Most couples will admit that it takes work to maintain a healthy relationship. During those first exciting stages of dating, everyone is wearing their best party manners. It can be hard to find fault with one another. Those minor character flaws might be perceived as endearing or quirky in the beginning. Six months later, they're called perpetually annoying habits or unbearable irritants.
When two people try to build on that initial bliss, problems can and do arise. Compromise becomes a necessity, and the glaring reality of imperfection shines like a spotlight. Relationship experts say people are rarely emotionally stagnant, even when they are one-half of the ideal pair. Combine the routine life challenges with a few unavoidable surprises and the most stable couples can sometimes find that they need help.
Where do they turn most often for relationship advice? After confiding in a trusted friend, but before seeking full-fledged professional counseling, many will head straight for the bookstore's self-help aisle. It's an amazingly successful billion-dollar industry aimed specifically at doling out advice to the lovelorn, loveless, or heartbroken.
The business now targets relationship seekers, recovering divorcees and every other imaginable aspect of the mating dance. There's a do-it-yourself book for everything relationships. Add in seminars, retreats, television and radio shows, websites and audio books and you have a full-blown empire.
To name the most effective relationship experts would be difficult and subjective; but a “Who's Who” list has emerged over the years. Each has a unique style and a different claim to fame. Their devoted audiences are as varied as their credentials and techniques. From the conventional to the unusual, here's a list of the world's most highly recognized names in the relationship advice industry:
o Dr. Ruth Westheimer The diminutive 80-year-old psychosexual therapist, known simply as “Dr. Ruth,” was one of the first people ever to bring frank discussions of human sexuality to the forefront and into the living room. Her radio show, Sexually Speaking, which started as an “after-hours” listener call-in program, first aired in 1980. This icon has since authored numerous books, hosted her own television show, launched a number of games and videos, and still operates her very popular website.
o Dr. Philip McGraw “Dr. Phil” is sure to go down in history as a no-nonsense relationship expert and the epitome of personal branding at its best. McGraw emerged onto the national scene by making frequent guest appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show where he was an instant hit with the audience. His common sense approach to couples counseling, colorful euphemisms, and “average guy” appeal has earned the bestselling author a household name and status as the king of daytime television.
o Dr. John Gray He first taught us that Venus and Mars were much more than planets and the mythological figures we thought they were. His relationship philosophy and advice revolve around one basic premise: that men and women are intrinsically different and the key to solving relationship issues lies in understanding and honoring those differences. According to his website, over 40 million copies of his Venus-Mars book series, printed in 45 languages, have been sold worldwide.
o John Welwood, Ph.D. Welwood's trademark style to unraveling the mysteries of intimate relationships integrates traditional western psychology with eastern spiritual wisdom. He spent his early years as a student of philosophy, including two years at the Sorbonne in Paris studying existentialist thought. In addition to being a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, Welwood is an award-winning author of a series of relationship books. Journey of the Heart, Ordinary Magic, and Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships: Healing the Wound of the Heart are among the most famous.
o David Deida There's no doubt this New Age relationship guru has his share of controversy. His bestselling book bears a title that practically jumps off the bookshelf: The Way of the Superior Man. One reviewer raved, calling it “an astonishingly practical guidebook to living a masculine life of integrity, authenticity, and freedom.” Another summed it up as “misogynistic tripe.” But Deida's biggest critics point to his lack of credentials, insisting he has no formal degrees from an accredited institution. Yet fans remain loyal. Deida's spiritually based relationship seminars for men, women, and couples continue to sell out.
o Dr. John Gottman Dr. Gottman is one of the most academically credentialed therapists on the list. As cofounder of the Gottman Institute in Seattle, he and his wife, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, seek to help couples and have the institute serve as a training ground for mental health professionals. The media dubbed his laboratory at the University of Washington, the “Love Lab” because of his research in couple interactions. His scientific approach to forecasting marital success is remarkable: Gottman is able to predict with more than 90% accuracy which couples will make it, and which will not.
o Dr. Laura Schlessinger “Dr. Laura” is a favorite for the most controversial psychotherapists to ever hang a shingle. Some say she epitomizes anti-feminism, yet after 30 years in radio talk show hosting, she is still immensely popular. Call-in listeners are familiar with her confrontational style of dispensing advice and her books are equally straightforward. Eleven of them have regularly made the N.Y. Time's bestseller list. The first one, Ten Stupid Things Women Do To Mess Up Their Lives, debuted in 1994. The Brooklyn native earned her Post-Doctoral Certification in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling at the University of Southern California.
o Dr. Gary Smalley He is the founder of the Today's Family organization and the Smalley Relationship Center, a multipurpose family and marriage-counseling center with a 14-point mission statement based in Christian doctrine. During the past 35 years, Smalley has authored books, conducted hundreds of marriage seminars, and reached conference audiences that now number in the millions. His famous award-winning infomercial, “Hidden Keys to Loving Relationships,” has been hosted by celebrities like Dick Clark and Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford.
o Dr. Neil Clark Warren Many know Dr. Warren as the eHarmony founder and spokesman, but before launching the dating website in 2000, he spent 35 years practicing clinical psychology. After counseling thousands of married couples, he believed that there was a better way to find a life partner without leaving it up to fate. Years of collaborative research with Dr. Galen Buckwalter led to the widely publicized Compatibility Matching System. According to a 2007 Harris Interactive Study, 236 eHarmony members marry every day in the United States after being matched on eHarmony.
o Dr. Gary Chapman This marriage counselor, Baptist minister and radio talk show host has authored more than 20 books since 1979. Of those, The Five Love Languages is his most famous. He contends that as givers and receivers of love, we each express the emotion in a different way. Chapman identifies those five “languages” as quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service and physical touch. Therefore, understanding a mate's love language will lead to effective communication. It's also the basis of his radio show, “A Love Language Minute,” which airs on over 100 stations throughout the United States.