“Dan: And there’s no books on how to raise kids.
Darlene: Yes there are. There are literally thousands.” – Roseanne
Why do I read so many damn books? I suppose there are a number of reasons, not all of them great.
For starters, I’ll be the first to admit that “number of books I’ve read” is a vanity metric that’s deeply ingrained in me. I blame the public school system. Olde Providence Elementary encouraged summer reading by having us track the books we read (title, number of pages etc.) At the beginning of the school year we were awarded trophies based on our results. These weren’t your typical “everybody gets a prize” trophies which were common at the time (probably still are). You had to earn these, by reading the books and tracking the data.
It’s no wonder that, decades later, I’m writing a blog now and publishing all my data in spreadsheets.
So other than to stroke my own ego, why read? I like to think the main reason is to acquire knowledge so I can learn and grow. There’s also an entertainment component; after all, if reading weren’t fun I wouldn’t do it consistently. But I also read to procrastinate, as a means of avoiding my responsibilities for a while and engaging in a task I can pass off as being “productive.” Learning through books is great, but there’s no substitute for learning through experience. On several occasions I’ve been reading a book on personal development and suddenly imagined the author sitting across from me with a disappointed look on their face saying, “stop reading and go do it!”
Well if reading is a vice, I’d argue it’s one of the more innocuous ones, and count myself as one of the worst perpetrators, for better or for worse.
Like the Roseanne quote says, there are thousands of books on parenting. The same goes for relationships. But for some reason I haven’t read too many of those. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because picking up a book on relationships is admitting that I don’t have all the answers, that I (and my relationship) may need help. That’s a bad reason, but it’s a reason. And it’s a common one – I imagine it’s the same reason why most people decide to never go to therapy, and why the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.
But I think a bigger reason I’ve avoided these books is because I’ve always viewed personal development and relationship development as two different things. In my mind, personal development efforts put you in complete control of the situation. I can work on myself without having to worry about any external factors, which is an appealing quality.
Relationship development, on the other hand, is a two-way street. What’s the point in picking up a book on relationships if I’m the only one reading it? And even if my wife and I read it together, what if she interprets it differently? How can I make sure that we’re (literally) on the same page?
I think the reason why I can’t find the answer to these questions is that my original logic is flawed.
“No man is an island.” Personal development and relationship development are inextricably linked. You cannot fully grow as an individual without investigating the way you engage with others. And the best place to start with developing your relationships is investigating yourself.
So go ahead, pickup a book on relationships if you haven’t already. Why the hell not? I finally read one last year, and it was pretty good:
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. From Wikipedia:
According to Chapman, the five ways to express and experience love that Chapman calls “love languages” are:
- receiving gifts,
- quality time,
- words of affirmation,
- acts of service (devotion),
- and physical touch.
Examples are given from his counseling practice, as well as questions to help determine one’s own love languages.
After reading the book, Liz and I tried to guess each other’s Love Languages. She was actually able to name all five of mine in order (not surprising). I didn’t do quite as well with her, but I did get her number one.
Liz’s primary love language is “acts of service.” My love language is “words of affirmation.”
If you buy into it (which I have), this can be pretty helpful – instead of spending precious energy and resources trying to express love in a way that the other person isn’t picking up on, you can make a conscious effort to tailor your communication to the other person’s language. Instead of buying each other gifts (low on both our lists) we can focus on the dynamic that works for both of us.
In our case: I do stuff for her, she tells me how awesome I am. Everyone wins! And that’s actually how I came up with this year’s NYR for Be A Better Spouse:
In 2019, I will clean Liz’s car 26 times. Click here to see my progress.
Now if you’ll excuse me… I need to go clean the car (it’s been almost a month).