Review of Love and War, by John and Stasi Eldredge

Love & War

Finding the Marriage You’ve Dreamed Of

by John and Stasi Eldredge

Doubleday Religion, New York, 2009. 222 pages.
Starred Review

I recently filed for divorce, more than four years after my husband abandoned me. Why would I torment myself by reading a book on marriage?

I have a few reasons: First, is that I want to know what went wrong so I don’t repeat the same mistakes. I still believe that God told me that some day our marriage would be restored, and I would want that marriage to be a harmonious partnership before God. It’s inspiring to read about how that can happen.

Actually, I picked up the book ready to quickly turn it back in if I found the contents painful or not applying at all. But I avidly read the whole book, liking it more and more the further I read.

I like everything I’ve already read by John & Stasi Eldredge, particularly Captivating, and The Sacred Romance. I like their way of taking the big picture when talking about the Christian life. They see the Christian life as a grand fairy tale, and I love that approach, as is evidenced by the fact that I’m also reading secular books talking about what fairy tales teach us about life, such as Once Upon a Midlife, by Allan B. Chinen, and Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

The authors tie into that concept right away. In the introduction, Stasi describes watching her husband John conduct a wedding ceremony.

“No matter how many weddings I attend, there is something inexplicably stirring about all this — the ceremony, the making of vows, the great cloud of witnesses, something about this remarkable act feels — how does one describe it? Mythic.”

She gives some of John’s message to the crowd:

“‘Dearly Beloved, you see before you a man and a woman. But there is more here than meets the eye. God gave to us this passion play to reenact, right here and now, the story of the ages. This is the story of mankind, the one story we have been telling ourselves over and over again, in every great myth and legend and poem and song. It is a love story, set in the midst of desperate times, set in the midst of war. It is a story of a shared quest. It is a story of romance. Daniel and Megan are playing out before you now the deepest and most mythic reality in the world. This is the story of God’s romance with mankind.’

“I’m curious what the audience is thinking. When John speaks of love and marriage as deeper than fairy tale, what does our heart say in reply? I know the young women listening just said in their hearts, Oh I hope that is true! I long for that to be true! The young men are wondering, If that is true, what is this going to require of me? The older women filter this through the years of our actual marital experience; they are thinking, Hmmm. (It is a mixture of Yes, I once longed for that, and, Perhaps it will come true for her; I wonder if it still might come true for me.) And the older men sitting here now are simply thinking, I wonder if the reception will have an open bar.

“‘You don’t believe me,’ John says. ‘But that’s because we don’t understand fairy tales and we don’t understand the Gospel which they are trying to remind us of. They are stories of danger; they are stories where evil is very, very real. They are stories which require immense courage and sacrifice. A boy and a girl thrown together in some desperate journey. If we believed it, if we actually saw what was taking place right here, right now, we would cross ourselves. We would say desperate prayers, earnest prayers. We would salute them both and we would hold our breath for what happens next.'”

I love John’s charge to the couple:

“Daniel, Megan, in choosing marriage you have chosen an assignment at the frontlines in this epic battle for the human heart. You will face hardship, you will face suffering, you will face opposition, and you will face a lie. The scariest thing a woman ever offers is to believe that she is worth pursuing, to open her heart up to pursuit, to continue to open up her heart and offer the beauty she holds inside, all the while fearing it will not be enough. The scariest thing a man ever chooses is to offer his strength without knowing how things will turn out. To take the risk of playing the man before the outcome is decided. To offer his heart of strength while fearing it will not be enough.

“A lie is going to come to both of you, starting very soon, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. It can’t be done. It’s too hard. We had unrealistic expectations. It isn’t worth it. The lie to you, Megan, will be, ‘You are nothing more than a disappointment.’ And the lie to you, Daniel, will be, ‘You are not really man enough for this.’ And so, I have two words for you today. Words that I want you to keep close in your hearts as you go forward: You are. Megan, you are radiant, you shimmer, you shine, you are a treasure of a woman, a gem, you are. Daniel, you are a man, you are strong, and you are valiant. You have what it takes. Hold this close to your hearts. It can be done. And it is worth it.”

Early on in this ordeal of my marriage falling apart, I found help and encouragement from One helpful lesson they taught me right from the start is that my spouse is not my enemy. Instead Satan himself is the enemy of our marriage. John and Stasi Eldredge echo that message. The “War” in the title is the battle that a man and his wife do together against the Enemy of their marriage.

Right away, they give us tips about how that battle is carried out, with lies. A wife starts believing the lie that she is not valuable, and so she gets petty about wanting her husband to do more around the house, to show that he values her. Then her husband, in turn, doesn’t feel like his wife thinks he is an adequate man, and resentment builds up on both sides.

