Posted by: counselorcarmella | September 15, 2011

Book Review: The DNA of Relationships

I recently read, for the second  time,  “The DNA of Relationships” by Gary Smalley and   co-authors. Dr. Smalley is well-known in Christian circles for his advice on marital, family, and  relationship issues.   


Dr. Smalley states that we all have  relational DNA and that we are wired for three relationships.  We were created to be  in relationship with   God, self, and others.  The stronger we are in any of these areas, the stronger we will be in the other two.  The reverse is true, as well. The problem is that, oftentimes, these relationships are in deep trouble.  We are frequently disconnected    from God,  from ourselves, and from others. As a result,  our relational and emotional selves are often  off balance  and  damaged.


Smalley reminds us that,in order to  stay healthy in these three relationships, we must take care of ourselves.  Self care allows us to have the energy and perspective we need so we can, among other things,  make wise decisions about how to   relate to the important people in our lives. Again, this includes self and God as well as family and friends.  Far too often, we run ourselves into the ground physically or emotionally before we realize what’s happening.  Smalley  encourages us to make necessary changes to  resolve problems related to self care.


Smalley calls his emphasis on personal responsibility “the power of one.”  He says we are all  capable of making intentional choices about how we will relate to God, self, and others.  It is up to each of us to   monitor our thoughts, feelings, and reactions, no matter what someone else does to  push our buttons. In  this book, the buttons that get pushed are called “fear buttons.  Smalley says we all have core fears. These fears are often related to being controlled or being helpless, or being  abandoned or rejected.  The book provides information to help readers figure out what their core fears are and  also describes common reactions to  these fears. 


What usually happens, Smalley says, is that  one person’s core fear button gets pushed and they react in a way that activates the other person’s core fear.  Then, the  two  get stuck in a fear dance that  damages the relationship.  The dance is about each of them wanting to feel differently and hoping the other person will change to make them more comfortable.


Smalley says we have to create a climate of safety in our relationships to break out of the fear dance.  This involves communication that is about understanding the other person’s deeper feelings and  longings.  This communication  comes from a place of valuing that other person and their vulnerabilities and  differences.  It involves really listening  and  being curious rather than judgmental. When someone feels valued, they don’t feel the need to put up walls because  the other person is being  trustworthy with their emotions. We are all more able to stay engaged when dialogue is respectful and  caring.  We are far less likely to shut down or go on the defensive. 


Smalley states that this climate of safety  and  openness should involve a “no losers” agreement where both parties know the other person wants both of them to feel good about the outcome. This way, it isn’t about someone giving in or  about someone being right. It is about working together to try and  find problem solutions they can both feel comfortable with. Smalley  says that, most times, when the two people involved really communicate and feel understood,  the problem almost resolves itself.  I can  grasp the idea that, when people are connected and talking calmly and feeling respected and valued,  solutions seem easier to come by.  I don’t know that I believe it is as easy as Smalley  says it is.  This may be why he states that, even when  this doesn’t work, both parties still know an honest attempt was made to  have a win/win result.  


Smalley is  honest about the fact that communication and  maintaining safety aren’t always  easy and that  there will be problems, but he stresses that the end results are well worth the work.  He  states that these principles can work with  couples, parents and kids, colleagues, and friends.  There are plenty of examples throughout the book to illustrate the  concepts  presented and there are  summaries at the end of each chapter.   “The DNA of Relationships” is practical and easy-to-read. The lists  Smalley  often uses are helpful in keeping concepts organized.  I believe this book   could be very helpful for  almost any type of relationship.





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