Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Reflection: How We Love

I remember taking a trip to visit friends in Japan when I was about eleven, and bringing a dozen books with me for the two week trip. Books were always the heaviest thing in my suitcase, and they still are. I've tried to cut down on the volume and weight of reading material I bring on trips, though--usually by bringing intellectually denser books that will take me longer to get through. It's been a successful strategy.

But I definitely took my Dense Book strategy too far on this recent trip to Turkey. My reading list:  
  • How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovich--A book on attachment theory
  • From Bondage to Bonding by Nancy Groom--On codependence, this was a disturbing read.
  • Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder--The one novel I brought, this was also an introduction to Western philosophy, an Alice in Wonderland meets Gödel, Escher, Bach.
  • Rose by Li-Young Lee--a slim volume of poetry, this book lasted me the whole trip because I seldom read more than one or two poems at a time.
  • And of course, my much-battered NIV Student Bible.
I finished reading Sophie's World a few days in, at which point How We Love became my light reading. Absurd: a book of psychology that examines childhood emotional wounds and necessarily calls up painful memories, as my "fun book"? I decided to bring more fiction with me next time I travel.

To be fair, though, How We Love is very readable (as soul-searching books go). It's full of examples and dialogs from struggling couples, and almost every chapter ends with a list of bullet points. O. wasn't reading it on the trip and still doesn't seem to be interested in reading it all the way through, but he could get a sense of what I was reading and thinking about in a few minutes, thanks to the bullet points.

And what was I reading about? The premise of How We Love (subtitle: Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage) is that our patterns in adult relationships are deeply shaped by the strategies we adopted to protect ourselves as children. This influence comes into play with special force in that most intimate adult relationship--marriage. The strategies we adopt as children to cope with our parents' imperfections are called imprints, attachment styles, or (in this book anyway) "love styles."

The authors introduce early in the book the metaphor of marriage as a dance. Spouses who have different "love styles" are, in effect, dancing to different music. Perhaps the husband is dancing a waltz, while the wife tries to tango. Inevitably, they step on each other's toes, and each thinks the other is dancing wrong. (It's a useful metaphor the first time the Yerkoviches introduce it, but a few chapters in I started skipping the paragraph that reappears every chapter to remind me that spouses with different love styles are like dance partners listening to different music.)

According to How We Love, there are five* insecure attachment styles or relational coping strategies. These strategies are the patterns of:
  1. the Avoider, who seeks safety by avoiding conflict and even avoiding intimacy
  2. the Pleaser, who seeks safety by working hard to please the beloved and thus avert conflict
  3. the Vacillator, who seeks safety in intense intimacy and is angry when that intimacy is blocked or threatened
  4. the Controller, who seeks safety through control
  5. the Victim, who seeks safety through passivity.
*A note on terminology: I'd read a little on attachment theory before, in my favorite relationship book, The Highly Sensitive Person In Love (by psychologist Elaine Aron). Aron identifies three insecure attachment styles by a set of names that is, I believe, more standard: avoidant, ambivalent, and chaotic. Avoidant maps to Yerkovich's Avoider; the Pleaser is also a subtype of the Avoider. Ambivalent maps to Vacillator, and the two manifestations of the chaotic style are the Controller (active) and the Victim (passive).

The book has a chapter on each attachment style, some helpful chapters on common combinations of partners (ex. "The Avoider Marries the Vacillator"), several chapters on how to change the dynamic of your marriage by learning to comfort each other, and lists of "soul words" and listening questions in the Appendix. I didn't have any immediate "Aha!" moments while reading it, but it's definitely a useful book, and I recommend it to any one whose parents weren't perfect. :P

More next time on how How We Love applies in my life!

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