This isn’t a book about communication techniques or about how to get your spouse to treat you right. This is a book with stories to explain how you can see marriage as a team effort against a mutual enemy. John and Stasi give stories from their own marriage to show how this can play out — both failures and successes.

Love & War is a wonderful book for romantics. It tells you that a great marriage is indeed possible. It gives you a lofty vision and inspires you to work with your spouse to go after it.

And don’t we all start out in marriage as romantics?

Read the book! I won’t try to summarize each chapter, since I would have too much to say. I’ll finish the review with some inspiring words from the authors at the end of Chapter One:

“Because marriage is hard, sometimes painfully hard, your first Great Battle is not to lose heart. That begins with recovering desire — the desire for the love that is written on your heart. Let desire return. Let it remind you of all that you wanted, all that you were created for.

“And then consider this — what if God could bring you your heart’s desire? It’s not too late. It isn’t too hard. You are not too far along nor are you and your spouse too set in your ways. God is the God of all hope. He is, after all, the God of the Resurrection. Nothing is impossible for him. So give your heart’s desire some room to breathe.

“What if the two of you could find your way to something beautiful?

“That would be worth fighting for.”

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft

Why Does He Do That?

Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

by Lundy Bancroft

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 2002. 408 pages.
Starred Review.

This is a fascinating, informative, and tremendously helpful book. Lundy Bancroft has worked for years with abusive men and their partners. He understands how they think and why they do what they do. He’s seen the same behaviors and patterns come out again and again.

This book communicates his deep understanding of abusive men, clearing up many common myths about domestic abuse. He talks about what a man needs to do in order to change and helps the partner understand how she should respond.

His introduction says it well:

“I have been working with angry and controlling men for fifteen years as a counselor, evaluator, and investigator, and have accumulated a wealth of knowledge from the two thousand or more cases with which I have been involved. I have learned the warning signs of abuse and control that a woman can watch out for early in a relationship. I’ve come to know what a controlling man is really saying, the meaning that is hidden behind his words. I’ve seen clues to recognizing when verbal and emotional aggression are heading toward violence. I’ve found ways to separate out abusive men who are faking change from those who are doing some genuine work on themselves. And I have learned that the problem of abusiveness has surprisingly little to do with how a man feels — my clients actually differ very little from nonabusive men in their emotional experiences — and everything to do with how he thinks. The answers are inside his mind.

“However, as delighted as I am to have had the opportunity to gain this insight, I am not one of the people who most needs it. The people who can best benefit from knowledge about abusers and how they think are women, who can use what I have learned to help themselves recognize when they are being controlled or devalued in a relationship, to find ways to get free of abuse if it is happening, and to know how to avoid getting involved with an abusive man — or a controller or a user — next time. The purpose of this book is to equip women with the ability to protect themselves, physically and psychologically, from angry and controlling men.”

Along the way, he presents answers to twenty-one questions he is commonly asked by women about their abusive partners, as a way of giving them the information they most need to hear.

I like his central goal:

“If your partner’s controlling or devaluing behavior is chronic, you no doubt find yourself thinking about him a great deal of the time, wondering how to please him, how to keep him from straying, or how to get him to change. As a result, you may find that you don’t get much time to think about yourself — except about what is wrong with you in his eyes. Once of my central reasons for writing this book is, ironically, to help you think about him less. I’m hoping that by answering as many questions as possible and clearing away the confusion that abusive behavior creates, I can make it possible for you to escape the trap of preoccupation with your partner, so that you can put yourself — and your children if you are a mother — back in the center of your life where you belong. An angry and controlling man can be like a vacuum cleaner that sucks up a woman’s mind and life, but there are ways to get your life back. The first step is to learn to identify what your partner is doing and why he does it, which is what the pages ahead will illuminate. but when you have finished diving deeply into the abuser’s mind, which this book will enable you to do, it is important to rise back to the surface and from then on try to stay out of the water as much as you can. I don’t mean that you should necessarily leave your partner — that is a complex and highly personal decision that only you can make. But whether you stay or go, the critical decision you can make is to stop letting your partner distort the lens of your life, always forcing his way into the center of the picture. You deserve to have your life be about you; you are worth it.”

At the beginning of the book he explains what abuse is. It’s surprisingly hard to spot in your own relationship, since the partner never starts out by being abusive.

“One of the obstacles to recognizing chronic mistreatment in relationships is that most abusive men simply don’t seem like abusers. They have many good qualities, including times of kindness, warmth, and humor, especially in the early period of a relationship. an abuser’s friends may think the world of him. He may have a successful work life and have no problems with drugs or alcohol. He may simply not fit anyone’s image of a cruel or intimidating person. So when a woman feels her relationship spinning out of control, it is unlikely to occur to her that her partner is an abuser.

