Few things promise us greater happiness than our relationships – yet few things more reliably deliver misery and frustration. Our error is to suppose that we are born knowing how to love and that managing a relationship might therefore be intuitive and easy.
This book starts from a different premise: that love is a skill to be learnt, rather than just an emotion to be felt. It calmly and charmingly takes us around the key issues of relationships, from arguments to sex, forgiveness to communication, making sure that success in love need never again be just a matter of luck.
(From The School of Life)
The School of Life is a global movement based in London that aims to develop emotional intelligence. They look at issues like how to find fulfilling work and how to be better at relationships.
I’ve watched their videos for a while, but this is my first time reading one of their books – and, like most of their content on YouTube, Relationships is an easy, enjoyable and insightful read.
It is written in simple, straightforward language, and reads very much like a practical advice column. I finished the book in half a morning.
The book starts by laying out how Romanticism, an 18th-century intellectual movement, has shaped our assumptions about relationships. For example, if you think that your partner should be able to know instinctively why you’re pissed off, you have a whole bunch of dead old Europeans to thank for that.
Instinctively, I know that some of these Romantic ideas are merely ideals, but having them spelled out so baldly, I realised, Oh yeah shit so that’s why I’ve been behaving that way.
After revealing the ridiculousness of certain expectations, the book goes on to show how we can think more constructively about love and our partners – all part of an effort to create deeper, more meaningful relationships with the one we love.
There are many insightful chapters, including The Problem of Closeness (no matter how long you’ve been with someone, you will still fear their rejection), Pessimism (we should moderate our expectations) and Artificial Conversations (we must have difficult conversations, instead of brushing them aside because they do not arise “naturally”), but my fave is Teaching and Learning:
I had always considered changing in a relationship to be a rather passive thing, like you would naturally change as time goes by, and you grow together as a couple. This chapter showed me that changing can take a active role in a relationship – and that is not necessarily a destructive act.
… Given that we are all very imperfect, part of what it means to deepen love is to want to teach – and to be taught. Two people should see a relationship as a constant opportunity to improve and be improved. When lovers teach each other uncomfortable truths, they are not giving up on love. They are trying to do something very true to love: which is to make their partners more loveable.
Somehow, that is far more romantic to me than the Romantic ideals ☺️