How to Get Maximum Benefit from Relationship Self-Help Books

Did you know that it is possible to reconcile after reading just one self-help book? Coach Jack has received many emails from people who have done that with his books. Yet, for most people, that is not their experience. Despite reading book after book, they have only a little short term success and no lasting success.

In today’s podcast, Coach Jack will give you a method for reading very few books, but getting very big gains. It’s a learning and practice style that will benefit you not only in your marriage, but in every area of your life that you want to improve.

After listening to today’s podcast, you may want to:

  1. Read one of Coach Jack’s books on improving marriages.
  2. Select one book from your collection and re-read it using this fantastic self-improvement method.
  3. Get a consultation with Coach Jack for personalized recommendations for improving your marriage.

Podcast Transcript


[Introduction to the podcast]

Announcer: On the Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack podcast, Christian psychologist, author, and relationship coach, Dr. Jack Ito, will help you to build and restore your marriage. By learning just a few relationship skills, you can help your spouse enjoy your relationship more, while getting more love and affection from your spouse. Listen to Coach Jack as he helps you with one more step toward a marriage both you and your spouse will love


Jack Ito, PhD: If you are a self-help book reader (and I hope you are) are self-help books actually changing your life? They can, but you need to know how to get the most out of them, and you need to know how to put them to good use. Despite the wealth of information available in self-help books, only about 5% of people actually benefit from the self-help books that they read. How about you? Do you find yourself reading book after book that has good content but makes no lasting change in your life? If that is happening to you, then the small change that does happen probably encourages you to just keep getting more and more self-help books so that you can keep making more and more temporary changes. That really is not going to get you very far.


As a self-help book author I want to help you to get the most out of my self-help books, as well as those of other people. My self-help books are written to help you to improve your relationship, even if your relationship is already in a very bad place. Here are the titles of the self-help books that I have written:

Connecting Through “Yes!”

What to Do When He Won’t Change,

Overcome Neediness and Get the Love You Want,

Therapy Beyond All Expectations, and

A Christian Guide to Preventing And Ending Men’s Affairs

These both received five-star reviews and many people have written to tell me how much my books have helped them and improved their relationships. Yet, I know that there are far more people who enjoy my books but do not have lasting benefit from them. This is true not only for my books of course—it is true for all self-help books. It is also true for all counseling, all coaching, all lectures that people attend, all preaching that is done on Sunday mornings, and even the Bible.


There is a lot to be learned from people who already know how to do things that you don’t know how to do but wish that you did. Even so, most people try to reinvent the wheel. Most people either try to figure out what they think is the best way to deal with a situation, even if they have never dealt with it before, or they get some good advice from somewhere else and then they go on to try whatever they think is the best way to deal with the situation despite whatever professional advice they learn. Now that is okay with me. I am actually happy if people try their own way before they try my way. This is because I want them to be convinced that their way is not going to work before they work with me to learn a different way of doing things. That way they will be more open to trying new things.


The same is probably true of you. If you read things that give you ideas that you really don’t think are very good, or that you don’t want to try, then go ahead and try your own ideas first. It doesn’t make sense to halfheartedly do something that you don’t really believe in. However if you try what you think is best first and it’s  just not working for you or even making things worse, then you will be much more open to learning from someone else. The biggest reason that people don’t have success after reading self-help books is because they confuse reading with learning. Reading and learning are not the same thing, just like listening to a lecture, going to school, are not the same thing as learning. Reading a book or article or listening to a lecture, working with someone and understanding what was told to you, is not the same thing as having learned something.


You haven’t truly learned something until you can do it. As an example from my own life, when I was a kid I wanted to learn karate. My parents didn’t have money to send me to karate class, and I don’t even think they had any karate classes in my small hometown in Vermont, But I got a book on how to learn karate. It was full of pictures of karate moves. There were pictures, for example, of a man jumping up into the air and breaking a board with his foot. Static picture of course—no videos in books. And I could read and see how to do those techniques. But what do you think the chances are that I could actually learn karate from a book? Even though I could see the pictures—how to do it, and I thought that I knew how to do it, when I actually went to try those things by myself I couldn’t do it.


