In No Perfect Love: Shattering the Illusion of Flawless Relationships, Dr. Alyson Nerenberg guides readers on how to deal with perfectionist expectations in our relationships. Dr. Nerenberg weaves together personal anecdotes, case studies, and years of experience as a psychologist in this life-changing how-to book that will not only develop but also preserve healthy relationships. No Perfect Love equips us with powerful tools, enlightening questions, and compassion as we embrace perfectly imperfect love.
To learn more about the story behind the story, read A Good Book To End The Day’s interview with the author below.
Please share a little about yourself and your journey to becoming an author.
As far back as I remember, I have always loved to write. When I was a child, I kept a diary. When I became a teenager, I renamed it my journal and used it to describe all of the teenage angst I was feeling, from friendship losses to romantic relationship breakups. My journal was what kept me sane. But then life happened, and I stopped writing. Fast forward 35 years and I became a psychologist with a busy private practice. For many years, I would listen intensely as patients would share their heartfelt and at times tragic or triumphant narratives. Unfortunately, I never had the time to write about what I was hearing. A quick progress note at the end of a 50-minute hour was all I had time to jot down. You see, I have 3 kids ranging in ages from 11 to 22 years old who keep me very busy. With all of their activities and drama I just never had the time for creative writing. As John Lennon, eloquently said, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.”
My life sure had a lot of plans in it as I juggled my roles of wife, mother, and psychologist. My creative outlet of writing simply got discarded. Until 2018 when I attended a continuing education class for psychologists. In this class, the instructor asked us to turn to the person sitting next to us and share with them a life goal and what has stood in our way from accomplishing it. I turned to the gentleman seated next to me and shared with him that I always had the goal of writing a book but never had the time due to my life responsibilities. I confided to him that this was my dream, but I didn’t even know what I would write about. He wisely turned to me and said, “I get it. Writing a book is overwhelming. Maybe you should just write a blog post. If you write one blog post per month for a year you will have 12 blog posts and that will be the beginning of your book.” One blog post a month, this was something I could commit to accomplishing. I left the class after promising him that I would write one blog post a month and I actually followed through with that commitment. The blog posts were so much fun for me to write. I wrote about my patients’ issues and my own. I described parenting struggles and tough moments in my marriage. I used psychological theories and my own common-sense approach to life. After writing these I put them on a tab on my website but did not allow comments or promote them in any way. I simply wrote as a way of getting my thoughts out and did not think of anyone else’s reactions. At the end of a year and a half, I had 18 blog posts. I then reached out to my friend in LA who was a prolific author and shared with him how proud I was of the blog posts and asked him about the possibility of turning them into a book. He gave me the name of an editor friend of his, Scott Brassart, who he thought could be of assistance. He told me that Scott was an honest person and would tell me if he believed my content could be edited into the outline for a book. This wasn’t so scary. It was just a friend of a friend, so I took a risk and shared my writing. Luckily, Scott “got me.’’ He understood my vision and was able to help me form chapters based on all of the topics of my blog posts. When I told this editor that I wasn’t even sure what the common theme was for all of my blog posts he said “that is easy. All your writing is about letting go of the illusion of perfection in our relationships.” Basically, I had been writing my book without even knowing it.
Writing my book was the easy part. Finding a publisher was the more difficult task. After collecting almost, a dozen rejection letters from popular publishing houses, and being strung along for 9 months by a possible publisher who eventually was “no longer employed,” by the publisher who I thought was investing in my book; I realized there was no perfect publisher! At this point, I saw on Facebook that an acquaintance of mine had published the most beautiful book. I reached out to her on a whim, and she introduced me to her publisher: Joy Stocke from Tree of Life Publishers. Joy and I instantly connected, and she immediately understood my purpose for writing No Perfect Love. Joy lived up to her name and my experience in working with the whole team was positive. Finally, my book had found a home.
What attracted you to the idea of writing No Perfect Love? And why was this the ideal time to do it?
My husband shamed me into finally writing my book. ”If you don’t write this book now during a pandemic when are you ever going to write it?” he asked. You see for the past 25 years that we have been married he has heard me speak over and over about my dream of writing, however, life got in the way. The work of raising 3 kids and running my own psychology practice has kept me constantly juggling tasks to keep the balls up in the air. Additionally, I am an extroverted person who was frequently socializing or participating in activities. The pandemic changed all of that and I finally decided to give myself the opportunity to write. Writing was the easy part. My stories just flew out of me. I wrote about my patients’ triumphs and tragedies and what I have learned after 30 years of counseling them. I also dug deeper and authentically shared my own struggles and successes. I wasn’t sure of the theme of it at first but then I realized that so much of our common struggles were about letting go of the illusion of perfection in our relationships. “Accepting what is” instead of “what should be” was a difficult task. Together I combined my stories with psychological theory, 12-Step wisdom, and popular culture.
