Examinations of marriages and other intimate connections written by experts often focus on identifying healthy versus unhealthy behaviors. Books tend to look at what is “good” or “appropriate,” or what sorts of actions and reactions are unhealthy. Self-help books in this arena look at romance, sex, and partnership from an array of angles, including self-examination and spiritual foundations. However, few volumes seem to exist that include a discussion of how to heal from dysfunctional relationships.
Thomas Fiffer, author of Why It Can’t Work: Detaching from Dysfunctional Relationships to Make Room for True Love, states from the outset that he is not a professional expert, that the tips he offers should not be substituted for professional care, and that while he uses familiar psychological nomenclature such as bipolar disorder and personality disorders, his book should not be viewed as a key to such disorders. Rather, his self-published book offers a firsthand and practical framework through which readers may view and compare issues of dysfunctional relationships.
What sets this book apart from many others in the self-help or relationship category is that it offers a personal experience, not just a theoretical perspective. For a reader injured by a dysfunctional marriage, Fiffer provides examples from his own two marriages, but not with jargon or “This is what I went through” stories. Instead, he provides signs of dysfunction and uses a personal perspective to draw the reader into the conversation.
Fiffer is also the author of What is Love? A Guide for the Perplexed to Matters of the Heart and Undiscovered Secrets: Uncommon Wisdom on Common Words (under his pen name, Tom Aplomb). He has also written hundreds of blog posts for the Good Men Project, a site designed by and for men where discussions relate to “what it means to be a good man in the twenty-first century.” In Why It Can’t Work, Fiffer includes those blog posts — as well as the reactions to his posts from people on social media.
In addition to pointing out the overarching signs of a dysfunctional relationship or marriage, Fiffer offers chapters on why couples fight, how love relates to abuse, identification of emotional withholding, and the roles the so-called victim plays in the problem relationship.
Fiffer’s book takes the conversation of dysfunctional relationships in a new direction. He identifies the actions and statements that each relationship participant does, says, or responds to and offers a comparison. The stories and examples not only identify the behaviors of the aggressor but also discuss the ways in which the receiver reacts, thus allowing readers to identify themselves in the role they play at home. The text gently invites the readers examine the self and determine best next steps for mental, emotional, and physical healing and safety.
Though his is a self-help book, Fiffer does not encourage readers to take specific actions. Instead, he provides reasons why people stay in such relationships, the signs that a relationship may be headed toward dysfunction, and the stories people tell themselves about why their relationship is worth saving — even when it may already be beyond the point or purpose of reconciliation.
This is not written as a scholarly text on the topic of relationships, but could be helpful to practitioners who need to point their clients to an easy read on a difficult topic. The consistent use of the second-person voice may be slightly off-putting to academically minded readers, but it is important to remember that the book is a compilation of social media discussions and ideas (blog posts and Facebook interactions). Overall, it provides a lay view of relationships that may help in some situations.
Why It Can’t Work: Detaching from Dysfunctional Relationships to Make Room for True Love
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, April 2015
Paperback, 134 pages