Here is another example from my books that many people have. Reading a book on how to agree like my book Connecting through “Yes!” is a lot different from actually being able to agree when you’re in the situation. Part of my Re-Connection’s Coaching Package is teaching people how to agree and how to create emotional connection—especially when there is no more emotional connection in the relationship. When their spouses say either “I want to divorce” or “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.” And I help people to reconnect. And one of the methods for doing that is learning how to sincerely agree. Although most of my clients have read my book on how to agree, when I give them an example and ask them to agree with it, they have a very difficult time. They found that even though they thought they knew how to agree, that actually when it came down to it, they couldn’t do it.


The reason for that is that the vast majority of my clients have read my books but have not practiced what they read. For the few that did, it was only after I practiced with them step-by-step going from easy examples to increasingly difficult ones, that they actually learned how to agree. This is the difference between getting coaching and reading a book or attending a lecture. Does that mean that books are useless? By no means! I’m a big believer in self-help books and have benefited from them for years. But, I have learned that there is a method that transforms self-help books from being more entertainment to being more helpful. And most people don’t learn that method. That is what YOU need to learn, if you want to benefit from self-help books. People who use this method benefit greatly from my books and from others. And many people have written to tell me that they been able to reconcile based just on the things that I have written—whether it was from my free downloads, that I give to both men and women on my website, or whether it was reading my books, or even just reading the articles on my website.


Some people are able to take that material, transform it into action, improve those skills, and reconcile their relationship. Most people cannot. The material is there—you need to know how to put it to use.

The first step to benefiting from a self-help book is to start at the beginning of the book.

Don’t just search for the answer you want somewhere in the middle of the book. If you do that, it’s no better than getting a quick answer from a search engine. Good authors will not only lead you to answers, but will actually train you in methods, so that you can continue to apply principles to make changes in your life. On the other hand, some authors actually only have a couple of answers. They will write a book, include their two answers in a book, and then make the rest of the book just words, words, words, without really telling you anything to do. Have you ever had that experience where you read a book and it seems very vague? Or the author just keep saying the same thing again and again? Or you ask yourself what does this have to do with what I’m wanting to learn about? Well many times then you do have filler in that book. And I can understand people who have read books like that don’t want to start at the beginning.


They want to just search for that specific content that the author has to offer. If you come to a really good self-help book though, the best place to start is at the beginning. How can you know the difference? Well my suggestion is start at the beginning and if you get to chapter three and there has been no useful information—meaning no information you can actually put to use, then either just skip forward and see if there is an answer somewhere in the book and read that and then move on. Or put that book away and look for some other book.


Okay, so let’s suppose that you have a good book and you start at the beginning of the book. Then what you do—just read to the end. No. Most people do that and you’ll completely read a book that way but you also will miss a lot of learning that can happen. So start at beginning of the book and then,

read until you get to the first good point or start at the beginning of the book and then read until you get to the first good idea that you think would benefit you. 

If you come across ideas that you just wouldn’t want to try or you don’t think is good, keep reading, but once you come to that good idea—stop reading. What happens when you come to an idea that you think is really good is it actually motivates you to continue reading. You come to that spot it’s like “Yes, yes that’s a really good idea. Wow, I want to hear more of what this author has to say.” That is the temptation you have to overcome if you really want to benefit from a self-help book.


So, instead of doing that, read until you get to that first good point. Stop reading and then, go and apply that point whatever it was. 

For example let’s suppose you are reading a book about getting into shape, and the first good point that you came to was how to do some stretching exercises to help yourself become more limber before getting into other exercises. Well the thing to do when you come to that point is stop, go, and do the stretching exercises—or at least do some of them. You might not be able to do all of them because it might take a week or two weeks or even a month where you have become flexible enough to be ready to move on to the next point. That’s true for relationships, too. If you are reading one of my books and the first point is what to do to help your spouse to feel more relaxed with you so that you don’t keep getting rejected, then stop. Do that. Work on that, until your spouse is more relaxed with you. And I can tell you that is not going to happen the first time you do something to help your spouse to feel relaxed. You’re going to have to be consistent in what you do until your spouse relaxes.


If you just press ahead in the book and try to learn more things to do with your spouse, and then do them—before your spouse is relaxed with you, guess what? You are going to get rejected. You’re going to feel frustrated. You’re trying to do too much, too soon, before the ground work has been done. Of course the same is true for exercising. You need to build up to it gradually. The same is true for a book on gardening. You are not going to be harvesting your plants a day after you plant the seeds. Things need to be done in a certain order and if they’re not done in order, this is not going to work out at all. Imagine starting a gardening book somewhere near the middle where you go out to harvest it and you haven’t even bought your seeds yet. Well, that’s not going to work. It’s not going to work in a relationship book either.


