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Rewriting the Rules: An Integrative Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships

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We live in a time of great uncertainty about relationships. We search for "The One," but find ourselves staying single because nobody measures up. The reality of our relationships is not what we expected, and it becomes hard to balance it with all the other things that we want out of life. At the same time that marriage shows itself to be the one 'recession proof' industry; the rates of separation and break-up soar ever higher.



Rewriting the Rules is a friendly guide through the complicated - and often contradictory - rules of love: the advice that is given about attraction and sex, monogamy and conflict, gender and commitment. It asks questions such as: which to choose from all the rules on offer? Do we stick to the old rules we learnt growing up, or do we try something new and risk being out on our own?



This book considers how the rules are being 'rewritten' in various ways, for example the 'new monogamy', alternative commitment ceremonies, different ways of understanding gender, and new ideas for managing conflict and break-up where economics and child-care make complete separation a problem. In this way Rewriting the Rules gives the power to the reader to find the approach which fits their situation.

208 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2012

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About the author

Meg Barker

10 books18 followers
Now known as Meg John Barker.
Dr. Meg John Barker is a writer, therapist, and activist-academic specialising in sex, gender and relationships. Meg-John is a senior lecturer in psychology at the Open University and a UKCP accredited psychotherapist, and has over a decade of experience researching and publishing on these topics including the popular book Rewriting the Rules.

[Bio from http://rewriting-the-rules.com/about/....]

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Displaying 1 - 22 of 22 reviews
Profile Image for Jen .
277 reviews24 followers
January 27, 2021
You know how they say “When the student is ready the teacher will appear”? Well, I've been learning a lot of lessons over the last few years, but this book arrived back in my sights at exactly the right time. It's been on my wish list for a while, but after meeting the author at a conference and going to a valuable workshop of theirs on self-care and activist burnout, I knew I wanted to repay them by buying this... and it was well worth it.

I've just come out of a four year relationship which began just as I was embarking on a psychology degree, becoming interested in gender and feminism, learning about social constructionism, and during which I've been questioning my previously held beliefs.

The book covers our taken-for-granted rules about relationships, the ways in which these may be problematic and the alternative 'rules' which exist outwith mainstream society... suggesting that it may be best to hold all rules lightly, and to be flexible and in-the-moment about what really works for ourselves as individuals. Each chapter relates these thoughts to a specific topic - ourselves, attraction & body image, gender, sexuality, monogamy, conflict, break-ups and commitment. Some of the ideas resonated with thoughts I'd already had, and many were new and prompted deeper (and ongoing) reflection.

This is definitely a book I'll be re-reading and thinking about for a long time. It's had a massive impact on me and the way I'll go about any future relationships. Seriously, I think it should be required reading for everyone - even on the national curriculum!
Profile Image for Jasper.
3 reviews3 followers
April 5, 2013
This is a really interesting 'anti self help' book, it approaches relationships completely differently to how it seems most of society does and offers a new way of having relationships. The most interesting chapter was the one about monogamy, where Barker suggested that monogamy, rather than being a thing you do or don't do, is as most things are, a sliding scale. Another aspect of the book I enjoyed was how it avoided being heteronormative, especially when, within the self help genre, it is easy to assume a relationship is between a man and a woman. I would thoroughly recommend this to someone who wants an alternative way of looking at relationships.
Profile Image for Sage.
33 reviews30 followers
August 11, 2019
i really liked this, i would definitely recommend it to people interested in alternative views of human relationships (and maybe even especially to people who aren't interested in it). will almost certainly re-read some chapters over time
Profile Image for maddi1134.
83 reviews
January 4, 2015
I love the idea! From monogamy to gender roles to sexuatiy in a relationship: what should it look like? Why do you think that? Is what you're told right for you? I like this idea of carving out your own "rules", particularly for women who are misfed the how-tos from Cosmo. But, I was disappointed. It didn't really push the envelope enough for me, but perhaps that is because I have already been quite critical f the "rules" and have long since created my own vision for my relationships? I don't know.

My other large issue was a sense of othering. While LGB folks were covered as well as some gender expression, there was no real mention of tran folks, and the mention of LGB folks seemed more like "there's this thing: bisexuality!" rather than speaking TO people who identify as LGB.
Profile Image for Annalisa.
72 reviews
March 16, 2013
A thoughtful and straightforward look at the rules about relationships and how those rules no longer serve us.
Profile Image for Uri Baruchin.
56 reviews17 followers
May 15, 2014
If only more self-help books were providing people with help against the onslaught of the heteronormative relationship matrix, instead of further entrenching their readers in it.
Profile Image for Louisa Leontiades.
Author 6 books118 followers
September 21, 2015

As Terry Pratchett's great sage Granny Weatherwax put it: 'Sin young man, is when you treat people as things including yourself, that's what sin is.'