“The symptoms of abuse are there, and the woman usually sees them: the escalating frequency of put-downs. Early generosity turning more and more to selfishness. Verbal explosions when he is irritated or when he doesn’t get his way. Her grievances constantly turned around on her, so that everything is her own fault. His growing attitude that he knows what is good for her better than she does. And, in many relationships, a mounting sense of fear or intimidation. But the woman also sees that her partner is a human being who can be caring and affectionate at times, and she loves him. She wants to figure out why he gets so upset, so that she can help him break his pattern of ups and downs. She gets drawn into the complexities of his inner world, trying to uncover clues, moving pieces around in an attempt to solve an elaborate puzzle.”

A partner being abused commonly accepts all that blame when it begins. Lundy Bancroft’s words are comforting:

“Part of how the abuser escapes confronting himself is by convincing you that you are the cause of his behavior, or that you at least share the blame. But abuse is not a product of bad relationship dynamics, and you cannot make things better by changing your own behavior or by attempting to manage your partner better. Abuse is a problem that lies entirely within the abuser.”

“The abuser creates confusion because he has to. He can’t control and intimidate you, he can’t recruit people around him to take his side, he can’t keep escaping the consequences of his actions, unless he can throw everyone off the track. When the world catches on to the abuser, his power begins to melt away. So we are going to travel behind the abuser’s mask to the heart of his problem. This journey is critical to the health and healing of abused women and their children, for once you grasp how your partner’s mind works, you can begin reclaiming control of your own life. Unmasking the abuser also does him a favor, because he will not confront — and overcome — his highly destructive problem as long as he can remain hidden.”

Some good points the author makes about abuse, based on years of working with abusers are:

“Abuse grows from attitudes and values, not feelings. The roots are ownership, the trunk is entitlement, and the branches are control.

“Abuse and respect are opposites. Abusers cannot change unless they overcome their core of disrespect toward their partners.

“Abusers are far more conscious of what they are doing than they appear to be. However, even their less-conscious behaviors are driven by their core attitudes.

“Abusers are unwilling to be nonabusive, not unable. They do not want to give up power and control.

“You are not crazy. Trust your perceptions of how your abusive partner treats you and thinks about you.”

Here are some good points from the chapter on how abuse begins:

“You do not cause your partner’s slide into abusiveness, and you cannot stop it by figuring out what is bothering him or by increasing your ability to meet his needs. Emotional upset and unmet needs have little to do with abusiveness.

“Certain behaviors and attitudes are definitional of abuse, such as ridiculing your complaints of mistreatment, physically intimidating you, or sexually assaulting you. If any of these is present, abuse has begun.

“Abused women aren’t ‘codependent.’ It is abusers, not their partners, who create abusive relationships.”

Then he talks about how abuse looks in everyday lives. These are some of the points:

“For the most part, an abusive man uses verbally aggressive tactics in an argument to discredit your statements and silence you. In short, he wants to avoid having to deal seriously with your perspective in the conflict.

“Arguments that seem to spin out of control ‘for no reason’ actually are usually being used by the abusive man to achieve certain goals, although he may not always be conscious of his own motives. His actions and statements make far more sense than they appear to.”

“Be cautious, and seek out assistance. You don’t deserve to live like this, and you don’t have to. Try to block his words out of your mind and believe in yourself. You can do it.”

In the chapter toward the end on abusers who change, the author advises:

“You cannot, I am sorry to say, get an abuser to work on himself by pleading, soothing, gently leading, getting friends to persuade him, or using any other nonconfrontational method. I have watched hundreds of women attempt such an approach without success. The way you can help him change is to demand that he do so, and settle for nothing less….

“Those abusive men who make lasting changes are the ones who do so because they realize how badly they are hurting their partners and children — in other words, because they learn to care about what is good for others in the family and develop empathy, instead of caring only about themselves.”

There’s a lot more in this book. I like some of the advice to the abused woman toward the end:

“If you give yourself a long enough taste of life without being cut down all the time, you may reach a point where you find yourself thinking, Go back to that? For what? Maybe I’ll never stop loving him, but at least I can love him from a distance where he can’t hurt me.

The only time an abusive man will deal with his issues enough to become someone you can live with is when you prove to him, and to yourself, that you are capable of living without him. And once you succeed in doing so, you may very well decide that living without him is what you would rather do. Keep an open mind, and make sure you are not clipping your own wings on top of the clipping that he has given them.”

Can you tell that I’m trying to cram all the good advice and important information into this review? There are many common myths about abusive situations in our culture, and this book cuts through the mythology and shows you the truth. If you suspect you might be in an abusive relationship, or if you have a friend or relative in an abusive relationship, I highly recommend reading this book.

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Review of He’s Just No Good for You, by Beth Wilson

He’s Just No Good for You

A Guide to Getting Out of a Destructive Relationship

by Beth Wilson
with Mo Therese Hannah, Ph.D.

