The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships – Neil Strauss – Book Summary and Notes19 min read


Neil is an expert on relationships. You and I may have different definitions of the word expert. Often, a relationship expert may be thought of as someone with a Psychology degree who studied relationship dynamics in school and then opened a private practice to help console married couples. Idk, I haven’t explored this path. Neil is an expert in the sense that he has supplemented book knowledge with on-the-streets experience from his own personal journey through every type of relationship possible and came out of the other side in a better place.

I see The Game (Neil’s first relationship book) as the first installment of Neil’s personal relationship journey where he discovers how to attract the right partner. I see The Truth as a prequel to The Game where Neil picks up the baton and learns how a mature, well-adjusted human can approach relationships with another person.

The secret?? Your relationship with yourself is the ultimate indicator of how your relationships with others will be. Constantly pursue a path of self-improvement to present the best version of yourself to your partner.

Brief Summary

The book starts with Neil’s personal journey to understand why he would have cheated on his wife when the relationship was perfect. He learned all these skills to finally attract the right woman into his life only to then go and cheat on her. Does that make sense to you? Nope. So, Neil admits himself to a sex addiction treatment facility to cure his problem getting his own desires met even when it means hurting those close to him.

After a year of work trying to cure his sex addiction, Neil feels worse about himself than ever and continues to have desires of being with other women even though he truly loves his wife Ingrid. They decide to split up and Neil explores different types of relationships by getting more involved in polyamorous communities. In the end, Neil learns a lot about himself and addresses childhood traumas that affected how he had relationships with women. On his personal development journey, he learned that he could have a monogamous relationship based on truth as long as each partner communicated their desires of the other and what their needs were to determine how they would meet those needs together.

Closing Thoughts

The format of the book most fascinated me. There were times through the middle of the book I felt like I was on a story-telling roller coaster without an end in sight. At one point I concluded that most certainly Neil wouldn’t be with Ingrid any longer. However, I was pleasantly surprised how he ended the book with him and Ingrid still together and him welcoming a baby boy into the world. What a heartfelt ending.

What most fascinated me was the format of his story-telling. It felt at times like I was watching a movie, how he would go back and forth between different people reading (I listened to the audiobook). He used chapters like scenes from movies. One chapter had 1 sentence in it and it added depth to the story. I learned that it helps to know the traditional ways and “rules” of an art form (in this case, how a book is organized and a story is told), and knowing the rules helps you understand when it’s important to break those rules.

I was fortunate to have a conversation with Neil at a conference a week ago when I happened to be listening to this audiobook. My first awkward sentence after meeting a guy who I have been a big fan of his work was…” so yea the book is great. I am on a roller coaster and it’s a long book”. So Neil, if you are reading this (highly unlikely) I hope this summary has done the book justice. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your personal life with the public so we can all learn more about our own relationships.

Book Notes

Prologue – The Hand You Were Dealt Face Down

Every family has problems and if you think you don’t you just haven’t found the right down.

Door 1 Infidelity

Chapter 1

Neil feels liberated to be alone with his thoughts. He cheated on his girlfriend and the story starts with him on his way to a psychiatric hospital that treats addictions.

Chapter 2

When you meet someone and it’s “love at first sight” run in the other direction because your dysfunction has meshed with their dysfunction.

He cheated on his wife Ingrid and feels he will die alone because he always messes up his own relationships.

Only 30% married couples express happiness. More than 50% of people

4/10 people believe marriage is an obsolete institution. Possibly Neil has been trying to conform to an outdated and unnatural social norm that doesn’t meet the needs of men and women equally.

“Is it even natural to be faithful to one person for life?”

Chapter 3

Taking away books is a tactic of dictators to stop people from having original thought.

Neil is being checked in at the mental hospital and asks lots of questions, which annoys the workers there.

Chapter 4

We learn about Neil’s roommate who is also there for sex addiction and was also caught for cheating on his wife.

Chapter 5

People at the mental hospital fear getting caught. Men like to have sex. That’s what they do. However, Neil differentiates himself by mentioning that he has been willing to have sex even when it means hurting someone else.

Chapter 6

5 months earlier: Rick Ruben and Neil Strauss are talking about how Neil cheated on his wife. They paddle board together and have conversations about their lives. Rick tells him what he sees and is straightforward. Rick says, “deep down you feel not worthy of love.”

