My husband had a good laugh over my favorite line in the book: "When we recite our relationship vows, perhaps we should say, "I take you as my pain in the rear, with all your history and baggage, and I take responsibility for all prior injustices you endured at the hands of those I never knew, because you are now in my care.""
Wired for Love challenged my thinking about relationships. Reading it was an exercise in suspending judgement. Do I agree with his approach? Could I do it? Do I want to?
It's light on neuroscience for a nonscientific audience. Tatkin gives some specifics and then generalizes to simplify. The net is: We're wired for war, not love, and we need to help our partners minimize the "primates" (the parts wired for war) and grow the "ambassadors" (the parts wired for love).
He categories people in relationships into three fairly useful groups: Anchors (secure), Islands (avoidant) and Waves (ambivalent).
The thrust of the book is that you must make the relationship the most important thing in your life. All other relationships are secondary. For example, couples are advised to agree to tell each other anything going on with them before telling anyone else including a therapist. Your partner is your go-to, safe person, which reminded me of those attached-at-the-hip couples who do not operate as individuals that annoy me. Every word is "we." On the other hand, the idea is that you can't heal your relational childhood wounds without having a secure relationship that allows you to do this. But he says explicitly, this shouldn't be the goal of the relationship. "Acceptance, high regard, respect, devotion, support and safety" is the only way to help your partner with who they are, i.e., a partner operating as an island or wave).
Part of being in this "couple bubble" is getting to know what distresses and soothes your partner and offering support when he's distressed and vice versa. "If your partner's primates are large and in charge," you may be able to help your partner see this before he can and help him employ his ambassadors (as opposed to being angry when the primates show up and your partner goes on attack). "Your job is to devote yourself to your partner's sense of safety and security. Your job is to know what matters to your partner and how to make him or her feel safe and secure."
The book suggests certain practices as key to maintaining your "couple bubble": Being each other's go-to-person, having embracing/destressing/connecting rituals upon waking, retiring to sleep, leaving in the morning and returning in the evening, not allowing a "third" (children, family, friends, hobbies, addictions, etc.) to disrupt the "couple bubble," and eye contact for rekindling connection.
The book is light on conflict resolution because it's mostly about prevention and a paradigm shift in how you approach a relationship. About fighting, Tatkin claims that couples "who don't know how to fight well did not learn how to engage in rough-and-tumble play during childhood, like with a sibling "who helps us discover our strength and our impact on another's body. We learn how hard to push and pull, how to tell the other person not to push or pull so hard, and so on." By contrast, he refers to a child's parallel play as an example of not knowing how to interact. One of his suggestions is for couples to get down on the floor and engage in rough and tumble play.
"Self-interests will still exist, but they are folded into the greater good of the relationship, such that, when a fight occurs, nobody loses and everybody wins."
Tatkin's dialogue and examples of healthy couples seems contrived, but I do agree with his assertion that when couples are connected particularly in the beginning of the relationship, the behaviors he describes often come naturally (still his healthy couple dialogue feels forced).
Adopting Taskin's suggestions challenge Western, modern views of independent, healthy individuals coming together in partnership. At the same time, the book may point to some fundamental causes for the difficulties in primary relationships.
Hendrix's introduction is useful as a survey of the evolution of primary relationships, the birth of marriage counseling, its founding philosophy and its failure.
Readers who are ready to embrace Taskin's approach will find plenty of suggestions to address relationship issues without a therapist. By contrast, Sue Johnson's, Hold Me Tight, is excellent for understanding where couples go wrong, but offers more as an accompaniment to therapy rather than an explicit plan for motivated couples to change relationship dynamics on their own or in addition to therapy.