GPP Life (Globe Pequot Press), Guilford, Connecticut, 2009. 271 pages.

“Destructive relationships make women small. They eclipse the vitality and expansiveness of our spirit, reducing the parameters of our world. They make us feel unworthy and ‘less-than,’ eventually leading to a hunger in our soul as we inhabit a relationship that doesn’t nourish us. Instead of being as luminous and full as the feminine moon, we become too constricted to bring forth our light — and may no longer feel the right to shine.”

So begins Beth Wilson’s book, designed to help women face unpleasant realities. First, she discusses the dynamics of a destructive relationship. They are hard to spot when you are in the middle of one, because we don’t want to admit what’s happening. She asks some questions that will help you evaluate if this applies to you.

She doesn’t focus on obvious abuse, physical abuse and threats of violence:

“This book is about the more subtle behaviors that, unchecked, systematically disintegrate a woman’s vitality and self-confidence. Verbal abuse coupled with cruel behaviors are the main culprits we’re focusing on.

“Verbal abuse is tricky. Unless it’s blatant — threatening physical assault or direct character assassination — it can be more likened to a razor blade than a machete. In the hands of an extremely skilled man, it can be a scalpel of control, with each incision creating a small but significant wound that must be perpetually mended in order for a woman to remain intact. And because these people want to avoid being labeled ‘abusive’ — and many of them have convinced themselves that they are not — their first line of offense is to undermine, manipulate, confuse, invalidate, and dismantle a woman’s sense of self, and her self-confidence. This they do very well. The more easily you can spot words and actions that undermine and invalidate you, the better off you’ll be. This book will help you understand his maneuvers and sleight-of-hand tactics so you can make better sense of a crazy-making situation — and see things for how they really are. It will help you learn how to differentiate between thoughtless words and actions and those devised to undo you.”

After analyzing destructive relationships in their various forms, Beth Wilson helps you decide whether to stay or go, and if you go, helps you to plan when and how. Then she gives you advice for recovering and going on to live a better-than-normal life.

I could relate to the fantasies she described in the chapter on why people stay.

“When it comes to destructive relationships, love is not enough. It can’t fix our problems and it can’t fix our problem person. But why should we let that stop us? We try to love harder, to be kinder, to be more understanding and more patient, often bending ourselves into elaborate contortions to take up the slack and, hopefully, achieve a more harmonious relationship. Unfortunately, all the qualities that define love prove to be futile instruments for change. More often than not, they simply add to our stress and make us more anxious to please in an effort to demonstrate our undying devotion. We overcompensate. Meanwhile, he keeps on doing what he’s doing.

“The truth is, none of us can force another person to change, not even if our intentions are noble. And though love can transform, when it comes to toxic men we can’t love them strong enough or hard enough. We can’t heal them and make them into someone better. We can’t fill the holes in their heart and the pain of their childhood. Recommitting ourselves daily to be a better wife — or a better girlfriend — hoping to fill in the gaps so all will be well is simply unrealistic and, sadly, an exercise in futility.”

Here’s a book to help women face reality so they can make better decisions about how to act. This is a life-affirming book.

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Review of I Do Again, by Cheryl & Jeff Scruggs

I Do Again

How We Found a Second Chance at Our Marriage — and You Can Too

by Cheryl & Jeff Scruggs

Waterbrook Press, 2008. 193 pages.
Starred Review

This book tells the story of a marriage that seemed hopelessly broken. Cheryl had an affair and divorced Jeff. But by a miracle of God, their marriage was restored seven years later, better than ever before.

The authors put it this way:

“This book is about the end of a marriage — about betrayal, disappointment, anger, and wrestling with God. But it’s also about how we found a new definition of happily ever after.

The book is intended as a message of hope, that God can do amazing things, and heal seemingly impossible breaches.

The authors now counsel married couples having difficulties, and I found their words encouraging. They say,

“We want people to be healed, and we want marriages to be healed. That’s what we pray for all the time. But we don’t know God’s plans for every couple. Our experience has taught us that God can redeem anything, so we never give up on anyone. But regardless of which direction they go, we let them know that we love them and support them and that God loves them no matter what. If you are in this circumstance, we’d advise you to keep yourself and your children safe, diligently seek the Lord through prayer and Scripture study, obtain godly counsel, and do your best to follow God’s leading based on your understanding of him. Never forget that God loves you and he will never withhold his love even if you make a mistake.”

It’s so nice to hear this kind of story, for a change.

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Review of The Marriage Benefit, by Mark O’Connell, PhD

marriage_benefitThe Marriage Benefit

The Surprising Rewards of Staying Together

by Mark O’Connell, PhD

Springboard Press, New York, 2008. 214 pages.
Starred review.

