Neil Sattin with guests John Gottman, Katherine Woodward Thomas, Harville Hendrix, Peter Levine, Diana Richardson, and many others!

Relationship Alive | Marriage Advice | Sexuality | Relationships |Connection | Intimacy | Love | Dating

Neil Sattin interviews relationship experts such as John Gottman, Katherine Woodward Thomas, Diana Richardson, Terry Real and Wendy Maltz in order to dig deep into what it really takes to keep a relationship alive.
Relationship Alive | Marriage Advice | Sexuality | Relationships |Connection | Intimacy | Love | Dating


Neil Sattin interviews John Gottman, Katherine Woodward Thomas, Diana Richardson, Terry Real, and Wendy Maltz in his quest to dig deep into all the factors that keep a Relationship Alive and Thriving! Each week Neil brings you an in-depth interview with a relationship expert. Neil is an author and relationship coach who is enthusiastic and passionate about relationships and the nuts and bolts of what makes them last. Listen each week for a special giveaway, and please subscribe so that you don't miss a single opportunity! You can find out more about Neil Sattin and the Relationship Alive podcast at


195: How to Turn a Negative View of Your Partner into Something Positive

Jun 4, 2019 35:21


As much as we don't like to admit it, we all hold a vivid image in our minds of our partner at their worst. When things start to go a bit off the rails in our relationship, this negative image can sometimes be all we see. And the bad news is, your partner also holds a core negative image - of you! Thankfully, we also have a core *positive* image - which is part of what keeps us in relationship when things get challenging. Based on the groundbreaking work of Terry Real, the core negative image is an important tool in elevating your relationship. In today's episode, you'll learn why it's so important to get to know the core negative images that are at play in your relationship - and also how to use these negative images to help improve your relationship. Don't deny that they're there - know them and use them as a force for good!

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it! Or email YOUR recorded questions to questions (at) relationshipalive dot com.


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194: Heart vs. Head: Mismatched Processing Styles with Sue Johnson

May 23, 2019 28:48


What do you do if you want to have conversations about emotions with your partner, and all they want to do is talk about how they think about things? Or vice versa? In today’s episode, we dropped in with Sue Johnson for a few minutes to get her take on this question. Sue Johnson is the author of “Hold Me Tight” and the creator of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) - and has trained thousands of couples therapists in her methods. Sue also reveals one thing that you can do, today, to add positive energy to ANY relationship.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


Want to experience a Luxury Suite or VIP Box at an amazing concert or sporting event? Check out to score sweet deals on a special night for you and your partner.


Visit Sue Johnson’s website to learn more about her work.

Pick up your copy of Sue Johnson’s book, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.

FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide - perfect help for handling conflict and shifting the codependent patterns in your relationship

Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner's Needs) in Your Relationship (ALSO FREE)

Visit to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Sue Johnson.

Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of: The Railsplitters - Check them Out


Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Satin. Today we're gonna do something a little bit different. We are going to dive in quickly with one of the world experts on relationships to get answers to some of your questions. I dropped into the relationship alive community on Facebook and said, "Hey if you had 10 minutes to talk with Sue Johnson, today's guest, what would you ask her?" And then I was like, "asking for a friend. Okay, I'm asking for myself." And so we got some great questions from people and so I wanted to take this opportunity to ask them and to share just a few moments with our guest - as I mentioned her name is Sue Johnson, she is one of the world's experts on relationships and specifically on how we use attachment theory and attachment science to build stronger bonds with our partner and to thrive in connection. It's also a great way to understand when things are going south, why they're going south, and how to rebuild your relationship.

Neil Sattin: Sue Johnson is also the creator of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy also known as EFT, and has trained thousands of therapists around the world in using EFT, to help couples. And it is one of the methods that has been empirically shown through research to be effective at helping couples build stronger relationships. Sue has been on the show before. If you've been a long-time listener, you know that. To listen to any of her other episodes, you can visit, S-U-E, and then a number. And so, there's just sue or there's sue2 and sue3 she's been on all of those times. So this will be sue4. And we will have a detailed transcript as always, that you can get by visiting that URL or by texting the word PASSION to the number 33444 and following the instructions. Sue Johnson, so great to be here with you again, on Relationship Alive.

Sue Johnson: Hey, it's always fun. Nice to be here.

Neil Sattin: Great, great, so thank you for being willing to just jump in and go with a few quick questions. As opposed to our long conversations that we often have. It's so easy to talk to you for a long time 'cause there's so much to say about this topic. Let's start with, I thought this was a great question. And this comes up all the time, what can you do if you're in a relationship where one person loves to talk about emotions and feelings and have those conversations and the other person would rather talk about things and events and when you start having an emotional conversation with that person they start to shut down. And that often creates this dynamic where they're each kind of wanting more of the other or in some cases less of the other. What advice would you give a couple in that situation? And maybe you could speak to both members of the couple and how they might come to a better place.

Sue Johnson: Well, if we saw a couple like that in EFT, in therapy or if we saw a couple like that in one of our educational groups, our Hold Me Tight groups, we would get them to talk about just what you said, to talk about the process. Everybody stays with the content, and with their own kind of dilemmas and their own kind of issues. And from that point of view all you're left with is that these two people are different. Yup people are different. Everybody's basically incompatible on some level but they're not. Because you can talk about the process. So if I was sitting down with that couple, I would ask the person who wanted to talk about emotion, "Could you share with your partner what's happening for you and what it's like for you, when you're... What is so important for you about wanting to share your heart?" And you make it simple. That's the other thing, "What is so important for you about wanting to share your heart, about wanting to understand something about your partner's emotions? Can you help him understand that?" And the person might say, "Well yeah, there's times in the relationship where I kind of feel lonely, it's like I'm in a relationship, but I can't quite put my hand on you Tom, I don't quite know where you are, I don't quite know how you're feeling about me, and I kind of feel lonely."

Sue Johnson: And when people talk on this process level, it's usually new to the other person. The other person says, "I didn't know that you felt lonely, I felt like you were just fed up with me and that I wasn't emotional enough for you." So this is how it kind of goes. Usually the person who's looking for this emotional connection is saying, "Where are you, where are you, where are you? Can you connect with me? I need this emotional connection." And we know how important that is to people. Psychology pathologized that for a long time saying, "Oh no, you shouldn't need that. It's somehow immature." And now, what we're understanding is, no, no, no, it's just who we are. It's how your brain is structured, you're a bonding mammal and you need this sense of connection. So that person would say, "I don't need to talk about my emotions forever." That's the other thing, that people have fears the other person who's more withdrawn or more introverted would say, "Well, like if we start talking about emotions, are we gonna have to talk about it like for a week?" Usually the fear there is, "I'm gonna get overwhelmed." I'm not gonna know how to do it right.

Sue Johnson: So it's important for the person to say, "No, I don't need to talk about emotions for a week, I just need to be able to check in with you and connect." And the other person says, "Oh well, that's really not so hard." And then the other person needs to be able to say, "I'm slower than you. I'm more externally focused than you. I'm not as embedded as you in my emotions. I need to think about it a bit and I'm not always sure how I feel. And if I'm gonna share with you my emotions then you got to like understand that. And I also wanna connect about other things." The joke with me and my husband is that, his favorite place to go is a hardware store.


Sue Johnson: So I can't remember where we were, we were somewhere exotic. Oh, we were on this beautiful little island, a couple of days ago. And we're wandering around after coffee, and my husband's looking across the street and he's looking at the hardware store, and I said, "No. You don't wanna go in the hardware." He said, "I just wanna go in and find... " Right, so I wanna go look in the art galleries, he wants to go to the hardware store. The point is, if you can talk about them and talk about your needs and your softer feelings, and you can be responsive to your partner, you can deal with all kinds of differences. Tricky part is, that so many of us, that's not what happens.

Neil Sattin: Right.

Sue Johnson: What happens is we get stuck. We get stuck. The person who's wanting connection gets upset and angry and says, "You never talk to me." And that's a challenge and it's an accusation, really. And then the other person feels like they're failing, they can't do what they're partner wants and they say, "Well I don't wanna talk right now, I'm busy right now." So they shut down more; the more they shut down, the more the other person gets upset, and that is what brings so many people into seeing someone like me. And that's what I try to lay out for people in my book for the public, Hold Me Tight, because so many people don't understand that we can get trapped there, and then the dance takes us over. And before you know where you are, the other person looks like the enemy, and looks like somebody who's so different than you, that you don't even know what to do with it. So it's a good question. And we think it's always about gender, but it's not always. I've worked with folks where it's the man saying, "I wanna talk to you or I wanna get close." And it's the woman saying, "What are you talking about? I come home from my law practice, I'm exhausted." And so people have to be able to be emotionally accessible and open and responsive to each other. It's not about making cognitive deals. Cognitive deals, they don't go to the right level. It's about being able to share what's going on with you.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Sue Johnson: I don't know if I've answered your question. Have I answered your... I think I have.

Neil Sattin: You have. Yeah, in detail. And one little point about that, that I'm curious about, because I was thinking about the question and thinking, "Okay, so we reached this point." As you said, it used to be pathologized when someone was emotional in a relationship. How do we avoid pathologizing the other partner who is less emotionally oriented?

Sue Johnson: I think what we've learned over the years in emotionally focused therapy, is we think of emotions and how we deal with emotions as somehow random or irrational. And what we've learned over the years is emotions aren't irrational for a start, there's always a good reason for why you feel the way you feel. Emotions are all about telling you what matters in the world and what is important for your survival. And people have very good reasons. They have learned to focus on certain things and to deal with their emotions in a certain way to survive. And they're standing in front of you, so it worked, it worked on some level.

Neil Sattin: Right.

Sue Johnson: And now, that's what they know how to do. So I remember working with a man who could hardly... He could not look into his wife's face, for sure, and talk about his inner world. If he was going to do it, he had to go very slowly and stare at the rug, stare at the carpet. But what he told me was, he grew up in a very violent family, where the music to their dance was all kind of hostility and rage and violence all the time. So any time he heard that music, his brain would go into alarm. And his brain would start looking for ways out. And he needed to be able to tell this partner that, but they were very good reasons why when she would up the emotional music, he would start to freeze and go still.

Neil Sattin: Right.

Sue Johnson: And there's no point in telling him that's bad or you mustn't do that, that doesn't help at all. The most useful thing is to say, "Well, you must have a very good reason for that. Obviously, that was important for you to be able to do that right now. And can you tell your wife how can she help you? How can she help you not move immediately into that shutdown?"

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Sue Johnson: He said, "Oh, she can talk slowly." And his wife roared with laughter, because, of course, she spoke very fast.


Neil Sattin: Totally.

Sue Johnson: He said, "She can speak slowly, because everyone in my family spoke very fast and all this fast emotional stuff coming at me, and I feel like I'm in a hail of bullets." Listen to his image, "I'm in a hail of bullets, I'm gonna get hurt."

Neil Sattin: Right.

Sue Johnson: No, we must not pathologize. People have certain ways of regulating their emotions. And the thing about that is, if we accept them and we understand them, people can then add to them. Relatively withdrawn folks can learn to come out and talk about what's happening inside and know that it works, and that the other person listens and actually it creates connection. And people who are really hungry for emotional connection, for all kinds of good reasons, could also learn to trust another person and to not have everything so urgent all the time. Like, "You've got to speak to me now."

Neil Sattin: Right.

Sue Johnson: Can translate into, "Basically I know you care for me, and I'm gonna take a deep breath here, and I'm gonna give you some space after you come home from work. And I'm gonna trust that, then if I come and talk to you, you'll be willing to talk to me."

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Sue Johnson: So it's a lot of distress in relationships comes from partners triggering each other and ending up feeling disconnected and insecure, rejected, or abandoned. And as human beings, what people don't get is that feeling rejected and abandoned by someone you count on, your brain translates that into a danger, straight danger, just like walking up on a freeway, crossing a freeway is danger. Your brain says, "Uh-oh, emotional isolation. If you call no one will come. Danger!" Right?

Neil Sattin: Right.

Sue Johnson: And people don't understand how they trigger each other.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And so the words that come up to mind for me is: One, I'm hearing that there's this sense of moderation. The "emotional person," I'm putting that in quotes, like learning how to be emotional without overwhelming another person. And the less emotional person learning like, I don't think anyone is devoid of emotions, but learning like, "Oh, there's actually something happening here." And it could be useful, it doesn't have to overwhelm the system. But it's not like you're gonna turn a non-emotional person into emotional person unless they discover some joy in that. I'm reminded of a conversation with...

Sue Johnson: I think that's a good point. Yes.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. I'm reminded of a conversation with Dan Siegel, where he talks about... He was doing mindfulness work with someone who was in their 80s or 90s and woke that person up to their physical sensation and their emotional experience, and suddenly the world was a rich place where they really wanted to be and we're enjoying it more. It's not to say that that's required, but I think that's available for people if they're willing to dip their toe into that water.

Sue Johnson: Yes, and also in relationships, the bottom line is, relationships are all about emotion, relationships are a dance, and the emotion is the music, and relationships are all about emotion. So when I'm working with a couple and one partner says something pretty loaded they're like, "Well, sometimes I think about leaving. I get so desperate I think about leaving." And I say to the other person, who might be the rather shutdown person, "What's happening for you?" And they say, "Nothing." I mean, I deal with it respectfully, but the bottom line is, in my head I say, "No. That's impossible. If you care about this person and you're not dead, and you're not a lizard, you are feeling, because she just sparked alarm in your mammalian brain. In your mammalian brain that knows that emotional isolation and losing someone who's a huge resource for you and who you depend on is a safety cue. Your mammalian brain knows that, your whole nervous system sings that song." So when people say, "No. I feel nothing." I just go, "Aha!"

Neil Sattin: Right. And I think with what you're... Go ahead.

Sue Johnson: Then I say, "Let's try that again. She turned to you and she's dead." And I run it past his amygdala again and finally he says, "Well, well, well, I don't know. I just wanna get out of here." So then he starts to tell me, "My body tells me to just get out of here. So then we go with that." And the whole thing opens up. We haven't taught people to trust their emotions and listen to them and make them their friend, we haven't taught therapists that. We've taught people that emotions are sort of dangerous stuff, they get out of control, they're associated with women. [chuckle] Women kind of going hysterical.

Neil Sattin: What's wrong with that?

Sue Johnson: Yeah, that's a bad idea. So there's a lot of interesting stuff in our society about putting rationality on a pedestal and ditching our emotional realities, actually, when the bottom line is, it's our emotions that organize our inner world and it's our emotions that organize the signals we send to others and the way we dance with others. So from my point of view, we might as well get to know them and start to use them well, but then I do something called emotion-focused therapy. So I am gonna feel that way.

Neil Sattin: Right, right. Thank you so much. I'm wondering before we go, 'cause I promised something quick, and it's so easy to talk to you, and we could keep talking about that very topic, probably for an hour.

Sue Johnson: We could.

Neil Sattin: I'm wondering if you'd be willing to just... Anyone listening, if they wanted to do one thing today that would infuse their relationship with some positive energy, and if they're not in a relationship maybe just infuse their relationships with others in their life with some positive energy. What's one thing that they might be able to do? They turn off this podcast and they can go and do it today.

Sue Johnson: Oh my goodness, there's so many things you could do.

Neil Sattin: I know, I know.

Sue Johnson: There's so many things you could do. What we see when couples have repaired their relationship or when they've gone through our education groups, is that they reach for each other. They reach for each other, and they risk sharing. So that's what we do when relationships are working. So that doesn't have to be a big thing. I worked with somebody last week, for a whole week. This young woman was helping me, and at some point during the evening I looked across at her face and I saw... And she was starting to talk about something and I saw the emotional music change and her face change, and I suddenly really got in my body that this was something... She was in pain, she was certainly in pain. She wasn't just chatting anymore, she was in pain. And usually, I don't know what we do with that, we kind of don't want to embarrass the person, so we stay away. And I just had this incredible feeling, so I saw that she was vulnerable, so I reached.

Sue Johnson: So what did I do? I didn't want to embarrass her, so I just went around the table and sat beside her and put my hand on her arm and looked at her. What I was saying to her, we do so much non-verbal. What I said to her with my eyes was, "I see that you're in pain." And she just turned into my neck for a minute. Some other people at the table might not even have noticed. She just turned into me for a minute and put her hand on my hand. It was like, "I see you. I see you and I care that you are there." And so, I reached to her and she... It's like her whole body told me, "Thank you. Thank you for this." People love it when we see them.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Sue Johnson: We do this with our dogs, we do this with babies, we forget the adults want it too.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Sue Johnson: My dog will come and drop his toy at my feet, and I'll say, "Oh, you want to play? You're such a good dog." And my dog will quiver in joy. Why can't we do that with people? Just see them, see them and respond to them. It's so powerful, and in our busy lives, we don't do that very... We don't listen, we don't honor, we don't say, it's like we say to people with our actions, "I see you. We're two human beings on this planet. In this short little time we have here, I see you. I'm with you, you're not alone here, you matter." That's a very powerful message.

Neil Sattin: I agree. Such a gift to give someone else your care, your attention, to actually see them fully. Thank you so much, Sue, for joining us for this quick dive into your world and your world of relationships.

Sue Johnson: So is this sue4?

Neil Sattin: This is sue4.

Sue Johnson: It is sue4 and do I improve every time, Neil?

Neil Sattin: I think we both improve. I think we both do.

Sue Johnson: Okay, that was very insensitive of me. Yes, you do improve, Neil. We both improve every time. That's right. Okay.

Neil Sattin: Thank you so much for your willingness to join today and yeah, for you listening, to check out the transcript and download it. And Sue, I'm so looking forward to talking with you again sometime soon.

Sue Johnson: Yes. Take care.

Neil Sattin: Take care.


193: How Mindfulness Can Ignite Passion - Buddha's Bedroom with Cheryl Fraser

May 15, 2019 01:07:21


Remember that spark you had with your partner when you first met? Butterflies in your stomach. Constantly checking for a text message or call from them. Daydreaming about your next date. Well, how do you get that back after you’ve settled into a routine of work, home, dinner, dishes, mouthguard, sleep? How about after a year? Five years? Or even a decade? Today you’ll learn how to use mindfulness techniques rediscover what’s amazing about your partner. Today’s guest is Dr. Cheryl Fraser. Cheryl combines her knowledge of how the mind works from a psychological and Buddhist perspective with her mission to help people create sexy, passionate, playful relationships. She’s also the author of Buddha’s Bedroom: The Mindful Loving Path to Sexual Passion and Lifelong Intimacy.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


Check out Buddha’s Bedroom on Amazon

Visit Cheryl Fraser’s website

Click here to get tickets to Relationship Alive...LIVE on June 6, 2019 featuring Terry Real and musical guest Katie Matzell

Visit to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Tammy Nelson.