When I look deeply into who inspired me, I have to say it has been a culmination of the respect I have for my husband, children, family, friends, and my patients. They have all motivated me to share their stories with grace honor and love.
If there is one overarching message that you hope readers take away from this book, what would it be?
Regardless of what social media posts display, relationships are not perfect. In fact, in all-important relationships, especially romantic relationships, there are disappointments and struggles. Working through those disappointments is crucial to growing in your relationship.
What I’ve learned from my own trials and tribulations, as well as my patients’ is that our imperfections are what make us interesting. They create the narratives for our lives and keep our stories colorful as we grow. We don’t have to create the perfect story: we can however embrace the imperfect messiness we all have. There is meaning to be learned from what has gone wrong, as well as what has gone right and how we made sense of the situation.
Overcoming perfectionistic expectations is such an all-encompassing topic. Did you learn anything surprising about yourself while writing No Perfect Love?
Yes. I have learned many things about myself from writing this book. First, I never realized how hard it would be to begin. My own perfectionistic expectations initially kept me stuck hoping to have the perfect introduction. Finally, I just had to let that go and begin writing. Secondly, I never realized how vulnerable I would feel putting my patients’ stories and my own out there. I wanted to “do right by my patients” and describe their struggles with courage and dignity. I also worked hard at camouflaging their identities in order to provide them confidentiality while keeping their stories authentic. That was challenging. With my personal stories, I felt a bit exposed as I wrote about my own difficulties and moments of growth. As I described my family, I wanted to respect their boundaries but also speak my truth in order to have a more genuine and accessible book. In the end, I am glad for the risks I took and feel proud of the finished product. Lastly, I have never been a self-promoting person and luckily have rarely had to market my private practice. Promoting my book has felt awkward at times and I am definitely out of my comfort zone. Just yesterday, my publisher gave me the reframe to look at it as if I am not promoting myself but am instead promoting the book’s messages of hope and healing. I am surprised by how much stretching and growth have accompanied this whole entire process of writing and promoting No Perfect Love.
As a psychologist, I’m sure you understand the power of words and how they may affect someone. What was an early experience with the power of language?
I realize the power of the way we speak to ourselves and others. It is not just the words we select that matter but how we speak them. Are we present? Are we making eye contact with the other person when we talk to them? Are we letting our eyes sparkle and our faces light up? Everyone wants to know that they matter and that we are giving them our full attention.
Years ago, I saw an interview with Toni Morrison where she said that when a child enters the room and looks at her parents, what she is searching for is to see if their faces are lighting up. Are their eyes sparkling? Do the grown-ups in the room care if she is there?
So often as parents we are preoccupied with our cell phones or the next event we need to attend. When we do pause to see our children, we are focusing on their imperfections. We may tuck in our son’s shirt or fix our daughter’s hair to make sure that they look presentable., however, the message that the child receives is that he or she is not good enough the way he or she is. Luckily when I first saw this interview my children were babies. I realized that my words needed to be nurturing and accepting, allowing my children to know how happy I am to be with them. I do my best to allow my eyes to sparkle when they are in the room. Sometimes I fail and am not as present or as kind with my words as I’d like to be. When that happens, I try to be gentle with myself and vow to do better the next time.
I use the same principles when I am talking to everyone whether it is with my children, my husband, the patients I treat, or the woman that works checking out groceries at the supermarket. We all have the same desire to know that we are seen and appreciated. Our words and our attitude matter. By being present and kind we can make people around us feel valued.
Do you have any other projects in the works at this time?
I am presently working on creating an audiobook for No Perfect Love. It should be available by the end of the week! As an avid reader, I have never been someone who listens to audiobooks, but I have taken the suggestion of many of my patients who explained to me the value of this modality. They shared how they love to exercise or walk the dog while listening to their audiobooks. On my way to the studio to record my book, I began listening to another author’s audiobook in the car, and I loved it. For days I couldn’t wait to return to my car to hear what happened in the story. Now I am buying more audiobooks and embracing a whole new way of enjoying books.
How can readers keep in touch with you?
I would love to keep in touch with readers! The best way would be by following me on social media. As a new author, I have recently created an Instagram. Also, my website is www.healingrelationshipspa.com.