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Relationship Problems

by Phillip C. McGraw
Hyperion, 2001
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on May 15th 2003

Relationship Rescue

Phillip McGraw, better known now as TV's "Dr Phil," has a Texas forthrightness that will appeal to some and put others off.  He starts out Relationship Rescue placing great emphasis on how his approach to helping couples in trouble does away with all the theoretical nonsense of most major approaches to therapy, and gets straight to the most important issues.  He says most traditional therapy is a waste of time and does not produce results, and he tells his readers that his approach is directly aimed at changing relationships for the better.  He prides himself on non-technical language and an action-oriented style.

When it comes down to it, however, McGraw's approach is very similar to most others.  He aims at honesty and mutual acceptance.  His approach fits in clearly with the long tradition of American self-reliance and taking responsibility for oneself.  His broad characterization of most other purported solutions as embodying myths is in fact disingenuous and self-promoting.  However, to be fair, this is a work of popular self-help, and not a work of scholarly survey.  His self-confidence and brashness are indeed part of the appeal of this genre, since they should inspire confidence in the reader. What's more, his list of ten myths include ideas that many people seem to believe.  Some people do believe that a great relationship requires that couples agree on everything, or that a great relationship must be without argument.  Especially impressive are his criticisms of the belief that a great relationship cannot survive a flawed partner, and he gives an example of a happy marriage where the wife heard voices and was probably schizophrenic. 

The book starts out by asking readers to perform an analysis of their feelings about their relationships, by going through lists of questions under the categories of "Personal Concepts Profile," "Relationship Health Profile," "General Relationship Problem Profile," "Specific Relationship Problem Profile," "The Relationship Behavior Profile: Your Partner," "The Relationship Behavior Profile: You," "Your Relationship Lifestyle Profile," "Relationship Communication Test," "Chemistry Test," and finally, "The Five Tough Questions."  After going through these questions, anyone with even a slightly pessimistic view of the world or with any self-doubts will probably be sure that he or she has a relationship in deep crisis.  However, McGraw's blunt but optimistic tone will probably lift the reader's spirits again. 

A distinctive feature of McGraw's approach is his insistence that you should still engage in self-scrutiny and self-criticism and see how you are responsible for the problems in your relationship even if you think that all the problems are due to your partner.  Most of the book focuses on changing one's own perspective to a more positive one, rather than trying to change one's partner.  Some might be concerned that this puts the burden on the partner who is already doing most of the emotional work in the relationship -- more often than not this is the woman in a heterosexual couple.  McGraw seems aware of these concerns but points out that if a relationship is going to improve, someone has to do make the initiative, and in the end it should improve the life of both people in the couple, so it is worth doing.

At various points in the book, McGraw introduces his Christian religious beliefs into the mix, and even includes some quotations from the Bible.  Some readers may find this useful, but others will probably find it inappropriate, and it seemed to be an unnecessary addition to his main message. 

It is virtually impossible to provide any objective assessment whether the recommendations in Relationship Rescue will be helpful to readers.  Obviously, McGraw has sold millions of books already, and so his approach does have wide appeal, and this success does suggest that many new readers will also find value in the book.  Speaking for myself, I find most self-help books almost unreadable because they make me very anxious about my life.  I did find, however, that listening to the abridged audiobook was relatively easy -- McGraw's familiar voice and his firm conviction are soothing.  Whether one follows his advice step-by-step or one simply listens to it for some general ideas, the book could be useful as a way to help one focus on ways to improve one's relationship. 

 

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© 2003 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.