It's an unlikely reference to find in a book which appears from the outside to be a psychology text book, and yet that's just one of the 'spoonfuls of sugar' found in the book "Rewriting the Rules" written by Dr. Meg Barker, senior psychology lecturer and a founding member of BiUK (the same Meg Barker of recent 'Pink List' 2013 fame).

Yet in another way, it's only to be expected. Because the crux of her book is the comparison and juxtaposition of the current rules of gender, sexuality, love and attraction depicted in pop culture versus how they work in reality without society's imposition of what is viewed as 'normal' and acceptable. And normal - as we all know - means Sex And The City (with specific episodes and events highlighted to illustrate various case studies), Friends and plenty of Hollywood blockbusters thrown in (oh Mrs Doubtfire, how we love thee).

However those fizzingly light references are artfully mixed with some profound psychological insights, a dash of eastern philosophy and a few heavyweight quotes from Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre and Judith Butler. It's not just the big philosophers either...for those familiar with today's fish in polyamorous ponds, relationship scientist Bjarne Holmes, The Ethical Slut authors Eastern and Hardy, and More Than Two blogger Franklin Veaux also get a mention.

In fact the whole book is a dichotomous mixture of wisdom and self deprecating wit with serious clinical terms and sit-com humour. In this way it is far more palatable than other psychology text books. And yet it is still a reference book; because the uncomfortable truths which sit in it, need digesting more than once, and each chapter undermines many of our society's traditional rules (which with some expansion could have each been a book in themselves). Which means that it's no less valuable as a guidebook, but it IS a different kind of book. It does itself rewrite the rules of what we might expect from books. A single book dismantling self, and gender, and attraction, and monogamy, and love, and conflict, and break-up and commitment? Make no mistake, for the uninitiated this is not a cover to cover read; moreover unless you've been exposed to some non-normative thinking in the past, you may not even make it all the way through quite simply because it will challenge too many ideas at once.
And yet since the principle takeaway from this book

...'is that clinging to the common rules too rigidly, often paradoxically, ends up with us being less likely to get what we were aiming for in the first place'

...the beauty in this book is that it may sit on your bookshelf for months and years before you dip into it again. And then only because in your misery over a 'failed' relationship you recall reading something about how break-ups can really be re-framed as positive change. Or perhaps having considered yourself heterosexual all your life a sudden surprising liaison with your same sex colleague will leave you guiltily bewildered until you check in with the 'sexuality and gender' chapter and read about how we all evolve, and change along a continuum for our entire lives.

Whilst I can truly say that if I had read this book during my youth (caged by my mind), I would have scorned it as a ludicrously over intellectualized and liberal piece of dangerous propaganda. But now in my 38th year I read it nodding along, unsurprised by its content and pleasantly comforted by some good analysis. In an ideal world I would have liked THIS book to introduce me to my medicinal philosophies that have been painfully swallowed through my own bitter (but enlightening!) experience because its language and style couch previously unacceptable truths in a respectable veneer of humble pedagogy. And had I read about those truths framed in the sugary language of Nick Hornby, Terry Pratchett and Frank Zappa the medicine would have gone down so much easier.

As it is, I hope that my recommendation of Meg's work helps others rewrite their rules more joyfully.

