Anjula Mutanda, (2013). How to do Relationships: A step-by-step guide to nurturing your relationship and making love last, Vermilion, London.
‘When relationships are going well we feel good about ourselves, connected and supported, but when things are going badly we can feel dissatisfied, anxious and sometimes very lonely. Clearly, feeling loved is very important to us.’ (page 1).
This book is full of valuable information and tips about relationships; it is clearly written and easy to understand; it is a book that I wanted to read from cover to cover but it is also something I could imagine keeping and dipping into at specific times when it would prove helpful again and again. It is refreshingly full of common sense and wisdom AND it is the accumulation of many years of study, experience, insights and intuition from a very experienced therapist with a deep level of sensitivity, compassion and understanding about human nature and how relationships work. This book is an invaluable resource for all ages and every type of relationship.
Anjula begins by assisting us to develop an awareness of who we are before considering what kind of relationship we want. There are many questions, exercises and thought provoking case studies that enable us to discover more about ourselves and our partners. This is a book that shows rather than tells us how relationships can be improved, enlivened and enjoyed but it does it by giving us the power to do it for ourselves with the use of tips, questions and authentic and relevant case studies.
‘Getting to know yourself better is the cornerstone of a happy and positive relationship with another person, and that means having a healthy level of self-awareness.’ (page 11).
It is important that this book normalises and accepts the layers of difficulty that can occur in any relationship:
‘Recycling feelings from your past happens in relationships; it’s a by-product of living with another human being. What this means is that you may sometimes unconsciously redirect feelings from an influential person in your past – like a parental figure – to your present-day partner. You bring to the table significant others who have influenced your beliefs and you will bring a wide range of internalised emotions about yourself, relationships and the world in general…We do this whether or not our experiences were great or dreadful. Becoming aware of this process is key to working through problems.’ (page 35).
I remember the film, The Story of Us, with Bruce Willis and Diane Keaton playing the parts of a couple going through a divorce. There was one fantasy scene where they were filmed talking to each other in bed, with each set of parents in the bed with them; it was chaos with everyone talking at once! It was funny but also poignant and a great truth about what happens in terms of the role models and luggage that we take into our relationships with us. Often, we hear our parent’s voice emanating from our partners instead of what our partners are actually saying, both positively and negatively. That’s how things can become more confusing and complicated than they have to be and this book helps to explain and build an awareness of that process. I believe this book has a relevance to other important relationships as well, with friends, family members, colleagues and even our relationship with work, study or our creativity.
Anjula leads us, step by step, through our most intimate relationships from the early days, through decisions to move in together; commitment, marriage or not; starting a family and coping with blended families, which I think is a really positive term for the many different realities of modern day family life. There are interesting highlighted paragraphs with up to date research and genuinely helpful information and tips that give us short cuts to assess what is going on. The book moves on to question how we survive crisis and learn to manage the ‘Bumps in the Road’ and ends with a sensitive, practical and poignant look at ‘Growing Older Together.’ At the end of this book, I felt there were very few stones left unturned and there was a satisfaction in the breadth and depth that was explored and achieved.
‘By learning how to increase your self-awareness, exploring your relationship journey so far and then rolling up your sleeves and doing the practical exercises, you will have the best ingredients to help you towards creating, nurturing and maintaining the positive relationship that you’ve always wanted.’ (page 6).
I felt the real gift in this book was that it set out to help all of us understand more about ourselves and our partners. I remember reading a book called, The Education of Little Tree, (by Forrest Carter, (2001) University of New Mexico Press) about a Cherokee Indian boy and the word for love taught to him by his grandfather was the same as the word for understanding.
The many questions and exercises here challenge us to take responsibility for thinking deeply about what we want. It is one of the strengths of this book that the case studies normalise the difficulties that we can all experience in relationships and enables us to take an honest look at what might be holding us back. Relationships can be a way of accelerating learning and understanding about ourselves and a way of helping us to make more positive choices in our lives, this book really does show us, ‘How to do Relationships’.