"The fundamental requirement for any satisfying relationship is a reciprocal ability to see the world as others see it, to be able to put ourselves in someone else's shoes," writes Gordon Livingston, a psychiatrist and writer whose previous books include Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart and And Never Stop Dancing. Empathy is an important capacity in all our days and doings but is especially crucial in our intimate relationships. In three sections of this enlightening paperback, Livingston covers personality types who are likely to hurt us, the virtues that we relish in others and want to develop in ourselves, and the relationships we establish and try to improve.
Here is a list of those we should not expect to endure a mature and long-lasting relationship: those who are self absorbed, narcissists, borderliners, and sociopaths. Others who do not wear well over time include those who are overly anxious, depressed, bored, addicted, or unable to listen. In contrast to these disordered personalities, Livingston has chosen 10 virtues which we should seek out in others and try to nurture within ourselves. The author explores each them in the second section of this paperback.
The 10 virtues are: kindness, optimism, courage, loyalty, tolerance, flexibility, beauty, humor, honesty, and intelligence. Livingston calls kindness "the wellspring of our happiness," and reveals the sustaining force of optimism as the capacity to look for the best in everything. Courage in a relationship is helpful in overcoming fear and developing resiliency. An old fashioned virtue which is indispensable to intimacy is loyalty which combines fidelity and dependability. Livingston pays tribute to tolerance when it enables people to "travel light, unburdened by hate or regret, accepting the differences in people that make of life an endless wonder." There are many other insights in the author's treatment of the last five virtues.
The challenge to find happiness and fulfillment in an intimate relationship is very real for many people. Livingston ends with this note of wisdom:
"We stumble through life without the owner's manual that we should have been issued at birth. We try to discern how to get our physical and emotional needs met. We attempt to learn from our frequent and painful mistakes. We suffer the sting of rejection and loneliness. And through it all we try to discover whom to avoid and whom to cherish as if our very lives depended on it."