Monday, 22 April 2013

A Book Review: Let's Stick Together: The Relationship Book for New Parents by Harry Benson

In short - 7 out of 10 - Definitely worth a read. Concise reminders to help rejuvenate your relationship - a definite read for all men and also useful for women.

I should first perhaps say that this isn't an overtly Christian approach to marriage and relationships, such as the Love Dare manual, so if that's what you are looking for, you may be surprised. Let's Stick Together is instead a simple and effective set of ideas to implement that are presented in a non-religious way, and can be used by people of faith or without faith; Jesus never explicitly comes into it. Used in a variety of settings, including the government's Surestart family initiaitve in the UK, the book in theory could be described as a 'secular' approach to relationships - it can be applied across the board without offending non-worshippers.

For those who are keen to have a Christian tenet behind the way they conduct their marriage, however, the book does place an emphasis on marriage (compared to cohabitation) and, although it's been couched in non-religious language and concepts, the thinking behind the book, and the author's own family life, clearly revealed itself to me as Christian within the text because I knew what to recognise. Its more subtle, faith-filled approach may alienate those who want a stronger, clearer Christian message (or indeed those who are seeking a patriarchal relationship, which is quite clearly not advocated here); but one of the things I liked about the book was that it can be used by all and sundry to apply principles that strengthen their relationships.

Let’s Stick Together covers many aspects of life as a couple, including a chapter on the things we could avoid (Bad Habits) and one on the things we could take on to improve things (Good Habits). Chapter 5, ‘Things they Don’t Teach You in Antenatal Class’, encourages the reader to think about how feel about concepts such as commitment  and family, and how this impacts on our relationships. The book's subtitle 'The Relationship Book for New Parents' is, to be honest, a bit of a misnomer. Yes, this book would come in handy adjusting to life as a couple with a newborn. It contains plenty of suggestions as to how to work better as a couple; how to understand each other better; how to treat each other better, even in the difficult times. Yet it's clear from reading the text that these methods aren't merely useful in those early, new days of parenthood - they can be applied at any point within a marriage, whether there are young children in the family unit, older children or no children.

Straightforward, simple ways to improve behaviours and communication in a marriage make this book a useful read wherever you are in life's journey, so if you don't have a newborn or one on the way, don't let that put you off this book. Similarly, your relationship doesn't have to be at a 'crevasse moment' as Benson terms it (AKA a long-term crisis point). For example I don't think my husband and I would identify that we're experiencing one of those right now, even though with a fourth child having arrived we're time- and energy-poor, but reading the book at this time in our lives still benefits us and reminds us how to behave!

If you're familiar with the concepts behind relationship counselling - such as love languages, sacrifice, knowing when to keep your mouth shut and thinking about the marriage you want to have, for example - it's possible there won't be many new ideas in this book. For the first half of it, I found myself recognising its contents as things I knew already and was bemoaning the lack of practical examples, when I knew most of the theory. I'd now argue, however, as the book goes on to highlight, that if you're in a period where it's hard to implement the strategies recommended here, forward planning and remembering what you should be doing and setting targets to implement this when you're not exploding with tiredness at every juncture, still remains extraordinary helpful, so keep a copy of this on the bookshelf to dip in and out of over time.

Another aspect I found interesting was the focus on the male narrator, who drew widely on his experiences a a man, father and husband to address the problems that can take place within relationships and recommend ways of remedying them. I didn't find this offputting at all – in fact it was quite refreshing that here was a man embracing the concept of sacrifice and putting his wife and family first, speaking with humility about his failures and how to improve. What I would say, however, is that having this voice, the book is likely to work well with men, who can identify with the author and take on board his ideas. This is not to say that women would not find it useful, but if you are looking for a book that would particularly suit husbands and fathers, this could be it.

The book does fail on a couple of levels, but only at the expense of firming up its strengths. Those well versed in psychology may well find its basic approach too simplistic, for example. Others, like myself, may seek more practical solutions to stop ourselves doing all the things we shouldn’t, when we know we shouldn’t – rather than putting the solutions out there and expecting us to adapt to them over time. But they are probably the domain of a different book entirely – and I expect Benson would argue that by spending time together, and starting to implement just  a few of the things he suggests, the crevasse point can be successfully circumnavigated.

The book also contains useful commentary on the role of men as leaders in today’s society/families, good ideas for families to strengthen their own traditions over time, encouragement to think about the love languages of any children we might have, AND contains a question & answer chapter at the end that couples can work through separately or together to gain increased insight into their own behaviours and how these feed into life as a couple.

In summary – simple, straightforward, and likely to be beneficial to most couples, I would recommend this as a read at any stage along life’s journey.

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