Monday, December 17, 2012

Keeping Score, a guide to love and relationships

Title: Keeping score, a guide to love and relationships
Author: Marc Brackett
Author's blog: Keeping score

I was very hesitant about reading this book and also about reviewing it. I wrote to the author that the culture in India would be different and the tests prescribed by him in this book would perhaps not apply. Marc persisted a bit and I was intrigued. After all, I hadn't ever read a book of this genre and really wanted to know whether a book like this would help anyone.

I've seen friends who have gone through painful divorces and yet others who are anxious to find their soul mate. And what is worse, during the festive season -- people do feel extra lonely. Just to get over this loneliness, they jump into a relationship with disastrous consequences. So yes, perhaps the book could help people think through their relationships, their marriage, their potential relationships/marriage with a clearer head.

When I got the book, even as I began to skim through it, a friend who was in a bumpy relationship borrowed it and found it to be a sensible read. Her take: the many questions in her head were more or less set down in this book and all she had to do was honestly answer them and get a clearer picture. Of course, the path she would opt for would be entirely her own.

The background:
As the author points out in one of his blog posts, Over the past few decades, the common sense knowledge that men and women communicate differently has been proven time and again through numerous studies. Regrettably though, this knowledge hasn't improved our ability to communicate with one another- well, not enough anyway. So if we are aware that men and women communicate differently, then why can’t we learn to communicate better?
Perhaps a serious reader of this book, needs to also visit the author's website and the frequent blog posts.
The four components of Keeping Score are:
1. Adam and Eve: This section comprises of relationship evaluation tests designed specifically for each gender. The reader has to answer the questions and fill in the score sheets provided at the end of the book. One of the sections dealing with 'Common interests' is the same for both genders. Else the questions are gender specific. For instance, the woman, even if financially secure would take into consideration the income of her potential partner/partner, whereas the man would probably take into consideration not just how she looked when they first met, but also her looks down the years. (It seemed a bit stereotyped to me, but my friend claims it is true - women are held to a higher standard when it comes to their physical appearance).
2.Knowledge is Power: This section is a review of the factors creating the relationship score. Each factor is explained in great detail with suggestions to improve your score and ultimately your relationship.
3.A Score to Win: This is a guide on improving relationships by examining the strengths and weakness and analysing where there is scope for improvement. (I liked this section and my initial apprehension what the book is stereotyped began to fade away)
4. Lastly one can hop across to the website, to share scores online and compare it with others (I am doubtful on whether everyone would want to share their scores).

My views:

I agree that men and women communicate differently. That said, maximum points have been prescribed for your answers for parameters across various sections. You have to deduct the points applicable to your answer from the maximum points to arrive at the difference. The difference is graded and helps you ascertain the severity of your problem.

In the Indian context, since the family still does play a crucial part - you marry not another person, but you marry into a family - a higher weightage (maximum points) to questions in this realm would have suited the Indian reader.

The book does not wrap you in a feel good cocoon, it brings forth some hard facts, on issues that are best dealt with upfront and honestly.

The questions are well set and deal with a variety of parameters against which the partner/proposed partner is scored starting from the basics of education and money; habits; behaviour; attentiveness; religion (a touchy subject in India); relationship with the other family members; to name a few.

The book can act as a guide and the author is wise enough to say - the score is just a starting point. Focus first on modifying your own behaviour. Before your receive you must first give.

If you have questions buzzing around in your head about your relationship, this book could help you get a clearer picture.

Interview with Marc Brackett

1) What prompted you to write this book?

I started out writing this book just to see if I could. I had a concept that was making good sense, I was getting good feedback and wanted to see if the idea was correct. As part of writing this book it involved a lot of talking with people to test the various questions. What I came to see is that there is a lot of needless suffering, in that most relationship damage is self-inflicted. We also have a lot of damaged people who are then creating more damaged people, this creates a real cost to society both in terms of human capital and financial capital that threatens all of us.

So what started out as a big experiment and adventure for me eventually became much more personal. There is no shortage of relationship material out there, nearly all of it is garbage that at least in my mind does little to break the cycles people are in. The problems with the existing approaches are that either a strict moral tone is used or it turns into psycho babble. I thought people would best be served by a relationship book that engaged them in a non-threatening manner. People also like to be entertained, thus Keeping Score was crafted to deliver factual information in a light mannered format that people would be more open to receiving.