I want to know you better! Take the quick, anonymous, Relationship Alive survey

FREE Guide to Neil’s Top 3 Relationship Communication Secrets

Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner’s Needs) in Relationship (ALSO FREE)

Support the podcast (or text “SUPPORT” to 33444)

Amazing intro and outro music provided courtesy of The Railsplitters


Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. We’ve covered lots of aspects of how to develop true intimacy with your partner: how to communicate well, how to understand each other, how to get past your triggers. Today, I want to focus on how to bring that mindful connection that you’re developing with your partner into the bedroom. So that you can have passionate, thrilling, sexual connection with your partner. Because often that’s, if not part of why we’re in relationship, it’s a big part of why we’re in a relationship. In fact, recently I put the question out to the relationship alive community on facebook: “How important is sex to you?” and there were very few people who said “yeah, it’s not a big deal to me.” Almost everyone, without a doubt, talked about how important a sexual, intimate connection was. So there’s the intimacy, that’s your closeness, your connectedness, and then there’s your ability to bring that intimacy into the way you connect in the bedroom with your partner.

And today we have an expert in that very topic to chat with us. Her name is Doctor Cheryl Fraser, and she is the author of Buddha’s Bedroom: The Mindful Loving Path to Sexual Passion and Lifelong Intimacy. And, Cheryl actually reached out to me and sent me a copy of her book, and I was just really moved by how simple it is, and yet how powerful the results can be for you. So, I’m really excited to have her here on the show. As usual, we will have a detailed transcript and show guide with relevant links. To download that, all you have to do is visit -- and that stands for Buddha’s Bedroom. So I’m making it really easy for you. Or, you can as always text the word “Passion” to the number 33444 and follow the instructions.

So let’s dive right in to the bedroom with Buddha and Doctor Cheryl Fraser. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Cheryl Fraser: It’s so much my pleasure. So happy to be talking with you.

Neil Sattin: Well, before we can get into bed, let’s talk about the way that you start your book which I love, which is bringing mindfulness to your relationship, and the sense that our partners aren’t there to make us happy. And how that desire for our partner to be that for us is at the root of so much unhappiness. So, before we can get really bed into partners, we often have this obstacle of feeling the resentments that we’ve stored about them. Or that abrasiveness that is actually an obstacle to the closeness, to the openness, to being there in a sexual way. So, how did you arrive there, and what, what is our good entry point here. Maybe it’s just with the Buddha, and how the Buddha’s teaching really do apply to the misery, the potential misery, of relationship as well as the bliss and joy.

Cheryl Fraser: Yes. Well, I think the short handle there is that great love and great sex are all in our head. And that ultimately is absolutely true. When I’m in love with you, it’s in my head. When I’m disgruntled with you, it’s in my head. When I’m horny, it’s in my head, even if it’s in my body. That’s why we can have an orgasm in our sleep, with absolutely no physical contact. Because actual eroticism and sexual response is also in our heads. So, you know, the title of the book, is a little bit controversial in some circles. I’m a card-carrying buddhist, whatever that is, I’ve been studying for 25 years, and I teach buddhism in long retreats, and I’m studied in Tibet and India etcetera. And “Buddha’s Bedroom” is a bit of a misnomer, in that Buddha was a celibate monk after the age of, about, early twenties. After he left his pleasure palace, and his concubines, and his wife, and his infant child, to go discover the root of suffering.

So. Why would we put Buddha in the Bedroom? Because ultimately the teachings of buddhism, and whether you’re a secular person, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, whatever your religious or philosophical bent is, the beautiful thing about the teachings of buddhist philosophy, is they’re simply about training your mind and looking at your experience, whatever your belief and religious system are, how do we bring that to love and sex, which is the root of your question.

So in essence, whether I’m happy or not happy is in my mind. And that applies directly to our relationships. So I’ll give a very simple example.

Neil Sattin: Great.

Cheryl Fraser: Let’s say after this interview, you and I have to drive somewhere, we’ve got a meeting. And we each go out to our car after we hang up from each other, and we’ve each got a flat tire. So what happens next is entirely up to our head. Do we have a tantrum? “This is a terrible day, I’m going to be late for my interview, oh no, this is a disaster, why does this always happen to me!” None of that has anything to do with the tire. It’s completely due to my mind’s reaction to reality. Reality is I have a flat tire. So let’s say, I’m going to make me the bad guy and you’re going to be the enlightened one here Neil. Let’s say I’m the one that’s having a tantrum, and I’m freaking out “Wahh!!!” meanwhile Neil goes out to his car, and is a highly civilized human being, and sees his flat tire, and says “Oh, ok, that happened. I’ll have to adjust my plan now.”

The difference between you and I is in our minds, and our mind’s reaction to reality in that moment. I freak out, and my mind goes into suffering and dismay, and creates my problem. Not the flat tire. You have the same real issue, the car won’t work in the way you need it to in here and now. And you simply go “Ok, that happened. Reality changed. And I, Neil, am going to go with the flow, and make a new plan. Call a friend, grab a bus, reschedule your appointment.” This is so simple. We all know that from our daily experience, when we react to something, that’s when we suffer. That’s Buddhism 101. How does that apply to love? Well, let’s say my sweet heart comes home today, and he promised he was going to get cat food. Now, my sweetheart has adult ADD, he’s a little bit forgetful. So let’s say he promised to get Cat Food. I texted him, “Hey hon, remember the cat food.” Because that’s part of our relationship agreement around his forgetting things. And he walks in, and we all know where this is heading, blissfully happy to see me, gives me a hug and a kiss, the cat’s meowing, where’s the cat food, his face falls. In that moment, reality is I have a person who’s forgotten to buy cat food. That’s all that’s happened. But what happens next can often be, and I’m not proud to admit that I’ve often gone there: “Oh, for goodness sakes. I can’t rely on you, I texted you, couldn’t you just check the phone before you leave the store. You know, what’s the deal.”

I am suffering but it’s in my mind. It’s certainly not the cat food. It’s certainly not the cat’s fault. And arguably, and this is where it gets challenging, arguably my misery isn’t because my partner did or didn’t do something. My misery is because I don’t like reality. I don’t like the reality that they did or didn’t do something. So to your point in your introduction, about whether we are ever in the right relationship, or can we be happy in our relationship. I’m fond of saying we all marry or fall in love with the wrong person if we expect them to make us happy all the time.

And the first quarter of the book is really about this teaching of examine your mindset, and don’t change your mate, change your mind. So most of the small or medium distresses in our relationship, sexually, romantically, communication wise, how we handle the chores, how we handle the commitments at christmas time -- whatever that is. The small and the medium distress, pain, annoyance, anger -- most of that we can get on top of that if we work with our mind. We can say “Oh, I’m so frustrated with Neil right now!” I can look at my mind, I can look at the emotion, I can feel the emotion in my body, I can look at the story: “Neil’s so unpredictable, he makes promises and he breaks them, nah nah nah.” I can harness that in, and ideally calm my body, calm my mind. Do a stretch, do a little meditation, go for a walk with the dog, and come back and say “Hey babe. I need to talk to you about something that’s really bothering me.” So when we take all of that, it sounds complex, it’s actually reasonably simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. But it’s reasonably simple to say “My mind is the root of my experience.” How I engage with you, my beloved, is, in reality we’re having engagements, but how my mind interprets them is where I’m either happy or not.” “Oh, I’ve got a hubby who forgets cat food, he’s such a sweetheart.” versus “I can’t rely on you. I’ve got to do everything myself.” Wow those lead down radically different roads.

Neil Sattin: Right. Right. And so there are several different paths that I want to go down here. One of them, I just wanted to share, I had this interesting insight when I was reading Buddha’s Bedroom, which was thinking about the question that I’ve often get asked which is, “When I’ve done all this growth, what if I find out that my partner isn’t the person that I’m supposed to be with anymore?” And I think that a lot of what you just said is the answer to that question. Not 100% of the time, but probably 85 to 90% of the time, as long as that growth includes how you process your own stories about your partner and your relationship. And you may find yourself able to connect in totally new ways that aren’t based around the dysfunction that maybe brought you together to begin with. Which is so often the case. So I just wanted to share that because for me, it was actually really inspiring, as a way of saying, yeah you know what, when you reach a new level of growth, you also reach a new level of ability to take a new approach in something that’s problematic in your relationship. That’s part of the growing. And some of that is the relational skill -- it’s how you talk to Neil about the cat food he keeps forgetting. And another part of that is how the inner part of your conversation that’s happening. Recognizing that “Oh, it’s my mind that’s torturing me right now,” and whatever you do to get past that.

And a question that I have for you is around, is around those moments, like, how would you describe someone being, having their story, and getting past their story, but still recognizing, maybe it’s not the cat food, but maybe it is a repeated sense of like, “Oh, in reality I’m noticing that my partner actually doesn’t pay much attention to me.” It’s not like you’re giving the negligent partner a blank check to walk all over the newly practicing buddhist, right?

Cheryl Fraser: No, because that would just create more suffering. And buddhism is all about trying to reduce our suffering not increase it. So let me get a little more clear here, so if we’re becoming a little more aware, and we’re examining our inner experience and our relational experience, and we come to a dawning realization that maybe our partner’s not that great at paying romantic or connected attention to us. That’s partly what you’re putting out. What do we then do with that? And these are such vast, vast questions. And as relationship therapists and coaches, both of us, we know that there’s not pithy answer, but what I’m putting forward as a really important tool in the tool box that’s different than a lot of other relationship advice, is don’t immediately go to “I need to fix this situation.” i.e. teach you, bed you, plead, cajole, bully you into paying more attention to me, in order to be happy. That’s generally where we go. I have to fix the tire in order to be happy. And from buddhist philosophy, it’s a bit of a radical idea for most of us in the west who are not trained this way. Well, you don’t need to fix the tire to be happy. Ipso facto, I don’t need to get my partner to be attentive to me in a specific way that I would enjoy, in order to be happy. Whatttt.

That means I’ve got all this space in which to be happy, with my inattentive, distracted partner. Who I know loves me deeply, and shows me in other ways. It also gives space for the two of us to say “Hey, but with the inattentive, distracted, not romantic part, that is something I would like to work on.” But now I’m working on it from a place of curiosity and wonder and friendship and play and good humored acceptance that that is not your strong suit, instead of pain, demand and almost a cyclical failure experience, where I’m hoping you’ll remember to --

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Cheryl Fraser: Ok, here’s one. Oh, I did not get his permission to share this, I’ll get it retrospectively. I had an experience with my dearly beloved this weekend. It was my birthday, and um, I told him that all I want is something with wrapping paper on it. I said I don’t care if it costs a dollar. It’s not about that. It’s because I love wrapping paper, not because I love wrapping paper, but because of what it indicates to me. Which is a thoughtfulness, a bit of precision, a bit of, you know, making something special. It goes back to old patterns, about wanting to make a fuss about my birthday as a kid, and all that good stuff that we have some awareness of. So, my dearly beloved goes and gets me a really sweet little gift. As dog lovers, you and I both Neil, he got me this sweet book on you know dogs and whatever -- lovely book. And, he put it in a bag. Oh, uh, no! I’m telling you we’re set up for a fight now. He put it in a bag, and he left it on the hotel bed, and he left a card, and in the card, he said all sorts of loving things that were beautiful. And he said, “And redneck wrapping.” Now, redneck wrapping, meaning “I threw it in a bag! I didn’t get [TK AGAINST TAPE].” And I was not a very good buddhist, or a very good sex therapist, or a very good relationship therapist, or a very good wife, or a very good person in that moment. I kind of freaked out. “All I asked for was for it to be wrapped! I just wanted it to be wrapped!” And I actually had some tears, I was very tired, it had been a very long week. Now, if I had practiced what I preached, which I try to, as much as possible, I would have said “How cool! That’s his way of wrapping. This is my sweetheart. It’s kind of funny. It’s kind of cute. It’s kind of quirky. We’re different people.”

So, just to bring this back together and to summarize it for our listeners. When I accept responsibility for my mind’s reaction to reality, it frees me up to accept reality the way it is, and be not upset. It also frees me up to say, “Ok, I’m not really upset, but we can talk a little bit about the wrapping paper in the future? What I would really love, if is on special occasions, if you got paper, because it’s symbolic to me. It just lights me up. You’ll get great return on your investment because I’ll be so thrilled.” But instead of doing it from a place of pain and hurt, and the place we usually dialogue about problems. So, I don’t want listeners to think that “Oh, my goodness, I have to accept every shortcoming in my relationship, from now on, because it’s my fault that my head isn’t happy with it.” No, no. That isn’t what we’re saying. But we’re giving people a super powerful tool, to add to the way we usually do relationship. Work on our head as well as the interaction between you and I. And find a way to be happy, and joyful, and horny, and in love, and curious -- regardless of what’s going on for our sweetheart. And then maybe, take their hand and ask them to jump into that playground with us, when we’re at our best. Cajole them out of their stuck place instead of trying to berate them, or guilt them, or harunge them out of that place. I think you and I have both experienced professionally and personally -- it doesn’t work all that well.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, as soon as we are coming at people with, what in the dog training world we call negative reinforcement, as soon as that is happening, they’re going into their shame, and feeling unworthy, and that’s not a place where any good problem solving is happening. And certainly, where the connection, also, isn’t happening. I love that example that you gave, because your husband clearly he was thinking that -- he was probably thinking that he was getting at what you were asking for. He acknowledged it even. But he didn’t really get what you were asking for in the end, because, what you wanted was fairly simple. But he missed that point.

Cheryl Fraser: And I love him anyway. And we redeemed the weekend. And often it wouldn’t have gone that way, but you know, the trifecta was there: the exhaustion, the working too much, and hadn’t had much time together, and all that stuff. I’m a human being in relationships, so are you. My private practice therapy office is upstairs from my home. You and I are speaking from my home right now. And I often say to my beautiful patients I get to work with, the couples I work with, I say, you know, “There’s upstairs Cheryl, and she’s awesome. And then there’s downstairs Cheryl, and I’m a lot less skilled down here.”

[Everyone laughs]

But, all of us should be that self revelatory and not set ourselves up. Because even though, I’m literally considered a sex and love expert, that doesn’t mean it’s easy in the trenches of real life with real human beings. That helps keep us humble, and it keeps us always searching and looking for ways to bring this beautiful work to people to do something that is sacred and profound. Which is to choose to walk through life with a person. And we learn if we’re older than 16 or so, that it’s not as easy as we thought it would be, and that soul mates don’t exist, and that Walt Disney sold us a bill of goods, and we should all sue him. [LAUGHTER] There is no happily ever after, at least by itself.

Neil Sattin: So I think they have some money, so I think we should put a class action suit together, and go after Disney. Yeah, yeah, and I think that this is so true, that what we’re after is not this idea of a perfect relationship where nothing goes wrong. In fact, my latest catch phrase has been “the perfectly imperfect relationship.” That, that’s part of it. That it’s not that nothing ever happens it’s how you show up, it’s how you handle those things that inevitably go wrong that show you how strong you are, and actually I think are just as valuable as the blissful bedroom moments, are the moments where you survive something with your partner that was tough. That maybe in the past would have really derailed you. And you realize, “Wow, we did that in five minutes, which would have before taken us five days, or five months.” And that’s a real beautiful level of resilience, that you only get to if you’re doing the inner and the outer work that you’re talking about.

Cheryl Fraser: Yeah, there are no easy relationships, other than maybe in the first few months. And it’s the work, and the joy, and the … I think the old fashioned wedding vows are so profound: better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health. And I’d love us to remember that, that’s love. Not “you’re so perfect, and you’ll keep me happy forever, yay!” I mean, that’s naive, and, it’s not bad, goodness knows I’m not anti-romance, I love romance. But I love reality too. But the first part of the book, and we’ll probably move on to passion and stuff now, but the first part is sketching out the fundamental philosophy of using your mind in the way we’ve been talking about, as one way to approach your relationship, to increase your happiness and your connection, and avoid the pitfalls of having your day ruined because there’s a flat tire. Cuz nobody’s days ruined by having a flat tire. Your day is ruined by your mind, not the tire.

Neil Sattin: And I want to highlight too that you offered this really profound view of self responsibility. That it’s not only about your happiness, it’s also about your horniness, or about your attention to a quiet moment. It’s what you’re bringing in every single moment, to that moment, is something that you have a say in, that you can bring awareness to. And what I love about these kinds of conversations, that now that you have heard us say this, you will not be able to experience the moment the same way ever again. You’ll experience it, and you’ll recognize, “Oh, wow I’m really unhappy right now.” And it will give you the opportunity, to ask yourself “What is my story that I’m telling myself right now.”

Cheryl Fraser: Yes, yes. The phrase I use right now, that I bet you resonated with, is that we are story making machines. Right? I know you do that a lot of that in your work, and your teaching on this podcast and your other venues. It’s so important. What’s the story right now? And is it working for me! If the story is “You’re the worst husband ever, and all I wanted was wrapping paper, and nobody loves me!” That’s a dumbass story. I mean, what good is that doing me, what good is that doing me to the evening? Sure, we’re flooded with biochemistry, we all know when we’re in this story that it’s not always easy to snap our fingers and turn the page. Fair enough. But at least when we can realize that we’re stuck on a yucky page of the book, and this story is destructive, we can at least begin the process of stepping away, calming our self, finding our grounding, maybe hugging and holding our partner, letting our parasympathetic nervous system take over the sympathetic fight or flight, calm our self. And then we can probably turn the page, to a blank page and start again. Not easy, but profoundly beautiful to take that as a challenge personally, and with our partner if they’re willing to engage with some of that study with us. We can do with or without them being fully on board, like much relationship work, but to say: “I’m interested in re-writing my love story one mindful breath at a time,” is how I sometimes put it.

Neil Sattin: I love that, I love that. And as we bring our attention to the moment, this is like a perfect segue I think, because I think for one thing I think a beautiful remedy for those really triggered moments is how you presence yourself. You know, our limbic system is lost in this sense that the tiger is chasing us. So being able to bring yourself into presence with your partner and talk about what is literally happening, I think is part of the mindfulness that you’re advocating for. Is that you seperate your story from what is actually happening, what the reality is that you maybe don’t like, but this is reality. And that can bring you into “I’m here, in this room, with my partner, they’re standing in front of me, we’re both breathing, the cat is meowing,” whatever is happening, that that brings you back into the moment, and once you’re there, all those systems start to come back online. And now let’s talk about how being in the moment is so important to revitalizing the sexual passion that so many people lose, and I’m putting “lose” in quotes. Because I love how you talk about how that’s never really gone, that it’s there within us. So yeah, how does our mindfulness and being moment focused get us back into passionate connection with our partner.