Review republished from author's own Book Reviews at Louisa Leontiades
December 13, 2016
I encountered this book through a reading group/meetup about love and politics. I felt a little bit mixed about the book, but then again it is by far the best book that I know of about relationships that is both for a general audience and is influenced by broadly queer/feminist perspective. I found the chapter on monogamy the best, due to a lot of personal knowledge the author seems to bring in on how non-monogamous people experience their relationships. Also the gender and sex chapters are much more thoughtful and genuine than you would usually find a (allegedly anti-) self-help book. Having said that, I found the book was somehow a little bit flat in exploring on what relationships are for people in the first place, why they form such central parts of life projects and what kind of social pressures apply on them in different contexts.
Profile Image for Anita Cassidy.
Author 1 book11 followers
May 20, 2015
This is an incredible book. The key messages? Challenge your assumptions. Consider the alternatives. Open your mind and your heart. Flexibility, consciousness and communication are crucial. With no overstatement at all, this book has transformed my marriage. Maybe it could do the same for yours? Give it a read.
Profile Image for Sam Benson.
95 reviews
May 4, 2017
Really great, super useful! Some chapters and examples resonated more than others, but recommend this as reading for anyone - a great guide through questioning the often unquestioned assumptions and forging new ways to approach all kinds of relationships. I have lots of ideas to take away from this book that I suspect I will be thinking about and working on for a long time.
Profile Image for Rabi.
32 reviews15 followers
March 10, 2016
Thoughtful read, your untypical self help book or anti-self help book as the author describes it
Profile Image for rixx.
791 reviews39 followers
October 5, 2019
Many if not most books on relationships out there are not good. Sometimes the author had a spot of luck and generalises. Sometimes it's just stuffed with common knowledge, or advice meant to make people feel in control. Of course, most of them are also horribly gendered, and subscribe to differences between men and women at ridiculous levels, and/or assume relationships to be heterosexual.

**Rewriting the Rules** by *Meg-John Barker* was way better than that. I found it well-structured, and coming from excellent principles. It moves through a set of topics, starting from dealing with oneself, going through different points of relationships with others, such as starting out, having sex, separating, dealing with conflict, and ends on a couple of very good practical observations. All chapters discuss cultural rules we may apply without thinking (about gender, sex, behaviour in general, partnerships vs friendships, etc), and how they can be harmful and beneficial. This discussion is both very practical and very differentiated, which makes for a nice change compared with most other books of this type. I'd recommend it without hesitation for people looking to read and think a bit about relationships and friendships.
Profile Image for Siobhan Hypatia.
75 reviews1 follower
September 22, 2018
This book is a practical guide to questioning the tyrannies of existing 'traditional' relationship models and to understanding what it is about relationships that is not working for you and how to make it better. I'd recommend it over any other practical relationship-related books I've seen. For me, reading it was like pouring some soothing liquid into the cracks of the knowledge I've built up over the years. As I've been exploring different kinds of relationships for a while, it wasn't new information for me, but it is refreshing to see such a book appear, and it's always enjoyable to get some framework, some backup, for where your instincts are taking you.
Profile Image for Alejandro Núñez baladrón.
26 reviews2 followers
December 20, 2017
This is a magnificent pop-psychology book. Wants you to open your mind, to find new lines of thought, to think out of the box, or to make you feel you are not alone, also to guide you and kindly advice you and confort you on how to move, towards yourself and others. Succeeded with me. It doesn’t want to create false expectations, truths or hopes, speaks wholeheartedly but also frankly and coldmindedly at times. Humanly flawed but overall a very nutritive read.
1,503 reviews2 followers
March 11, 2018
As an almost divorced guy trying to figure out what relationships he wants in life, this book has been a fresh of breath air. An exhalation. A spoonerism.

It takes rules that seem to underline everything and bring them into the front yard to be looked at in a critical way. Does it mean that you need to tear everything up and start over? No. But there is an ability to do so and some provocative ways to approach it.

614 reviews2 followers
August 12, 2018
One of my favourite writers about relationships, they present an alternative way of looking at how we relate to the people we love and how many different ways we may want to configure our lives. I found this book absorbing and it gave me may things to think about and consider especially around gender, sexuality and relationship diversity.
Profile Image for Mattia.
283 reviews11 followers
October 24, 2017
Solid read with lots of good reminders. Had I not already done a lot of this work it would have had more personal impact. Still, I recommend it even to the radical queers! Author is non-binary, woo.
Profile Image for Ionuț.
11 reviews
March 11, 2018
A marvelous study on relationships, rules and the way we perceive them nowadays. It's a must-read for somebody still doubting his own powers and personalities.
Profile Image for Antti Koskinen.
217 reviews3 followers
January 19, 2019
Kirja joka katsoo parisuhdetta täysin normin ulkopuolelta ja ehkä siksi olikin niin ajatuksia herättävä. Erinomainen kirja!
Profile Image for Imogeneblue.
62 reviews6 followers
September 3, 2020
I wish I knew about this book years ago! It's a fantastic compilation! Recommended reading for anyone who's ready to break the mold in their relationships to self and others.
Profile Image for Henna.
57 reviews
May 5, 2021
Super interesting and thought-provoking, particularly the chapters around yourself, sex, and monogamy. Definitely one to revisit at different stages in your life
Displaying 1 - 22 of 22 reviews

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