He tells Neil to feel the hole of having low self-esteem and then have sex when you are full.

Chapter 7

Neil is great with telling descriptive stories that appeal to all 5 senses to paint a vivid picture in the mind. The book is an entertaining story embedded with personal life lessons he has acquired through his unique experiences.

“It takes 3 months for your brain to return to normal after all the imbalances caused by the constant high of sex.” The nurse there told Neil.

Chapter 8

Neil tells of when he was caught cheating by his wife and how her friend told her of all the evidence to prove it happened. Neil had sex with her friend three times and the fourth time when he didn’t want to do it with her she told Ingrid everything.

Chapter 9

He sits next to a sex addict and she tells of how she cheated on her husband 17 times. She went out with her boss to celebrate a win at work and he leaned over during dinner and started kissing her. She seeks acceptance from powerful men in each affair.

Neil meets a sex therapist who says after hearing every story there is out there and after 15 years at his job he isn’t sure whether he believes in monogamy.

Chapter 10

People are being guilted and shamed in rehab. Being relational is being in the moment here and now with someone else. The nurse, Joan says if you have true intimacy with your partner you won’t seek outside addictions.

Chapter 11

Neil finally meets with Ingrid during family week. It takes lots of convincing to get her there. She says to even consider being with him there must be honesty, trust, and loyalty. Neil says he isn’t sure if he can provide that yet, but that’s why he’s in rehab working on himself to understand why he would hurt someone so close to him when things were going so well.

Chapter 12

10 little traumas can be just as powerful as 1 big trauma. Neil feels he had a good relationship with his mom and she was always there for him. He’s asked “was she there for you or were you there for her?”

Chapter 13

Neil reflects back 30yrs to a convo with his mother about what would happen if she dies.

She talks about meeting him as a ghost in the bookstore and that he must cremate her before anyone knows about her death.

Chapter 14

“So far this program is as effective at teaching monogomy as a prisons are at teaching morality.” The goal of the program is to teach true intimacy in a relationship so members to seek outside sex.

Neil brings up the point during a class that if your wife is a good cook you would want to go other places and shouldn’t be limited to only eating her food. Same for sex.

Chapter 15

Neil’s group during lunch can’t trust their own thoughts because they have been labeled addicts. They are unsure if having sexual desires for women they see in public is indication of their addiction or a normal male desire.

Neil once interviewed a woman that was undergoing a sex change to become a man. As soon as the testosterone therapy kicked in she wanted to “fuck everything that moves” and she immediately understood a guys perspective.

Chapter 16

Neil looks back 28yrs ago at a conversation with his mom. She confessses after the honeymoon with Neil’s dad she asked her mother if she could divorce him, but the mother said she wouldn’t let her live back home. She stayed married out of necessity and fear.

Chapter 17

Neil is supposed to plot the story of his life from birth to 18 for class. His mother: punishing, strict, secretive, complaining, suffering. Father: distant, unemotional, selfish, alone

Most prevalent feeling growing up: misunderstood

Carry, a girl in rehab with Neil flirted with him and asked for his number so they could meet up after. Neil turns her down to follow the rules.

Chapter 18

Flashback to Neil as a kid being told by his mother dinner is at 6pm sharp and if he is late he doesn’t get dessert. They are going on vacation soon and dad told a girl at the office where they are going and mom is upset because she doesn’t want people to know they will be away. She uses timers on the lights to appear as though they are still home.

Neil isn’t permitted to know where his mother went to school, what her past jobs were, or have keys to the house.

“What did I tell you about switching your fork to your other hand when cutting your meat.” Neil’s mom is strict and micromanages.

“As I write down family rules on my timeline I realize, no wonder I hate monogamy. It’s just another irrational rule.”

Chapter 19

Neil tells a story to the group that his mother forbid him to tell anyone. His father has an attraction for people who are crippled amputees. His mother is a cripple. She has much hatred for his father because she believes he likes her because of her crippled leg. Since Neil found out she felt comfort she could share this information with someone else.

Joan the nurse leading discussions discovered Neil was a writer and thought he was there to expose the hospital for its maltreatment of patients. He assures her he there 100% for himself.

Joan says sex addiction has a genetic component. The bigger problem though is that Neil’s bond with his mother. He keeps secrets for her and investigates his father’s obsession.

“Your mom wants to be in a relationship with you.” Joan says. “That’s why you are unable to be in a healthy relationship.” Neil understands why there was now a double standard with his brother and him.

