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Relationship Problems

by Kathleen A. Cervenka
New Harbinger, 2003
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Sep 25th 2005

In the Mood, Again

In the last few years, there has been increasing media attention of the "problem" of low-sex and no-sex marriages.  Apparently, there is an epidemic of couples not having sex.  Some say that this is a new phenomenon, and might even link it to the pressures on families with both partners needing to have one or more jobs, looking after children, confusion about male and female roles, the rise of pornography and Internet sexuality, and an increasing low self-esteem about our bodies now that we compare ourselves with the fantasy images we see in magazines and movies.  Unsurprisingly, there has been a surge in the number of books published purporting to explain and solve the problem.  Some experts predict dire consequences for any couple that isn't having regular sex, claiming that it must signal a doomed relationship.

On the back cover of In the Mood, Again, there is a blurb from famed psychologist Aaron Beck, who declares that book a breakthrough volume that "should improve and even save many marriages."  I wonder how many studies have been done on the effectiveness of any self-help books, and especially those aimed at improving the relationships between couples, which require the cooperation of both partners.  It might be that any couple who is ready to work together using a book to help solve some of their problems is already in a strong position to sort things out because they already have some basic communication between them.  However, even in our self-help nation, where so many people are open to the idea of identifying problems as psychological and finding techniques to solve them, not everyone is open to such an approach, and for couples, it takes two to tango.  It is pretty clear from watching Dr. Phil, for example, a TV show that specializes in revealing and solving family problems, that most of his viewers are women.  On the whole, men tend to be much more reluctant to seek outside help for difficulties in relationships, and by no means are all women enthusiastic about it either. 

Sexuality issues are often especially sensitive for people, because their greatest and most personal insecurities can center about their performance and looks.  Worries about not being good enough in bed can translate into insecurities about one's whole identity: one is not a real man or a real woman if one doesn't get and provide satisfaction in sex with one's partner.  What's more, these worries feed into doubts about one's very attractiveness and lovability.  It is no surprise that people often find these issues difficult to talk about. 

Given all that, how useful are books like In the Mood, Again?  It is almost impossible to judge.  People will have very personal and idiosyncratic reactions to different books, and they will have different needs.  There are many different sorts of reasons why people stop having much sex with each other.   What's more, there is not much consensus about what is the solution to relationship problems.  As in the rest of psychotherapy, different therapists have their own preferred approaches, and the scientific literature on the topic does not seem to strongly indicate that one approach is best. 

The packaging of Kathleen Cervenka's book looks like it is aimed mainly at women.  On the cover of the book is a close-up of a blood red rose, and the center of it even looks clitoral.  Each chapter starts with its own title page with an epigram of a quotation by a famous person, all surrounded by hearts.    Yet the text is aimed equally at men and women.  It is divided into thirteen chapters, and each chapter is divided into short sections, many of which have exercises and bullet lists of questions.  The tone is positive and friendly, and the language is non-technical.  The author addresses the reader personally, addressing him or her as "you."  This should make the book feel approachable by many readers. 

The early chapters focus mostly on setting out basic information about sexuality and sexual problems.  There's discussion of human biology, psychology, and common patterns in relationships.  From the start, there are exercises aimed at promoting self-understanding for both partners, with the aim that they go through them together.  For example, Cervenka suggests that you face your partner and tell him or her what attributes and values he or she has.  This should take about an hour, and she says that you should avoid becoming angry during the process.  Another early exercise is to spend time recalling what led you to make the commitment to your partner.  Cervenka explains that these exercises help you to gather information and get clear about your partner's point of view. 

The middle chapters focus more on the causes of sexual problems, psychological, behavioral and biological.  She goes over a fairly broad range, including inequality in a relationship, flirting with others, computer sex, infidelity, libido discrepancy, stress, negative body image, boring or unpleasant sexual techniques, alcohol, drugs, hormones, depression, and illness.  The chapter exercises are aimed at identifying what the causes of the sexual problems in the relationship are. 

The final third of the book is aimed at solving the problems.  It contains more exercises and suggestions about what to do.  It tries to integrate solving emotional gridlock in a relationship with work on sexual connection.  It recommends improved communication and more romance. Generally, Cervenka suggests being non-judgmental and talking about your own feelings rather than telling your partner what he or she is doing wrong.  Through the exercises and hard work that you should have done all the way through the book, you should be able to significantly improve your sex life.

Obviously In the Mood, Again is not for everyone, and some readers may find it very difficult to get their partner to actually read the book, let alone do the exercises.  I imagine that many people will simply read the book on their own using it as food for thought, getting hints about ways to start conversations with their partners and work out problems quietly rather announcing that they are using it to solve the problem.  Potential readers should browse through the book first and compare it to other similar books before deciding to buy it. 

 

© 2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.