If you just go out there and you use some really good methods to initiate physical contact with your spouse but you have skipped all the other steps for helping your spouse to feel relaxed with you,and looking forward to being with you, and having good feelings about you again. Then, it’s really not going to work out. Whatever kind of skill that you are trying to learn, you’re going to have to start at the beginning. Your gonna have to do those beginning steps until you are ready to go on to the next step. So what does this mean in terms of time? What does this mean? It means that I might take you a year to get through a self-help book—a single self-help book if it has several good points in it or it’s a fairly complex skill like how to rebuild a relationship.

First you move on to the first good point, you apply that, do that until it’s time to go on to the second point, and then you stop at the second point. 

Don’t continue in that book. Work on the second good point until it’s time to go on to the third good point.


You can learn to be good at investing, good at constructing things, good at building relationships, good at very many things—if you will read a self-help book this way. It’s actually an interactive process. Reading is not interactive. You’re not doing anything. It’s passive learning. Passive learning does not translate into any kind of action which will make a difference in your life. You need to be an active learner, which means that you need to do more than just taking notes—you need to take action steps. If there are no action steps, then you actually haven’t learned anything. Many people have complained to me about therapy being this way. They will go to therapy—even for months—and  their therapist has not given them any action steps. Have they learned anything? I would say not. Most of the time that person’s life will not have changed because they will not be making any changes. If you want to say yes, they have learned because they understand more why they do what they do or how they came to be in a situation there in, okay, you can say that you have learned something. But for me, if somebody can’t do something, they haven’t really learned something.


Now let’s consider the situation where you find a good action point and you go to do it on your own and either it doesn’t work or you actually can’t do it. It could be that the instruction was wrong, it could be that you require more information, than the book has, it could be that it is simply beyond your ability. We can’t all do everything even though we might believe that we can. I know as I get older I wish that I could do the kinds of things I used to do when I got my black belt, when I was running 100 miles a week. I just can’t do those things anymore. It doesn’t matter how many books I read on the subject—I’m going to have my limitations. The same is going to be true for you. It might not be physical limitations. It could be limitations based on your personality, limitations based on your ability to learn things, limitations based on your ability to pay attention, to focus. When these things happen, you need to decide what is your next best step.


If the book is not giving you enough information, then you seek out another source. Sometimes you can get the information by getting another book on the same topic. With relationship books that’s not going to work quite so well because there are so many approaches to doing something that the next author may have you actually doing a different kind of skill that the first one did not. But that’s okay if you really can’t understand the first one, it makes sense to go on to someone that you can understand and then try that. In other cases though, you will find that the methodology is good and you really want to be able to do this author’s idea, but you are getting stuck for some reason. In that case, you may want to get extra help. That might be the time when you work with a coach for consultation for example. If you’re working in an exercise book, than the natural thing to do might be to get yourself an exercise coach, have that person show you the specific movements that you need to make to get into shape. Doing that of course will help that person to individually tailor the program to you—something  a book cannot.


Remember, whenever you are reading a self-help book it was not written specifically for you. It was written for a large group of people and those people are going to vary in their abilities and their understanding. Some people will need extra help. Some people need to do more than that book has. Some people only need to do a little. When you hire a professional they’re going to tailor things specifically for your situation. Another thing I would like to add sine we’re on the topic of self-help books, is that most self-help books are not actually very helpful. They may contain one or two ideas which are good, and for me that’s worth reading the book, but many of the ideas in self-help books are not actually going to be helpful, and may be there because it helped to promote the book. For example, many books which have become bestsellers are books which promise you things like getting rich in 30 days or getting someone to marry you in 30 days, or rebuilding your relationship in 30 days. Thirty days is a  very popular kind of thing to put on a book, even though most of the time it is unrealistic and you can actually become rich in 30 days, or you can’t really lose weight by eating all the desserts you want, or all these other things which may sound very appealing. If you read those books though, you probably will find some good points in there but some things that just won’t work.


