on 16 October 2012
This book is revolutionary in its thinking but compassionate in its delivery. Meg Barker quietly suggests we consider another way of thinking about our relationships to avoid falling into life's "crab buckets".
As someone who when younger was quite ready to espouse some of the accepted relationship rules without question (the requirement to live happily ever after) it has gone a long way towards making me question whether that is really the only way to proceed.
Throughout the book she slowly and deliberately takes each aspect of relating and through asking questions and making simple suggestions supports our personal journey by opening up possible alternative view points and laying out possible next steps. There is no insistence that she is right in what she says, not even that there is a right. The reader is left with the feeling they are being treated like a grown up who is perfectly capable of coming to their own sensible conclusions.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in gaining a deeper and more considered understanding of how to `do' relationships, especially younger people who deserve an opportunity to find their own pathway through what is often very confusing and distressing terrain
on 17 February 2013
This is a phenomenal book, full of stimulation, encouragement and practical advice for those willing to question - and possibly to revise - the rules of relationships that they live by.
It's one of the best books I've ever read. On a par with Fromm's the Art of Loving, or Tolle's the Power of Now. Breath-taking and inspirational. Buy it, you won't regret it, even if it changes your life.
on 30 November 2012
Already familiar with the Rewriting the Rules website I eagerly awaited the launch of this book. Even though I've read every page I wouldn't say that I've finished reading. This is definitely a text that I'll return to time and again to dip in and out of according to which aspect of relationships I'm thinking about or grappling with at a particular time.
Admittedly, alarm bells rang when I found myself enthusiastically agreeing with pretty much everything Meg was saying. This was ironic since Meg clearly states that she is not the expert on my relationships, but that in fact I am - there are, after all, no universal rules so how could she tell a whole bunch of individual readers what to do in one book? I wondered if my deference was an automatic consequence of Meg being the author and me the reader. Are we just too used to imbuing authors with esteem and respect?
But then I realised that actually there had been ideas that did not appeal to me personally. However, since the overarching framework was anti-universalising I did not have to worry too much over relationship practices that I do/would endorse but others may dislike, and vice-versa. This was the beauty of Rewriting the Rules for me. I came away from it feeling `normal' not in spite of but because I was unique and therefore different in lots of ways (yet experiencing anxiety similarly) to everybody else.
If I could just live and let live (my words resulting from my interpretation), then how other people adopt rules could neither interfere with the rules for my relationships nor cause me to fear/judge other people's practices. Although live and let live sounds passive, it is in fact pro-active since it requires a commitment to engage with uncertainty rather than embracing a false `certainty' that there is one enduring best/normal way to do relationships. Even though uncertainty sounds scary, it's no scarier than supposedly knowing the `right' way but feeling like a failure for not being able to achieve something impossible.
Now, having said all of that, I still find myself drawn towards some of the less than helpful conventional rules. The book does cover the tension between self-responsibility and the pull of the wider society. I think I'd like to read more on why people allow themselves to be persuaded by or to enjoy ideas that they are also critical of and suffer from! And why some rules are easier to dismantle than others depending on the person.
All in all, however, a sensitively written text - Its main breakaway from self-help literature is that it does not position the reader as broken and in need of fixing by an author who is perfect and knows how to improve them. For this reason, instead of feeling even more inadequate by the end of the book, I felt `normal' - whatever the hell that is!
I've thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author exhudes compassion for the predicament that we all find ourselves in as human beings, seeking fulfilment and yet often seeing it slip through our fingers. She helpfully clarifies the often unspoken but powerful rules that dominate our expectations of self and others (I particularly like her exploration of these rules in the areas of sexual performance, sexual attraction and gender) and exposes how these can be really unhelpful - imposing unrealistic expectations that are imporssible to live up to, and which therefore lead to frustration and unhappiness.
The style is very accessible, and unlike other self-help books, it's not preachy. It is clearly written by someone with wide experience of working with people with relational difficulties. She combines philosophial and academic research with a very readable style. I think everyone could gain reassurance and help from this book and I'd recommend it to anyone who is struggling with self-esteem or with building a 'successful' relationship (however you'd define that!).
One thing to be aware of is that the author doesn't attempt to give us new rules. Rather, by exposing the rules that operate in our culture regarding relationships, she encourages us to consider whether they are really what we want, and if not, gives us gentle suggestions for creating more workable, compassionate 'guidelines' to live by. However, the invitation to step outside some of the culturally accepted norms is not always easy: it requires courage to do/be something different! I suspect that temeramentally, some will find this easier to do than others. But I really believe that everyone will benefit from reappraising values which may have become unhelpfully rigid and outdated and at least considering other options for 'how can I live my life in a more fulfilling way'.
Really helpful book! One to re-read and pass on to others...
on 25 July 2014
As Terry Pratchett's great sage Granny Weatherwax put it
'Sin young man, is when you treat people as things including yourself, that's what sin is.'