I believe we can play a part in shaping the world we live in, and the world our children will live in. While this book started out being about my relationship and my family, it's all part of a bigger picture. What we are currently doing as cultures and societies is not sustainable. This was my attempt at seeing if it was possible to change anything. If you can improve one relationship how many others might be improved because of that?

2) What were the best inputs received from your wife, Kristin - who I understand helped you with the book?

The best input I received and still receive daily is that I know almost nothing. Relationships are in a constant state of flux that requires regular repair and special attention. A large dose of humility is one of the best ingredients to start with, something Kristin serves me on a regular basis.
Writing this book and all the blog posts has provided us both with a great deal of insight into our own relationship. Things that either of us in the past had spent a great amount of time and energy trying to do for our partners turned out to be of limited value. A fraction of that time and effort spent in other areas provided a far greater return and increased the level of satisfaction in our relationship immensely. The changes involved were small and easy to make but the results were exponential.

4) Do you think pre-nuptial agreements help avoid a messy bickering situation in case of a divorce? Would you advocate a pre-nuptial agreement to everyone?

There is little doubt that a pre-nuptial can help simplify matters if a relationship ends in divorce, that's one of the reasons for a pre-nuptial. However some will argue that a pre-nuptial makes a divorce more likely and should thus be avoided. I don't think we can reduce the question of pre-nuptials to the simple arguments that many people insist upon doing so.

As part of addressing financial matters in Keeping Score the blog spent some time on financial planning and pre-nuptial agreements were discussed in considerable detail. The only solid conclusion reached was that a couple had better be able to comfortably discuss the issues a pre-nuptial agreement would address. Whether or not a couple decides a pre-nuptial is needed is a personal decision. Every relationship is unique, the individuals involved in a relationship are unique, and the circumstances surrounding a relationship will also be unique - thus there is no one size fits all rule.

This link goes into much greater detail and provides a list of six factors a couple should discuss to determine if a pre-nuptial is something their relationship needs. An inability to discuss the factors openly should be a warning sign.

5. Is it really wise to keep score in a relationship?

Score is kept in relationships whether or not couples care to acknowledge it. The problem is that these mental scores are usually one sided and don't reflect the value of the whole relationship. An inaccurate private score is a recipe for problems as the issues are not resolved.
Every relationship has it's own unique mixture of issues that should be learned about and then addressed in a manner that both sides find acceptable. Keeping Score merely draws these issues out and provides a format for their discussion that can be a positive and productive experience for the relationship.

To learn more about the optimal ratio of positive to negative interactions in relationships see what Dr. Gottman has to say.

6. Is it realistic to expect a relationship to have a perfect score?

Observations so far have shown that couples with either a high C or low B score are in very good position. Their relationships enjoy sufficient positive interactions and there is an adequate safety margin in place against unforeseen adverse events. What selection of factors a couple chooses to focus on to arrive in this zone is of their own choice and is customized to best suit the needs of their relationship.
Natural systems tend to avoid perfection and focus instead on optimization. This preference allows for a great variety in the solutions that will be found for problems. Just as we have plants that can survive in water we have plants that can survive with very little water. Each relationship will have a different means of optimizing it's interactions to best suit the environment and participants, thus every relationship has it's own optimal score.


Susan Oakes said...

Interesting book Lubna. While we do communicate somewhat differently I found that if you are in sync communicate doesn't have some of the typical barriers.

A.K.Andrew said...

I have to confess this book would not grab me, and especially with the premise of women having to pay more attention to their physical looks - which sadly is still in fact the case, despite as you say the stereotype.
So good for you on taking this kind of book on Lubna. I wonder if it also included same sex relationships at all, or if that was beyond the scope of the author.
You did a good job with a tricky subject.

Catarina said...

Agree with Susan.

The author is absolutely right that when it comes to attracting the opposite sex looks is the main thing for women and men should have power and money.

It has unfortunately always been like that and always will be:-)

JeriWB said...

I truly value books like this and wish more people would seek out sources that encourage the reader to evaluate themselves.

Susan Cooper said...

Sounds like a very interesting book. I must agree with A.K. about the premise of women needing to pay attention to their looks. You are couragous to handle this type of sensitive subject. :-)

Kelly@Shapedaily said...

Its really interesting to hear the perspective of an author who wrote a self help book compared to a novel. I think its even more interesting that a man wrote this book about relationships. One of his answers was right though; relationships are ever-changing and our world is ever-evolving so it really is all subjective. I think it would be insightful to take the tests at the beginning of the book myself. Cool interview!