Recently, a friend said, “Don’t you love it when science catches up with the Bible?” I was rather amused by the word “Surprising” in the title of this book, just as I was with the word “Unexpected” in the title of the book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, by Judith Wallerstein, which presented a study that showed — surprise, surprise — that divorce isn’t good for kids.

Our culture floods us with the message that divorce is a happy solution to marital difficulties. This book attempts to present answers to the question, “Why stay married?” using research and the author’s own counseling experience. He finds that, in fact, long-term marriage can have many benefits for those willing to invest themselves into it.

Why should I, a woman going through divorce, read this book? Well, I do think that God is asking me to wait and pray for restoration, and I definitely have moments when I think that’s insane. This book helped remind me of why a healed marriage could, in fact, be a good thing, and is still something worth praying for. It was an encouraging reminder of how marriage can be. I especially liked his words about the power of forgiveness and how good and transformative it is for the person doing the forgiving.

I do highly recommend this book for married couples, especially those approaching midlife. The author has plenty of wise insights as to how to stay married, as well as pointing out why it’s worth it.

The author’s own words tell you what to expect:

“This is a book about marriage, but it’s not the kind of ‘how to make your marriage better’ book that we have come to expect. This is a book about how stretching the boundaries of what we imagine to be possible can turn our intimate relationships into remarkable oppportunities for growth and change. This is a book about how our relationships can make us better.

“And this is also a book that offers a radical and contemporary answer to an age-old question. Why stay married? Because our long-term relationships can, at their best, help us to navigate the maddeningly relentless passage of time. They can teach us how to find purpose and meaning even in the face of life’s most immovable limits, making growing older an expanding, rather than a diminishing, experience. . . .

“In the pages that follow, I will argue that our long-term intimate relationships can help us to grow up, or, to put it another way, they can help us to live fully and creatively even as our private hopes and expectations meet the immutable realities that come with our advancing years. Even better, they can help us with core midlife challenges while bringing us joy, allowing us moments of unexpected laughter and lightness, and helping us to become our best selves.”

A major theme of this book is personal growth and that a long-term relationship can be a wonderful help toward that goal.

“This book is organized around two simple principles:

“First, if we are to get better as we grow older we will need to find growth and meaning through the very hardships and limitations that we often seek to avoid and deny.

“Second, more than any other means available to us, our long-term intimate relationships can help us with this critical life task. By opening ourselves to intimately knowing, and intimately being known by, someone different and separate from ourselves, we can uncover the world of untapped possibility that lies unexplored within our own selves.

“By now it is probably obvious that we’re not talking about a quick fix. If our relationships are to be all that they can be, if they are to become opportunities for meaningful change and growth, we will need to give them time. And in this age of fast and easy gratification giving things time is becoming a lost art.

“This is particularly true when it comes to love.”

Mark O’Connell gives the central take-home message of this book to be:

“We have the power to change ourselves, often in surprising and important ways. And we change best when we allow ourselves to be changed by someone to whom we are very close.”

I found this to be an uplifting and encouraging message, and one I’m excited to tell other people about.

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Review of The Forgiving Self, by Robert Karen, PhD

forgiving_selfThe Forgiving Self

The Road from Resentment to Connection

by Robert Karen, PhD

Doubleday, New York, 2001. 288 pages.

Even quite a few years into the divorce process myself, I still feel that anyone going through a divorce can benefit from thinking about forgiveness, if only for your own sanity!

I’ve read quite a few books on forgiveness. This one by Robert Karen took a more academic approach, a psychological approach, to the subject. I especially liked the way he explored many different aspects of forgiveness, including our natural tendency not to forgive.

I read the book slowly, and it gave me plenty of food for thought. I maintain that thinking about forgiveness can’t help but be a good thing.

Robert Karen says,

“When I first turned my attention to forgiveness, it seemed a worthwhile, if unexciting, topic. But as I immersed myself, I realized that forgiveness is as fundamental and important as any topic in psychology. There are few places it can’t take you. It embraces the meaning of love and hate, the nature of dependency, the torments of envy, the problems of narcissism and paranoia, as well as the tension between self-hatred and self-acceptance, between striving for maturity and refusing to grow up. . . .

“In our capacity or failure to forgive we reveal our ability to recognize the humanity in someone who has hurt or disappointed us, as well as to see our own limitations and complicity. It represents an ability to imagine what life is like on the other side of the fence, where another human being is engaged in his own struggle, to let go of the expectation that people exist to be just what we need them to be. And this sensibility applies to our view of ourselves, too: for forgiving others is nothing but the mirror image of forgiving oneself. Significant acts of forgiveness also entail letting go of a precious story we tell about ourselves, risking the awareness of a larger, less self-justifying truth.

