Love myths

Since Rewriting the Rules was published I sometimes get asked to do email interviews with journalists on various topics. Some of these get published in an edited form and some never see the light of day, so I thought I’d post some of the original interviews here.

Here’s one on love myths.

How do we, in general, conceive relationships today? How strong are the ‘love myths’?

Love myths do still seem to be strong. A range of relationship styles are practised across the world (many cultures being polygamous or having relationships based on things other than romantic love). Despite this, the western ideal tends to be finding ‘The One’ perfect partner and remaining with them for life with the expectation that the relationship will generally provide happiness and fulfill all of each persons’ needs. We know that this model is common because very few other models are ever considered in mainstream media (magazines, movies, TV programmes, etc.) and psychologists like Bjarne M. Holmes have found that many people to follow those love myths. Interestingly he has also found that believing strongly in such myths often means people having worse, rather than better, relationships.

Psychologist Terri Conley and her colleagues have found that people generally think that a life-long monogamous relationships is beneficial for a couple’s sex life, happiness and well-being, and for any children they have. However, there is evidence which challenges all of these beliefs and suggests that forms of consensual non-monogamy (such as polyamory and open relationships) can be just as beneficial. It seems from such research that around 4-5% of people in the US engage in some form of consensual non-monogamy.

What do we actually know about the reality of relationships today?

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Is taking care of ourselves a relationship responsibility?

Recently Diabetes UK have been running an advertising campaign that sits uneasily with me and with a lot of my friends. In their posters they show images of people hugging their loved ones and crying, with slogans such as ‘If not for you then for your family’ and ‘so you and your family don’t suffer‘. The idea seems to be that people in high-risk groups should get tested early for diabetes so that they can do something about it before amputation, blindness, heart problems or other health implications mean that they become a burden on their loved ones.

My immediate reaction was to feel angry that this – otherwise excellent – charity was using guilt tactics to frighten people into action. I also disliked the implication that other people might have so much power over what somebody chooses to do with their own body.

However, I had to reflect that – when it comes to mental rather than physical health – I have used a somewhat similar argument myself. I am a great believer that we all need to build some form of self-care into our lives in order to be in an okay place emotionally and psychologically. It is when I don’t have a moment to myself that I get overwhelmed when stressful things happen, respond badly to conflict, or make mistakes at work. Similarly, clients who I work with in therapy are often constantly engaged with work, family and friends. When I encourage them to build in time for a ‘daily kindness’ to themselves, or for quiet reflection, the major block that they frequently come up against is all their obligations to other people in their lives. They don’t want to let down their managers and colleagues, their partners and parents.

For many of us the argument that we will feel better if we look after ourselves doesn’t get very far because we see self-care as being self-centred or as spoiling ourselves. When we’re depressed we don’t feel that we deserve this. Or perhaps it doesn’t fit the self-sacrificing image that we want to have of ourselves.

However, the realisation that we will be better for the other people in our lives is often the thing that helps us to make that first small shift towards building in some time for self-care. For example, we might notice that a small amount of self-care can leave us less exhausted, more able to hear other people, and better able to manage extra pressures. We might also see that we are a better role-model for others in our lives if we demonstrate that we are able to say ‘no’ to things or to prioritise looking after ourselves.

So how is this different to the Diabetes UK argument that people should take steps towards better physical health in order to be in a better place for their loved ones? I think it comes down to the complex tension that we all face that we are, at the same time, independent individuals, and unavoidably involved in interdependent relationships with the other people in our lives. There are a few elements of this that I want to tease out here, but I don’t think there are any easy answers. Rather I hope that this blog post might be a starting point for people who want to talk about such matters, and that it will set out some of the territory in a way that is helpful.

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Same Sex Marriage: Opening Up and Closing Down

This year I was invited to 10 Downing Street for a reception celebrating the same-sex marriage act which passed into UK law recently. I felt truly ambivalent about attending the event because I see both highly positive and very negative aspects to this change in the law. So here I want to offer some reflections about possibilities that this shift has the potential to open up, as well as what it risks closing down.

MegJenNo10

Me and Jen Yockney (of BCN) at No.10

Opening up

Clearly the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act does something extremely important in legally accepting that relationships between two people of the same gender are as legitimate as those between two people of different genders. Whilst civil partnerships brought us some way towards this, marriage is the way in which our society currently recognises relationship commitment, so the cultural impact of this on people who love people of the same gender cannot be underestimated.

As David Cameron rightly remarked in his Downing Street address, the potential impact of this on people’s everyday lives is immense. Whilst many lesbian, gay and bisexual people currently experience painful responses from family members when they come out, and even total exclusion from families, the message that same gender romantic relationships are as real and valuable as different gender ones may well help matters a great deal. Parents at such times often express concerns that they have lost the opportunity to see children reach the important social milestones in life such as getting married and having children, and clearly now this is not the case.

