Do I withhold sex or other things from my partner when I don’t get what I want or my expectations are not met? Is it possible to hold onto my beliefs, family values, traditions and culture without forsaking my relationship? Am I a taker, giver, martyr or controller? In asking these questions of yourself, Dr. Jane Greer, in her book, “What About Me?: Stop Selfishness from Ruining Your Relationship,” attempts to help readers who are asking similar questions find answers, answers that will help them understand their communication styles and potential unrealistic expectations that they may have within their relationship.
Dr. Greer identifies four personality types, martyr, giver, taker and controller, which she uses to lay the groundwork for the reader to prepare her or himself to embark on the journey toward a healthy relationship based on understanding and compromise. After taking a brief quiz the reader will tally up their answers using a scoring chart and identify their predominant personality type. With that completed, Dr. Greer uses her experience in relationship counseling to present case studies that the reader follows throughout the book; each couple illustrates the different personality types and how they play out in a relationship. Although they are case studies and no two relationships are alike, Dr. Greer uses a diverse enough array of examples that the reader should recognize characteristics of him- or herself in these relationships.
To start, Dr. Greer introduces “Selfish Hot Spots” (the predominant concept upon which the book is based), which are “those insidious disagreements that come up over and over again in a relationship.” Throughout the book, with the practical and real-life examples, the reader follows the stories of perhaps half a dozen couples and their struggles in navigating their “Selfish Hot Spots.” Dr. Greer uses language such as “Big Ticket Items” (large life decisions) and “Paper Cuts” (smaller, seemingly benign situations that can be just as hurtful and challenging) to describe potential “Selfish Hot Spots.” If not dealt with, these “Selfish Hot Spots” can lead to “Selfish Standoffs” where neither partner budges on their opinions, decisions or actions and blocks any progress toward resolution. The readers meet the case studies when they are at this point in their relationship. Ultimately, these “standoffs” block compromise and sometimes lead to withholding, especially when it comes to intimacy, which can further augment the situation. These concepts are explored more in-depth with the same case studies.
It is from this point that the book switches gears and directs the reader to look beyond the “me” and toward the “we” for resolution. Dr. Greer describes the backgrounds and upbringing of the individuals in the case studies, which serve to illustrate why a partner behaves the way he or she does. This is particularly effective in helping the partners understand where the other is coming from, why it is important and in what areas a compromise can be made. Through these examples the readers are encouraged and coached as to how to ask for what they need, express their concerns about the situation and set up an open and honest conversation.
Of particular note, Dr. Greer’s normalization of the “Love You, Mean It/Hate You, Mean It” moments is particularly profound and reassuring to me as a reader. At times partners may not like their partners or may feel like they “hate” them or hold contempt for them. She points out that relationships cannot be perfect, are not always perfect, and one does not always have conditional love no matter what may have been expected when a couple is married — “the reality of an adult love relationship is that loving feelings often are conditional and based on how your partner treats you and how you treat your partner.” She, however, does not differentiate between manageable conflict and an unhealthy relationship.
What is not particularly convincing to me, or rather, what is disappointing, is that when using examples of the controllers in her case studies, Dr. Greer misses or overlooks the fact that controlling behavior may be part of a larger problem, domestic violence. It is plausible that someone seeking help within this book may be in a domestic violence relationship and to me, Dr. Greer has a responsibility to at least briefly present the controlling behavior as potentially being part of a larger problem and to advise the readers that if they think that they may be in such a relationship to contact a local or national crisis service.
The book concludes with a “wrapup” of the case studies which inform the reader howthe couples resolved their issues. Some end successfully through compromise. This book helps readers discover what role selfishness is playing in their relationship while helping them better understand what drives them and their partner to behave selfishly. Ultimately, it is up to the reader to ask themselves to look beyond the small things that cause strife in their relationship to find the larger themes so that the work toward healing and happiness can begin.
What about Me?: Stop Selfishness from Ruining Your Relationship
By Dr. Jane Greer
Sourcebooks Casablanca: November 2010
Paperback, 240 pages