Updated: Mar 6, 2021
Self-help books—unless they’re utterly incoherent—are all built around the same basic plan: Problem. Promise. Program.
Author: This is your problem...
Reader: Yes! Wow! You hit the nail on the head.
Author: And this is the promise I can make to you as far as solving that problem is concerned...
Reader: Ooh, that sounds good. If you can deliver on half that promise, I’ll be delighted!
Author: And, finally, here’s the program [or action plan or step-by-step instructions] for making your problem go away...
Reader: Mmm, that sounds like a lot of work...
So that’s pretty much the deal. And if you think of it as a game, the object of the game is to talk about a problem that bothers a lot of people and that a lot of people talk about. There’s gotta be buzz around the problem. Used to be, no one on the planet was worried about not being mindful. Now everyone with a mind is worried about it.
And you gotta make a HUGE—no, make that HUGE—promise. And that’s because on the bookshelves or on the websites, it’s to a large extent a war of promises. If others are promising 6-pack abs in 30 days, I ain’t gonna get traction unless I promise 8-pack abs in 14 days.
And a big part of the promise usually has to be that the program is really simple and easy. That’s why the greatest self-help book ever written was the one that said you can accomplish whatever you want if you just really want it! “Just really want it!?!?! I can do that!!!” millions said.
So where does Why Couples Fight come in? Well, you tell me.
The problem we address is pretty clear on the surface. This book is for you if you and your partner are
Having too many fights
Living with too much mutual resentment
Feeling intimidated or disempowered by one another
Experiencing that you have too many unmet needs
Finding you can’t work out your differences
And when you try to work out your differences, things get ugly
In other words, you have differences but you can’t work those differences out. And when you try to, things get ugly, or at least nothing comes of it.
The promise we make is that as tied up in knots as things feel between you, the problem is easier to wrap your mind around than you might think. And it’s easier to solve than you might think too, because it’s not about how there’s something wrong with one or both of you (no one needs fixing!). You just have to deal with your conflicts differently. That way, you’ll have a good chance of getting back to the way things were between you when they were at their best.
The program—that is, the stuff you have to do—is simple and clear and there’s no complicated script you have to follow. And it’s easy too, if you can accept the fact that the root source of your getting tangled up with each other comes from the way you both do and say things to make the other feel disempowered. And then you both do and say things to re-empower yourselves—all in the process of trying to figure out how you can get the new fridge or mower you’ve been wanting! Pretty soon all your emotional energy is tied up in wanting to hurt each other and/or wanting to get the hell away from each other, and not knowing how to stop yourselves. You have no energy or attention for actual problem-solving.
And change isn’t going to happen unless you both can shift the whole concept of blame. Not “We’re in trouble because of what you do.” “No! What YOU do!” Instead, it’s “We’re in trouble because of what we both do. We got ourselves into this, but the good news is that we can get ourselves out of this.”
If you can accept that fact—and it is a fact—then the rest is just learning “Hey, what IS a power move?” and learning how to present a need, or how to respond when your partner presents you with a need, and then knowing how you go from there. Have you ever driven a go-kart around a course? Zoom zoom zoom!! You don’t need to be a genius! Just don’t go too fast and don’t slam into barriers.
Well, it’s pretty much the same here. It does involve unlearning some old ways of doing things and taking on board some new ways of doing things. Sorry about that! But hey!, what the hell do you think would be different if you went to a really good couples therapist? A good one would help you rebuild how you deal with each other anyway, and for a minimum of a couple or a few hundred bucks an hour, over many hours. How much does a book cost? A coffee and a muffin.