Cheryl Fraser: Oh! My favorite topic. So the first chunk of the book is laying out what we’ve been talking about, the mindset and some of the fundamental teachings about how to use your mind to, to interpret reality and be happy regardless of reality, flat tire or no. Then I move into, I chunk it into what I call the “Passion Triangle,” I’ll briefly lay it out, and then I think you and I are going to focus on one or two key piece of that. When I talk about how to help people create, or become, or uncover, or revitalize, or reignite passion, I break into down into three keys to passion as a way for people to remember it. And I use the structure of the triangle, because I was told once by an engineer friend that a triangle is an incredibly stable structure. And if you want to build a big building you want to build it on the variation, and the idea of the triangle. All sides leaning on each other, strongly unshakeable. Isn’t that what we want to build in our love life? All three sides of our relationship leaning on each other strong and unshakeable.

What are the three? I’ll name them. I’ll briefly describe them. I talk about intimacy being the base of your triangle. Thrill being one side of the triangle. And sensuality being the other side. And intimacy is what a lot of your work and my work covers, Neil. Which is I don’t use intimacy here as an euphemism for sex. I use it as a psychological, emotional communication, even spiritual connection. That sense of knowing each other and being known. What John Gottman and team call love maps, and which many other people talk about being seen by you, being heard by you, ups and downs, the little stuff, the big stuff. True intimacy grows over time, months and years, through what you were just about, the ups and downs, the things we go through, and maybe we can stand in the middle and survive. Intimacy, key to lifelong passion. Because the kind of passion I’m talking about, isn’t just a wild weekend. I’m talking about sustainable fluctuating alive passion. Sexually, emotionally, romantically and spiritually. So intimacy is really important, we probably won’t talk a lot about it for the rest of this conversation, but a chunk of the book is talking about how to bring mindfulness to your intimacy, and communication practices, mindful apology, things like that.

Thrill and sensuality, are what I think people really respond to as ways to think about their relationship that are cast in a slightly different manner than maybe they’ve heard before. Thrill, I’m talking about the ineffable sense of butterflies in the tummy, and a rush of lust, or excitement through our mind or body, that most of us experience very easily in the beginning of our relationship, when we’re dating, we’re beginning to fall in love. You know in my days, I’m going to date myself a bit here, but it was all about the answering machine light and whether or not it was blinking or not when you walked in the door, you didn’t have the cell phone, so you were at work all day, and you came in at 5:30 or whatever, and immediately look to the corner of the room, where the answering machine sat, and if it was blinking, that meant there was a message! And hopefully it was him or her, and I would go and listen to the message, and it was my grandmother… And I love me my grandmother, but you’re so disappointed. We all know what it was like to be excited and anticipatory, and feeling a rush of thrill. To be at your office desk and to literally a rush of lust in your body when you remember that goodnight kiss from last night. Now what happens three, six or eighteen months down the road? You and I are familiar, and most of your listeners may be, with the findings that there’s a period of what’s called luminessence or numinosity, or whatever we want to call it in the fallin in love stage that is biochemically driven. We’ve got dopamine, we’ve got serotonin, and oxytocin, we’ve got love hormones, we’ve got sexual drive. We’re cave people in cave bodies, and we’re programmed to mate and get it over with! So the pursuit and the chase is very thrilling. Then we move into a phase of what I call “Marriage Incorporated.” Whether or not you’re married, gay, straight, or alternate couples, I’m talking about when we make a dedicated commitment to each other in whatever form. I just call it Marriage Incorporated. And that’s where the thrill is gone. We think, I’ll get back to that, but we think. As the old song says, the thrill is gone. And, we’re doing ok. I love you, you love me, we’ve got the kids, the dogs, the horses, the cats, no cat food, but whatever. We’re good, we’re fine, Neil, we’re fine. I like you, you like me, we’re not looking for an affair, directly, we’re not wanting to divorce, and we have a good time on vacation. And we are running the business of us: the mortgage, the pets, the kids, the activities, your career, my career, you’ve got that podcast, but I’ve got this other thing. We all know this, we are often living that right now. Marriage Incorporated is where the thrill seems to have gone, and we’re in contentment. Now, that’s a natural phase. My work’s about bringing the thrill back, re-infusing Marriage Incorporated, and turning it into Passion Incorporated. I’m going to get to sensuality probably a little later in this conversation, so let’s stay with Thrill right now.

A reminder the three are Intimacy, Thrill and Sensuality. Because you asked me a key question, which is how does the mind, or mindfulness or paying attention, relate to thrill? In every single way. Because when you and I are new it’s novel, and novelty automatically takes care of thrill. I am curious as heck about you, I can’t wait to hear about your day, who your best friend was in school, and what happened to that friendship, where and how you lost your virginity, and how embarrassing was it. I want to know everything, I want to know where you bought that shirt, I want to know what your relationship with your parents are like. It’s easy, we’re organically curious when we’re falling in love. The thrill is based on novelty. You are uncharted territory, and I can’t wait to map every single bit of you. Every inch of your body, and every neuron of your mind. I want to know you.

Neil Sattin: Right, and there’s often some fear, involved there as well that’s often fueling the dopamine and chemicals that are coursing through our bodies.

Cheryl Fraser: Great observation, I am investing, and I’m fearful or anxious or excited that, you know, I’m falling in love with Neil, and I don’t know if he’s going to feel the same way, and am I over playing my hand, all of that is very exciting -- sometimes painfully so. And we then move into contentment, and life and busyness. We get complacent often. And the few of you listening that didn’t, Bravo and Hallelujah. But the majority of us get complacent, and I start to take you for granted. And what was new seems familiar. And it blows my mind when as couples we say, “I don’t really think there’s anything new to learn about my sweetheart.” Are you crazy? Have you met them?? We are vast, we contain multitudes. I think that’s Whitman.

Neil Sattin: Yeah it is.

Cheryl Fraser: Thank you, thank you! You will never know your partner anywhere as deeply as you think you do. As this is where I mentioned affairs. And I just want to ground this in reality for all of us. If you and I are in long term relationship, and our partner loves us and thinks were cool. But they’re not all that interested in our day, or our hopes and dreams right now, we’re not creating time to explore that together, we’re not cultivating thrill, we’ve lost novelty in terms of newness, and we’re not creating novelty with our mind and our activities. And then you and I meet someone at work, or at play or at a conference who’s interested in what we’re interested in. We have a fascinating conversation that is so often the grain of an affair possibility, someone finding us fascinating. So the work I bring with bringing mindfulness and the buddhist philosophy to our love and sex life, is create novelty all over again by what you so cleverly summarized a little bit ago in this conversation. If I show up with you here and now in this conversation, you are freaking fascinating. Even if I’ve slept next to you for the last 26 years. Even if I believe I know everything about you. You are filled with surprises, if only I have the eyes to see. And I think that a very simple way to make this relatable to people, is: Let’s say you and I love chocolate. And I am able to gift you with a tiny sliver of the most gorgeous Belgian truffle, in exactly the flavor and style that you would most love. Even as I say this, my mouth starts to water a little bit, and probably yours, and probably our listeners. And I give this to you, and I say to you “Neil, I want you to take your time, and I want you bring this to your nostrils and have a little scent.” And you’re like “Oh my goodness, it smells delicious.” But then I ask you to place it on your tongue and just leave it there. Just for a few seconds.” And it starts to melt a tiny bit, and I ask you to roll it around, and it’s silky and it’s smooth, you’ve got texture, you’ve got the orgasmic flavor explosion. And then you just enjoy it, you take time, and you swallow, and it’s gorgeous. Right?

Neil Sattin: You’re killing me!

Cheryl Fraser: Oh! Right after this I’m going truffle shopping. And I bet what you do not say to me is “Yeah, whatever. I’ve had a lot of chocolate before.” And the reason is, you’re just showing up here and now with that sliver of truffle. And you’re experiencing it, as though for the first time, and if you’ve had thousands of chocolate -- if you have a two chocolate a day habit, this moment is gorgeous if you focus on it. The power, and the eroticism, of attention. Now, if you were to, and let’s do this together right now. I want you to take your hand, and everybody listening, and just gently stroke the top of your other hand with the fingers. Using my right hand fingers, I’m stroking the top of my left hand. I’m closing my eyes, and I’m focusing on it for a few seconds. And it feels very powerful. Simply because of the special sauce of attention. Imagine kissing like that. Imagine someone licking our thigh like that. That’s the way it felt for the majority of us in the beginning, when we were exploring each other. We were locked and loaded on that sensation, and it was so alive, and it was so erotic, and it was romantic. Not just because it was new, but because we were paying attention. Novelty makes it easy to pay attention, familiarity does not make it easy to pay attention. The first time you drive a tricky mountain road. If you’ve driven it four-thousand times, because your house is at the top, you stop paying attention. So, what’s the point of all that? If you want thrill in the here and now after 27 or 48 years or 30 days, or however long it’s been. It’s your mind paying attention to this truffle, this kiss, this conversation with you, this description of your business meeting today, that makes it alive and passionate. Interest makes us fall in love over and over again. Interest and mindfulness, make thrill perpetual. Instead of simply part of the first few months of our relationship. That part comes automatically. Enjoy the heck out of it! I love falling in love. I love the rush of all that biochemistry and projection and craziness. And when I counsel people on what to do about it, I’m like “Enjoy the freaking ride.” It’s a roller coaster, but just know that you’re on a roller coaster. It’s amazing, it’s intense, you’re in an altered state of consciousness, the biochemistry of falling in love literally mimics the biochemistry of obsessive compulsive disorder in functional MRI machines. We actually are mentally ill when we’re falling in love. Enjoy the heck out if it. And then when it starts to settle, change, shift, and some of the deep work starts to happen, and it’s no longer so perfect, that’s where we can say “Ok, I am interested in boarding the roller coaster volutionally over and over again through our decades together.” That’s my mindfulness, that’s choice, that’s effort. That’s how we can begin to keep thrill alive forever.

Neil Sattin: Great, yeah, that’s exactly how you take charge of your story. If you’re able in the moment to remind yourself, just like I had the ability to choose happiness in this moment, even, no matter what the circumstances are, now I also have the ability to choose attention.

Cheryl Fraser: Yes.

Neil Sattin: To put my attention into this level of fascination. And where my mind went strangely, not necessarily that the words are connected at all, but I was thinking about fastening, like you’re fastening your attention to someone. So you’re fascinated with them. And the way that brings you into joy, also I think, takes you out of that realm of wanting someone to fulfill your expectations. So, and this I think goes into the sensuality piece, right? Because when you’re in the moment, and you’re fascinated, and you’re just enjoying that last sense of the chocolate on your tongue, you don’t want that moment to end. You’re not really thinking of the next piece, right? Because you’re able to bring your attention in that fully. And where so many people get lost, I think, in especially when there’s a disconnected state, where we’ve been in relationship for a long time, and it feels like the chasm between us is vast -- I don’t even know how to get to being sexual with you because I’m so wrapped up with business, and the kids, and the dog and the cat food. So, but the way, it’s such a quick bridge is to be able to give your attention like that to your partner, and to find that fascination. And then, it’s almost like, that question of how we get to the bedroom, in some respects, becomes a lot less important, because you’re enjoying that moment, potentially almost as much, as you would enjoy the bedroom. And it gets you into that enjoyment, which gets you maybe into more of a sensual experience with your partner.

Cheryl Fraser: Yes. I want to comment on a few of those great points before we move into sensuality, I love the idea of fastening and fascination, because there’s actually a fairly esoteric buddhist word to describe deep concentrated attention, which is called Watakka [TK AGAINST TRANSCRIPT] which means to tack onto. Which is to fasten. Where your attention kind of gloms onto this breath, and it’s unshakably there. So you’re intuitively really on that point there, Neil, of fastening and fascination, because you’re the totality of my experience in this present moment. I am focused on you. The truffle. The business proposal. The kiss, etc.

The other thing is sensuality is the word I chose on purpose, and again you intuitively picked up on this. I didn’t call the third side of the triangle “Sexuality” because sensuality is a much broader field in which to play. All five senses: touch, taste, sound, smell, and vision. And, in Buddhist and other teachings, the sixth sense, which is our mind, we can play in that whole realm. So the third side of passion, intimacy, kind of our relational connectedness, psychological work, the delight in communication. Thrill: we’ve talked about here, every moment, being a perfect truffle. No, that doesn’t happen for me either. But I can aspire to it more often. And thirdly sensuality, our sexual and erotic life across the entire spectrum. Everything from my eyes meeting yours across the room and having a spark of “There’s my sweetheart.” to holding hands while we walk the dogs in the forest, to kissing to cuddling when we watch TV, to our entire spectrum or our erotic sexual life -- whether that’s a verbal foreplay with a sexy text, whether that’s kissing, whether it is in our love making, the breadth and depth  and possibility of our love making, I’ll talk a little bit about that. All of that, is really in your head. I’m turned on or not turned on in my head, I’m interested or not interested in my head. I’m present with this orgasm in my head, or I’m fantasizing about someone else in my head while I’m orgasming. Which means I’m not fully present with this physiological and emotional experience, it’s still fun, but I’m having sex with someone else somewhere else, while my body’s with you. Which is a pretty common phenomenon. I’m not even conscious at my own orgasm, and feeling fully the deliciousness of this truffle.

Neil Sattin: Ok, so, bringing our attention back to the sensual piece, when Chloe and I, in our course, when we talk about this, we talk about the continuum. And developing this mindful awareness that you are always on this continuum of sensual experience with your partner. Even if you are thinking about them, you are on that continuum. And the reason I talk about it that way, is because I like the sense that you’re always connected in that way, it helps, I think, also bridge the gap between disconnection or how do we even overcome this gap between us, and where we stand right now. If you’ve always been nurturing that sense of “Well, we’re on this continuum no matter what. It’s just a matter of where we are. We’re not in the bedroom part of the continuum, we’re on the kitchen making dinner part of the continuum, where we can be aware of each other's breath. Or I can go and touch and you really pay attention to that touch. And now we’re in the same dimension of sensuality, even though we’re in a different place than necessarily, hot sweaty sex between the sheets.

Cheryl Fraser: Yep! I am so happy that you teach it that way, and to help people come to that understanding. But you know, I’m going to have to say that unfortunately in my experience, not a lot of couples are doing what you’re promoting there. And that they don’t experience it, as a continuum. They experience it as a relational life, and psychological life, and our loving each other life. And it’s like errrrr bomp! And then there’s our sex life, and it’s not experienced as a continuum. So I think a lot of people would say “I love making dinner with my sweetie, and we’re laughing and joking and we’re listening to oldies and dancing around the kitchen, but I’m not connecting that to sex.” And that’s what you and I in our own unique ways are encouraging people to do. Which is, oh my goodness, the state of sexuality in long term relationship is really poor. There any very good surveys that give us a real glimpse into what’s happening in long term relationship bedrooms -- but clinically, and the best of the surveys and research that’s out there, I would guess that the vast majority of long term couples are having sex maybe a couple of times a month. And it is something they’re neglecting, it’s something they’re not even necessarily avoiding, though that can be the case. It’s more like passive, denial?

Neil Sattin: There’s so many other things going on…

Cheryl Fraser: So many other things. Fatigue and Netflix, the two biggest killers of sex ever. Maybe there’s another class action suit there. But, I’m Canadian and we’re not litigious, when we spill coffee we generally just clean it up. We don’t usually sue. But, I don’t know. We’re obviously teasing, neither you nor I want to sue anybody. But humor’s also good in love and sex. Here you go. But in the passion triangle, for sensuality, I just want to offer a few teachings that I think will be super helpful for people listening. And hopefully very reassuring. For people in long term relationship who are not having much sex, and not having very much spontaneous desire -- they’re not just like “Oh, I want to jump your bones, right now.” That’s sort of the old thrill phase for a lot of us, the early roller coaster phase. I want to let people know that there’s some very important research. Rosemary Bissant out of UBC, Vancouver, Canada, she works with a new model for female sexual desire, people can look her work up. But here’s the take home message that’s reassuring. Her research indicates that the majority of long term couples start making love from a place of sexual neutrality, now what does that mean? It means that the majority of long term couples start making love when neither of them is particularly in the mood. They’re not turned on, and horny in the body, I call that physical arousal, there’s different language for these, I’ll use mine. How I break it down to make it relatable to people. So they’re not physically turned on, and they don’t necessarily have mental desire: like “Oh, I really mentally feel like making love.” Often, they have sex because they’re like “Dang, honey, it’s been three weeks. We should probably have sex.” “Yeah, we probably should.” And that does not sound romantic, but I’ll tell you what it is, it is real.

I had a patient, a gay patient, lesbian patient last week, say to me, she and her wife hadn’t made love in four months, and I was really encouraging her to attend to that and open up those possibilities. So she was really excited, cuz they’d made love, and she said “Oh Cheryl, it was so great. I was snuggled in…” I’ll call her wife Jane, “and Jane had her back to me, and Jane said to me, ‘Do you have your mouth guard in yet?’” That was the big move! THAT was the big move, man. “Do you have your mouth guard in yet?” And we laughed, my patient and I. Cuz we thought right on baby, that’s real life. And she said “No, I don’t.” And the rest is history. Why do I make that point? Because that’s real life! So rest assured, if we’re not feeling spontaneously lusty, or really in our mind, “Oh, I really want to make love.” That is normal. And Ok. And so, one of the things I suggest to people, it’s not a novel idea, your guest a few episodes ago, Tammy Nelson suggested the same thing, as many wise people, you probably do to: Make a once a week sex date. And make that be unshakable. Like, Monday night we make love whether we have a headache, or one of us is super tired, or one of the kids has the flu. We make love whether we’re into it or not. Now, the only reason we won’t, is if really through illness or a business meeting, we consult each other and say, “Hey babe, I’m not sure I can make out Monday night sex date. Are you ok if we move it to wednesday this week?” Because that way, you start making love touching, kissing, have a hot shower, have a bath, when you’re not in the mood. Don’t wait until you’re in the mood. In fact I like to counsel people, one of my catchphrases is “Never say you’re not in the mood ever again.” And what I’m saying by that, is that it’s ok if you’re not in the mood. No one should be in the mood if you’re making scrambled eggs and thinking about your tax return. Tax Day in the states today, right?

Neil Sattin: It is.