“What we do in the realm of forgiveness . . . speaks to the magnitude of our self-centeredness and the extent to which we organize the world into a simple pattern of good versus bad, as opposed to a more mature ability to tolerate ambiguity and ambivalence. In the capacity to forgive we see our largeness of heart. And, in struggling to forgive what is most difficult for us to forgive, we reveal our courage, imagination, and potential for growth. The development of forgiveness is, I now think, as clear a marker of general psychological development as there is.”

I found myself posting several quotations from this book on Sonderquotes. I recommend this book for some deep thinking about all that forgiveness means in our lives.

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Review of The New Codependency, by Melody Beattie

new_codependencyThe New Codependency

Help and Guidance for Today’s Generation,

by Melody Beattie

Simon & Schuster, New York, 2009. 270 pages.
Starred review.

Those who have been blessed by Melody Beattie’s earlier books, particularly Codependent No More and Beyond Codependency, will be excited to hear that she has written a new book about codependency, called The New Codependency.

Her first book, Codependent No More, is the one that made the term “codependent” a standard part of recovery vocabulary, but she wrote that more than twenty years ago.

She says,

“I’m writing this book to clarify confusion, discuss new information, write about how codependency has mutated, address new support options, and remind us about what we’ve learned.

“Although I’ve changed significantly since writing Codependent No More, I still step in codependent puddles. I might get hooked into someone’s stuff, let their problems control me, over-engage, or start reacting instead of taking right action. I’ll let family conditioning affect me, neglect to set boundaries, or shut down emotionally. There are times I have to slam on the brakes, STOP, and remember to take care of myself. I don’t sink in the quicksand of life like I used to, but sometimes I revert to survival mode. That’s yesterday’s news.

“I don’t call that relapsing. Caring about people we love, feeling victimized when we’re betrayed, giving our all to people we love, or wanting to control people because we’re watching them destroy themselves and hurt us doesn’t mean we’re sick. These are natural reactions. Codependency is about normal behaviors taken too far. It’s about crossing lines.”

All in all, you can think of this as a book about healthy relationships, about setting boundaries, and about remembering to care for ourselves and let other people live their own lives. There are quizzes to help you examine your own issues and emotions, and there are many suggested activities to help you put these ideas into practice.

As with all of Melody Beattie’s books, this one is uplifting and encouraging. She concludes,

“Learn to love and take care of yourself. You’ll learn to love others better. Being healthy doesn’t mean being so tough we don’t care, or so hard-hearted nobody can hurt us again. The path we’re on might start with not giving so much or so compulsively but living and loving with an open heart — even when that means paying the price of saying goodbye too soon — is where this journey leads. Don’t stop until you’re there.”

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Review of I Need Your Love — Is That True? by Byron Katie

I Need Your Love — Is That True?
How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them Instead,

by Byron Katie
written with Michael Katz

Harmony Books, New York, 2005. 254 pages.
Starred Review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #5 Other Nonfiction

“Everyone agrees that love is wonderful, except when it’s terrible. People spend their whole lives tantalized by love — seeking it, trying to hold on to it, or trying to get over it. Not far behind love, as major preoccupations, come approval and appreciation. From childhood on, most people spend much of their energy in a relentless pursuit of these things, trying out different methods to be noticed, to please, to impress, and to win other people’s love, thinking that’s just the way life is. This effort can become so constant and unquestioned that we barely notice it anymore.

“This book takes a close look at what works and what doesn’t in the quest for love and approval. It will help you find a way to be happier in love and more effective in all your relationships without being manipulative or deceptive in any way. What you learn here will bring fulfillment to all kinds of relationships, including romantic love, dating, marriage, raising children, work, and friendship.”

One thing I like about Byron Katie’s books is that she does not tell you what to think. Instead, she has you examine your own thoughts and ask yourself:

Is it true?

Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

How do you react when you believe that thought?

Who would you be without that thought?

When it comes to needing people, she says,

“How do you know when you don’t need people? When they’re not in your life. How do you know when you do need them? When they are in your life. You can’t control the comings and goings of the people you care for. What you can do is have a good life whether they come or go. You can invite them, and they come or not, and whatever the result is, that’s what you need. Reality is the proof of it.”

Katie believes that whatever happens is good. As a Christian, I believe that God works all things together for good in my life. So maybe I’m coming from a different reason, but the result is the same: If something has happened, I know that God can bring good into my life through that.

Stressful thoughts so often involve believing that something that happened to me should not have happened, for example: “My husband should not have left me.” “My son should be more respectful.” “He is not treating me fairly.” “She is interfering in my life.”

Katie talks about “noticing and counting the beautiful reasons unexpected things happen for us.” If you look for the ways life events benefit you, you will be a much happier person. (“Who will I be without that stressful thought?”)

“Many people’s lives are constantly punctuated with little fits or tantrums in which they express their rejection of what’s happening….

“The more you stick to the belief that you’re in control, the more of these moments there are in your life. Some people reach a point where they’re fighting reality at every step along the way. That’s how they react to the thought ‘I’m calling the shots’ when no one seems to be listening. It’s a war zone in their minds.

