New book out today! The Secrets of Enduring Love

My new book – with Prof Jacqui Gabb – is out today! The Secrets of Enduring Love was published by Penguin RandomHouse and is available now in paperback and ebook formats.

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Jacqui and I are also producing some short YouTube vids with our wonderful colleagues the Open University pulling out some of the main themes from the book. I’ll be posting those up here as they become available, starting on Valentine’s Day of course.

Meanwhile here’s a Q&A with me about the book. Read more of this post

Thank you: The psychology of gratitude and appreciation

My university, The Open University, has recently started a ‘thank you’ campaign (#OU_thanks) where students and alumni have been encouraged  to express their thanks to people who’ve helped them along their journeys of studying at the OU. I was interviewed about this for an article that appeared in The Metro yesterday.

Thankyou

The OU has always had a major commitment to opening up access to higher education beyond those who have conventionally engaged in it. They put on flexible courses so that people can study alongside working full-time, they encourage lifelong learning, and online courses mean that people can study from home, while travelling, or from prison.

This recent thank you campaign recognises that for every OU student there is generally an unacknowledged cluster of other people who have encouraged and helped them to study in this way. There are supportive friends and family members, people who’ve assisted financially with fees, flexible employers, and the OU tutors and peers who’ve helped them through the process. With this campaign, students are taking the opportunity to express their thanks to all these people who’ve helped them to do something which they are often extremely proud of, and which opens up their possibilities in all kinds of important ways.

Interestingly, at the same time as the campaign was happening, a bunch of OU psychologists were putting together a new psychology module called ‘Living psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary’. I’ve been writing two chapters for this module that have a bearing on gratitude: one on self-help and happiness, and one tackling relationship conflict. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect on what we know about the psychology of gratitude, as well as giving some of my own thoughts on the matter.

Gratitude for mental health and well-being?

We probably assume that gratitude will be a positive thing for the person being thanked, but recent research in ‘positive psychology’ has found that it also has a very positive impact on the person doing the thanking.

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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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Non-monogamous relationships

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 non-monogamous relationships.

I understand that there has been a couple of recent books ( yours and Catherine Hakim´s ) discussing the attitudes about infidelity  in the UK? Do you think that is just a coincidence or is it a sign of the times?

It definitely feels like a current topic with many books and movies raising questions about the challenges of being in long term relationships and about how we deal with infidelity when it occurs.

Catherine Hakim’s book looks at the recent trend of dating websites for people who are looking for lovers outside their marriage. My book explores all of the many ways in which people at the moment are rewriting the rules of their relationships.

I think that the ‘rules’ about infidelity are being questioned right now for a combination of reasons. First, as people live longer what is meant by a ‘long term’ relationship becomes potentially much longer than it was in previously. Secondly, people are now looking for a lot more from a partner or spouse than they might have done in the past. It is common for people to expect such relationships to remain romantic and sexual throughout as well as providing a close friendship, a sense of belonging and security, and personal validation. This can be a great deal of pressure to put on one person, and that is a big part of the reason why people often end up looking elsewhere and having infidelities.

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Collaborative approaches to conflict

Yesterday I ran some training on relationship therapy for counsellors which involved exploring various different approaches and techniques. I was reminded of a chapter that I’ve found particularly helpful in this area, which I gave out to the students. Re-reading the chapter I realised that it says something a lot more profound than I originally realised. I thought it would be useful to summarise it here and draw out some implications: both for intimate relationship difficulties and more for conflict more widely.

Collaborative relationship therapy

The approach is the ‘collaborative couple therapy’ of Daniel B. Wile, a US therapist. You can read all about it on Dan’s website here. Personally I prefer the term ‘relationship therapy’ to ‘couple therapy’ as it recognises that not all relationships are couple relationships.

Dan’s first idea is that the aim, in relationship therapy, should be to ‘solve the moment, not the problem’. This takes the pressure off trying to fix the whole – often seemingly overwhelming – difficulty that people are having. Instead, the emphasis is placed on addressing each interaction that comes up as something that can be ‘solved’, or engaged with more helpfully. Dan shares my view that conflict isn’t a problem in relationships: it is inevitable, and it can be helpful depending on how we engage with it.

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Guardian article – Relationship FAQ

Yesterday The Guardian interviewed a bunch of sex and relationship bloggers to find out our answers to our most frequently asked questions. The article is here and you can read my answers below – hard to capture all the complexity in 130 words a piece!

Question 1: What kinds of relationship are most successful?

I write a lot about different possible ways of doing relationships: monogamous, monogamish and openly non-monogamous relationships; living apart together and long distance relationships; sexual and non-sexual relationships. Something I’m often asked is whether a certain form of relationships can be successful. My question back is always ‘what do you mean by successful?’ It generally turns out that people mean longevity. While studies have found that all these forms of relationships can last over time, I question whether that is the best measure of relationship ‘success’. Perhaps that is something else that is worth thinking about.

Question 2: Will things get easier if I change how I do relationships?

When people contemplate a different kind of relationship – such as an open relationship or polyamory – they often imagine that it will solve all of the problems they’re currently having. I’ve called this the ‘poly grail’ (although it happens with all kinds of relationships). Sadly the answer is that any different way of doing relationships has its own challenges. It’s tough to be in monogamous, it’s tough to be single, and it’s tough to be non-monogamous (whether you do that openly, or secretly in the form of affairs). It’s well worth finding a kind of relationship that works for you, but it’s far too much pressure to expect to find the ‘one true way’ of doing relationships, just as it’s too much pressure to expect to find ‘the one’ partner who’ll fulfil all your needs.

Question 3: How do I go about finding the kind of relationship that works for me?

Instead of searching for the perfect relationship, it’s helpful to figure out what’s important to us, and to communicate about that. For example, where do you stand between wanting just one very close person in your life and wanting lots of friends or partners who are equally close? What about between sexual exclusivity and having many sexual encounters (online or offline)? Is it important to have a clear agreed contract for how you do relationships or for everyone to be free to make their own decisions? Do you like to be private or are you keen to share everything with partners? Communication won’t resolve all the differences we have in relationships, but it definitely helps to be open about such things from the start and to accept that people can feel very differently about them.

 

Happy holidays – TED talk

Happy holidays from Rewriting the Rules. A great present for me was that my TEDx talk from the Brighton 2013 event has now been edited and gone live. I hope you enjoy it.

Desire and long term relationships

Esther Perel did a great TED talk for Valentine’s Day this year on sex and desire in long term relationships. Much food for thought.

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…

Sex and relationship therapy: Fiction and fact

This weekend I saw the new romantic comedy Hope Springs. The movie is about a couple in their sixties (Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones) who go to intensive couple therapy (with Steve Carrell) because Streep’s character is concerned about the lack of intimacy and sex in their relationship.

 

On one level I loved the movie. The performances were all astonishingly good, the comedy was pitched perfectly and had me laughing out loud, and I shed a tear or two in the darkest hour before the dawn because it was such a good depiction of how lonely it is possible to be in a relationship.

However, as soon as I left the theatre, I started to reflect on the messages about sex and relationships in the film and found some of them pretty problematic. In this post I’ll go through a few of the ideas from the film, saying why I question whether these are good sex and relationship therapy.

Spoiler alert: I have written in detail about the film so don’t read on if you want to suspend disbelief and enjoy the movie like I did before engaging your critical faculties!

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