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Same-sex marriage – inclusions & exclusions

I’ve been invited to 10 Downing Street for their same-sex marriage celebration tomorrow. Here’s the report from the Open University website:

downingstreet

Meg will be part of a reception celebrating the passing into law of the marriage (same sex) couples act.
Dr. Meg Barker has been invited to a reception celebrating the passing into law of the marriage (same sex) couples act at 10 Downing Street on Wednesday 24th July.
Dr. Barker has been included because of the work of BiUK: a group who are now on the Department of Health National LGB&T partnership group as a result of The Bisexuality Report, which was published by Open University Centre for Citizenship, Identity and Governance (CCIG) last year. The act will mean that many bisexual people with same-gender partners will now be able to marry their partners just as heterosexual people and bisexual people with other-gender partners are able to do. However, the fact that civil partnerships were not extended to other gender partnerships is still a matter of concern in terms of bisexual equality. There are also remaining issues around ‘spousal veto‘: an aspect of the new law which means that trans people will need their spouses to consent to the granting of a Gender Recognition Certificate if they apply for one.
It is important not to call same-sex marriage ‘gay marriage’ because, of course, it applies to many bisexual people too. The name ‘equal marriage’ is also not accurate as there are remaining inequalities regarding trans people, and also those in openly non-monogamous relationships, who were generally excluded from the debates this time.
Dr. Barker said ‘I am delighted to have been invited to the Downing Street celebrations next week and hope to take the opportunity to raise some of these important remaining issues with the Prime Minister there.’
There’s more on my general thoughts on the commitments we make to each other – in marriage or otherwise – in the commitment chapter of Rewriting the Rules.

After Happily Ever After

Readers of this blog might be interested in a new documentary by filmmaker Kate Schermerhorn about the need for a rethinking of the institute of marriage. The film follows her quest for the secret to successful relationships, and comes up with surprising answers, many along the lines that I explore in the book Rewriting the Rules.

Here is the trailer for the film:

 

And here is a piece Kate wrote for the Huffington Post:

Unwanted Relationship Advice: Why Are We So Afraid To Think More Creatively About Marriage?

After six years of work and the craziest emotional roller coaster of my life, a documentary film I recently completed about marriage has made its way to audiences, some of whom have even been thoughtful enough to send me relationship advice. Thank you kind strangers, particularly Dora, who tracked me down to say that I needed therapy.

I guess Dora was concerned because she knew that I had started the film, “After Happily Ever After”, together with my second husband, looking for the secret formula to marital bliss. She also knew that our romantic quest hadn’t exactly ended with happily ever after. Read more…

Review of Rewriting the Rules

The first review of Rewriting the Rules is up on the Love Research Network blog. Thanks so much to Michael Gratzke for writing this. It feels amazing, after ten years of planning and writing this book between other projects, to finally have people reading it and commenting upon it. I’ve also received some very thoughtful emails and a lovely Amazon review (thank-you self-help junkie!)

The thing that I am most pleased with in the feedback so far is that most people are using words like friendly, kind, or compassionate. One person over email said that the fact that the book emphasises how tough relationships are, and how we all struggle and make mistakes, was refreshing and helpful compared to the usual ‘expert’ stance of self-help books. For me it was important to write something that could be useful and wouldn’t leave people feeling worse than when they started. That was a lot more vital than it being smart, radical, or rigorous (although I hope that it is those things to some extent as well).

I want to keep a note, here, of the points that people are picking up on that they wanted more on or didn’t think were covered so well. That way I can make sure that I explore more in those directions, and/or encourage other people to do so. So far these points have come up:

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Home and Relationships

I just finished a fascinating book by Angela Neustatter called A Home for the Heart. The book deals with the importance of home in our lives and covers an impressive range of perspectives, from people whose homes have been integral in their identities and their couple relationships; to those who have struggled to maintain a sense of home through poverty, violence, or relationship breakdown; to various experiments in doing home differently: co-housing projects, friends living together, and a diversity of romantic relationship and child-rearing arrangements.

The book is packed with a wealth of experiences from experts, celebrities, and mostly everyday folk who have negotiated their relationships to home in a wonderful variety of ways. I like very much the way in which Angela shies away from presenting one version of home as some kind of ‘antidote to Broken Britain’ (p.6), but rather aims to explore the meaning of home in its broadest sense, recognising that different things work for different people at different times. It seems that we need to move away from a one-size-fits-all understanding of relationships, families, and homes, and to embrace the diversity of possibilities if we are to address the various economic, social, and emotional pressures currently facing us.

Separate Togetherness
I was struck by the resonances between A Home for the Heart, and my own book on relationships Rewriting the Rules, not just in the foregrounding of diversity, but also in the theme of separateness and togetherness that recurs throughout the book. Angela began her project of exploring the home because of her own experience of realising that she and her long-term husband were struggling to live together, but didn’t want to give up their shared home. They decided to carry on living together, but much more independently, terming this ‘separate togetherness’. This was their phrase for what others have called Living Apart Together (LAT) which suggests more of a positive choice and recognition that they are still important in each others’ lives.’

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Measuring happiness: The well-being index

On 24th July the results were announced of the first Integrated Household Survey. This survey was conducted by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) between April 2011 and March 2012 on 200,000 people in the UK. Importantly it included ratings of happiness, satisfaction, and anxiety, in order to give an idea of which groups in the country were happier and more satisfied with their lives, and which were struggling.

In this post I will summarise a few of the key reported findings of the survey and then mention three potential problems which we need to be aware of when considering its implications.

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‘Same-sex’ marriage

On March 11th a letter from two Archbishops was read out in 2,500 Catholic Churches in the UK arguing against proposed changes to make marriage available to people in ‘same-sex’ relationships.

According to the BBC, the letter states the following:

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Modern love

There’s a piece in The Independent on Sunday by Sarah Morrison mentioning Rewriting the Rules…

Modern lovers: The ‘sexual body warriors’ and pioneers transforming 21st-century relationships
Boy meets girl. Boy and girl get married. Boy and girl live happily ever after. Forget it, old-timer… To celebrate Valentine’s Day, Sarah Morrison meets the people redefining love in the 21st century.” Click to read more…