Chapter 20

His mom is emotionally dependent on him and has intimate discussions with him that should be had with her husband. Joan calls this emotional incest.

Chapter 21

A family is a system and a sick person is a product of a sick system.

Chapter 22

“You are not a sex addict, you are a man. If someone wants to play with you, you aren’t going to walk away.” Neil’s mom says this to him on family day, which is Sunday when families are supposed to visit to help patients heal.

Neil’s mom doesn’t want to come and has objections to his every attempt. Her actions say that her needs are more important than his and always have been.

Chapter 23

A girl’s father showed up to family week despite having sexually abused her. Neil is upset his father can’t even speak up for himself on the phone.

Chapter 24

Ingrid visits Neil and he realizes his connection with her is stronger than anyone else’s.

3 ways of raising children:

Functional Bonding: The parents or primary care givers love, nurture, affirm and set healthy limits with, and take care of the needs of the child. This creates a child with healthy and secure self esteem in relationships.

Neglect: When a caregiver abandons, is detached from, or doesn’t appropriately nurture the child. This can range from a parent who isn’t physically present to a parent who is physically present but emotionally distant, to a parent who doesn’t provide adequate care or safety. The child feels unwanted or unimportant to a parent. This creates wounded children that are often depressed and indecisive and see themselves as flawed and less valued than others. They feel they can’t face the world alone. In relationships they tend to have what’s called anxious attachment and feel they are not enough for their partners and lose sight of their own needs in the relationship. They are emotionally intense, passive aggressive, or in need of constant reassurance they are not being abandoned.

Enmeshment: A parent tries to get their own needs met through the child. A parent could be depressed and emotionally uses the child, is overbearing, or over controlling. A child can grow up feeling sorry or smothered by a parent. Enmeshed children lose their sense of self and avoid letting anyone getting too close and getting the life sucked out of them again. These children are perfectionistic and controlling of themselves and others. They may pursue a relationship thinking they want connection. Once they are in the reality of one, they often put up walls, feel superior, and use other distancing techniques to avoid intimacy.

Most sex addicts are love avoidant.

Chapter 25

Ingrid tells the group about her step father that made her do grueling work. She ran away as a child to do meth.

Chapter 26

In the real world, no parents are perfect and your developmental needs are not met properly.

Loraine is the only counselor Neil encountered at the hospital so far who had insights he valued.

Loraine’s lectures summarized here:

When you are born you are completely vulnerable and dependent with a developing brain and no understanding of the world. In a perfect world, you would have perfect parents who are dedicated to taking care of your physical and psychological needs. Your parents would make the right decisions, set healthy boundaries, and protect you from all harm by preparing you to fulfill your needs without them.

When developmental needs are not met, they are considered childhood trauma.

Wounds that are not treated are likely to be passed to the next generation. Needs include: social, emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and moral development.

Techniques to better understand how your past can interfere with your relationships and life today:

  1. Work backwards
    1. Example: Are you relentlessly driving yourself to succeed? Maybe your parents made you feel your worth as a human being was getting good grades and performing well on sports teams.
    2. Example: Do you feel deep down like you don’t matter because you were often ignored growing up.
    3. Example: Are you in complete denial there is anything wrong with your family because dad acted as if he were infallible and should never be criticized.
  2. Stuck in your own Story
    1. You may draw more conclusions than actually there to support your own perspective given as a child.
    2. You are often stuck in your own story whenever you feel less than or better than others.

There are 3 developmental states

  1. The wounded child: emotionally frozen between ages of 0-5.
  2. Adapted adolescent: emotionally frozen between ages of 6-18.
  3. Functional adult: emotionally mature.


Wounded child could feel worthless. Adapted adolescent could feel arrogant. Functional adult gets esteem from within.

Wounded child is needy. Adapted adolescent is needless. Functional adult communicates his/her needs.

Wounded child acts out of control. Adapted adolescent is hyper-controlling. Functional adult is flexible and moderate.

Chapter 27

He has a dream about him and Ingrid getting married and then him having a sinking feeling because he has done something irreversible with the inability to reciprocate what Ingrid feels.

Chapter 28

Neil reflects back on a time as a teenager when two girls called his house offering him a threesome but he was grounded so he turned it down.

