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Is Never Enough:
How Couples Can Overcome Misunderstandings, Resolve Conflicts, and
Solve Relationship Problems
Through Cognitive Therapy
Summary: Beck's approach is one of the strongest
and most reliable on the market today, and a much-needed advocate
of rationality in relationships today. Herein lies the problem.
Is Never Enough is a book from the widely respected founder
of cognitive therapy that is highly praised and loved . . . by academics.
This book was the runner-up (sorry, Aaron) in LiveReal's widely-heralded evaluation of "The Best Science Has To Offer" in the area of relationships. If one is looking for a no-nonsense, reliable and fairly accurate perspective on relationships, we have found it to be the best available anywhere.
Yet, as is the case so often . . . one's greatest strengths can also be one's greatest weaknesses.
(We're pretty impressed with ourselves on that one . . . wish we had thought of it)
There are many good things that can come from Dr. Beck's book. People can definitely learn to think more rationally. Reading the book (and applying it) brings immediate clarification and practicality to certain issues. Further, it is easy to see why many academics rate this book highly - it is scientific, testable, boring, verifiable, falsifiable, boring, and non-controversial.
This book was never on the bestseller lists, and never close. - which brings up an interesting topic: Why is it, exactly, that a widely respected, thorough, and very practical guide to relationship issues never sold many copies . . . whereas much more "loose," controversial work such as that of John Gray (of "Men Are From Mars" fame) or Marianne Williamson flew off the shelves? This (something that also heavily impacted another dry academic, Robert Sternberg) could be another essay in itself.
Essentially, the rigor and respectability of science comes at a price - often, a price of shallowness. dryness, sheer lack-of-juiciness, and narrowness of scope. Beck's work is accurate, correct, scientific, polite, and . . . achingly dull. Therein lies the rub.
Beck's approach lies in a "cognitive therapy to love" - and if that sounds like an oxymoron ("cognitive" and "love" - in the same sentence?) - then you probably understand why Beck, unlike some others, doesn't have his own talk show.
The cognitive therapy approach is directed toward such problems as:
- How negative perceptions can overwhelm the positive aspects of marriage
- The swing from idealization to disillusionment
- The clash of differing perspectives
- The imposition of rigid expectations and rules
- How partners fail to hear what is said and often hear things that are not said.
- How personal bias disrupts a relationship
- How automatic negative thinking leads to conflict
- How partners' thinking pattern distort a relationship
The solution to most of these problems lies in becoming aware of certain aspects of our thinking habits, our perceptions, and our underlying assumptions, and "re-programming" them (similar to a more cerebral version of the more flashy Anthony Robbins approach) in a way that perceptions become more clear, assumption get clarified, and thinking habits get re-evaluated.
This approach addresses "almost every communication difficulty between anyone," although its focus is on such issues as differing frames of reference, one's upbringing (pattern / modeling of one's parents), unstated expectations, all/nothing thinking, and unknown (to oneself) sensitive issues that cause a person to react to others' actions/words out of fear or anger.
Essentially, cognitive therapy is based on the premise that unwanted, harmful emotions are born out of unexamined, habituated thought patterns. These thoughts and the emotions they foster, the theory goes, can be essentially deconstructed - like shining a light on unruly vampires - and, hence, defused of their power to poison the painful interactions so common in relationships.
This approach obviously plays a very important role, and we have nothing against anybody nowadays becoming a little more rational. At the same time, if it sounds like programming your brain like computer software using a slide-rule . . . well, often that's not too far from what applying Beck's techniques - accurate as they are - (and dare we say the word when talking science?) - feels like. Yes, that's what it feeeeeeeeels like.
Essentially, Beck's approach (similar in many ways to Dr. Phil's) lies in trying to get irrational people to act more rationally.
This, in a nutshell, is also the core problem. This therapy is based on the belief that relationships stop working or become "irrational" because of irrational thinking. Therefore, the thinking goes, if we correct the irrational thinking, we will correct the relationship . . . and everything will start working again, in a freshly rational, non-messy, well-ordered world.
Yet Beck never asks the question, why are people "irrational"? Is being thoroughly "rational" . . . desirable at all?
Again, there is a very sizeable (did we say "massively huge"?) number of people who would benefit - heck, need to heed a message like Beck's. Especially in the younger female population of the modern American world, "rationality" isn't just an endangered species, it's nearly extinct.
But at the same time, Beck's approach just isn't the final word. After all, why do we get involved with serious relationships at all?
Some of us might argue that all the insanity of relationships revolves around something we call "The Search for "IT"", or in a little different vernacular, many say that at some point involves the word "love."
"The heart has its reasons
which reason knows nothing of."
- Blaise Pascal
". . . and yet, to say the truth,
reason and love
keep little company together nowadays."
- William Shakespeare
The problem, of course, is that people are not - and "love," especially - is not "rational" - many are viscerally rebellious against the very concept of it - and most likely, it never will be. "Love," in fact, in many peoples' eyes, is even the very opposite of rationality. Putting things into nice and tidy boxes may make everything more neat, clean, and manageable, but in the process, it can also lose its juiciness, its spark, including the passion and unpredictability that made it so attractive to begin with. When passion becomes domesticated, it loses it's vigor, which is why so many say that rationality is boring. When we are all "logical," boredom sets in.
In these ways, we find that Beck's approach, for all it's strengths, lacks a deeper vision of relationships, and like most science does (but not your fearless LiveReal Editors don't) - it ignores everything that is "outside the lines." If Beck has one major flaw, it could be said to overvalue to power of thinking, and to underestimate the power of emotion and passion.
Many other core aspects of relationships are ignored - for example, Beck makes no mention of the differences between men and women; he also makes no mention of "ego," (or such crazy thoughts as wanting, deep down, to be center of the universe, at least in the other person's eyes - a core concept of the "Adam and Eve Sindrome" in the thought of Roy Masters). Bigger issues like infidelity, sexual dysfunction, addictions, and so on, on only touched on indirectly.
"Most books on relationships take a problem-solving approach -
pinpointing trouble spots and developing strategies to correct them.
Like Western allopathic medicine, which focuses on relieving symptoms,
that approach has a certain usefulness.
However, for relationships to thrive in these difficult times,
we need to go beyond mere symptom relief.
Just as treating symptoms cannot in itself produce health,
so solving problems is not enough to create healthy relationships."
- John Welwood
More aggressive critics claim that Beck, in a stereotypically masculine manner, surgically removes all of the vital, fleshy, earthy, and passionate aspects of life, in an attempt to - like many rational-thinking men - make life a little more tidy than it is, a quality that David Deida elaborates upon at length. Further, he makes the classic mistake in that we are nothing more than conditioned animals ("intellectual chimpanzees") who can be trained, like a doggie obedience school for humans, into good habits.
Another dream matchup: It would be an incredible blast to see Dr. Beck attending a workshop of, say, Margot Anand, teaching him the art of "Sexual Ecstasy."
While this critique may seem unnecessarily harsh, it is only because Beck's approach to relationships is so strong and effective; this is all the more reason it needs to be checked, applied in a proper context, and given a quick and loving pop in the ass.
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