“The alternative is to expect reality not to follow your plan. You realize that you have no ideas what’s going to happen next. That way, you’re pleasantly surprised when things seem to be going your way, and you’re pleasantly surprised when they don’t. In the second case, you may not have seen what the new possibilities are yet, but life quickly reveals them, and the old plans don’t stop you from moving ahead, from flowing efficiently into the life beyond your schemes and expectations.”

This book focuses on love, approval, and relationships. Katie asks some excellent questions over the course of the book:

“How do you react when you believe the thought that you can find love and approval by making yourself more likable?”

“When you say ‘Thank you,’ are you handing someone a token, or are you expressing real gratitude?”

“What would it be like to live your truth without excusing, defending, explaining, or justifying your thoughts or actions to others?”

“Who would you be without the thought that you need to seek approval?”

“Who would you be without the thought that your happiness depends on someone else?”

“If you love me, you’ll do what I want — Is it true?”

I like her commentary on that last question:

“Horses grazing in a field unthinkingly stand head to tail, flicking the flies from each other’s faces. At night, they sleep standing up, resting their heads on each other’s shoulders. This is what peaceful reciprocation looks like. But ‘civilized’ people have learned how to use reciprocation to torture each other. All it takes is the belief that if I do something for you, you owe me something in return. If I give you my love, you’d better give me yours, or something of equal value.

“What happens if you don’t reciprocate? I take back my love and approval, and I give you resentment instead. The rules of each relationship dictate all the things you have to do or not do to avoid resentment. These rules aren’t written down or even spoken. You find out what they are by breaking them. When you see that I’m angry, you know that you’ve broken a rule. You did something you shouldn’t have, you came home too late or too early, you forgot to do or say something. Perhaps you should ask what you did wrong, but watch out: One of the rules may be that you’re supposed to know without asking.

“And of course, you find out about your rules for my behavior using the same method. How do you know when I broke a rule? When you get angry at me.

In any case, if you do your best to figure out all the rules and obey them, do you get my love? No. You get to tiptoe around me, so that you can minimize my anger and continue the relationship. Love seems to have disappeared. Where did it go? You can find out by questioning the thought, ‘If you love me, you’ll do what I want.'”

Reading Byron Katie’s books help me to grow in contentment, gratitude, peace and joy. They help me let go of thoughts that keep me from those things. It’s very easy to see the good in that!

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Review of Verbal Abuse Survivors Speak Out, by Patricia Evans


Verbal Abuse Survivors Speak Out

On Relationship and Recovery

by Patricia Evans

Bob Adams Publishers, Holbrook, Massachusetts, 1993.  260 pages.

I have now read all of Patricia Evans’ books on verbally abusive relationships.  All are very helpful for shedding light on a problem that’s surprisingly hard to recognize when you’re in the middle of it.

In Verbal Abuse Survivors Speak Out, Patricia Evans takes from the thousands of letters she has received from verbal abuse survivors after she wrote the book The Verbally Abusive Relationship.  She writes:

“I receive between one hundred and two hundred letters and notes a month from the survivors of verbally abusive relationships.  I read every single one.  Some survivors had been so devalued and undermined that they have even requested permission to send their thoughts and feelings on the subject.  Some letters are more than twenty pages long.  As I read these letters, I am often overwhelmed by the suffering they express.  Never would I have dreamt that there were so many, in so much pain, so silently enduring.  I am moved by the spirit of their quest for understanding and freedom from abuse and I am grateful and touched that they have taken their time to tell me their stories.  Often they do so, as they say, ‘. . . in case it may help someone else.'”

Anyone who has been or is in a verbally abusive relationship can read this book to know they are not alone.  Patricia Evans also uses the letters of verbal abuse survivors in order to illuminate and understand the problem.

If you are being devalued, undermined, accused, or defined, you are being verbally abused.  If your partner tries to tell you what your motives and thoughts are, you are being verbally abused.  The problem is real, and the problem is widespread.  And Patricia Evans’ books are helpful for survivors to understand how best to deal with the abuse.

Besides talking about the abuse and ways to deal with it, she also covers healing, recovery, and support, including a chapter of affirmations to build back up your spirit.

I like her concluding paragraph:

“We have been on a long journey with the Survivors.  They have spoken their truth with strength and determination, and in so doing they have given us a vision of freedom.  And even now, as this book ends, a new journey begins.  This journey is a movement toward awareness, meaning, and purpose; it is founded upon the infinite value of the human spirit.  To join in this journey, all we must do is speak our truth with courage and strength.  Truth is what dispels the prejudice, shatters the illusions, and breaks the bonds of verbal abuse.”

This echoes the Bible verse, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  Amen.