Cheryl Fraser: And someone comes up and wraps their arms around you from behind, and says “Hey baby what do you think?” It’s like “I’m not in the mood!” Worst thing to say ever even though it’s true. Instead I suggest people say “Not right now babe, ask me later.” It’s a very different energy, and it acknowledges what we’re talking about right now. That waiting until you’re in the mood to have sex, means you probably won’t have very much sex. Versus, I have a couple working with the weekly sex date, just for the last three weeks, and they were having sex maybe once a month, they like sex. They have successful sexuality together. They were just busy and tired. But they made a weekly sex date, and they’ve made love five times in the last two weeks. Because the sex date on Monday, kind of got everything warmed up, and then Saturday morning was like, “Hey let’s have a quickie.” That’s not true for all of us, but what I’m saying is that this is also the practice of mindful attention. If we’re not paying attention to our sexual life, on that continuum, as you so beautifully put it, if we don’t bridge the gap in our continuum, from you and I, and our humor, and our playfulness, and our parenting, and our going to symphony, and all the other ways that we are. If we don’t remember that we’re naked under these clothes, if we don’t remember that the unique part about you and I, if we’re choosing a variation of monogamy, is that sexual contact is unique to my relationship with you. And we’re neglecting it, and we’re expecting it to take care of itself, and we’re buying into the myth that the thrill can’t last forever. And it’s normal for sex drive to wane. It is typical for sex drive to wane, which make it normal on a Bell Curve, but that’s like saying it’s normal when you’re old to get unfit. That is typical on the Bell Curve, but if we choose fitness as we age, if we choose to be at the gym, or yoga class, then we don’t have to fit what’s normal. Don’t be lazy and old with your sex life. Bring mindfulness to sensuality side of your triangle. And it gets so much bigger than that, we probably don’t have time to go into that, but I wanted to at least mention to people, where it gets super juicey to use your mind in your love making, is the aspect of Tantric Sexuality. Transcendent mind states in my lovemaking with you, where the sense of you and I dissolve, and the orgasm turns from its typical physiological experience, which is actually pretty puny -- the average male orgasm lasts 7 seconds, and the average female orgasm lasts about 20 seconds. That’s a pretty puny amount of pleasure, as great as it is. Through meditation and through focusing your mind, and some practices I talk about in the book, and you can research elsewhere as well, around tantric sexuality, extended orgasm, full body orgasm, we can turn the orgasmic experience into something that lasts much longer than 7 or 22 seconds. Imagine the orgasmic pleasure filling your whole body for minutes, even longer than that. Imagine being to exchange that on an energetic level. That’s some of the really beautiful places that working with our mind, our partner, our heart, our connection could lead us to in the sexual realm. A type of transcendent sexuality. So maybe once a month, or once a quarter, you decide to have gourmet sexuality and sensuality with your partner. Instead of your typical meal. And I talk about that in the later part of the chapters in the book, because, why don’t I talk about the in the beginning of the book? Because, it you try to practice tantric sex without clearing up some of your unfinished business, learning to communicate better, enjoying cooking dinner together, remember your partner’s fascinating, and all the things we’re touching on today, Neil, you’re probably not going to have a 15 minute transcendent orgasm. Don’t be greedy, put in a little bit of ground work.

You know, create and cultivate the conditions with Thrill, with Intimacy, and with Sensual contact, to move into some beautiful areas of sexuality, and intimate, spiritual, sexual connection that a lot of us don’t explore. And that, can certainly make a long term relationship fascinating a again. Fascinating again. And open up new worlds. From what I usually refer to as our nipple nipple crotch, good night routine. Where we just do the dang thing ever time, and I’m not opposed to that, but I’m saying sometimes, create a gourmet meal.

Neil Sattin: Right, so I just want to mention that if you are interested to learn more about Cheryl Fraser’s work, obviously you can read her book, Buddha’s Bedroom: The Mindful Loving Path to Sexual Passion and Lifelong Intimacy. There are lots of little how-to and action items in the book, to help you along the journey. So I recommend that. You can also visit her website, which we will list in the show notes. It is And, as a reminder, if you want to download the show notes, and the transcript of today’s episode, it’s, as in Buddha’s Bedroom, or you can text the word “Passion,” which is appropriate for this episode,  to the number 33444.

In terms of Tantra, I think it would be great to have you back on at some point to chat about that more. Um, we have if you’re listening and you’re curious, we’ve had Diana Richardson on the show, Episode 2 is a great place to start, it was the very second episode of the podcast. And, Margot Anand has also been on the show, I can’t remember her episode number, but if you search for Margot Anand on my website, you’ll find her. Two amazing Tantric practitioners who can at least start the conversation with you with what we’re talking about today.

Cheryl Fraser: Beautiful. Beautiful.

Neil Sattin: Cheryl, I’m wondering if you, cuz you offer on your website, people can sign up and get free stuff every week, and you over little love bites that give people a piece of something to work on, or to take action on, or to think about their relationship in a different way, which I think is really helpful to have those bite sized actionable items. You talk a lot about Tantra.

Cheryl Fraser: I do. It’s critical to have bite sized action items. Because we talked about complacency, familiarity, fatigue, and netflix and everything else gets in the way. So they’re called love bites because they’re meant to be small bites of digestible. Some of them are two seconds, five seconds, thirty seconds to read a little reminder for your love this week. So that’s how I try to help each of us -- myself included, my sweetheart and I read my bites and try to put them into practice.

Neil Sattin: We’ve been there, yeah.

Cheryl Fraser: Yeah, and if people want to learn a little more about Tantra. I would start with the episodes you suggested, and I have a ten minute free video on my website as well, people can watch. Just so people can get a sense of what is a tantric orgasm, and how is it different, and that is a lifelong exploration that I welcome everyone to engage in, and I would delighted to dedicate a whole episode to that in the future, it deserves a bit more of an arc, so we can teach people some techniques on your show here, and have them start with that. But don’t lose hope. There are worlds to discover, sexually, emotionally, romantically, and conversationally with this person you think you know everything about.

Neil Sattin: So, there’s one little bite that I’m wondering if you could offer our listeners today. I’m wondering if you could offer something for, let’s say you have that sex date on your calendar. And I have ten different ideas here, but I’m hoping you can offer one thing that brings people into the sensual dimension with our partner, something simple that helps reignite how they experience their partner this way, how they can invite their partner into the experience of them in a sensual way, what can you offer our listeners today as sort their little take home bite that they might try.

Cheryl Fraser: Beautiful try this at home. There are a lot of ideas, but the one I’m going to offer right now is pretty simple, but very profound and very few of us do it. Which is, on your erotic date this week, take at least an hour, and break it into two thirty minutes segments, and it can be longer if you wish, and do a giving and receiving of erotic touch. With the rule, that you’re not allowed to touch overtly sexual zones. So, no genitals, no bums, and no breasts. So how that would work, would be the following: flip a coin as to who goes first, whoever wins the coin toss is the receiver first. And the receiver lays down on their back, nude, their eyes closed, you can use candles, and sometimes soft music without lyrics is nice to help relax the receiver and give them something to kind of let their mind dream on. And the giver, you probably did this in your falling in love and wildly sexual, but you probably haven’t done it in a long time, it gives you thirty minutes to explore your partner's body with a finger, with a tongue, with your hair, with a feather, with whatever you like. To just explore that body. When’s the last time that you licked the back of your partner’s knees? Everybody listening is probably thinking “Ummm 17 years, I think we probably did it that time we went to the cabin for the dirty weekend.” Anyway. So giving and receiving erotic touch. The receiver use this as a mindfulness practice, there’s more description of that in the book in some of exercises I’ve given as you mentioned, to do this with your partn

192: When Love Vanishes or Affairs Happen - What To Do? - Your Questions Answered

May 9, 2019 48:05


What do you do if your partner tells you that they don't love you anymore - or, maybe, that they think they never actually loved you? What are your next steps if your partner had an affair? These are all varying degrees of "leaning out" of your relationship. So - how do you respond in a way that has the best chance of not only preserving your sanity and dignity - but also, potentially, re-igniting your relationship? In today's episode I answer two listener questions and get to the heart of what to do, and how to get to the truth, in these situations.

Also, announcing that tickets are on sale for Relationship Alive...LIVE! featuring Terry Real. We'll have a musical guest (Katie Matzell trio), and you'll also have the chance to ask YOUR questions. The show will be on June 6, 2019 at One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine. Limited seats available. Click here to buy your tickets now!

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it! Or email YOUR recorded questions to questions (at) relationshipalive dot com.


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191: How It All Fits Together with Keith Witt

May 1, 2019 01:57:04


With so many different potential approaches to helping your relationship, how do you choose the one that’s right for you? And how do you make sense of them all together? John and Julie Gottman, Sue Johnson, Esther Perel, David Schnarch, Stan Tatkin, Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson, Terry Real - they’re all describing different ways of getting the same thing - a loving, thriving, passionate relationship. Today we’re going to tackle how it all fits together, so you’re better prepared to steer your own relation-ship. To help us integrate in a way that makes it practical and clear, we’ve invited Dr. Keith Witt back to the show. Keith Witt is an integral psychologist, which gives him a unique perspective in making sense of all these roads that lead to Rome. His most recent book, Loving Completely, details his approach to bringing all of the essential parts of you to your relationship. Along with having written 7 other books, Keith has conducted more than 55,000 therapy sessions with his clients! If you’ve been wondering how to make sense of it all, this episode is for you!

Also, please check out our first three episodes with Keith Witt - Episode 158: Loving Completely,  Episode 80: Bring Your Shadow into the Light and Episode 13: Resolve Conflict and Create Intimacy through Attunement.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


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Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. And if you can hear it in my voice, I'm particularly excited for today's conversation. Of course, we've had so many different viewpoints represented here on Relationship Alive because there are so many roads that lead to Rome, the Rome of romance and romantic partnership, and how we sustain loving, thriving, monogamous relationships, and it's not always that one road works for any one person. And this has come up several times in the show, this question of, well, “so and so says their way is the way and they sound so convincing when you're talking to them, Neil, so what do I do when it doesn't work?" And this happens sometimes.

Neil Sattin: So, if you've tuned in for a while then you know that the reason that I have all these different voices on the show is because I really believe strongly that it's whatever works that's important. And I suppose for myself I might put some boundaries around that; what I'd be comfortable with or where I'd feel a little edgy or stretching, but for the most part, I think that it's up to you to really get informed about what's possible and then make choices that really align with you or maybe stretch you in a direction that feels like a light way to be stretched. At the same time, they all form part of this big puzzle that makes sense. And so, I wanted to have a conversation today about how we integrate as much as possible the way that we think about all of these different methodologies so you can see how they all fit together, they don't exclude each other, for the most part. They actually all find a place in the big picture of how we make relationships, what we want them to be. And as much as some of the people on my show might want you to think otherwise, this is my personal belief.

Neil Sattin: And so to have this conversation, I've invited one of my favorite guests to have here on the show who also happens to be someone who's very good at integrating all these different approaches. His name is Keith Witt. He has been here before to talk about his books, "Loving Completely", "Shadow Light", "The Attuned Family"; and he is an integral psychologist among other things. And so the integral perspective, I think will help us understand how all of these different pieces fit together in a way that actually does make a coherent whole, it makes sense. So, Keith, thank you so much for joining us today on Relationship Alive.

Keith Witt: I am always happy to be on your show and it's one of the pleasures of my life, our conversations.


Neil Sattin: Awesome, well, the feeling is mutual. I do want to say before we dive in deep that we'll have a transcript of this episode. If you're interested in downloading it, you may want to read it a few times, you can visit 'cause we're going to be integrating everything today. Or, as always, you can text the word "PASSION" to the number 33444, follow the instructions and you'll be able to download the transcript to today's episode. So, Keith, let's start with maybe where you orient in terms of this conversation. And before we got started, you were talking about this sense of, as we talk about all these different schools of thought, we're really talking about the founders of modern relationship theory. So, where do you put yourself and how do you make sense of where you are in this conversation about how we're tying all of these things together?

Keith Witt: Well, first of all, being a founder is a peculiar thing. I've developed various systems, all of them interrelated generally, under the integral umbrella. And integral has worked for me greatly. [chuckle] The reason why integral has worked for me greatly is the integral is a meta theory, not a theory. And so, I had actually generated systems and written some books about systems before I encountered integral. But then the integral, looking at the world through the objective and the subjective, the individual and the collective; looking at the world through types of people, states of consciousness, through people being at different developmental levels, including therapists, I realized that when you put any system into that, including the systems I developed, it expanded. And it made me just fascinated with the commonalities that affective systems, particularly of relationships and of love because I think everything's relationships is.

Keith Witt: And so, one of the things that's different for me and other founders is that, even though I've... If you look at my eight books, there's essentially seven different systems interrelated of doing psychotherapy and of doing couples work. I'm not particularly invested in any of them. Those systems are useful, they're coherent, they have a lot of technical and theoretical interconnections with everybody else and with the research. But I agree with exactly what you said. Ultimately, when a couple or an individual wants to love better, they come in, it's the goodness of fit with the therapist and it's how effectively they move forward, and there's an alchemical experience that happens with that, that can only be described in the intersubjectivity of the session. And meta research on psychotherapy has shown this again and again, and one of my favorite meta-analyses, which they took lots of studies and put them together, they found out a couple of very fascinating things. One, therapy helps people, okay? That's good news for everybody.

Neil Sattin: Good to know.

Keith Witt: The second thing that the variance of change was explained by 40% in this meta-analysis, 40% of the variance of change was client variables; how resilient they were, what kind of social networks they had, what kind of resources they had; 30% of the variance of positive change was the relationship, what was the solidity of the intersubjectivity of the alliance between the clients and the therapist; 15% was placebo effect. If you go to somebody, give them a bunch of money and they expect to change, you're going to change.


Keith Witt: In fact, that's something that has completely confused the field when it comes to the whole psychotropic thing. Probably 30% or 40% of the effect of most antidepressants is placebo effect, 8%-12% is probably the drug. Okay, so 15% placebo effect, 15% method of treatment. Okay, well, method of treatment 15% is significant. In poker, 7% is skill and the good poker player always wins but that 15% isn't as big as the client variables and it isn't as big as that 30% of the alliance. And so, I'm aware of that and so I hold my systems lightly, even though I love them. And so, I look at the other systems and I look at my relationships with the other systems, and I get a lot out of all of them. But also, I noticed that as we moved through the fields, our own little blind spots tend to affect how we absorb systems, how we enact systems, and how we integrate them. And I find that interesting because every time I find a blind spot, that's an opportunity to wake up. And this is where our conversation went when we were talking about this. So, how do they fit together? Well, as it turns out, even though they look very different from the outside, most of them fit together quite well in terms of the constructs that the various therapists bring to bear with couples and individuals for that matter and what they have to do in a session to help people move forward.

Keith Witt: So, that's pretty much it. My Loving Completely approach is approach that I love a lot, and you can check it out in my book, "Loving Completely". And my book, "Waking Up" that was the first book that I wrote after I had my integral awakening, is one of the first texts on integrally-informed psychotherapy, and it has sections in it around integrally informed sex therapy and marriage counselling. And I'm quite proud of that, and I think that works a lot, but are those more effective than Gottman's approach. Schnarch's approach, or Perel's approach, or Tatkin's approach? I don't think so. I think pretty much you have a good therapist, who's enacting their system and is attuned to their clients, they're going to do pretty well. And this goes for me, all the way back to my doctoral research. I was always interested in this, and so my doctoral research was I took three different kinds of systems and researched them in terms of how much they enhanced the health of clients. Talking plus touching, talking without touching, and touching without talking. And I found that the people got better equally, which led me to conclude that in psychotherapy, people have a natural healing style.

Keith Witt: And what you want to do is you want to identify it and enhance it and let it and help it grow as you grow throughout a lifetime. And I think that's probably the best way to go, as a psychotherapist and as a marriage counselor, and certainly when I train people and supervise people, that's my perspective. What's your natural healing style? How can we help you expand that and grow within that natural healing style? And that natural healing style has to involve, not just your style expanding, but you expanding. If we don't grow as individuals, we're limited as clinicians.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that's... I really appreciate your saying that and it's making me think about that problem of when someone comes to me and says, "I tried. I found an EFT therapist and that didn't work, or I found a Gottman therapist and that didn't work." I wonder sometimes if that might be, because the particular therapist isn't necessarily 100% aligned in terms of their healing style, which you just mentioned, with the system that they've learned. It may be that they believe 150% in the effectiveness of that system, but if it doesn't tap into their own natural alignment and integrity and how they create resonance with their clients, then I could see it falling flat at times.

Keith Witt: Oh yeah. Before, let me see, probably 2000, I've been doing this since I first started studying therapy in 1965. I mean, I've been studying bazillion systems. And so for me, until I was around 50, every time they discovered a new system, I go, "Oh, damn." Because I knew that I was going to get disintegrated. I was going to learn this system and it was going to disrupt my understanding of the psychotherapeutic universe. I would have to climb into this system and enact it until I could actually enact the system naturally, I could answer questions from the system. And I knew that it would re-organize my understanding of the universe, and it was a lot of work. So, every time I found a good system, I go, "Oh Jesus, not another one." And then I would study it and I would... Sometimes for years, and it was always difficult in the beginning because it would destabilize, and that's very much how development goes on any developmental line. You expand into the current world view, and something comes and causes that world view to not quite be enough, and so the old one disintegrates and you go through that period of disintegration before you re-integrate into a more complex system. And I kept hoping that it would be the end of it. I'd finally get a system that was so great that I wouldn't have to have go through that experience.

Keith Witt: And then after I was 50 and studied integral and wrote about integral, I realized that I was enjoying the process now, that when someone came up with a new idea, like EMDR that it actually was... EMDR is wonderful in certain situations dealing with trauma. And so that was great when as soon as I identified it as a great system, I saw a research that persuaded me, I dived in and I had a lot of fun learning and acting EMDR until I could bring it into my repertoire of theoretical and practical understanding. Now, what did that reflect? That reflected my consciousness changing.

Keith Witt: I shifted from being more egocentric in my understanding to being more open, so my unconscious was actually aware. Keith, there will be great systems that will happen and when they arrive, they'll help you grow and be a better therapist, they're wonderful. And so, my subjective reaction to them shifted from, "Oh, no," to "Oh, boy." And this is how you notice that you grow. You don't notice that you grow particularly because you have a new idea, you notice that you grow because you have a different natural reaction to something that you had a different reaction to before. And it's very difficult to notice a shift of world views from the inside. It's easier for other people to give you feedback about it until you get to a certain level of development in the integral, we call that the "second tier" and then it's just easier to see that kind of stuff. And so that's been my experience with this over the decades. That's my current experience with it.

