Readers wanting to improve their empathy with a spouse will find TRADING PLACES by the marital team of Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott a pithy blend of solid relationship advice…and a big pitch for their subscription online program for couples, eHarmony Marriage.
The book is divided into three sections. Part one explores the basics of empathy, which the Parrotts call "part pep talk, part action plan and part prerequisite" to the "benefits you'll soon enjoy." Part two is the "three easy steps" to practicing empathy. Part three helps readers "drill down deep in a few specific areas of your marriage" for the richest rewards.
The core advice is well-written and on-target. When one spouse learns empathy for the other, marital happiness is exponentially improved. And empathy, or "trading places" (identifying with and understanding your spouse's situation, feelings and motives), can be done in three steps, they suggest, making this marital improvement feel attainable. How do you go about it? First, they say, you must set aside your own agenda or go outside yourself. Not permanently, but long enough to see your spouse's point of view. Second, you turn on your "emotional radar" and better learn to read your spouse's emotions. Third, you put your empathy into action.
The result of this "trading places," the Parrotts promise, is a wealth of dividends for your marriage. Among these: You reduce critical comments, eliminate nagging, short-circuit conflict and become better friends. Other benefits: Trading places with your spouse infuses your marriage with grace, helps you live longer, and gives you a boost in realizing your dreams together. Besides, they insist, "nothing works faster than empathy." That's good news for any marriage and certainly worth trying. As the Parrotts proffer their succinct and well-organized advice, they liberally sprinkle it with illustrations from their own marriage and from others. Plenty of genuine humor and clever anecdotes keep the reader from getting bogged down in too much "to-do" guidelines and tips.
But, in addition to good core advice, there is plenty of filler here. Quotes, pull-out boxes, wide margins, a large typeface, 20 pages of appendices and considerable white space throughout make this book actually quite a bit shorter than the page count might indicate. One of my biggest quibbles is a lot of up-front pushing for add-on sales. Readers are encouraged to buy either the TRADING PLACES WORKBOOK FOR WOMEN or FOR MEN in order to respond to the exercise questions at the end of each chapter. Although the book says it's not required, the first chapter exercise notes, "Of course, this chapter was intended to raise your level of self-awareness, but through this exercise (from the separately-purchased workbook) we want to help you do something about your new understanding. We want to help you apply it in a personal way so that it can make a meaningful difference." The reader immediately feels like the book they are reading is incomplete.
What I found most difficult was a chapter devoted to selling readers on the eHarmony Marriage Program, which feels like a seven-page advertisement. Advertisements belong in the back of a book, not as chapters in a book. I did click through to eHarmony Marriage's website and discovered the cost of the online subscription service and helps were "less than $150," possibly more if you buy the materials suggested (it was difficult to find out just how much everything actually cost without subscribing). After trying to see the site by typing in my e-mail and creating a password, I discovered I was now a subscriber --- and couldn't seem to get unsubscribed. However, the woman who I finally called in desperation to unsubscribe my account was friendly and helpful. If you are looking for detailed information on the website, call, don't subscribe, unless you are SURE you want to subscribe.
TRADING PLACES might be more valuable as part of the whole package --- workbooks and subscription service to the website --- instead of a stand-alone. Nonetheless, those looking for help in relating to a spouse will find some good tips within these pages.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on April 8, 2008