Self-Help book review: An End to Arguing: 101 Valuable Lessons for All Relationships
By Linda and Charlie Bloom
Family & Relationships/Marriage & Long-Term Relationships
287 pages, koehlerbooks, 2022
This book for “all relationships” has a strong focus on committed couples. What I found were ideas that make sense, are practical, and move the reader to the logical brain. That’s useful for almost any type of relationship.
The book includes 101 short chapters of mostly two to three pages. The “lessons,” using the title’s word, are easy to consume and lively. The situational concepts prompt a little reflection, but not so much as to overwhelm. I’m sure it’s no accident that the first lesson talks about vulnerability in a relationship because willingness to look within and briefly acknowledge the activation of protective behaviors from past experiences helps us view a current situation with more logic.
In recognizing what’s happening in the moment, the authors say the “thinking” might go something like this, “As long as I am disagreeing with you, I am minimizing or eliminating the possibility of being harmed, and I am more likely to win you over to my side.” While I wouldn’t call this a “thinking” process, because it’s probably deeper, and going on beneath our conscious thoughts, that doesn’t make the protective coping and its motivation any less true.
With the help of this book, identifying one’s motivation doesn’t require long forays into traumatic memories either, thank goodness. But it does help to recognize that the current situation has likely stimulated past pain. Then we can settle more fully into the present moment and open up about the disagreement we feel. Being vulnerable enough to reveal that we’re angry, rather than clam up, is really the first lesson. Because by opening up, calmly, everybody gets to understand. For couples, vulnerability creates the opportunity for further emotional intimacy, which can help build trust.
While vulnerability isn’t always easy, it’s worth it. And, as the authors say, “not easy” doesn’t equate to “not possible.” Such pithy notables are used to close most of the chapters and a light tone is maintained throughout the book. So, while the lessons uncover the serious need to comprehend our physical responses from the past and calm them, identify our own unhelpful communication patterns, and notice our conflicts around power or people-pleasing, we don’t get so deep that we’re triggered by them. And because the chapters are brief, we’re in and out at a quick pace, always with an uplifting ending. The Blooms successfully normalize common struggles that aren’t frequently presented in that way. So, the reader can relax, understanding that, for instance, even if they have a tendency to argue, that doesn’t mean they’re a lost cause.
Back and forth dialogue in realistic scenarios highlight possible pitfalls as well as practical, effective changes. Solutions aren’t always a complicated or difficult process. Small, simple shifts make huge relationship differences.
The last chapter, “The payoffs,” sums up everything on a high note. No matter what sort of relationship, benefits such as reduced stress and anxiety, enhanced listening skills, and better health apply. And for long-term, committed, close relationships, experiencing more harmony, increased cooperation, and an ever-deepening sense of goodwill are among the 29 listed benefits. That the authors, who first met in 1968, still enjoy a successful, committed relationship that’s both vulnerable and fun is a testament to the strength of what they teach—things they admit they’ve had to learn or unlearn along the way.
I picked up the book thinking I’d read it focused on “all relationships” and not only marriage. While examples lean heavily toward couple experiences, the concepts are mostly self-focused. Therefore, the book is a terrific tool to identify one’s own responses that can come up, perhaps more subtly, even in everyday interactions. Chapter 27, for example, describes taking time out from conflict, and using the time to truly soothe oneself and cool down rather than bracing ourselves against the opponent. How might you be bracing yourself for a fight rather than promoting your own peace? Which one would help you to resume the discussion at a calmer level? These were the sorts of questions I asked myself while reading through some of the chapters, which helped me consider how the concepts widen out to almost any relationship.
The reality is that even in the most solid committed relationships, old and familiar patterns can use a refresh now and again. I came across some helpful reminders and nuggets of relationship gold to apply in my own household. I guess that’s not a surprise really. After all, Linda and Charlie Bloom have been married a full decade longer than my husband and me. In an era where relationships of all sorts might seem disposable, the fast-paced encouragement and logic provided in the book is a true gift that’s time-tested and authentic.