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Review of The Verbally Abusive Relationship, by Patricia Evans


The Verbally Abusive Relationship

How to Recognize It and How to Respond

by Patricia Evans

Adams Media Corporation, Second Edition, 1996.  218 pages.

This book is the Patricia Evans book originally recommended to me by a friend.  This was the first one she wrote, shedding light on the problem of verbal abuse.  The other books expand on the ideas presented here.  I highly recommend all of the books.

Verbal abuse is a crazy-making situation.  The author explains how the verbally abusive person and his partner are coming from two completely different realities.

“Because of his need for dominance and his unwillingness to accept his partner as an equal, the verbal abuser is compelled to negate the perceptions, experiences, values, accomplishments and plans of his partner.  Consequently, the partner may not even know what it is like to feel supported and validated in her relationship.  She may take his negation as a lack of common interest or as a misunderstanding.  In truth, a verbally abusive relationship is a more or less constant invalidation of the partner’s reality.”

The author elaborates:

“The fact that she can’t come to an understanding with her mate simply because he is abusive and will defeat her through abusive power plays is almost incomprehensible to the partner.  Not coming to this realization, however, leaves the partner living in an incomprehensible reality where she is blamed for the battering of her own spirit.”

Being blamed for the battering of her own spirit is the line that resonated with me.  As if it’s not bad enough to be told that one is a terrible person, reality is twisted so that if she protests, now she’s told she’s someone who’s always fighting, a terrible, argumentative person.

Patricia Evans also explains why it’s so difficult to break out of such a situation:

“Extraordinary self-esteem is precisely what is required to recognize that her mate is in another reality — that he sees the world through the model of Power Over.

“Unfortunately, living with a verbal abuser increasingly undermines the partner’s self-esteem making recognition that much more difficult.  It takes tremendous self-esteem to validate one’s own reality when no one else seems to have done so.  Sometimes, just a book that describes it, or knowing that one person “out there” understands can make all the difference.”

Perhaps this is why I found this book so affirming, so life-changing.  She gives a name to the words that were making me feel terrible.  They are verbal abuse.  No wonder I feel bad.

“Verbal abuse:  Words that attack or injure, that cause one to believe the false, or that speak falsely of one.”

Often this takes the form of rewriting history, such as picking lots of fights and then saying that the partner is so argumentative, no one could live with her.

Patricia Evans also discusses at length how to respond to verbal abuse.  She compassionately warns you that it is difficult and encourages you that you have taken a big step in simply being able to recognize abuse.  She affirms that abuse is irrational, and it is not your fault.

I like this encouragement:

“Don’t ever delude yourself into thinking that you should have the ability to stay serene no matter how you are treated.  Your serenity comes from the knowledge that you have a fundamental right to a nurturing environment and a fundamental right to affirm your boundaries.”

In a divorce, the primary form verbal abuse takes is accusing and blaming.  The author has some good words to say about responding to accusing and blaming:

“Don’t spend a second trying to explain that you weren’t doing what you were accused of doing or guilty of what you were blamed for.  Just say, ‘Stop it.’  Abusive statements are lies about you which are told to you.  They violate your boundaries.  The abuser in effect invades your mind, makes up a ‘story’ about your motives, and then tells it to you.  No human being has the right to do that to another.

“Generally, accusing and blaming involve lies about the partner’s intentions, attitudes, and motives.  They leave her feeling frustrated and misunderstood and, therefore, especially desirous of explaining herself.  If she does try to explain herself, the abuse is perpetuated.

“One more word about ‘explaining.’  If you are encountering abuse and feel that if you could explain things he’d understand, remember this:  If someone started throwing rocks through your windows, you would be more inclined to tell him to stop than you would be to explain to him why he shouldn’t throw rocks.  Verbal abuse is like a rock thrown through your window.”

She also talks about recovery.

“Recovery from verbal abuse is the opportunity to accept all your feelings and to recognize their validity.  You may be the first person to recognize and accept them and to know that they are not wrong.  They are, as we have said earlier, indicators that something is or was wrong in your environment, and it isn’t you.”

She includes a list of affirmations that support victims of verbal abuse, adapted from a list by Jennifer Baker Fleming.  I like the list so much, I’m going to include them all here:

I can trust my own feelings and perceptions.

I am not to blame for being verbally abused.

I am not the cause of another’s irritation, anger, or rage.

I deserve freedom from mental anguish.

I can say no to what I do not like or want.

I do not have to take it.

I am an important human being.

I am a worthwhile person.

I deserve to be treated with respect.

I have power over my own life.

I can use my power to take good care of myself.

I can decide for myself what is best for me.

I can make changes in my life if I want to.

I am not alone; I can ask others to help me.

I am worth working for and changing for.

I deserve to make my own life safe and happy.

I can count on my creativity and resourcefulness.

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