Neil Sattin: Great, yeah. And just to give you listening, a full sense of what I'm bringing to this conversation, I mentioned in the introduction that a lot of this is about you finding tools that work for you. I also have another bias that comes from my position of being able to talk to so many of the founders of relationship theories, which is... And it comes from my upbringing I think, which is this kind of like, "can't we all just get along" mentality. In an ideal world I'd be having this conversation, Keith, you would probably still be there and we would have everyone on a stage as a panel, but the express purpose of that conversation would be like, "Let's figure out how we can all work together." And my understanding is that, that's been challenging in the field to bring everyone together like that, but that's another thing that... My own agenda that I bring to this conversation is, I want everyone to get along and to commit to the overall betterment of how effective we can be in our lives or as therapists or coaches, or people who help others. It's really important to me.

Keith Witt: Well, Amen.


Neil Sattin: And some other things that you were mentioning made me think immediately of John Gottman. And I can't remember if he mentioned this actually in our first interview, if it was part of what I recorded or if it was just part of my conversation with him. But he talks about how important it is for him to know when he's wrong. He keeps a very detailed record of all the ideas that he's ever had and I think he might have said that he's wrong more than half the time.

Keith Witt: Yes, he says that. More than half of his hypothesis have been proved false. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Right, right. And so for him, this is one of the things that he stakes his claim around is that, he's distilled a body of work that statistically has been shown to work more than 50% of the time I think, in fact it's like 86 or something percent of the time. And that being said, he's also... What I love about that statement is one, his embrace of the willingness to be wrong, which is so important at any level of relationship, relationship to an idea, relationship to your spouse, so I really appreciate that. And also it seems to be his major critique of people who would use other systems that maybe haven't been empirically proven to be effective because what if you put it under a scientific scrutiny and found that it only worked 10% of the time, like your best placebo on its, without; or sorry, your best drug without the placebo effect. So, that's where it gets confusing for people I think, because they're like, "Well, if my local shaman hasn't undergone scientific study, what do I do with the fact that it's actually been really helpful for me? Versus going to my Gottman-certified therapist?

Keith Witt: John Gottman is the only founder that I know of whose psychotherapeutic approach and theoretical approach literally arose out of his research. That's not true for any of the rest of us. Everybody else was doing stuff that worked really well for them in certain situations and they saw how things fit together, and then they fitted it together with other stuff that they found out and created a structure. That's not a bad thing. That's how theories historically have arisen, in my opinion, except for say, physics. And John Gottman started out as a mathematician.

Keith Witt: I went to a three-day workshop with him and Julie, and at the very end, I went up to him, I said, "You know, John, I've done a lot of this stuff, okay? And your system has the most amount of good stuff and the least amount of bullshit than any other system that I've seen." And he laughed because he got it. Another thing that endeared me to him, and I gotta say I am biased towards John Gottman, I love that guy, I think he and Julie are great.

Keith Witt: In a conference where everybody's talking about how their system is the best, he went up on stage and says, "You know, I think about my treatment's failures." And I thought, "God, John, thank you." I think about my treatment failures too, what the fuck. What can I do different. What's the new stuff? He is a researcher. Now, I use a lot of his research to validate my approach, I've changed things that I've done in response to some of his research. I've changed some of my understandings in response to some of his research. Why? He's just the best and most comprehensive couples researcher around. In terms of my approach, almost every psychotherapist and all couples counselors to a certain extent through psychoeducation, you're basically teaching people about themselves and about how relationships work.

Keith Witt: The nice thing about Gottman's approach is that he didn't really, in most of his work, he didn't really have confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is what most founders bring to their research, if they do research. Okay, well, if you're doing research to show that your system is great, that's confirmation bias. Now, human beings, when they develop, when they develop from fundamentalist, which is I'm going to enact the EFT system or the crucible system exactly how it's supposed to be, and I'm not going to really think about whether it's working or not, that's a fundamentalist system. I'm going with the structure, but because it's the structure.

Keith Witt: When you go to a more rational system, a rational system is, "Well, I want to cross-validate things and see how they work, and if they work better, I'll shift into a new system." In between that conformist and that rational system, there's an in-between stage. Susanne Cook-Greuter and Beena Sharma who studied developmental stages, they call it the 3-4 stage 'cause 3 is conformist and 4 is rational; they called it the 3-4 stage. In that stage, people experience themselves as open to input, but actually they have confirmation bias, they're looking for data that support their preconceived notions and they very much resist change.

Keith Witt: You know, back in the '90s, I went to a David Schnarch workshop. And so, David Schnarch was all about differentiation, a concept he obviously lifted from Murray Bowen and never gives him any credit for, which pissed off Dan Siegel enough in the conference so Dan Siegel called him out on it. It was one of those little conference snafus that happen, it fascinated everybody. So I went up to Schnarch, I said, "You know, I think there is a more fundamental construct than differentiation." He said, "What?" I said, "I think it's health." He said, "That's too broad." Now, maybe he's right. Maybe my orientation towards what's healthy and not healthy is a too broad concept. But his immediate reaction was dismissal. He didn't want to consider that there might be a more fundamental organizing principle than his, okay? There was confirmation bias. Now, he's a good counterpoint, to me, to John Gottman. John Gottman doesn't like people making assertions without doing research, but I don't care, I still love John Gottman.

Keith Witt: David Schnarch spent minutes on stage during that workshop warning people to not use his stuff 'cause it's all trademarked and I found him arrogant and narcissistic, and to this day, irritating. Now, what is that? Both of them have their own critiques. Why do I find myself really liking John Gottman and irritated with Schnarch? Even more importantly, whenever you get irritated with someone, there's a tendency to dismiss what's great about their system. And this is what is beautiful about integral, integral says, "Everybody gets to be right, nobody gets to be right all the time." And Schnarch's concept of differentiation and holding on to yourself and the whole crucible approach to couples is a really good approach. Okay, that is very effective, particularly with some couples where they keep trying to move out of the container and you keep them in the container until something pops, and out of that pop come something new. And sometimes that newness is a new discovery of love for each other. Now, Esther Perel does a similar thing, but she's more of a practical romantic. I see Schnarch and Susan Johnson as more practical moralistic, in that they seem to literally have moral disgust for other people who disagree with them. [chuckle]

Keith Witt: I go, "Okay." [chuckle] Maybe that's what irritates me about them. Like Susan Johnson says, "If you do your work, you have to be slow and soft." Okay, well, that works for her with couples. But you know, as people might have noticed so far in our conversation, I'm not a particularly slow and soft guy, okay? So, my natural healing style, sure, I can get really gentle with people, and I actually was critiqued by Gestalt therapists in the '70s by being too nice to my clients. "You're too nice to your clients, Keith." "Oh, I'm sorry. Just because Fritz [Perls] is an asshole doesn't mean I have to be an asshole when I do therapy."


Keith Witt: And so, sorry, Susan, slow and soft is not my natural style, okay? It's alright. Now, does that make me less effective than her with a couple? Probably with some couples, I don't know.

Neil Sattin: Right, and it would probably make you less effective if you were implementing her system.

Keith Witt: Yes, that's exactly right. And when you learn a system, it's good to implement it. Now, even though I love John and Julie, John and Julie, when they talk about implementing their systems, they use a lot of their research tools. They give people like questionnaires, they give them cards and stuff, and they have their structured things that they recommend people doing. I'm sorry, I don't like doing that stuff.


Keith Witt: My clients don't like doing stuff like that, but even if my clients liked it, I don't like doing it. If you go to a risk management workshop, they give you a five-page thing your clients are supposed to sign about all the horrible things that they can report you for and that the therapy does and doesn't do. I'm sorry, I don't do a five-page thing. We all have our different styles. Now, that being said, I just love that guy, love him, and every time he gets a new thing out... I studied his last book from the beginning to end several times, and except for the math, just found it utterly fascinating. And I see him as a practical scientific guy. He is a true scientist. John Gottman will change an opinion on a dime if you give him persuasive data. And that's just not true for many people.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so, since you've brought up David Schnarch, and unfortunately, he hasn't been on my show yet, so we haven't had the benefit of being able to hear from him directly. I still... I reach out to him every so often and I'm hoping that one of these days he will. That being said, it's funny. I have my own bias when someone doesn't want to be on my show. [chuckle] I'm like, "Well, what's your problem?" What you just mentioned about your experience with him, that seems in some respects, to make sense given that he's staked his claim on differentiation, that that's where he's coming from, differentiation being that sense of holding on to you and your sense of who you are no matter what someone else is throwing at you. And so in preparation for this conversation, I really dove into his passionate marriage work, which is sort of the lay person's approach to crucible therapy, which is what he calls his work in the therapeutic realm. And I found myself really appreciating it, in fact, and it got me irritated because even... I was listening to this one recording of him and he said something that was dismissive of attachment theory and...

Keith Witt: Yes.

Neil Sattin: And I love what attachment theory brings to the conversation about relationships, both how you come to understand your own dysfunction in a relationship or how you come to understand the function of the dyad, what that does for you. And concepts of safety and how that enables you to differentiate. I love that, and it kind of bridges into Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson's developmental model too, which we can talk about in a little bit. But that all being said, when I heard him talking about the importance of knowing who you are, and at the same time being able to remove your distortions of who you are. And he talks about part of crucible being that your partner being there, that's a great way for you to learn where you actually aren't who you think you are, just as one example. Or you get to, through self-reflection, see some of the dysfunction in who you are, and actually work towards growth and improvement. But when he talks about differentiation, he talks about some things that I think are key. You talk about, not only holding on to who you are, but also your ability to self-soothe, so to take responsibility for yourself when you're triggered. How many times have we talked about that on the show? He talks about getting over your reactivity, so taking responsibility for not freaking out at your partner when they trigger you.

Neil Sattin: Again, so important, and fits right in. And then, he talks about, and I love this concept, the idea... And this is a place where I feel like he's kind of unique, and you can correct me if I'm wrong here, Keith, 'cause you have a broader perspective, perhaps, than I do. But he talks about... He names his approach as a non-pathological approach. In other words, if things are going wrong, then nothing is wrong. It's like, that's what you would come to expect. And that part of what he holds as an ideal in a relationship is the ability to hold onto yourself, to self-soothe, to not get reactive with your partner, and to hold the container of a relationship when things get uncomfortable. And that does seem so important, being able to grow with your partner. If you're so focused on fixing things and one of you capitulating to the other, it's not that there's never a place for compromise, but it's like, I think, and so many couples rush to that, they overlook the actual growth potential that happens in truly experiencing themselves as separate individuals with different ideas about how to live and how to be in the world, or how to be with each other.

Keith Witt: It's a wonderful approach. It's a wonderful understanding. I like it. And I use those concepts and those understandings, and have, ever since I learned the system. That the system has great efficacy, practically speaking. Now, that being said... So let's just expand. Okay, so it's great to say it's a non-pathological system. Okay, fine. And basically, effective therapists operate from that perspective. Here's two people, they want to change, they want to grow. That power of a human consciousness wanting to change and wanting to grow is so robust that there's a lot of details of self-regulation and moderation and holding on to yourself and understanding. But there's that basic core of power, of human consciousness wanting to grow. That's true, and psychopathology has existence. If somebody has a personality disorder, there's no couples approach that is going... In my experience, maybe I'm wrong, because I've been doing my own work. My lab is my practice. I've done 65,000 therapy sessions. And so, I take stuff into my lab, so to speak. So psychopathology has existence. Sometimes you need to go into that to help people grow. You have tell somebody, like, "You have a distorted view of the world," and need to have some individual work to deal with that, or, "You are so overwhelmed by your trauma history that you have to go resolve that trauma before you can experience sexuality and intimacy with your partner comfortably."

Keith Witt: That needs to be normalized and there's a subtle bias. In integral, we would call that a pluralistic bias or a green bias, to treat everybody like they're the same. This is what causes David Deida to dismiss psychotherapy in general. Now, that's an interesting thing. I'm a psychotherapist, I teach psychotherapy, I write about psychotherapy, I've generated systems, I'm a founder of systems, I go to David Deida workshops. He generally puts down psychotherapy as being kind of a pluralistic, limp-wristed, egalitarian, second stage, you know, wimps, so to speak. And I still love the guy, okay?


Keith Witt: Okay, so why is that? Probably part of it is because I see him as a kindred spirit, as a fellow warrior. But when you and I were talking about this earlier, but part of it is I probably have more projections with people like David Schnarch or Susan Johnson, like that moralistic... Maybe there's a part of me that has moral disgust that I don't like and I project onto them. I do that a little with Dan Siegel. I love Dan Siegel's work, I've studied his books, I've listened to his lectures endlessly, I've enjoyed his lectures. And every once in a while though on stage, he starts complaining about how somebody treated him badly or how somebody doesn't understand him or he had to push back, and I just find that icky. I go, "Dan, don't say stuff like that. That makes the rest of the cool stuff that you talk about. You know, you're a brilliant man, and you've changed everybody. Your book, The Developing Mind, was my foundation of neurobiology, interpersonal neurobiology."

Keith Witt: Alan Schwartz is similar. He says everybody bow to evidence-based treatment. He's irritated with this American Psychological Association privileging the research of, particularly, cognitive behavioral therapy, I suspect because cognitive behavioral therapists and the labs around the country get a lot of money and other people don't. So there's a lot of personality that comes through and yet all these systems have wonderful things about them. So, Schnarch is more practical moralistic in that sense. Esther Perel is more practical romantic, she's practical. All the good therapists are practical. You're with a couple, we're going to help 'em move forward and understand them individually and as a couple, and we have a vision of good relating that's for effective therapists is similar. But she has basically a romantic approach. You have your own way of understanding yourself, and of love, and I support that as a therapist. And you have your understanding of what you want with this relationship and I support what you want. And your partner is similarly. And we deal with that and from an accepting standpoint and a practical standpoint, how can we move forward?

Keith Witt: You feel enlivened by your secret affair that devastated your partner, I understand how you feel enlivened by that. I understand the draw of that. I understand your resentment at your partner for not being more cooperative and creating better love, the partner is outraged that you did this. Well, I understand your outrage. I understand your desire to love better. It's a very romantic approach, but it fits very well with all the scientific approaches, the moralistic approaches, with even David Deida's mythological approach. David Deida is basically a practical mythological approach. He draws from the wisdom, traditions of masculine and feminine. He used to teach the Shiva and Shakti scale, just brought it out of the Eastern traditions. And yeah, it's practical. This is how we can help you understand yourself, understand your partner, and understand how you enhance the polarity to have the intimacy and safety and love and the passion that you want. And if you get down to it in the psychotherapy session, if you watch any of us doing a session with people, you'd see very similar constructs that we're applying and you'd see very similar interventions.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, it's so funny I was listening to the first season of Esther Perel's podcast that she put out with Audible. I think it's called Where Do We Begin? Or something like that. And one of the sessions I was like, this might as well be Harville Hendrix that I'm listening to, just in terms of how she was showing up for that couple and talking about safety and the way they were constructing their communication and it was like right out of his getting the love you want workshop practically. So that was fascinating for me and I think worth noting because if you're just a bystander and you're like, say, listening to the Relationship Alive podcast, you can be so persuaded by one person's viewpoint or the other. And in fact, I find myself, like you were mentioning earlier, Keith, persuaded over and over and over again.

Keith Witt: Yes.

Neil Sattin: Because everyone's system has so much merit to it, that you might lose sight of where they both offer you something important. Sue Johnson and David Schnarch, it's interesting that you've paired them together because, obviously, they're in some ways they would see themselves as being in opposition to each other.

Keith Witt: Yes.

Neil Sattin: And yet, how many times have I seen with clients how important creating safety is to them, taking a stand for who they are? And vice versa, if they're all about the safety and they never take a risk by being who they are, I've seen that be problematic too. So, it's like everyone is reacting to the... What's the word? The distorted, the extended version, like if you go way too far into differentiation, that's not going to be a relationship. If you go way too far into creating safety or your couple bubble, like Stan calls it, Stan Tatkin, then you might lose the edge or the eroticism, which is what Esther would hone in on. You've lost your sense of the other person as other, you're too safe.

Neil Sattin: So, it's so interesting because even in just this past three sentences or so, you've heard me jump from one to the other to the other trying to show you, like, "Yeah, they all actually feed into each other." If you're really, really stuck, like a lot of people are, I think that's why Esther's TED Talk took off because so many people are stuck. I think she writes in "The State of Affairs" that sexless marriage is one of the top Google searches or something like that.

Keith Witt: Yes.

Neil Sattin: So, if you're in a sexless marriage, then when someone starts talking about how you feel too safe and you've come to not think of your partner as someone else. And so here are some ways to get you back to a more erotic, playful space with your partner, then you're going to listen and that's going to make sense to you. But it wouldn't make sense to you if you had no safety in your container and your partner was constantly texting other people and flirting with the waiters and waitresses at the restaurants, and if you were in a totally unsafe world, then that's not going to be a place where Esther's work might, or at least what you might initially think she's getting at. But again, this is just her TED Talk, you hear her in a session and she's talking about creating safety within a couple.

Keith Witt: Exactly. That practically speaking, everybody comes from constructs that involve relational patterns, a developmental orientation, that people are influenced by unconscious influences and trauma programming. Everybody has a vision of happy relating for every couple they work with. No effective couples counselor doesn't do that. We all, if we have a couple, we immediately start having a vision of how they could be getting along better with each other. And all couples counselors are informed by the psychological and psychotherapeutic traditions, therapeutic relationship attunement, and that kind of stuff.

Keith Witt: Now, when you look at it, for me, the breakdown between Schnarch dissing attachment theory and Susan Johnson saying, "I have the only couples therapy. We never had a theory before me." Okay? Well, look, if you say to a bunch of founders who have their own theories, "You never had a good theory of couples until me," everybody's going to get pissed off. So, Susan Johnson says that, I go, "Susan, you've got a good system, you got a good theory. You don't have to piss us all off by saying that. You can say, 'I got a couples thing that I prefer to yours.'" And so, John Gottman will go up in a workshop and say, "Well, we have our theory." You know he's speaking directly to that.

Keith Witt: Now, that being said, Esther Perel and Schnarch make a point that a lot of other couples people miss, they go, "Look, sexuality is a big deal and it's been neglected by the field," and they're right about that. That was true. In the '70s, therapists wouldn't even ask their couples about sex, it just drove me crazy. I did a lot of sex therapy training in the '70s because I realized that to be effective with couples, I need to be really good at helping them have better sex, and integrated that into my work and have ever since. And David Deida's stuff has been priceless around that stuff.

