I first came across How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk (which I’ve fondly referred to as “The Jerk Book”) in my Couples and Family Therapy course as a counseling student. I was assigned to read it and provide a review for my classmates as a potential resource for counselors and clients. The title of the book seemed a bit cliché and I did not have high expectations. To my surprise and pleasure, I was wrong! John Van Epp, PhD, addresses the common problems in American society of finding a mate and creating a successful marriage/committed relationship. The author weaves detailed, practical information with anecdotal stories from real life and the movie screen. The read is easy, the language is straightforward. The book provides a comprehensive guide, backed by Dr. Van Epp’s science-based research, that offers knowledge and direction in safely navigating the search for a mate by using both the heart and the head in the process.
The reader is introduced to the author’s dating model, known as the Relationship Attachment Model (RAM). The RAM provides a simple scale of five factors which the author has determined are universal dynamics in a relationship (p. 22-24): know, trust, rely, commit, and touch. The order and balance of the RAM factors introduced into a dating relationship helps keep a person emotionally safe, so that dating can be explored, and potential partners can be assessed rationally (p. 24). Anytime the RAM scale is skewed, persons are at high risk for unsafe emotional health, problematic relationships, and a higher potential for future committed relationship problems (p. 22-24; 291-296).
The author spends a good amount of time providing some background on attachment theory concepts and research, and how poor childhood experiences contribute to unhealthy emotional needs, which surface in dating relationships (p. 33-35). Unhealthy emotional needs lead to relationship patterns “that attempt to interpersonally resolve what can only be fixed intra-personally” (p. 38). The author emphasizes that working on the self is essential prior to entering a healthy dating relationship (p. 49).
Part two of the book details the “head” or cognitive components in the RAM. The author proposes that modern day cultural norms have contributed to how people inaccurately assess knowing a person. The reality is that true knowledge of a person takes time, conversation, and experiences, which is the heart of intimacy (p. 58). The means by which to assess five areas that comprise getting know a person are practical and logical. Generally, a person takes in information based on observation through talking and experiences (p. 58; p. 62-64). A general overview of these five areas are discussed in chapters five through nine. These areas include compatibility, communication, patterns in a person’s relationships, family dynamics and history, and conscience.
Part three of the book moves into the “heart” realm of the RAM. The author aims to equip the reader in assessing compatibility with potential partners with themes related to trust, commitment, cohabitation, and sexual intimacy.
The content of this book is logical, practical, and useful. The model and concepts proposed are one way of assessing personal family history, attributes of past partners, and patterns in past relationships in order to make deliberate changes for the future. I’d argue there’s a great deal of information that is helpful for people already in committed relationships. I also like that the author highlights what true “knowing” really is: a holistic sense of being with and experiencing another, as opposed to modern culture’s tendency to define “knowing” as purely cognitive (p. 56).
I believe the book has the potential to positively impact any person or relationship where the desire to grow and change is present. I personally and professionally resonate with the author’s emphasis on the need to heal from broken relationships prior to pursuing new relationships. The author unquestionably states that positive relationships cannot heal past unhealthy relationships, and the only path toward personal healing as well as healthy future relationships is to “grieve the losses” of the past (p. 48).
If you are struggling with dating relationships, frustrated in your relationship patterns, or a counselor looking for an approachable and practical resource for clients with relationship challenges, consider reading this book. You can find a link to the author’s website here: https://shop.lovethinks.com/products/how-to-avoid-falling-in-love-with-a-jerk. You can also find it at other online book retailers and many local libraries.
Van Epp, J. (2007). How to avoid falling in love with a jerk: The foolproof way to follow your heart without losing your mind. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.