Reference: The New Rules of Marriage by Terry Real
Title: Changes in relationships as identified by Terry Real, or No Wonder we don’t seem to be on the same page
Problem identified by author: Terry Real works closely with Esther Perel and they have put on presentations together, so my sense is that if you resonate with Perel, you will probably resonate with Terry Real. I put those two therapists/ authors in the same category as David Schnarch, creator of the Crucible approach and more recently, author of Brain Talk, where he tries to integrate neuroscience into his ideas of differentiation and growth in marriage. Unfortunately, Real’s book appears very heteronormative and focuses on relationships between men and women, making it limited in terms of effectiveness overall, but potentially valuable for opposite sex couples.
In the first chapter of his book, Real describes the changes in relationships from transactional companionship (baby boomers and before) to transformational intimacy (after boomers). As a member of generation X, I think that I’m somewhere in between and members of my generation can seemingly go both ways. Generations of marriage were founded on the expectations of patriarchal gender roles whereby the man’s job is to make money and provide security for this family while the woman’s job is to take care of the household and raise the children. This arrangement seemed to result in certain patterns and expectations, which changed drastically in the latter half of the 20th century. Positively, women became secure on their own, without needing a man, and started to ask for what they actually wanted in relationships – connection, intimacy, and trust. Unfortunately for women, men continue to struggle to adapt to what women want because they weren’t raised to be a sensitive, caring, and present partner. Relationships then become a battle between women asking for their needs to be met and men not responding with warmth, empathy, and validation. That’s because men are interpreting their partner’s needs as threats to their masculinity, which has been entrenched in gender role socialization since men were kids. It is not generally safe for these men to display emotions, sensitivity, or discuss the fear that their partner’s complaints trigger. Instead of acknowledging the fear, men display anger to protect that softer part of themselves, which again was reinforced since they were boys. Let’s also not pretend that this is just men. Women can display these emotionally dismissive messages too, and I’ve certainly seen couples where the female is the person who can’t access their emotions with their partner.
Remaining questions: What’s in chapter two and beyond? My sense is that Real will advocate for communication between partners about these relationship dynamics, teach assertiveness, and teach listening skills. We are not living in times where our relationships can be compared to our parent’s relationships? Whatever we learned from them may or may not be helpful as we try to form and sustain relationships as adults. Why are we expecting ourselves to just “know” how to have these kinds of relationships without learning about them and developing helpful skills? Don’t assume that “if the relationship is meant to be it will work.” All relationships require learning skills continuously. We can no longer rest on the fact that we have a job and a nice house. Relationships require much more.