Chapter 29

A healthy relationship is when two individuated adults decide to have a relationship and that becomes a third entity. They are interdependent. They take care of the majority of their needs and wants on their own and when they can’t only then do they reach out to the other for help.

“Only when our love for someone exceeds their need for them do we have a shot at a genuine relationship together.”

Chapter 30

Loraine, a main nurse there puts Neil under a trance. In Neil’s imagined conversation with his father he discovers that his dad has lied to him and wasn’t there to question his mom’s arbitrary rules. He felt abandoned and also feels that his dad felt like a cripple inside his mind.

Chapter 31

He now imagines a conversation with his mom where he discusses her enmeshment with him. His mom wants an emotional relationship with him and scares away women so she can have his attention to herself.

He realizes every time he had sex with Ingrid he was thinking of a random woman. He avoids intimacy with women.

“When your mind and heart connect you see the truth.”

Chapter 32

Neil feels reborn and is ready to connect with Ingrid on a deeper level.

At this point, the book begins a new section called Door 2: Love Avoidant. It also restarts the chapter numbers at Chapter 1. I have decided to no longer take notes for each chapter. For the remainder of this summary I will only write down notes I find interesting and relevant.

Neil leaves rehab earlier and breaks his celibacy contract the first night with Ingrid.

“It’s easier to jump than anything else in life” – Neil

It’s been almost a year and Neil doesn’t feel happier. he feels more agitated and that he hasn’t been cured of his addiction. Instead, he has been told everything wrong with him and feels like ending it all is much easier than dealing with the growing list of problems he has.

After a year of focus on curing his sex addiction and having results of feeling worse about himself and still having sexual desires for other women, Neil begins a search for research-backed knowledge about monogomous relationships. He discovers monogamy was never natural and 90% of males and 80% of females have sexual fantasies about people other than their partner.

For the majority of it’s history, marriage was an economic and political institution mostly about merging resources, forming alliances and a blood line . It took until the late 20th century for marriage to become an intimate partnership.

Ingrid and Neil break up and Neil wants to explore different types of relationships. He lists the following values he wants in his relationships:

  1. It can’t be sexually exclusive.
  2. It has to be honest.
  3. It has to be capable of developing romantic and emotional attachment.
  4. It has to be capable of evolving into a family of healthy, well-adjusted children.

Three relationship structures for Polyamory

  1. Have a primary partner with each person free to negotiate or enter into secondary and tertiary relationships.
  2. A triad in which three people are romantically involved.
  3. Forming a group relationship of four or more people.

Swinger lifestyle is “let’s fuck”. Poly lifestyle is “let’s get to know each other”.

Many relationships often involve sexual exclusivity to one or all of the partners.

“What if I want to create a community of people living together with a single open relationship.” – Neil

Helen says she wants to get some property and have everyone in her tribe live there in different houses.

She recommends Neil go to the annual World Polyamory Association Conference, which is the biggest and most established event in the community.

After experiencing a swinger party called Bliss in Las Vegas, Neil believes the swinger lifestyle is a step in the right direction, because womens’ feminine side is amplified and men’s masculine side is more relaxed. Both parties in the relationship feel more freedom to have sexual and emotional desires for other people, and once they get approval from their spouse, they can sleep with other people.

“The quickest route to poly-harmony and life among the rest of the walking wounded is truth and understand.” – Neil

He is living with 2 other women right now trying out a poly relationship.

The success of a polyamorous relationship is determined by the trust in between the partners that are not the center partner. Meaning, the girls can easily connect with Neil but if they can trust each other they will have a stronger relationship.

Neil discovers he was never actually pursuing sexual freedom. Instead, he was pursuing control, power, and self-worth. He was rarely actually himself. The feeling he is not acceptable is so overwhelming that he is afraid to let go and be himself.

Everything he has been trying to get from these relationships are those things he never got from his mom. Freedom, understanding, fairness, acceptance, etc. are things only he can give himself.

Ask yourself throughout the day “What do I need to do in this moment to take care of myself?”

If you can be aware of what needs and wants you are not tending to and can take care of those yourself or ask your partner that is the road to happiness.

There’s no natural way to be in a relationship. We can’t study the past and other cultures to determine what is right for us today, because every point of view can be traced to some tribe or species.

“Any style of relationship is the right one as long as it’s a decision made by the whole person and the hole in the person.”

Neil is honest about everything and they communicate better. There are no secrets.

The best gift we can give to our relationship with others is the best version of ourselves.

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