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Claim

The introduction of this book claims:

What makes intimacy work? Some say it is the strength of your dream, the strength of your commitment to love itself. Others say it’s a matter of luck, the good fortune of finding that most excellent fit. Others say you must have passion or sharing or mutual interests or common values.

After exploring hundreds of relationships, we’ve concluded that the people who make intimacy work have certain skills. That’s why we’ve called this book Couple Skills. In case after case, relationships that endure and deepen are formed by couples who know and practice basic interpersonal skills: listening, clear communication, negotiation, handling anger appropriately, and so on.

So basically, that textbook denies these items:

  1. Strength of dream
  2. Strength of commitment
  3. A matter of luck
  4. The good fortune of finding the most excellent fits around you
  5. Passion
  6. Sharing
  7. Mutual interests
  8. Common values

Instead, they mention that the people who make interpersonal relationships work, have certain skills, like:

  1. Basic skills of listening, expressing feelings and scripting needs, and reciprocal reinforcement.
  2. Advanced skills in clean communication, cognitive distortions, negotiation, and problem-solving.
  3. Skills of anger and conflict management.
  4. Skills of identifying schemas, negative pictures, oping with your defenses, and cyclic patterns of conflicts.

Question

Can we still make our interpersonal relationships work with just certain skills? The assertion that a skill set is the solution to everything in interpersonal relationships, is it a myth or is it a reality? Things like mutual interests and common values, are they just irrelevant? That textbook assertion, is it just to sell the book or does it have roots in reality?

Note

Let's not just consider only the couple's relationship, but more general relationships with everybody around you. Like workplace and so on.

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    @Tinkeringbell Edit is done. I tried my best :)
    – Megidd
    Aug 25, 2023 at 10:14
  • 2
    I've added one tag, the academic research one. Mostly because this seems like a question where you're looking for answers from reputable sources, and not just personal experiences, which this tag can indicate. If it's not, it can be edited out again.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Aug 25, 2023 at 11:29
  • 3
    Are you actually asking if, without reading the book, we can agree it expresses or fabricates the truth? Its provocative premise is intentional. Aug 27, 2023 at 21:42
  • @YosefBaskin I'm currently studying the book. I'm curious myself.
    – Megidd
    Aug 28, 2023 at 13:21

3 Answers 3

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So basically, that textbook denies these items

That's not something you can conclude from the passage you quoted.
The book mentions what people commonly associate with intimacy and its strength, but by mentioning in the following paragraph what the authors think makes intimacy work, they are not denying those common associations.
They mention, a few sentences after your quote, how a difference "in this book is that we are not out to prove any particular theory or champion any particular school of therapy."1

And I believe that is the crux here: intimacy can't be assumed to just be there when 'the stars are right', when one really wants it and believes in it. In the longer run, it also requires skills, from both sides.

Around 15 years ago I read Erich Fromm's The Art of Loving.2 I had just about concluded my romantic ideas surrounding love were fabrications, based on popular media and romanticist ideology, and this book resonated with that (at the time considered cynical) concept on a more analytical and intellectual level.
More than the book you quote from does, Fromm in The Art of Love emphatically points out the importance of having to work for a healthy relationship; especially how 'love' is something you need to train and develop. In the foreword, he indicates that

"This book, on the contrary, wants to show that love is not a sentiment which can be easily indulged in by anyone, regardless of the level of maturity reached by him. It wants to convince the reader that all his attempts for love are bound to fail, unless he tries most actively to develop his total personality [..]"

This is partly due to how most people tend to see "the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving". I'm mentioning this particular premise because it intrinsically exposes how love and friendship require active investment, while concepts like 'dream', 'luck', 'interests', and 'fate' are passive ones.3


Can we still make our interpersonal relationships work with just certain skills?

The book speaks about intimacy, but not all interpersonal relationships require intimacy. So, yes, with just certain skills it seems to me perfectly viable to build and maintain relationships. One might, for example, not see eye-to-eye with the business partner they have a good relationship with. One can be able to solve any problem with their neighbors without sharing any of their interests.


The assertion that skill set is the solution to everything in interpersonal relationships, is it a myth or is it a reality?

I don't believe I've ever heard that being asserted, and I would consider it a myth. "Everything in interpersonal relationships" covers a lot of ground, including, once more, intimacy.


Things like mutual interests and common values, are they just irrelevant?

Of course not. They are the basis of friendships and romantic relationships, which can start purely by virtue of shared interests. The book seems to point out that what makes these more intimate relationships work (that is, what makes them stand the test of time), are the additional skill sets you listed.


That textbook assertion, is it just to sell the book or does it have roots in reality?

As pointed out in the first paragraph, it seems you've made up that assertion :)



  1. Source: this link to the entire book as a PDF.
  2. A 1963 edition of The Art of Love on the Internet Archive.
  3. While the book might certainly be worth a read, leaving through it now I can see how much of its theory is explained using somewhat jarringly cold analogies with ideas and concepts from economics.
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    Thanks. I'm currently studying/practicing that book and also another book titled Messages: The Communications Skills Book by the same author. I'm very excited to make a conclusion after finishing the textbooks.
    – Megidd
    Oct 12, 2023 at 6:07
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    It's very tempting to accept your post as a perfect answer. However, I feel like it's better to finish studying/practicing those books first :)
    – Megidd
    Oct 12, 2023 at 11:01
  • @Megidd Of course, take your time :)
    – Joachim
    Oct 12, 2023 at 12:32
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Can we still make our interpersonal relationships work with just certain skills?

