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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Wired for Love, by Stan Tatkin

book cover This book (complete title: Wired for Love - How Understanding Your Partner's Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship) is a layman's terms summarizing of research done in the area of romantic relationships. Stan Tatkin is not the greatest psychologist ever, but he does a good job in writing this reference book. He lists ten principles that would help people retain their relationship and improve on it. Simple things like making eye contact, hugging till the other relaxes in your arms and fighting smart - for the couple, not against your partner, can make huge impact with little effort. Tatkin suggests that we are all untrained in this relationship crap and so he goes towards making a sort of abridged manual in how to proceed.

Now that I've said all those nice things about him, Tatkin is clearly not God in all matters relationshippy. He admits that the reason why he started the research was the fact that he went through a divorce. That must be especially jarring for a psychologist. Wasn't he supposed to know about people? What happened? He then proceeds fast pace to categorize people and tell them which parts of the brain and which bits of education made them like that and what to do in order to get to the "good" category. I particularly disliked that he branded people into three categories, then was obviously biased towards only one. That doesn't mean he is wrong and certainly when going for simple straight results you just have to put caution aside and go all in. But that's just it: this book is not THE solution, it's just a solution, one that felt right to Stan Tatkin, and so you must take it with a grain of salt.

The basic ideas of the book start from brain structure. We have parts of the brain that are wired for war, what he calls primitives, like the amygdala, who is responsible for the fast reactions that keep us alive. When we get into fights, for example, the amygdala gets excited and furiously fires neurons that prepare your body for a physical conflict. At this time other parts of the brain are more suited to assess the situation and define danger and behavior, parts he calls ambassadors, like the hippocampus. If we are too focused on our basic emotions, we start arguing and hurting the other in order for us, the individual, to come up top in the battle and miss important cues on how our partner feels and what are the correct measures to make the couple get through the situation. Tatkin makes the simple case that as long as we go through episodes where we fight for us and against our partners, this hurts, obviously, the relationship. The thing we should strive towards is the "couple bubble" (I know, terrible name) where both parties can feel protected and safe together with the other significant.

The author splits people into three categories. There is the island, which in childhood was not engaged by their parents, not hugged enough, they did not feel protected. They come out as individualists valuing their personal space and sensible to any close or intimate contact. They believe that as long as two people are self reliant and have a good life, they can have a good relationship without actually needing each other, only enjoying the company. There is the anchor, someone who was loved and engaged during childhood, with lots of attention and careful interaction with caregivers. They are balanced in their emotions, easily empathize with others and form natural couple bubbles, are fond of affection and close personal contact. And there are the waves, who oscillate between the two, alternatively needing affection and intimacy, only to run away when they receive it, for fear of being rejected or abandoned. From all three categories, the anchor is "the way", while the others something our childhood regretfully forced us to be. Thankfully, treating our partner right and being treated right back can change our affiliation.

Needless to say, I don't wholly agree with the guy. The categories feel arbitrary and unidimensional. Of course that restricting your metric restricts your vision of the world, but at the same time one can take this book as an advocate for a specific system. It is the job of others to find and validate others. This is what worked for Tatkin and so he shares it with the reader.

Here are the ten guiding principles of the book. For details, read the book. It's pretty short.
  1. Creating a couple bubble allows partners to keep each other safe and secure
  2. Partners can make love and avoid war when their primitives are put to ease
  3. Partners relate to one another primarily as anchors, islands or waves
  4. Partners who are experts on one another know how to please and soothe each other
  5. Partners with busy lives should create and use bedtime and morning rituals, as well as reunion rituals
  6. Partners should serve as the primary go-to people for one another
  7. Partners should prevent each other from being a third wheel when relating to outsiders
  8. Partners who want to stay together must learn to fight well
  9. Partners can rekindle their love at any time through eye contact
  10. Partners can minimize each other's stress and optimize each other's health

Conclusion: A book that can open eyes. One must be careful not to close them in other directions or look only this way. As I said earlier, it seemed as a theory based on a single dimension, the need to feel safe, with little bleedthrough in other areas. Some of the things in the book are so easy to do that not trying them to see if they work would be a shame. Also, whenever something feels too obvious, try to remember when (and if) you actually rationalized this before. Sometimes obvious things need to be said.

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