Love Now grew out of Jan Harrell and Alan Robins’ 45-year marriage and their careers as practicing psychotherapists. Unlike many books about relationships, Love Now blends hard-earned, practical wisdom and professional expertise. The result is a highly accessible book, the couple’s first. Alan Robins passed away in 2015. Jan Harrell, who splits her time between Woodland Hills and Ashland, Oregon, spoke recently with the Santa Barbara Independent.
What does our cultural mythology teach us about love and relationships? For the most part we get barraged with a Disney-fied version of immediate love and happily ever after. It gives us reality TV shows that focus more on wedding celebrations than on the marriage itself. We get superficiality that doesn’t help us solve the puzzle that is a human relationship. When I read fairy tales to my daughter, I would always change the ending to something like: The prince and the princess went to live in the castle, where they learned to talk about their feelings and solve their problems.
You write about the idea that we are not born with any knowledge of how relationships work. Right. It’s such a simple idea that we overlook it. Most of what we know comes from our parents; the rest we have to learn on our own, through trial, error, and missteps. Six months into my marriage to Al, I was ready to leave. He was 20, I was 18, and we knew very little about marriage or ourselves. Fortunately, we were both avid learners. We learned what we needed from one another, and that we would learn as long as we lived.
To what extent is Love Now about unlearning our assumptions about relationships? There’s some of that, but perhaps more than unlearning, what helps is to realize that marriage or any long-term relationship is a project that is always in development. In our practice we often saw people who felt themselves failures when the real issue was lack of self-knowledge and emotional awareness. Once they understood this, change was possible. One of our primary objectives as therapists was to give people hope that they could change themselves and their relationships.
Jan Harrell will read and discuss her book on Wednesday, August 15, at 7 p.m., at Chaucer’s Books (3321 State St.).