A Step-by-Step Guide for Couples

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From Psychology Today’s Book Brigade

Our lives are embedded in relationships. Often enough, we find ourselves struggling with the very people to whom we are most connected. How to navigate relationships safely and lovingly?

Your title, Relationship Sanity, implies that there is a lot of relationship insanity.

Insanity can be seen in every type of relationship: intimate relationships (romantic and not), friendships, workplace connections; and, of course, in our national life as well as on the world stage.  The unnamed scourge underlying this, which we have called irrelationship, stems from our not knowing how—our never having learned how—to take care of ourselves and one another.

Put simply, insane relationships are relationships that have not achieved balance in giving and receiving, and, therefore cannot give its participants feelings of safety and of loving and being loved. So, yes, relationship insanity is epidemic.  Most of us—perhaps all of us—have had painful experiences that taught us to fear opening ourselves up to others for fear of rejection and abandonment.  But by actively, though unconsciously, protecting ourselves from such vulnerability, we also wall ourselves off from the possibility of experiencing intimacy, empathy, and emotional investments in others.

Perhaps the principal mechanism by which we do this is by refusing to accept what others offer to us. This creates one-directional but missed connections that generate resentment in the would-be giver and, ironically, feelings of being devalued in the receiver, whose needs go unmet. Lacking the feelings of safety and the skills required for disclosing and discussing candidly their own needs and to how they would like to have those needs met, the parties are left feeling increasingly isolated and frustrated and unable to figure out why.

Why did you write Relationship Sanity?

Writing both Relationship Sanity and our earlier book, Irrelationship, grew out of, first, the experience of trying to understand our own relationships; and, second, the desire to share with others—clients, friends, colleagues—why intimacy was such a problem for us, and how we got to the bottom of the problem and reframed it.  The answer lies in nothing more complicated than self-disclosure—startlingly simple—and, for many, equally frightening. But the book teaches readers a pragmatic, absolutely hands-on approach to moving beyond self-constructed obstacles to intimacy and into an ongoing, every-day— and we mean every day—process of building satisfying relationships.  

Many people understand how interactive patterns dating from childhood can interfere with forming adult relationships. But having that insight isn’t enough: When we hit a wall in our relationships – perhaps the same wall, again and again – we’re naturally going to ask, “Why is this happening–again?  And how do I fix it?” Just being able to identify that “something’s up” (which the book calls the Discovery phase) is flipping the first domino. But this book doesn’t just leave you with a great explanation of what’s been wrong–in this case, how and why you’ve been keeping intimacy at a distance: We take you through a process of jointly taking apart the feelings underlying that distancing, but doing it with someone you care about, while, at the same time, learning to put something genuine and unexpectedly thrilling in its place.  That “something” is what we call relationship sanity.

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The insight and impetus for our formulating our ideas around relationship sanity emerged as the three of us discussed what we view as an epidemic of “compulsive caregiving” that interferes with reciprocity and closeness in all types of relationships; hence the title of the first book, IrrelationshipHow We Use Dysfunctional Relationships to Hide from Intimacy.  The response our ideas repeatedly validated our own relationship experiences but underscored the need for a new book that charts concretely a way out of irrelationship and into, well, relationship sanity.

Read the full interview Here


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