Look: even wedding bloggers have relationship challenges. Have you ever noticed how many of us are divorced or separated (including our own Managing Editor, Megan) or working on our second marriages? Loving weddings and celebrating relationships in no way guarantees that yours is going to be all sunshine and daisies and flower wreaths… in fact if anything, wedding bloggers understand the challenges of relationships better than anyone.
You don't even want to know how many sheepish emails I get from people whose weddings we featured years ago, who write to request that could we please take their wedding profile down? The wedding was indeed lovely, but the marriage was not, and it's ended and oh my gosh they're so embarrassed, but could we take the post down? (And of course, we always do, with a quick note letting them know that they're not the first to ask, and they won't be the last, and we wish them all the best.)
As part of some work I'm doing in my own relationship, my counselor recommended an audiobook called Your Brain on Love: The Neurobiology of Healthy Relationships by Stan Tatkin.
The deck was stacked against me on this recommendation: I'm not really a self-help book person. Despite the fact that I wrote a book about weddings, I'm not really a relationship book person. I don't listen to audio books ever. When I need relationship advice, I generally prefer it to be personal: I turn to friends who know me and my partner, or we go see a counselor who's worked with both of us.
BUT THIS AUDIOBOOK, YOU GUYS. It blew my mind. Like blowing my mind like this kind of blowing my mind.
Your Brain on Love: My brain blowing up
The author, a couples counselor who's also an assistant clinical professor at UCLA, starts with some basic truths, things like “All people are fundamentally a pain in the ass” and “90% of the time, none of us really know what we're doing or why we're doing it.” These sound simplistic and silly, but you guys it's true: I don't care how perfect your partner is… they are also a pain in the ass. And I don't care how self-aware you are… when it comes to feelings and actions in relationships, none of us actually knows most of the time what the fuck we're doing. We just do it, and usually it works, but then sometimes it doesn't and oops. What now?
Tatkin then focuses on how attachment styles (the relationship dynamics we learn as children) affect how we communicate and interact with our partners, making a point not to demonize any attachment style but rather to explain that as partners, it's our job to be an expert in knowing our significant other's styles and limitations. He introduces several different kinds of attachment and communication styles, and then gives constructive, pragmatic advice on how to approach conflict and disagreements with each type.
At times the book leans a little too heavily on these generalized categories (are you an island or a wave? An airplane or a submarine? A tortoise or a hare?) but Tatkin acknowledges that the lines are blurry and that the categories are only useful as general concepts. Despite my concerns about the categories feeling too generalized, I was slapped in the face several times by how spot-on the descriptions of certain behaviors described my own shortcomings.
What kind of shortcomings?
Ok, so a few nights ago I woke up in the middle of the night feeling emotional and distraught.
“Psst.” I prodded my husband. “Are you awake?”
“Muhhh,” he said, and I got even sadder because I was having feelings and I wanted to talk about them at 3am what the fuck, spouse!? Why won't you wake up to talk to me about my emotions at 3am!?
I dragged my sad self out to the living room and laid down on the couch with my headphones to continue listening to Your Brain on Love. I was about half way through, and what else was I going to do alone with my feelings at 3am? Clearly my husband wasn't going to talk to me because he didn't care and I'm just alone and no no don't mind me it's fine just keep sleeping that's just fine no really FINE.
Within about 60 seconds of listening, Tatkin went into a segment about conflict styles and how for certain kinds of folks, when emotions come up at night, they can feel a sense of abandonment if their partner is sleeping and unavailable to them. This sense of abandonment (which is pretty misguided, but apparently common for certain kinds of folks) can then elevate the rough emotions further, which can then cause an escalating spiral of feels! exhaustion! abandonment! tears! etc!
Oof. Yeah, that was me on the couch crying at 3:15am being like “Fuck, this audiobook and its generalizations just nailed my shit to the wall SO HARD.” So yeah, maybe sometimes generalizations can be generally useful.
Who should listen to this thing?
The author is clear that the book is written not just for anyone (gay, straight, whatever) in a relationship (unmarried, married, whatever), but even as a way for single people to better understand who they are and how to interact with future partners. The language felt inclusive, supportive, encouraging.
I know that we've talked about pre-marital counseling many times on Offbeat Bride, and I'd just like to submit that while I listened to this program as a married person, I think Your Brain on Love: The Neurobiology of Healthy Relationships would offer tremendous value to engaged couples. I highly, HIGHLY recommend it. You can stream it on Audible, or you can buy the CDs, which strikes me as adorable and old-fashioned.
Let's crowdsource: which books or audio programs have been most helpful to YOUR relationship?