Harriet Lerner: A Real Go-To Gal For Relationship Help

Psychologist and psychotherapist Harriet Lerner has a new book called Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up. As always—as with her “Dance” series (The Dance of Anger, The Dance of Connection, The Dance of Intimacy, The Mother Dance) and other of her books—it’s been a big hit with her readers.

With 106 to choose from, it’s likely that couples will find something helpful in Marriage Rules. As stated in the book description, “If one person in a couple follows ten rules of his or her choice, it will generate a major, positive change. All that’s required is a genuine wish for a better relationship and a willingness to practice.”

Alisa Bowman of Project Happily Ever After recently conducted an interview with Harriet Lerner in which she addressed some salient points. For one, why is being coupled up often so difficult and complicated?

Paradoxically, in our most intimate relationships we’re least likely to be our most mature and thoughtful selves. Because we humans are primed to flight and flee, even the best marriages will get stuck in anger or distance. To paraphrase the novelist Mary Carr, a dysfunctional marriage is any marriage ‘with more than one person in it.’

On the issue of whether both partners need to read the book or work on change: “Often only one person has their motor running for change. That’s the person Marriage Rules can really help. While it takes two to couple up, it takes only one to make things a whole lot better.”

Because it’s such a challenging issue, there are 10 rules on “listening without getting so defensive”:

We all know that how we talk and how we listen determines how our relationship goes. But most of us are more motivated to improve our talking skills than the other half of the conversation equation…If we would only LISTEN with the same passion we feel about wanting to be HEARD.

Like John Gottman (see yesterday’s post) Harriet Lerner is in a long-term marriage with another psychologist. She points out, though, that all marriages have ups and downs, the latter of which are often related to the impact of various stressors:

Generally speaking, nothing is harder on marriage than the addition and subtraction of family members: making or adopting a baby, step-kids, the empty nest, and so forth. And then there are the stressors we didn’t sign up for; addictions, chronic illness, affairs, unemployment, untimely loss—you can make your own list. Whether you’re going to face your worst times after three years or 30 is anybody’s guess.
We’re always unprepared when the universe plunks a serious challenge down in our path. I used to think that anticipating the worst things and worrying about them would magically keep them away. It didn’t work. Obviously, we’ll do best if we can take care of ourselves during the hard times, and be kind to our partner as well. The stronger our connections with friends, family and community before the crises hits, the better we’ll do.

Below is Lerner’s book trailer:

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