Keith Witt: And so, the field has grown to that. And to their credit, once again, John Gottman and Julie, they have their system of expanding the conversation about sexuality and the behaviors about sexuality because they've demonstrated from their research that it's not enough to just down-regulate conflict with a couple, you have to up-regulate good times. And as I make... The point that I make in my Loving Completely approach, a marriage is a friendship, a love affair and a capacity to heal injuries and ruptures. That love affair is a big deal. That first star, this erotic polarity between me and my partner, gets more space in my book than any of the other stars. Why? If that love affair isn't happening then there's a lot of problems that arise out of that, and that's that sexless marriage statistics that Esther mentions in her book. I wrote a book called "A Hundred Reasons to Not Have a Secret Affair", I couldn't find a publisher for it. And I read "State of Affairs" and I said, "Well, I like this a lot better than my book."


Keith Witt: And really I think that's a really good book about affairs and you can just feel that practical romantic orientation on her part.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and when you say romantic, let's just... Can you get more clear on what that means, just so we get you there?

Keith Witt: Esther has... Now, this is just my reading of her, okay? And I've never talked to her. I hope I do some day. There's this sense for her about love. There's a mystery, a cross-cultural mystery about love, that there's love is, I want to be loved, I want to love and I want to do it in a way that works for me. And if it's not happening, I'm suffering and I want to make it happen. And if it's not happening and I'm suffering, I need to take that suffering into the world and into my own development, into my relationship and make love happen. And there's a certain mysterious quality about it. And yes, there's things that interfere with it like lies and abuse and all that other stuff. And to a certain extent, because she works an awful lot with infidelity and that kind of stuff, you can see our practices shape our theoretical understanding. There's that sense of, if we open that up, then love will happen. Now hopefully, it happens with us as a couple, but if it doesn't, okay. It didn't happen. Love, the relationship just because it ends wasn't unsuccessful, we lose each other, we move on and we find love some place else.

Keith Witt: Okay, to me, this is very romantic. This is a subjective love-based, romance-based orientation towards eroticism and sexuality. And it's very effective because that's how in terms of the neurobiology of bonding, yes, we go from our various arousal systems, into attraction, into distracting attraction, into romantic infatuation, into intimate bonding, into life stages. Now, what I think Esther misses, because she doesn't seem to be as interested in the science, is that it's an apples and oranges comparison that early attraction, distracting attraction, romantic infatuation, sexual drives, with the sexual drives that exist in intimate bonding, okay.

Keith Witt: In intimate bonding, I have discovered or it's been my experience, to go into those romantic infatuation circuits, it's very, very intricate and detailed and it's not nearly as easy as finding a new person that you don't know. And so you can't compare, "Well, it's very hard to develop romance and passion with my husband, but really easy with my lover." Well, of course it is. We're wired to have that be the case. That's not the point. The point is that... And now we're getting into an integral understanding of evolution of consciousness. As we expand our consciousness, as we get more world-centric and more compassionate and less bullshit, our relationships are more demanding. And so it's very, very difficult. I haven't found relationships where people have the depth of connection that they want, knowing each other and accepting each other and loving each other deeply, that they have that and that that container, which is powerful but fragile, can tolerate one of them going out and falling in love with another person. And also, that container suffers if they don't do what they need to do to take care of their love affair. They have a love affair that they believe in that they're sustaining with each other.

Keith Witt: So, why is that fragile? Well, because it requires an awful lot of attention and knowledge and understanding and self-regulation. Why is it great? Because there's deeper intimacy available in that container than in previous containers over the last 10,000 years and it's more demanding. If you have a very, very primitive... Say you have a relationship that's pure conformist. We're getting married, we're going to have kids, we're going to do what the Bible says or the Koran says. In those cultures, women stop having sex with their partner when they stop being of childbirth age, in general. Fascinating study. They just go at that point, they go, "Well, I'm not going to do it anymore." A lot, not always, but a fair amount. Why is that? Because there isn't a developmental layer of intimacy that they and their husband are working for, because they're in a system where he's in charge. She has to do what he says. I say "yes" to sex, until I can't have kids anymore and then I can say "no" if I want.

Keith Witt: And if we don't have a certain level of intimacy and a commitment to depth, why would we be interested? He would be going after youth and beauty and maybe I'll have an affair or maybe I won't. It just depends. If you're going in, but if you both have the sense of equal depth, if you both are post formal operational, if you both want to sustain your friendship and your love affair and expand it and expand each other, well, then that requires a different kind of inner subjectivity. So these are very complicated forces that are operating on all of us. Now, they're explicit in integral psychotherapy because we always look at lines and levels, and probably, you're going to tell me about Ellyn Bader, probably in their developmental model, because developmental models notice that people's worldviews change, and that relationships, demands of relationship, change as we go into different developmental levels.

Keith Witt: The other ones, the effective ones, unconsciously adjust for different people's worldviews, but sometimes don't consciously do it, because it's not visible to them, consciously, but unconsciously, in the session, they get a feel for it and they attune to it. Just like if you're an effective therapist... Stan Tatkin has practically nothing about sexuality in his system, but I'll bet if people come in to his system suffering from not being sexual, he climbs in, understands their experience from the inside, finds out where they're turning each other and on and off, and helps them find the kind of safety that they need to move into eroticism.

Keith Witt: And eroticism's very central, because it's like the canary in the coal mine. Everything else has to be going pretty well for you to be good lovers with your partner. It's very rare, as a couples counselor, for people to come in saying, "Yeah, we're both fulfilled, sexually. We enjoy sex, we have sex regularly, and we want a divorce." That actually happens once in a great while, but that's like one in 100. Usually, when people come in and say, "Sex is great," there's a solidity to their relationship, and they're coming in to talk about other kinds of issues; money issues, sometimes... Often child issues and parental issues, sometimes physical issues, that kind of stuff.

Neil Sattin: Okay, so... Yeah, there are several different directions that I feel myself being pulled, and...

Keith Witt: Great.

Neil Sattin: I think where I'm going to go right now is on this practical level, because I want this to all be practical, and we're talking about all these systems as practical systems. I think I heard Schnarch say that... And I don't think this is an actual statistic, I think he was just making a point, which was, in a good relationship, sex makes up about 10% of what you think about and care about, but if the sex is bad... No, if the sex is good, then it's about 10% what you think about and care about. If the sex is bad, it's 90%, or non-existent. And so, I'm thinking about that in light of what you just said and wondering, okay, for people listening who are in this place where they're like, "Okay, well, I'm not connecting with my partner erotically. Should I be going to a sex therapist? Should I be going to an EFT therapist to work on my safety? Should I be... " I could feel... I can feel confusion there, around, what do you do, practically? 'Cause so many people might see like, "Oh, you're not having sex? Well, then, let's talk about sex." Others might say, "You're not having sex? Well, that's a symptom of so many other things going on in your relationship, so let's talk about the other things, and we'll talk about sex later."

Keith Witt: Well, first of all, go to a good couples therapist who understands eroticism. It doesn't matter what system they're operating in, if they're a good therapist, a good couples therapist, experienced and know how to attune, and have the things that I mentioned, those qualities, and understand eroticism. One of the reasons that Schnarch says that is that, in general, human consciousness goes where the pain is. We have a half-dozen sex drives, we don't just have one, we have lots of them. And so, if one of those sex drives is activated in a negative way, say jealousy, that's a lot of pain. Say frustration... Frustrated... This happens a lot with guys after the first baby is born. A baby is born. Okay, their wife kinda gets over the birth, and he finds her utterly adorable and desirable. Yeah, this is adorable and she's in love with his kid, she's full of love, "We're sharing this thing," and he wants to have sex. She's in love with the kid, she's got follicle-stimulating hormone up the wazoo, her desire is down, biochemically. If she doesn't have a commitment to re-establishing their love affair, then he's in pain.

Keith Witt: And so, what does he do? He makes jokes about it, and there's all these bazillion jokes about men wanting more sex, mothers with small children, and guys... Women don't want to have sex. And these are hostile jokes and these separate people. And, in general, three years after the birth of the first baby, according to the Gottmans' research, 70% of couples are doing worse. But what if you teach them about affection and eroticism and sensuality and say, "You need to sustain this after the birth of the first child. You need to both be onboard with it." Well, if you teach them that, then three years later, 70% of them are saying, "Yeah, we're actually better as lovers." Now, you need... In my experience, that's useful information for me to have, as a couples therapist.

Keith Witt: And it's useful for me to know the parameters of that. Just like it's useful for me to know about psychopathology. You know, if somebody has some kind of trauma thing or a personality disorder or some kind of debilitating or God knows, you know, bipolar. That kind of stuff. That has to be addressed. That really has existence. You go to a therapist that has a general understanding, and is good with sexuality in general. I don't know if I'd want to go to any couples therapist who didn't understand the principles of sexuality, and the sex drives, and the stages of sexual bonding, whether I was working on sex or not. It's such a central part of the life stages of a relationship, you know. You don't just have one marriage, you have many marriages. And there's different demands at each developmental level of marriage. And you want to be true to those demands and help each other with them, and good couples therapists all do that. Whether they do it consciously or unconsciously doesn't really matter, you know. They do it. Because, they're inside the universe of these couples helping them grow. And they discover these blocks, and they have their own orientation to help people through them, and help people into deep inter-subjective, into love with each other.

Keith Witt: And so, that's... All good couples therapists can attune. They all interrupt people all the time. 'Cause you gotta interrupt toxic patterns, and they all have some sense of what a positive pattern is. You know, all couples therapists suspend their ego in service of their clients. If you have too much ego in the session, you lose your capacity to help people. All good couples therapists are willing to share their clients' pain. All good couples therapists tell vivid enough stories, have vivid enough metaphors that they register, they land with people. They're bringing their best selves into the work, so that's... If you took anybody from any system and saw them work, and they were effective, you'd see that in my opinion and so, that's their natural healing style. And, you know, you keep expanding that and after a while... And what breaks my heart about this is since people resist change, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of natural healing styles in existence being embodied by great practitioners, that we'll never find out about. Because, you know, there's a resistance in the field to new systems. And these people don't have as much... I don't advocate much for any of my systems.

Keith Witt: As a founder, I haven't like pushed to make one of my systems famous. Okay, well, that means a lot of people haven't encountered a bunch of my systems. Okay. Well, that's kind of a weakness in my approach as the founder, really. Because if I want to make an impact, I should go out and beat drums about my systems and I don't. I go, "Well, yeah, I like my systems but the other ones are great too. Use the one that... Study the ones that turn you on. Turn that and have that enhanced and expand your natural healing style." What lights me up is people doing that. And if they want to use my system, if they like it, of course, I get a little ego rush from that, sure. That's great. [chuckle] Everybody likes to be told they're great, you know. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: You're great, Keith.


Keith Witt: Yeah, there you go.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and...

Keith Witt: Well, I'm actually a little embarrassed, but you know, I often do if my clients compliment me extravagantly, I'll get embarrassed. Partly because of the transference stuff, you know. Okay, so people go through stages, and partly because, I'm uncomfortable with my ego. I don't want it to show up in my session. Anyway.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah. And I'm thinking of something you said earlier about systems that maybe do or don't actually handle mental health all that well. That there's, you know, a lot of these systems work well in the context of someone isn't suffering with major depression, or borderline personality disorder and that made me think of certain modalities that are helpful with that. Like in particular, what came to mind was Internal Family Systems, Dick Schwartz's system, and...

Keith Witt: I love that.

Neil Sattin: And there's been an evolution of that intimacy from the inside out which is basically applying Internal Family Systems to couples therapy.

Keith Witt: Yes.

Neil Sattin: And that Toni Herbine-Blank, she's been here on the show to talk about that. This is something that I feel particularly connected to, is this question of how we, in a relationship, actually show up for each other to help heal. 'Cause I don't think that there are many people in our world that have escaped some form of trauma or another. I think we all have like places where we're wounded or where we don't want to go. We're talking about all of these systems in many ways from the perspective of going and seeking help, which I definitely encourage you to do. It's a good idea to go and, as Keith was talking about a little while ago, to have that outside perspective until you're really good at getting outside perspective on your own.

Neil Sattin: But that being said, I like those modalities because the more conscious I think you get of how you heal from trauma, so I'm thinking of, yes, Internal Family Systems, somatic experiencing, the things that really enable you to identify what's happening within you, both your body awareness and how you attune to your body, but also what Dick talks about in Internal Family Systems, literally identifying the different personalities in you who are competing and at war, he calls them parts.

Keith Witt: Yes.

Neil Sattin: And then you can bring those dialogues into your conversations with your partner. Then I think there is a lot of potential through that, through co-regulation to actually heal with each other. But I don't know about any studies that show that that's going to be curative if your partner has depression, for instance, but I do

190: How to Truly Be Yourself in Your Relationship

Apr 23, 2019 50:47


Are you worried that your partner might not like you for who you truly are? And if you notice that you've been not entirely "you" in your relationship - how do you shift gears and create a context that supports more authenticity? Sometimes we discover something new about ourselves. Other times we knew all along that there were aspects that we've been hiding. Or we might act one way when we're trying to attract our partner - only to then feel trapped into being that "super-enticing" version of ourselves...forever. In today's episode, I show you exactly how to bridge the gap into truly being yourself - and how to invite your partner to be more authentic with you. In the end it will be a relief for both of you to be who you are - and to set yourself free from the shackles of society's expectations!

Also, announcing that tickets are on sale for Relationship Alive...LIVE! featuring Terry Real. We'll have a musical guest (Katie Matzell trio), and you'll also have the chance to ask YOUR questions. The show will be on June 6, 2019 at One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine. Limited seats available. Click here to buy your tickets now!

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!

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189: From Disconnection and Loneliness to Aliveness and Intimacy - AEDP for Couples with David Mars

Apr 16, 2019 01:18:52


How do you actually heal old attachment wounds in partnership - so you can create passionate, secure attachment with your partner? Today you’ll learn how to connect with your partner powerfully, in the present moment, to rewire your brain, break unhealthy patterns, and find the joy and wonder that’s waiting for you just below the surface. Our guest today is Dr. David Mars, the creator of AEDP for Couples. He specializes in helping couples heal attachment wounds and traumas, find each other again in the present, and create a joyful, passionate vision for their future together. His work can help you if you’re in a new relationship, or if you’ve been with your partner for 30 years. David integrates more than 30 years of experience as a couples therapist with today’s cutting edge neuroscience - and you’ll see exactly how that allows you to get into really deep touch with your own experience, with your partner’s experience - and how to bridge the gap between you. I’m so excited for you to experience David Mars’s work, and to see how AEDP for Couples can offer you something new in how you show up in your relationship!

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


Want to experience a Luxury Suite or VIP Box at an amazing concert or sporting event? Check out to score sweet deals on a special night for you and your partner.


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If you’re in a relationship and interested in experiencing David Mars’s work, visit

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FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide - perfect help for handling conflict and shifting the codependent patterns in your relationship

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Visit to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with David Mars.

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Neil Sattin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. It's been my mission to bring to you the most powerful healing modalities, the most powerful ways for you to find yourself in a deeper state of connection, with the people in your life that you're closest to. And of course, this can travel into all aspects of your life, but nowhere is it more important than with our partners, our spouses, our beloveds. And so it's been really important to me, not only to bring you what I consider to be the best of the best, but to also be uncovering new avenues that we haven't explored yet, because as fun as it is to have John Gottman on the show over and over again, he's a pretty cool guy, at the same time, there are so many modalities available to us that are effective and powerful.

Neil Sattin: And you may have heard my episode fairly recently with Diana Fosha, which was all focused on AEDP, Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy. And even though that's a mouthful, in its most basic form, it's about helping us heal the attachment wounds and traumas, the things that get in the way of us having the richest experience of life that we could possibly be having. It's important stuff. And of course, my goal for you is that you can not only access that, but that you can also bring it to your relationship.

Neil Sattin: So you get to overcome what it's like, not only to feel alone in you sometimes in some challenging experiences, but also what it can be like to feel alone as a couple, or alone in your couple. How do you bring connectedness in a powerful way to your experience of being with each other, in a way that deepens and leaves you feeling safer, more connected, more passionate, etcetera? So in order to dive more deeply into this topic, today we have an amazing guest with us, his name is David Mars and he is the creator of AEDP For Couples.

Neil Sattin: So it is the application of this work for therapists, in... So in a therapeutic setting, towards bringing couples into deeper connection with each other, and bridging the gaps of disconnect, bringing them into a more of a sense of peace and justice with each other, and also how they enter the new phase of their life, like that new phase that happens after the work that they do together, so that it can really be a powerful send-off into this new phase. And in preparing for this conversation, I've had the honor of being able to watch David work with couples, and it has been amazingly powerful.

Neil Sattin: So I'm really excited for you to be able to experience him here with me today and to get more of a sense of how this approach to healing some of our deepest wounds can actually be this amazing, life-giving, joyful, burst of experience that you can then bring into your relationship. That might sound like a lot for an hour-long conversation but I'm pretty sure we'll get close. So as usual, we will have a detailed transcript of this conversation, and in order to download that, you can visit, M-A-R-S, as in David, Mars, today's guest. Or, as always, you can text the word Passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. I think that's it. So David Mars, welcome to Relationship Alive, and thank you so much for joining us today.

David Mars: Thank you so much, Neil. I'm so touched by your introduction. And I'm just so aware of your dedication to watching all four of these three DVD sets of video training, and just so happy to have this honor of talking with you and with our audience as well.

Neil Sattin: Well, it's great to be here, and I appreciate your generosity in giving me access to your work. And as people who are regular listeners of this show have hopefully come to know, it's so important to me to be able to have that level of familiarity so that we can dive more deeply. And otherwise, we could talk for an hour about how you came to be an AEDP therapist, but I want to go more deeply into what you do, in ways that also are in the context of other conversations that we've had here on the show. So for example, we spoke to Diana, so you don't need to give us the full run-down on AEDP. We may do...

David Mars: Yes.

Neil Sattin: A little bit of that just to bring people up to speed. But if you're watching or listening to this, then I invite you to also check out the interview with Diana Fosha, which is really powerful, and where this, the AEDP, part of the work originates.

David Mars: Yes.

Neil Sattin: And David, you mentioned to me that you were a couples therapist for 30 years before coming into the AEDP realm.

David Mars: Yeah. Yes. Starting in 1975. So it's 43 years. It's hard to believe [chuckle] but that's true.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that's amazing and let's just say that I was one-year-old when you first started. [laughter]

David Mars: I should say that my beginnings with psychotherapy and couple therapy were really also working with families and with the groups, and it's a lot of aspects of work that was beyond couples alone. But the couple therapy has always been my strongest affiliation and connection, and my favorite work to do, partly because it's so darn difficult to do well, so it keeps me growing through these four and a third decades and continuing in my personal relationship also with my wife of 35 years, it's so wonderful to be with her and to see how what I learn and she learns because she co-teaches the work with me. Karen Pando-Mars and I teach together and being married together with a 19-year-old daughter and a 46-year-old daughter, from a previous marriage, really gives me a sense of the meaning, a deep meaning of how it is to be alive, how it is to have love be a guiding force and a guiding principle for how to be making decisions and how to exist even in conversation.

