benefits of things like vaginal steaming and jade eggs: this steaming practice has caused serious harm to some women and should never be encouraged. What people like Paltrow and Perel are doing is tapping into our desire to shortcut the effort of figuring things out for ourselves, to avoid having to challenge deeply held and unquestioned ideas about our bodies and selves (particularly as womxn, but for all of us) as well as dealing with difficult feelings.  This is a natural desire and I’m not criticising it. I am asking us to be aware of, and then consider, the ways in which this might be limiting us.

Whether it is certain conversations or non-monogamy, these are all “silver bullets” to try and solve a “problem” (the problem usually being change-related, as in our feelings or our needs have changed or are uncomfortable).

Of course there are ways to make your relationship “last” or be “better”, but this assumes that both longevity and constant improvement are intrinsically GOOD. How about we try to meet the needs and address the feelings we have in the moment and see where that takes us? This often involves a lot of personal work and self awareness, stuff that takes time, can be very difficult, and might involve letting go of some ideas about the self that we are invested in. I am still very deep in this work myself. The effort needed to untangle the knot of unconscious expectations about how relationships should make me feel as well as the bringing to full awareness my own problematic history when it comes to relationships is both challenging and ongoing. But it is also invaluable.

There are no shortcuts – you need to learn how to do your work 

Someone asked me recently what the conscious relationship community I run (Alethya) is FOR and I have written about this elsewhere on the site but, in light of the above, what I would say is that we’re here to support you in going beyond the simplistic idea that one community, one person, one idea is the answer to all the difficult stuff/life, the universe and everything. We are here to celebrate your successes and to support you on your own unique journey to feeling your feelings, understanding and addressing your needs and being able to be where you are: whatever that looks like right now.

These books, ideas and frameworks that we are being sold are, all too often, about fixing something down, making it permanently so, Alethya is about helping you learn to flow with life in all its complexity, joy, pain and ever shifting-ness.