No. To achieve most things, one must have both skill and desire. For example, a child might be sent to piano lessons by their parents from a young age and develop the skill of playing the piano to a high standard, but as an adult they may have no desire to play the piano, and so either stop playing entirely or simply not use their skill to any effect. Similarly, one might possess the skills this book claims are required - listening, expressing feelings etc - but have no desire to pursue an intimate relationship. Just as a person forced into a particular career path because they are highly skilled in it may feel immense regret over following their head rather than their heart, a person who entered into an intimate relationship simply because they had the skills and ability to be a good partner may find that their heart is not in it, and be unhappy and unfulfilled as a result. I think this is also true of other kinds of interpersonal relationships beyond romantic ones. If you have great communication skills you can probably find a way to talk to anyone no matter what their background or interests, but you may not find the things the other person wants to talk about interesting or engaging, and as such you are just experiencing 'small talk'.

The assertion that skill set is the solution to everything in interpersonal relationships, is it a myth or is it a reality?

It seems to be an opinion, based on some anecdotal cases. I would assert that there is just as much anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

Things like mutual interests and common values, are they just irrelevant?

Not at all, and from the little you have quoted, I don't think the book is saying that either - just that they are less important that the 'skills'. Most people bond over common interests and these can be the starting points for friendships and relationships, but they may not be the only things required for a long-term relationship. People change throughout their lives. Interests in things such as music and popular culture, for example, tend to be stronger in youth. Most texts written about romantic relationships tend to refer to the importance of common goals and values rather than common interests, because goals are your future, where you are both heading. If you have common goals, you will more likely be in the same figurative place in the future. Likewise, if your values align then you are more likely to make the same decisions on things that you face together in the future and stay on the same path. Again, in non-romantic relationships, you must have something shared in order to have any kind of productive relationship. For example, if you have all the communication skills to engage with a work colleague but have fundamentally different and equally immovable ideas about how something should be done, you won't get anywhere. Someone would have to be yielding in order to agree on a mutual way forward, and I would argue that is more of a quality than a skill.

That textbook assertion, is it just to sell the book or does it have roots in reality?

You can't really expect us to all read the book just to answer that, but I would expect it contains some case studies which will be anecdotal, as I already stated. Some people assert that if something worked for them, it must work for everybody, but that isn't the case. What we try to do here on this site is provide support for assertions from personal experience to 'demonstrate' that a particular 'solution' works. It has certainly been my experience with one failed marriage and one successful one that what matters most is shared goals and values. One such value of mine is to pursue peace with people, something that helps overcome problems and difficulties. The idea that 'skills' exist to entirely avoid problems and difficulties doesn't align with my experience.

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  • Thanks :) I'm going to study your post thoroughly.
    – Megidd
    Oct 10, 2023 at 11:05
  • My experience so far has been that couple skills can avoid problems and difficulties. If practiced by both sides.
    – Megidd
    Jan 12 at 11:27
  • Of course, as you pointed out, the desire should be there in the 1st place.
    – Megidd
    Jan 12 at 11:54
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I thoroughly studied the book. I finished its 18 chapters. My partner studied too.

Now, we both practice this book's skills together. We are referring to it frequently. Life is enjoyable as long as we stick to the skills. As soon as we drift away, the life becomes a drama.

It's surprisingly shocking that some educational systems don't include these skills.

Chapters

I summarize the keywords for each chapter here.

  1. Listen. Paraphrase. No sparring.
  2. Communicate objective observations. Express feelings & thoughts. Request needs.
  3. Reinforce the positive behavior of your partner. Reciprocal.
  4. Communicate cleanly. Continuation of chapter 2. Ten commandments to avoid nasty communication.
  5. Cognitive distortions. Avoid them by accuracy.
  6. Negotiation. Two sides are flexible.
  7. Problem solving. My job is algorithms and math problems. So, this chapter was not a big deal for me.
  8. Aversive strategies. Nasty communication to negatively reinforce your partner.
  9. Anger management. Avoid blaming by accuracy. Avoid shoulds by personal responsibility principle.
  10. Angry partner. Probe. Acknowledge. Deflect: delay, assertive preference, clouding.
  11. Time out. 1 hour cool down.
  12. Cognitive schemas. Avoid by accuracy.
  13. Parent memories and feelings come back to haunt you. Communicate cleanly. Be accurate. Request help. Negotiate.
  14. Handle my defenses that protect my ego. Communicate the observations & costs. Express feelings & thoughts. Request/need help.
  15. Circulatory cycles. Roles.
  16. Break cycles. Stop. Communicate cleanly. Reinforce positively. Describe cycle. Negotiate.
  17. Rules & expectations. History. Meaning & feeling: respect + care + fairness. Assertive request.
  18. Acceptance. Let go of your struggles. Focus on your own goals & directions.
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  • My partner and I might have a few mutual interests and common values. Not many. However, life is enjoyable as long as the couple skills are practiced.
    – Megidd
    Jan 12 at 11:15

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