My pet peeve with these self-help books, especially when it comes to relationships, is that a person might read a self-help book like how to rebuild your relationship in 30 days and then work very diligently to do every single point in that self-help book. Now, I would say that’s a great thing to do in terms of learning from a self-help book—is do everything diligently that author is saying unless you already know that’s a bad idea. Go ahead and try it. The problem comes is if you diligently do all of those things let’s say for 30 days, and your spouse is still rejecting, then you may have a tendency to give up. I think a lot of people say wow, I tried this method for 30 days, it’s supposed to work, it did not work. I worked really hard and my spouse is still rejecting me so I guess my relationship is hopeless. And then the person just goes ahead and gives up. For me that is so sad. Just because you didn’t benefit from applying something that a self-help book says does not mean your relationship cannot be reconciled. It just means that the methods that author was offering for you to reconcile did not work for you.


Another example comes to my mind is you can actually go to websites that teach you how to get rich by playing the lottery. Well, you can imagine if enough people use this method to get rich, some people actually will get rich by playing the lottery. Most people will not—no matter how hard, how hard they play the lottery, no matter how much money they invested playing the lottery. They actually end up losing more money than they gain. There are similar kinds of things that work for some people but which are not going to work for most. For example, pursuing a spouse who wants to leave you is going to work for a few people. For most people it’s just going to get them more rejection. Or another example would be using a “no contact” approach to try to reconcile with someone who is separated. That’s going to work for a few people who have very needy spouses. In other cases it’s just going to facilitate a divorce for a  person who has a secure spouse who has left. So, you have to understand that not everything you read is going to work for you.


Another point is that a book really doesn’t have to have more than one good idea to be a really good book. Companies that are successful at making products—they also follow the same kind of strategy. They know that even if they produce 90 or even 99 products which are no good, if they make one product which is really good, then it is worth having invested the time and effort in all of those other projects. If you read a book which has nine really bad ideas but one really good idea, and that idea helps you to reconcile your relationship, or to get into shape, or to enjoy your life more, to cook better, grow better vegetables—what have you, then who cares how many bad ideas were in that book? That one idea may have dramatically improved whatever it was that you were wanting improvement in. That is well worth the cost of the book. When I buy a self-help book (and yes I still use self-help books), what I’m really hoping for is at least one good idea in that book that I can apply that’s going to help me make my life better. If I buy a book on being more organized, for example, (which I have) and I read just one good organization idea in it—for me, then it’s going to be worth the $10, $15, $20, that I have spent on the book to learn that.


In today’s podcast you learned the secret of benefiting from self-help books. Of course if you don’t actually apply it—just like not applying self-help books—if you don’t actually apply this podcast and go and do it, then you won’t really have learned. But if you have, then you might find that you already have some very good self-help books on your shelf that you have read before but not had really good lasting progress from. I would encourage you to pick up one of those old books. For example, many of my clients have had the book How to Win Friends and Influence People written by Dale Carnegie. They had that book for many years, but haven’t really put into practice what they read. I would encourage you if you have that book, pick it up off the shelf, use this method, go to that first good idea about how to win friends and influence people. Go put it to use. The more you put it to use, the more you will benefit. Don’t go further on in that book. If you’re not past chapter one, that’s fine, you will have benefited more from that book then you ever did before and maybe more than you have benefited from any other book. So if you ask me, that’s really exciting. You may have a bookshelf or even bookcase full of help that can make changes to your life. Now you just need to go and do it. You don’t have to do it all at once. You just need one idea to work on. Can you work on one idea at a time? If you can, then you can dramatically make changes in your relationships. I know that. You can make changes in other things too.


So, one last thing, self-help books don’t have everything. Because they’re not individualized—they’re written for groups—they may only get you part of the way to where you need to go. Don’t let that make you feel like that’s as far as you can go. When you’ve gone as far as you can go with a book, then you need to think about getting the individual kind of attention that you need to make progress. I’m a coach and I have used coaches to go beyond what I could get from a book and to do it in a much more rapid fashion and easier because the person can tell me exactly what I need to do. I’ve used coaching for developing my business many years ago—it was so helpful and I was able to eliminate lots and lots of time that I would have spent reading books just to get a few good business ideas to get things started. So be learner, be a doer, and realize those two go together and you can make most anything you want in your life better. Remember there is nothing that you want to learn or need to learn that someone else hasn’t already figured out how to do. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Learn from them.


If you would like to learn more from me and get some good ideas that you can put to use for your relationship then I invite you to visit my website at


[Podcast wrap-up]

Announcer: Thank you for listening to Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack. Visit to learn more skills for reconnecting with your spouse and restoring your marriage.