It's an unlikely reference to find in a book which appears from the outside to be a psychology text book, and yet that's just one of the 'spoonfuls of sugar' found in the book "Rewriting the Rules" written by Dr. Meg Barker, senior psychology lecturer and a founding member of BiUK (the same Meg Barker of recent 'Pink List' 2013 fame).
Yet in another way, it's only to be expected. Because the crux of her book is the comparison and juxtaposition of the current rules of gender, sexuality, love and attraction depicted in pop culture versus how they work in reality without society's imposition of what is viewed as 'normal' and acceptable. And normal - as we all know - means Sex And The City (with specific episodes and events highlighted to illustrate various case studies), Friends and plenty of Hollywood blockbusters thrown in (oh Mrs Doubtfire, how we love thee).
However those fizzingly light references are artfully mixed with some profound psychological insights, a dash of eastern philosophy and a few heavyweight quotes from Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre and Judith Butler. It's not just the big philosophers either...for those familiar with today's fish in polyamorous ponds, relationship scientist Bjarne Holmes, The Ethical Slut authors Eastern and Hardy, and More Than Two blogger Franklin Veaux also get a mention.
In fact the whole book is a dichotomous mixture of wisdom and self deprecating wit with serious clinical terms and sit-com humour. In this way it is far more palatable than other psychology text books. And yet it is still a reference book; because the uncomfortable truths which sit in it, need digesting more than once, and each chapter undermines many of our society's traditional rules (which with some expansion could have each been a book in themselves). Which means that it's no less valuable as a guidebook, but it IS a different kind of book. It does itself rewrite the rules of what we might expect from books. A single book dismantling self, and gender, and attraction, and monogamy, and love, and conflict, and break-up and commitment? Make no mistake, for the uninitiated this is not a cover to cover read; moreover unless you've been exposed to some non-normative thinking in the past, you may not even make it all the way through quite simply because it will challenge too many ideas at once.
And yet since the principle takeaway from this book
'is that clinging to the common rules too rigidly, often paradoxically, ends up with us being less likely to get what we were aiming for in the first place'
...the beauty in this book is that it may sit on your bookshelf for months and years before you dip into it again. And then only because in your misery over a 'failed' relationship you recall reading something about how break-ups can really be re-framed as positive change. Or perhaps having considered yourself heterosexual all your life a sudden surprising liaison with your same sex colleague will leave you guiltily bewildered until you check in with the 'sexuality and gender' chapter and read about how we all evolve, and change along a continuum for our entire lives.
Whilst I can truly say that if I had read this book during my youth (caged by my mind), I would have scorned it as a ludicrously over intellectualized and liberal piece of dangerous propaganda. But now in my 38th year I read it nodding along, unsurprised by its content and pleasantly comforted by some good analysis. In an ideal world I would have liked THIS book to introduce me to my medicinal philosophies that have been painfully swallowed through my own bitter (but enlightening!) experience because its language and style couch previously unacceptable truths in a respectable veneer of humble pedagogy. And had I read about those truths framed in the sugary language of Nick Hornby, Terry Pratchett and Frank Zappa the medicine would have gone down so much easier.
As it is, I hope that my recommendation of Meg's work helps others rewrite their rules more joyfully.
Review first published on Postmodernwoman.com
on 26 November 2014
I'll just say what would add to what other people have already said:
- This isn't a book about polyamory or open relationships, despite the 'also reads' that Amazon is displaying. It doesn't even promote these ideas. In fact, it's not even just a book about relationships, it's about life and different ways of thinking about it.
- Barker's writing style is so engaging and accepting that it makes you feel calm just to read it.
- Genuinely changed the whole way I think about pretty much everything in life.
- Not a criticism of the writer: It's a shame that the book's availability is so limited and the covers... urgh. It's hard to get people to read it who are reading things like 'the rules' because it looks academic and outdated, when it is actually anything but.
on 8 May 2013
In her book "Re-writing the Rules" Meg Barker provides a refreshing, highly thoughtful and compassionate work that she describes as an "anti-self-help book". For Barker the starting point in developing more healthy relationships comes not via seconding guessing the manoeuvres of the desired "other", rather it comes via a relationship with self in all its complexity. Self is presented as both an on-going process of change and also as a plurality of differing aspects that dialogue with each other. Barker's insights are offered in spirit of openness and wondering-an attempt to explore the right questions rather than providing pat answers.
Part of the helpfulness of this work lies in the way in which the author focuses in on the nature of human relationships and current dominance of discourses around romantic intimacy. Barker skilfully weaves in both contemporary cultural references and philosophical acumen in critiquing the centrality of both heterosexuality and genitally focused intimacy. We are invited to move from a position of certainty and polarity, to one in which we seek to cultivate sensitivity to nuances and subtlety. Sexual minorities are not exempted from the danger of losing touch with our desires; the demands of identity politics often asking for a degree of labelling and certainty that some may feel less than comfortable about.