Neil Sattin: So David you were saying that you have been in, you've been a couples therapist for 30 years, and I'm curious for you, in terms of, as we think about the landscape of what's possible in the couple's world, what was it like for you, even having been a therapist for 30 years to discover AEDP and just can you give us a glimpse of what that brought to you and what that's brought to the way that you've seen your work unfold with couples?

David Mars: Yeah, I want to give a little context. In the decades before finding AEDP, which was 13 years ago, that I came to AEDP, I had done work that was very related to AEDP in process work through Arnold Mindell, and in respiratory psychophysiology, meaning the knowledge of how the breathing and the body co-relate and I would... For two decades plus would use monitoring equipment, computerized and very accurate monitoring equipment to look at breathing, heart rate, hand warming, muscle tension etcetera of the couples that I worked with, so that I could see how they're being affected by each other, but even more important, they could see how they were affecting each other, and realize that, for example, if I'm a man who speaks to his heterosexual wife in a way that's very firm and strong and sharp and clear and as expected of me at work, but when I see that her hand temperature drops her breathing rate increases. Her heart rate increases and becomes more agitated.

David Mars: And I find out that, wow, that's strong masculine... How I'm speaking actually turns her off rather than on, [chuckle] except for stress arousal gets turned on. But not her closeness to me, if I'm that man, I can learn to speak more kindly and softly and firmly in a way that's more meaningful and sourced by my own experience rather than my judgments, very powerful. And in these decades that I'd worked before finding AEDP, I also was very much oriented toward positivity and would have to be kind of apologizing sometimes because people would find that over the decades, that positivity wasn't really regarded yet as being optimal for psychotherapy.

David Mars: Many people felt that going darker, going more into the harsher aspect of life or a scream therapy or whatever it would be [chuckle] in the 80s, for example, or 70s, was really more important than the attending to love, to kindness, the feeling of really modulating harsh impulses and speaking even when angry, about what is really meaningful, what you really want to be understood about where I don't take my "Hurt" and hurt someone else with it, but rather maybe choose a more vulnerable side of feeling sad which is a part of hurt, feeling sad that I'm hurt and angry that I got hurt, but I go with sorrow, then the partner is much more likely to come close to me.

David Mars: So, that preceded AEDP. What was different with AEDP, in 2005 for me was that in meeting Diana Fosha, within the first 20 minutes of her presentation, I knew I wanted to study with her. And work with her and come to New York and get trained by her and by the morning break...

David Mars: I decided on that first morning break to come to New York and study with her, with my wife Karen Pando-Mars, and in going to New York, I found that I was able to share video of my work even during the first five-day training called an immersion course, and had that thrill of experiencing the cohesion of how I'd been working with AEDP, but also the organization of AEDP's scientific principles, the effect of neuroscience in particular, the understanding about attachment research which has been immense in my life since, to understand how attachment research informs me, and helps me as a person and as a therapist, and also Diana as a person, her remarkable intellect and, genius really, and kindness and humbleness, an odd package to find in a person, [chuckle] and it was so inspiring to me, that within a few years of study and intense work, I was able to become a faculty. I guess it was four years or so, of really intensive study and supervision with Diana.

David Mars: And so the quality of, the felt experience of love that I already started with, got more deepened by understanding how the work of AEDP, Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy, holds out for individuals and then transfer that understanding into the couple work and adding to it my own background in bio-feedback and understanding how the heart, and breath, and mind correlate with each other, and how we can enhance that loving vibe, which is literally a pulse wave from the heart that can be felt, that that power is so gratifying to be part of an institution. The AEDP Institute in New York is so moving to be a part of. All the people in it, the 24 faculty plus Diana, are so resonant with the values that I hold, it's quite, quite a joy.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I mean, if you get the sense of like... I was watching these DVDs of you working, and found myself moved, moved to tears so many times and laughing and, or accessing even in a really sorrowful moment, we'll talk about this in a minute. But, so tapped into my own experience that I would be starting to cry and then, I'd notice "Oh my goodness. The person in the video is also on the verge of tears right now."

David Mars: Yes, yes.

Neil Sattin: So it's all about developing that. And so this is just watching DVDs. So imagine the power of bringing that into how couples really learn to experience each other.

David Mars: Yes.

Neil Sattin: So it's not like glimpsing that level of positive effect, but also living there.

David Mars: Yeah, I so agree with you. And I just saw a couple last night, for example, where the couple came in with the dynamic actually, like the one I described, of the harsh speaking pattern in the male in this heterosexual couple, and the woman being quite well-meaning, quite dear, very sensitive, and not used to being talked to harshly. And how she was raised, for her it's shocking to be disrespected, but for him, he grew up with a lot of disrespect, and a lot of challenging behavior from his elder brothers, and lack of protection by the parents, so for him, harshness, is part of a defense structure that is survival-based, and as he lets go of it and becomes kinder and loving with her...

David Mars: I was able to say to the couple, "You know I just see how much progress you're making between sessions, how many great examples you've given me today of how I see you becoming more loving with your wife, and she's responding so warmly. My thought is, let's just shorten the session today, I could see you doing the work in between sessions, and you can see this recording of the session and rehearse it at home," And he said, "I'm so glad because I'm exhausted, I would love to go home early." [chuckle] It's a very unusual situation of knowing their work is between sessions right now.

David Mars: With their two-year-old son, and that's a joy from me, that that work comes home, and shows up in the next session, as evidence of the work, really, I mean, part of the natural lived life of this couple.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that's an interesting feature of your work. And my understanding is that obviously, it's not a requirement for couples to have their work with an AEDP for couples therapist videotaped, but that is something that you do encourage as... And it gives them the opportunity to see themselves...

David Mars: Yes.

Neil Sattin: In these, sometimes less than ideal states with each other.

David Mars: Yes, yes.

Neil Sattin: And also to witness their transformation moments and...

David Mars: Yes, absolutely.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that seems really powerful for the couples that choose to do that, and choose to watch the videos that are taken.

David Mars: Yup, yeah. It is true that in the therapists that I supervise and train, most do not videotape all their couples. But all videotaped some of their couples, a couple, so they can get trained. And for me, I videotape all the work that I do, and I'm so joyful that my couples that call, I let them know over the phone, that's how I work. And for me, my first experience of video being used with me was in 1970, and I got to see myself several times a week, on video as part of my undergraduate training interacting with others, trying to solve problems and seeing how my brilliant idea when expressed in a certain way, would shut down the conversation. In another way, I could be more humble and come forward in a more soft way, a more relational way that would bring the conversation up, and all of us would rise together, like the tide rises, lifts all boats.

David Mars: So, I got to see in 1970, how that is, had that blessing. So for now, all the way from to then, I have this continuous relationship to video as a way to enhance learning, into how people understand, how the reflective function can increase, and the capacity to reflect on oneself accurately is a direct relationship to secure attachment and developing more earned secure attachment. If I know actually how I am being, and I'm aware of myself, I can be aware of you, and by being aware of you and me together, I can become more attuned, and this attunement is so precious because, without it, it's like driving a car around with newspaper glued over all the windows, not knowing where one is going. It's so important.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that reminds me of really learning any skill, and the process of myelination, and how important it is to slow things down in order to get to a new place. And I think particularly around self-reflection, that's something that, it's not easy to, a lot of us don't learn that as we grow up. So I can see that video-ing, process as a way of actually slowing down the circuit, and bringing people into that cycle of self-reflection in a way that would eventually accelerate and become just part of how you operate, from practicing it that way.

David Mars: Yup thank you for that. In attachment research, it's very clear that when babies are reflected by their mothers or their fathers, and they are shown that they exist and are recognized in a harmonious way that's reciprocal, that goes back and forth and it's contingent, where the baby's response and the loving parent's response are in harmony with each other, and there's a conversation called the proto-conversation before speech, that baby learns, "I am safe, I am loved, I am delightful, and I'm with delightful people who delight in me being delightful." It teaches that love is a guide, as opposed to fear being the guide, and it's a powerful, powerful example of reflection.

David Mars: I'm going to mention something else, Neil, that you mentioned about a couple seeing themselves when they're in these regulated states and realizing how they unconsciously and habitually, they drive their partner away rather than bring their partner closer. What I also really enjoy, is couples seeing each other in love. Pinking cheeks, reddening lips, eyes becoming more vivid in color, bright like shining light, and seeing the light in each other and the love in each other and learning to enjoy love. For many people, love was not something that they had joy with. It's loved mixed with fear, love mixed with danger, love mix with avoidance and dissociation. And so to find that love is safe to soak in, safe to send and receive, and visualize it on the video, visualize it and see more clearly how I can see love in my partner, and feel love for my partner by choice. These are immense, immense powers to possess and to cultivate.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I noticed over and over again as I was watching your work, the refinement with which you were able to notice what was happening in a couple, and then to draw their attention both the person who may be having the experience to, their own experience that they were having, and then to bring their partner in, to invite them into the experience.

David Mars: Yes, yes.

Neil Sattin: In a way that kept them in dyad with each other.

David Mars: Yup.

Neil Sattin: Can you talk about that part of your process and why that's so important?

David Mars: I'm having such an experience of delight that you've seen these videos, and they're so dear to me, I've seen them so many times in the process, [chuckle] of doing them, creating the workshops etcetera. For me, there's something of great, great delight in being a bridge of consciousness, somatic consciousness, and to see the best in people, and reflect the best of them back to them, and for them to see, hear, feel, sense, even knowing their own movement, that they are vehicles of love when they want to be, with increasing skill, with increasing pride, because it is such a deep deep shame for people and deep sorrow to feel not competent to love.

David Mars: It's such a feeling of loss, that I can feel I'm speaking of it. And to be able to love, to be able to be loving, and to be lovable, being loveable, is a skill that many, many people did not learn to do. Survival is not enough in my point of view, and thriving in this world to me, actually, it really requires people to love and be loved. And that's really, I think one of the core elements of how I can help couples to see the best in each other, and to see the moment of a smile before the frown appears to cover it, and just to be there as an open channel for the couples to see, and hear, and feel, and sense each other more vividly in each session.

Neil Sattin: Now, if I'm listening, then the question that comes up for me is, "Okay, but how do you address problems then if you're so focused on finding the goodness," I mean the goodness sounds great. Yeah, sure, right. So if you're having this kind of question, maybe one thing to ask yourself is, how open are you to the experience of love, like David was just talking about? And at the same time... Yeah, because people come in right with big, big stuff. "You cheated on me, you're always negative, you're... " right?

David Mars: Absolutely. One of the parts I really enjoy about couple therapy is the challenge of having a couple come in, who already is coming in with a dryness, with an anger, with a revenge impulse, with feelings of bitterness, hopelessness, deep, deep, deep even rage, about, let's say, betrayal. And the challenge for me as a therapist, to find the sweet spot with them, in the first question I ask them, which is, "What do you want with each other?"

David Mars: What do you want to develop with each other, not for each other or to get from each other? What do you want with each other to experience, should this therapy be successful? And the couple might say I just came in, we have just came in from an argument. I can't think about that right now. I said well I understand this is a transition that's difficult to make. I do see this intention between you, but all the more reason in this therapy, to choose to remember what you want with each other. Because that's our purpose in being. We can certainly talk about what happened in the car before you came into the waiting area. But I would rather have you approach that in a place of loving each other and valuing each other and feeling that you are worth working this through to each other. And from this place we can do great things, working out your conflicts, but only from this place of love can we do it successfully.

Neil Sattin: So you're grounding them in that sense of, why are we here? And if this could work, what would we want with each other. And how would you help someone who, for instance, is really landing in a sense of, "Wow, I'm struggling. I'm struggling to even want to answer that question for you".

David Mars: Right, so in that case, I might say. I wonder there's a part of you that wants to want to know what you want with your partner and find that part of you that wants to want to be close to her, and just to suspend for the time being the doubting part of you, or the angry part of you that is here. I understand that's a real part of you, but for the time being, to practice a mindful choice to occupy the place of choosing her, just to take the moment. Now, if you will please just see her right now. As you see your partner, "What do you love about her? Just set aside all the rest, just find that 10% of you maybe that really is willing to do this and occupy this part of you".

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

David Mars: What would I find Neil is that it may be almost unbelievable to imagine people can do this the first session, but it is true. I have video to show it. What I have permission to teach from videos, is very clear that people can choose love over revenge and love over aggravation or love over dissociation because they want to, they get better and better at it. Yes, more, more complete at it, yes.

David Mars: Some people can get out one phrase of what they love about their partner, what they want with their partner, and the next Non sequitur is what they're mad at them about. I just need to say, "Wait wait wait, so that lasted 20 seconds. On the positive side, please would you go another minute, just stretch to go a minute of being positive with your partner what you want with your partner. Just one minute." And they go another 14 seconds, another complaint, and I say, "Wow okay, 14 more seconds we're now 34 seconds in, see if you can go another 26 seconds and just be with this that you really want something with your partner, and just hang in." And I'm smiling when I'm saying this, I'm really getting how difficult it is, particularly in contentious couples who come often, at least one of them comes from argumentative family systems. Where learning to argue and have conflict was a skill. And to set it aside, you could hear the armor clinking on the floor, to release that armor is scary, it's downright, terrifying.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And what I love about what you're offering is the way that love and tapping into that energy gives people the strength, and safety to then visit harder places.

David Mars: Yes.

Neil Sattin: Because I definitely saw that in your work, that there were times when one member of a couple would get to this really vulnerable place and offering something and then the other person just like... And as you're watching it, you're like, "What do you think is going to happen right now?" And of course what happens is it's like, is that love received? No, it's met with some harshness, or disbelief or doubt. And something that I'm curious about is your ability to hold the love and the vulnerability that one person offers and I think this is a valuable skill as a therapist, and also in relationship to be able to...

Neil Sattin: For instance, hold that you're offering something that's vulnerable, and at the same time to be met with a no from your partner, a refusal, and to allow them that experience without it necessarily sending you into a shame spiral or a dorsal vagal response. So yeah. How do you hold that dynamic as a therapist? Because I was impressed by how powerful it was to honor, like, it's okay that you're resisting this love right now, I'm not going to force you to accept it.

David Mars: Absolutely.

Neil Sattin: In this environment, even though that, it's probably what you think. I want you to do...

David Mars: Exactly. That's very well put, Neil. Yeah, it isn't about compliance, it isn't about love your partner because I'm saying you should. It's much more really to remember for example in the... That volume one volume two from New Jersey the 30-year marriage DVD set that is a two-part set, when Joanne is refusing Mike's overtures to being loving and at a point, she says I've had 30 years of difficulties with you. I am not going to simply just collapse with my upset with you just because you're nice to me in this session, I'm not, I'm still mad at you. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

David Mars: And I have a right to be, and I'm not going to... I'm not going to just set it aside. I'm really, really hurt and lonely. And you haven't gotten it, and I want you to get it. Of course, the way she does it, puts him into dorsal vagal again, but I just love that her assertion is so clearly based in her sense of her rights to be a person who has truth with self as the first prerogative beyond behaving herself with a partner and complying with me or her husband and her ferocity I think is really an essential response to being deprived of having rights all through her life growing up.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

David Mars: So, it was such a... She taught me something there in that. Because it went on. [chuckle] It was like a 13-session series of sessions. It wasn't a super long treatment, but it was one that sometimes felt long to me because the setbacks were almost every session. There would be some part of her that just needed to be mean to him and, thump him one, not physically, but with contempt. And I would just go, wow, okay. [chuckle] Ouch. That actually hurts from over here. And that kind of transparent response that often bring humor to her. She said, "Oh that was really sharp. I don't want to be that aggressive 16-year-old right now, I'm sorry". And she'd apologize to him sometimes. It's that subpart of self that really wasn't quite in her conscious knowing, that would sometimes reach out and do something of an ouch to him.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah.

David Mars: In the sweetest, most vulnerable moments. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So much here to unpack, first I love that you incorporate that notion of multiplicity and parts that are operating. We've had Dick Schwartz on the show to talk about internal family systems and also Toni Herbine-Blank, which is her incorporation of that into couples work. So I find that to be so helpful in people being able to give a voice to the more challenging aspects of their experience, but in a way that keeps a healthy distance from it, while at the same time honoring it, so that they are not becoming it. So I love that you've incorporated that into your work. And I also just want to give some context, to everyone who's watching and listening to that... So David is talking about this two-part DVD set so it's actually six DVDs that are this couple's Conference and in it they show video of David working with a couple, and this couple had been together for 30 years and they were on the brink, the woman partner had had enough, she was done with things being the way they were, and so...

Neil Sattin: And I often get emails from listeners like I've been married for 30 years. Is there any hope for me? I think I literally got that email, like three days ago. So one, yes, there is hope for you. And then we get to watch over the course of 15 sessions how they progress together. So it's not like an instant fix and it's also not an un-enduring length of time that it took for them to achieve a lot of progress as a couple.

David Mars: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: So, just setting some context. The DVDs are amazing. And if you're a therapist or a healer, that immersing yourself in the approach like that is one way that I think would be super helpful for you.

David Mars: Can I add something to this Neil?

Neil Sattin: Please yeah.

David Mars: I'm thinking about how Joanne and Mike, and they had given me permission to use their first names.

Neil Sattin: Great.

David Mars: In discussing their work, they're very, very joyful about being of service in the world. So that their couple experience can inspire other couples to grow and develop past traumatic ways of interacting and deadening ways of interaction, to ones that are really truly conscious and enhancing. And the couple was on stage with me, and in the... In showing their videos. So they were being interacted with the audience of about 100 therapists in using language, I-language like I use with them, like they use with each other, with the channels of experience, which are sensation, emotion, energy, movement, auditory, visual, and imaginal and using these seven channels along with I-language. They can communicate about their internal experience, what's moving in them, what they sense in their bodies, what emotions are coming up, what kind of energetic experience they're having.

David Mars: And the intimacy of that speech with the audience of 100 therapists gets combined when the therapists are also speaking level, not speaking and pontificating, giving ideas or advice but are actually being moved and speaking from their own experience of their own hope that's being opened in them by Joanne and Mike and speaking from that hope and that joy and that honoring of Joanne and Mike for their struggle and for their breakthroughs, and for their being present with us. They flew all the way from San Francisco Bay Area to New Jersey to be there at that conference, and [chuckle] it's just quite a statement of their dedication to wanting to transform.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. Joanne, just to revisit something, we were talking about a moment ago, she mentions that one of the most powerful moments for her to witness was the moment where you... To say called her out isn't really exactly the right phrase, probably, but you highlighted how she was coming at Mike in a very cutting way and the beautiful way you said it, it was something like, "Are you perhaps mocking him right now?" but you said it in a way that wasn't at all talking down to her, it was just like, I'm inviting you to ponder, was that maybe mocking him? And she spoke to just the impact of, "Oh my goodness! Right, I am doing that. And that is, as you mentioned, not what I want to be doing."

