By virtue of his many books, videos and speaking engagements, Gary Smalley has gained a nationwide reputation as a "relationship expert."
Early on in this latest book, he explains its title. We are all created with a certain "relationship DNA code . . . made up of three simple yet profound strands: 1. You are made for relationships. 2. You are made with the capacity to choose. 3. You are made to take responsibility for yourself."
But the book quickly moves to a different metaphor, of a relational dance in which one's steps or moves are predicated by one's fears. The anecdote introducing this metaphor is about husband and wife "Dan and Celeste." Precariously unemployed Dan has just received an out-of-state job offer, but Celeste vehemently resists moving away from her friends and extended family. The "surface problem" or conflict is about whether they stay or go. But "the external problem is rarely the real problem." Rather, conflicts are usually rooted in core fears: for women, usually some variation of fear of disconnection; for men, "of helplessness or feeling controlled."
The rest of the book explains how to "break the rhythm of the Fear Dance" by taking responsibility for oneself and learning "new dance steps." Though the strategies apply to any close relationship, the major intent is improving marital dynamics.
Like Smalley's previous books, THE DNA OF RELATIONSHIPS is engaging, largely because he sprinkles his teaching points with anecdotes in which he presents himself as the jerk who has taken years to learn lessons he wants to pass along; the "relationship expert" is just a regular guy. His style is also evident in this book's clear outline; for example, chapter 4, "The Power of One: Take Personal Responsibility" includes "six steps to take control of your emotions and reactions to life." For extra measure, each chapter ends with a one-page "One-Minute Review" of the major points.
An appendix titled "Identify Your Core Fear" contains a six-part questionnaire, helpful to anyone looking for insight into how and why a particular person gets under your skin. And buried in chapter 10 is mention of a free book study guide and a "relationship evaluation test, which we have found to be 90 percent accurate with married couples," both available at www.thednaofrelationships.com.
The voice throughout THE DNA OF RELATIONSHIPS is vintage Gary. (Lest you forget, his name unnecessarily is printed at the top of every left page.) But the title page lists three co-authors: his two sons, Greg and Michael, and Robert Paul, "who developed much of the original concepts." In working with these men --- what they call the "Relationship Revolution Team" --- Gary looks to the future, challenging the younger generation to catch the vision to reverse the distressing trend that born-again Christians have a higher divorce rate than agnostics.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on September 24, 2004