The structure of each chapter begins with a thoughtful reflection on the issues under consideration e.g. the rules of attraction, the rules of gender and then moves on to an exploration of the current set of beliefs that many of us find ourselves operating under e.g. "Relationships should be sexually and emotionally monogamous." Barker then gently begins a process of questioning and deconstruction that ask us to re-evaluate. Meg's own background in mindfulness practice and existential psychotherapy seem very evident during this process given the acute sense of awareness she displays and the degree of compassion towards self and others that runs throughout.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of this book is the depth of its meditation on the nature of friendship. The chapters on the nature of love and commitment rightly question the qualitative distinction that we make between how we relate to "Friends" and "Lovers". How might our relationships improve if we let go of the assumptions we make and unrealistic expectations that we often demand of those we have sex with?
Given the centrality of existential psychology within the book, themes regarding endings, loss and transition are thoughtfully and thoroughly addressed. Barker is highly aware that in times of pain we may naturally seek to retreat and defend ourselves, with this in mind she provides many helpful exercises and strategies with a view to developing greater presence, flexibility and compassion. As with the other discussions in the book, the aim of such work is not to prescribe a new "hipper", queerer orthodoxy, rather it seeks to explore how we might experience a greater sense of freedom, both for ourselves and those to whom we are connected.
I highly recommend this work to anyone interested in a philosophically and spiritually engaging examination in how we challenge and re-write the stories that we have inherited about how we "do" intimacy. Meg Barker has managed to produce a book that is at once contemporary, engaging and entertaining, while at the same time providing depth and vivid insight.
on 31 January 2013
Has there ever been a time when it was harder to believe in a relationship that will grow with you and last the long haul? A time when who and what we want as a partner seemed less clear? Or a time when the pressures to conform to some glamourised ideal and for the partner we choose to do so too, has been greater?
These are questions that have enormous resonance in today's climate of "great uncertainty" about relationships says Meg Barker, senior lecturer in psychology at the Open University and a therapist specialising in sexual and relationship therapy. She addresses them in an original and challenging way in what she describes as an anti-self-help book "Rewriting The Rules".
Barker's contention is that we are led to believe there are rules that we abide by or else our relationships won't work. We are assailed with a ceaseless outpouring of guidance, strictures, morality often proposing confusing and contradictory rules about what relationships should be.
Which adds up to uncertainty in an area of life with the highest risk of pain and distress although there is that ever present message that if you get it right transcendental happiness could be yours.
The pages of glossy magazines newspapers, TV, promote ubiquitous images of what a happy relationship looks like.
Most often this plethora of guidance and imagery relates to a traditional, heterosexual, monogamous style of relationship and we see ourselves as successes or failures depending on whether we make this rule-bound way of relating work.
In doing this we deny the possibility that a relationship which allows for same sex relationships, relationships where monogamy is not the bottom line, where we might.
want a different way of allotting roles to different genders, can be as happy as the traditional Oxo family. Or happier, indeed, given that nearly fifty percent of marriages based on the 'til death us do part pledge, hit the skids. And on average after just eleven years.
Barker, in this intelligent, provocative book, asks us to consider the rule most of us buy into, that we must have a 'self' that matches the popular notions of desirable qualities, attractiveness and so on that make us loveable. If we fail to match up to the rules governing this demand, then how can we expect to be loved?
Likewise Barker with her humane intelligent approach takes us through the pressures and orthodoxies that ring fence what is good and bad, right and wrong regarding sex, gender,monogamy, conflict,commitment and suggests how we may re-think what are so often ingrained and unchallenged beliefs. Beliefs that make us strive to love by rules that may diminish rather than increase the chance of us having sustained, nourishing relationships.
This is a fascinating book, rich in research and reasoning, valuable in guiding us towards tolerating and even embracing uncertainty . Underpinning this, urges Barker, should be gentleness towards ourselves, our imperfections and fears.
The wonderful poet May Sarton declared on her eightieth birthday: "I am more myself than ever". And if we can learn from this timely book to take charge of creating relationships that area actually as we want, and learn from our own miscalculations, we may well be able to achieve that happy declaration far earlier in life.
on 8 January 2015
This is an excellent book. Other reviews have gone into it's many good qualities extensively, so I just want to emphasise that it is easy to read, yet carefully constructed to lead you to think differently about love, sex, and relationships.
on 22 May 2013
Meg Barker's book is a comprehensive guide that makes you think and realise how we limit our thinking when it comes to relationships. It's not a rule book that tries to make you fit into someone else's template, but a compassionate exploration of who you really are and how you would be happiest relating to others. There is no judgement, just total acceptance of how varied we all are and what makes each individual happy. Since I've read it, I have been recommending it to both clients and fellow psychotherapists. This is a must read.
Ronete Cohen, psychologist/psychotherapist