Published by IVP on February 9, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Marriage, Memoir, Parenting
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When we quit sabotaging intimacy in our relationships by demanding unconditional love, we discover something much greater--the deeply satisfying, transformational love that is companionship. In these pages psychologist Kelly Flanagan shows how each of us has within ourselves, exactly the way we are, the gifts that are needed to cultivate the life-long relationships we are longing for, whether it is within marriage or friendship. He shows us how self-knowledge leads the way to growing in love for both God and others. He shows us how understanding our own loneliness can help us relieve the pressure on our companions. And he shows us how understanding our own psychological and emotional defenses can help us to make the choice to love more vulnerably. More than a marriage book, this is a companionship book. Anyone--from single young adults to elderly married couples, from the divorced to the widowed, from siblings to friends--can benefit from the wisdom it uncovers about what it means to be human and to be true companions. Groups, couples, and individuals can use the companion study guide for five sessions on how to show up in your most important relationships.
True Companions: A Book for Everyone about the Relationships That See Us Through is a deep, personal, and introspective book. Kelly Flanagan’s writing is beautiful and insightful, and he shares psychological concepts with clarity and vision. However, in many ways, the book isn’t what I expected. More than focusing on relationships, it focuses on how we can connect with ourselves and accept the ultimate fact of our loneliness, recognizing that even though we are inherently lovable and worthy, we often don’t feel that way, and try to erase our sense of alienation by merging with another person. Flanagan shows how our expectations of unconditional love backfire, and as he shares personal stories from his childhood, youth, and adulthood, he shows how he has grown in understanding himself and the people around him.
I found this very interesting, and it was a timely read for me, since I had just had an emotional breakdown over isolating life experiences that no one I know can truly understand, no matter how kindly they listen. This book encouraged me, and Flanagan’s dialogues with his younger self made me feel less strange, since I often imagine similar conversations. However, this was still very different from what I had expected, and this book does not offer as much practical insight into relationships as some readers might prefer. This is less about how to enrich and strengthen your connections with others, and more about how to do the inner work to have healthier expectations and respond to others in a better way. It’s wonderful for what it is, but I think that the title and description are slightly misleading.
Another important element to note is that even though the description advertises that this book is for both single and married people, and isn’t just about romantic relationships, Flanagan’s illustrations primarily focus on his experiences as a husband and father. He incorporates letters to his wife throughout the book, and even though he uses inclusive language about relationships throughout the book and doesn’t only refer to family connections, I had hoped for specific, targeted insight into friendships. I don’t mind reading books that focus on marriage, and his illustrations were memorable and moving, but since one of this book’s selling points is its broader definition of important relationships, I wish that there had been more illustrations and practical insights into platonic companionship.
This book is best for people who are in committed romantic relationships, and it can be especially encouraging and helpful for highly sensitive men, who rarely see perspectives like theirs in print. I enjoyed this, and appreciated learning from Flanagan’s psychological and therapeutic experience, along with his personal stories. This book is insightful and unique, and even though it isn’t quite what I expected, I gained a lot of important insights from it, and am thankful that I had the opportunity to read it.