David Mars: Yeah, that's huge, that's huge. And I love this part about tapping in the middle of my forehead, the orbitofrontal cortex, the third eye in more mystical traditions. The orbitofrontal cortex is the senior executive that chooses how to be relational, how to be conscious or it can lay relatively dormant.


David Mars: If we're really actively choosing our partners in an atmosphere of love, choosing to want to be with them or even to want to want to be with them, as I mentioned earlier, to find the parts of us that are really open to moving away from argumentation and toward really saying, "What do we want to be understood?" As opposed to going for revenge or for an impact, to go instead for understanding is a major, major shift in consciousness and is an invitation to be recognized for the depth of what one wants to say and to bring the partner closer, even though it could be in the context of conflict. It does not have to be in the context of conflict, because I can speak about the part of me that wants the closeness.

David Mars: I can also say how I feel saddened that I'm not reaching that, and particularly for a male in this world that I live in, to be soft, the one that I grew up in, in my family it was not such a wise strategy. To be tough, to be resistant rather than resilient, a lot of what I learned, and now in these many years, decades really of practice, how to be soft and responsive, is such a joy in marital relating, because it's so conducive to being understood.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. For me, what comes up is this vision of true responsiveness.

David Mars: Yes.

Neil Sattin: Like the more... What I particularly love of the many things in AEDP for couples is, how you're bringing people more and more online into their present moment experience and all the different channels, you just named the different channels of experience, we can maybe talk about that a little bit more.

David Mars: Sure.

Neil Sattin: But as a way of enhancing how you show up in the moment. So when you say softness, what I feel is my own like, "Oh yeah. It allows me to take in the world, to take in my partner."

David Mars: Yes.

Neil Sattin: And to not be bowled over by it, but also to really respond to it. I don't have to push back at it, I don't have to react to it, I don't have to shut down typical fight-flight responses. I don't have to do that because I'm learning how to feel that in the moment.

David Mars: Yup. I like that.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. I wonder if you could give... Just because I'm noticing we've been talking a little while without naming... I would love to hear from you what you feel are the unique features of AEDP for couples and how people learn to experience each other, and how therapists learned to work with couples and bridge, be a bridge of consciousness, as you were mentioning earlier.

David Mars: Sure, yeah. I'd be happy to talk about that. I want to spring from what I heard you just saying about when a person knows they don't have to do anything, they're not required to do anything, but it's simply a choice. That's the key to me about AEDP for couples, it's about choosing, about the freedom, the liberty, the liberation from feeling constrained. I must do something for you. For many people already brings up resentment and a hardening inside, to submit one's own wishes to do the wishes and biddings of another. Part of the control struggle that is phase two in marriage. First stage, falling apart... [chuckle] into love, kind of disassembling into love, merging into love, being, kind of losing our senses into love. For many of us, it is how we fell in love, not all, but for many. And that merger state moves into the next state, which is control phase. Who's in control?

David Mars: Who's driving this bus? "It's me." "No. It's me. I drive the kids and you drive at work." How do we actually have a life with two steering wheels in the vehicle and not have it be a battle? There's something about the quality that for me is in AEDP for couples, that is symbolized by a marriage ritual where there are three candles and that the two lit candles are the candles that represent each of the couple members, be they same-sex or heterosexual, and they come forward and they light together. The middle candle represents the marriage, but they don't blow out their separate candles. In some ceremonies, the individuals blow out their candles and the union is always left.

David Mars: This is a major problem. It gives me chills to think about the fate of that couple that gives up their individuality to become merged into one, and for me, it's a mess that's invited, where one couple gets absorbed... One couple member gets absorbed into the other perhaps and submits to the other and the dying of the self is a tragedy that does not go well, for most couples in my experience. So when all three candles are lit, both individuals are thriving and bringing light into the world and to each other and the middle candle of their marriage is also doing this, that the children that come from that marriage can be, if there are children that come from it, can be loved and loving, and feel the joy the parents share with them as well. As part of that AEDP for couples model, that if the guiding light of love, the consciousness of love and the guiding principles of the whole body.

David Mars: Mind, heart, and gut helping the couple members to discern what is right action, what is the correct and wise way to be right now with you my partner, my beloved, my chosen one? How do I be with you in a way right now because my habit right now would lead me into another direction, that I know is going off a cliff of sorts. I'm going to run into a brick wall of sorts. That habit is not my friend right now. How do I, in this moment of activation, of anxiety, of pressure, how do I find myself? Of exhaustion perhaps. How do I find myself freshly, consciously and be guided by my own body to do the un-thought known.

David Mars: That's something that I haven't given thought of yet, but it suddenly springs to awareness. I can be like this with you. It's an actual creativity, and that creativity and living is so much part of how we humans, in fact, all sentient creatures can be creative, and I'm thinking about hummingbirds, for example, who are so, to me, remarkable in their durability, and resiliency to get through storms, and cold and rain and to still be there the next day at the hummingbird feeder at the Mexican sage getting sap from the flowers. How they do this is a miracle of their, to me, divine nature to be following their own guidance. They know how to raise a family, how to be directionally wise to go where it's warm, to go where there's food.

David Mars: This is part of what the research of Northoff and Panksepp brought forward before Panksepp's untimely death this last year, the trans-species, neuro-biological core self, and this is a consciousness that's in living beings that is not just the high brain, but it's in some cortical areas as well, that guides us toward wise choices and it's tapping into this that AEDP for couples is specialized in, tapping into sentience and the knowing of the self, is biologically corrected and overrides early defenses and early habits that are not necessarily helpful. They're just habits.

David Mars: And I want to say one more thinking about this, part of my joy is seeing couples take the best of each of their lineages, the best attributes what they learn through modeling through their parents through being raised, and surviving in that home their, true strengths, but they simply don't need to be all the space junk of everything else that their parents brought through their unresolved trauma that can be moved out of the back yard of this couple's lives and just cleaned up. It does not need to be that the replication of traumas with the couple has to endure together, but rather the healing of trauma through kind firmness. There's a clarity of mind and heart that are really dedicated to having a life that really thrives. That's really the core of AEDP for couples.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I'm thinking of a couple things one like a really kinda broad concept and one like a very specific thing. The broad one being, what we spoke about in the very beginning of our conversation, that the work is about accessing those core states of being and how we bring them to each other. And along with joy and sadness is your lust and sexuality. This is the work you were just referring to and your ability to bring all of those things online is related to your ability to shed your defenses and your defensive states, not in a like laying yourself bare kind of way, but in a practicing new habits of interaction, new habits of handling big emotions, which also seems like something that AEDP and AEDP for couples is really strong at helping people with.

Neil Sattin: And then the specific thing that popped into mind is, when you ask people, "How do you know that you're having this experience?" Can you talk a little bit about that question because I think it's such a lovely invitation to bring people more into their awareness and also, to combat the projection, that so often is happening.

David Mars: Very well put Neil. Yes, and rather than operating by projection which is... Projection is necessary if you don't have sufficient information of what's going on and projection is not a bad thing, it's just that it's sort of inaccurate often, its approximate and often has our own stuff laced into it or it very confusing and sort of it condemns the other person if we follow projection as our way of understanding our partner, it condemns them to having our internal material put on them rather than really seeing them truly for who they are. Its very lonely to live like that.

Neil Sattin: Right.

David Mars: So for me, one of the beauties is when couple members have an experience of discernment. I'm noticing, oh, my gosh, my partner right now is smiling at me. I could have totally missed that had my therapist not pointed it out. She's smiling at me and I love her smile and I suddenly realize that her eyes are bright, she still has a light in her eyes even though it's just being disassociated, just that I lost track of where she was in the room even. Lost track of the fact she was actually here. And I was just talking to myself in a way and that moment of seeing more clearly in the foreground awareness that my love for her is in my heart, and I can actually feel heat in my heart. And then this is a quote from a session where the man says, "This is weird, there's heat in my heart. It's so weird." And she says, "I've been waiting for you to say that for 23 years."


David Mars: "I am so glad to hear you have heat in your heart looking at me when I'm smiling at you." And then he says, "It's actually more like warmth. It's so weird." And I could just... It brings tears to my eyes to imagine a lifetime of his life before meeting her then 23 years later, that she's still waiting for him to feel a warmth in his heart and know the warmth is real and he can trust it and therefore he can trust her and relax his defenses against her hurting him or being less than. And there's something so liberating that that moment changes everything.

David Mars: Once the feeling heart isn't just a pump, is actually a heart that feels and knows that sentience of being is with him. This is not a man who studies consciousness. He's a businessman. It doesn't matter, he could be a military person, he could be a dentist, it could be a doctor, whatever it is, we all have hearts of knowing, particularly if we can train ourselves to listen to them, and hear our whole bodies how they can speak to us and get this tingling in my fingertips, I'm having right now, as I'm speaking with you, as an energetic state that relates to the excitement I feel in this conversation and that if I can relax myself a little bit and slow my speech I can feel a heart movement.

David Mars: I can start to notice how my muscles can start to relax. I can start to let my excitement tone down some, so I can feel more of the sense of grounded-ness in my chair, the sensation of my chair seat and my chair back behind me and the floor beneath me, supporting me, I can feel I'm really here more grounded with you. I can begin to hear that in my voice, so the auditory channel, come online. I can feel the deeper resonance of my voice coming in. The quality of this self-reflection in this moment that is so much about the sensations, the movement, the auditory, the visual, the whole imaginal field that come alive in me when I imagine the possibility of this being heard by so many of your listeners and just there's something about that awareness and any moment for any couple member's life, any therapist's life, to know I can choose right now to get more grounded and connect more deeply with myself, simply because I want to, is a great freedom.

Neil Sattin: So this is so powerful and I want to spend just a little bit more time here and the invitation for you listening or watching, if you're watching is to tune in to each of these aspects of your experience, because at any given moment, you can bring your awareness to them and that will help do what David has been talking about, to bring you more into a sense of presence with your partner and more of a knowing, "How do I know that my partner trusts me, right now, how do I know that I'm safe with them? How do I know that I'm angry? How do I know that they're angry with me because I might be interpreting something that isn't actually happening?" So and to be clear too, you use these channels of experience in a therapeutic way as well, because as a therapist being able to tune in to what's happening in your experience and the overall field experience of what's happening between you and your clients, you're able to wake up in them, all of these dimensions of their experience with each other to things that are happening in their body that they may have not even been aware of.

David Mars: Yes. Thank you for that Neil. I'm aware of this two-part way, that I can interact with a couple. One is, how do you know that right now you're feeling sad, or I could even say, how do you know that the wetness on your shirt, the wetness on your cheek is saying something to you and the person literally says, "Really. Oh, right my cheek is wet right." I guess I'm sad. Oh, I am, I'm sad". And then he says to his daughter... Sorry his step-daughter, who is on a video monitor, cause it wasn't really safe for her to come into the session. Cause they had such rancorous exchanges with each other, she's on a video monitor instead, on Zoom, as we are in this session, you and I. And he says, "I'm sorry that I hurt you. I'm sad that I hurt you."

David Mars: And she's so shocked because his boarding school in Britain didn't train him to be this way, the beatings that he got from age seven on taught him to never cry. And the tears are leaking out unbidden unknown until he sees them on his shirt and he feels them on his face, and suddenly it brings chills into my legs and my back to feel the power of his being able to apologize for that totally shocks his wife, that totally shocks his wife of 22 years.

David Mars: Totally shocks his step-daughter and she begins to weep just weeping and he's weeping and she's weeping and her mother's weeping in this couple session with the daughter there, who's 43, and we're all with tears and the feeling of the mercy of his breakthrough based on him for seeing the tears on his shirt. Answering the question, what do the tears want to say? How can you tell what the tears want to say? And suddenly his apology comes completely out of the blue. And a man who does not apologize particularly not from the heart. I could say as him, "I'm sorry you feel that way." Which, that's not an apology. But in this case, that dearness of his true self, the true core neurobiological self of him breaks through the defenses and suddenly his face is soft, his eyes are loving and his wife and daughter get to see him. At this moment she's his daughter, not his step-daughter, she really is in this united experience that she wants to be in with him as part of family. And the reunion happens this way. It's just so touching.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I can feel that, that that is an example of how we transform in an instant.

David Mars: Yes.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

David Mars: This is very true.

Neil Sattin: And can you highlight because you've gone through them quickly, but can we just spend maybe 10 seconds on each of the channels of experience so we can all really take in what they each are?

David Mars: Sure.

Neil Sattin: Yeah?

David Mars: Yeah. So sensation right now, probably I'll just say, the sensations I can notice are a fine hum that I feel throughout the surface of my body, the sensations of the hairs of the back of my neck, the sensations of my muscles becoming more relaxed, the sensations of my vocal cords and my voice again slowing down. The sensations of resonance in my chest as I'm speaking.

Neil Sattin: Great.

David Mars: And the auditory channel linking with the sensations that validate that what I'm feeling in my vocal cords and in my chest vibration is related to the pitch of my voice dropping and the quality of hearing my own breath coming in, the friction of my breath is part of that auditory channel that helps me to pace myself in my breathing which is central to self-regulation as a therapist or a partner in a marriage, and the quality of the tonal, the slight raspiness of my voice, the gravely-ness of my voice, the drop in for me is part of the feeling of gratitude for the grace of being with this couple that I just spoke of from last Thursday and to think of the channel of emotion. Mad, sad, glad, scared, disgust and surprise are the six categorical emotions.

David Mars: Many of us have one emotion that we specialize in that we can really access and regulate quite well. Perhaps there are other emotions that we don't do quite as well with that are very difficult for us to regulate. But to be regulated in all six emotions is part of the goal of AEDP for couples and AEDP. To be able to be with surprise for example and say, "My gosh, I was surprised you said that. And now I'm still surprised you said that and I'm still feeling the delight in surprise that I'm having this experience with you right now, Neil, I feel so joyful and so connected.

David Mars: And to feel surprise is not a fleeting moment, but one that I can continue to experience again and again as a surprise of the enlightenment of moments that are so... Are so precious and dear because they are literally unbidden, they just come sometimes. And if we go on... Surprise really is one of the categorical emotions that is most often missed by therapists because it happens and comes and goes so quickly. Present tense experience of surprise can remain for a lifetime.

David Mars: A surprise for example, when I'm 13 years old and I'm really asking for a sign that God exists and suddenly I feel, and see, and sense energetically I'm filled with this purple energy in my... Above my solar plexus, just between my heart and my gut, and it stays with me today at age 67. I was 13 years old, I am 13 years old in this hand dug cave and I have this energy of response and this powerful, powerful combination of imaginal seeing the purple energy, the body sensation of the energy filling my whole body as light, the body sensation throughout my body still now feeling a head to toe experience of being occupied by a sense of some deep surprise, that also is something that was so deeply longed for and wanted as a sense of validation that I'm not alone. So when we think about the emotion of this, for me, it's a combination of the gratitude and the sadness of having missed that in the previous 12 and a half years of my life, and now to feel that joy and connection with still having this as a presence.

David Mars: So in terms of what we've covered now, are sensation, energy, emotion, think about movement, as I'm giving these, counting these out my fingers are involuntarily showing automatically showing a counting of four, and these movements are moved by the anterior cingulate in the brain unconsciously, but they inform what I'm saying as I move from my heart out to you the audience to be able to know I'm really wanting to come from my heart and speak, knowing that I deeply, deeply care about, about AEDP for couples and about love and the healing power of love and how hand gestures can also be involuntarily showing push away or put down, or harsh measures of threat that are unconscious, and seen by the other more clearly than by the self often. That is part of the value of tracking movement channel, to my mind its the most unconscious of all channels because it's also clearly visible that it's happening to others but maybe not to us.

David Mars: So we have sensation, emotion, energy, movement, auditory, and imaginal. Let's speak about the imaginal channel. The imaginal channel contains the other six channels. I can have imagined emotion, I can have imagined experiences of moving of being free when I'm feeling stuck and I can imagine my couple member and I being joyful, my partner Karen and I being joyful, and in that imagining of joy I bring the biochemistry of joy into my body, the oxytocin, the dopamine, the citicoline come into my body and my brain cells. All the neurons of my body are affected by the imagination of love, being pure and true, and reliable and resilient.

David Mars: So for me, it's an upwelling of a combination of energetic thrill and emotional gratitude that it's possible to be 35 years into a marriage and be joyful about it and feel tears in my eyes, the sensation of tears in my eyes that we have this. Not that it's a permanent... That could be just uncultivated because marriage always has to be cultivated. In my mind, either a marriage is improving or devolving at any moment.

David Mars:

188: Don't Be A Victim of Attachment Theory

Apr 10, 2019 40:13


We’re all talking about attachment style now, and how it relates to the way that we show up in relationship. It can be enlightening to learn about your attachment style, and to see how it plays out in your relationship. see your partner’s attachment style - it can explain A LOT about how the two of you interact. But how do you avoid being victimized by your attachment style? Is there a way to get beyond the unhealthy ways that we related to each other and break the cycle? And, if you’re a securely attached person, how do you avoid being pulled into the potential challenges when your partner has an insecure attachment style? Of course you could write a book about this issue, but we’re going to cover some of the finer points on today’s episode.

Also, announcing that tickets are on sale for Relationship Alive...LIVE! featuring Terry Real. We'll have a musical guest (Katie Matzell trio), and you'll also have the chance to ask YOUR questions. The show will be on June 6, 2019 at One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine. Limited seats available. Click here to buy your tickets now!

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


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187: More Love Less Conflict - Communication and Mindset Secrets with Jonathan Robinson

Apr 2, 2019 01:11:53


Have you ever wished that you and your partner could communicate better with one another and avoid conflict? Communication can feel very complex - but today we’re going to show you some very specific and practical exercises you can do with your partner that will improve your communication, mindset, and relationship satisfaction. This week, our guest is Jonathan Robinson, the author of many books including More Love Less Conflict: A Communication Playbook for Couples. Jonathan Robinson has worked with many couples and has been featured on TV and media - most notably he was on Oprah several times! By the end of this episode, you’ll have some new, practical ways to approach communication that will have an immediate impact on your experience in a relationship.

Also, announcing that tickets are on sale for Relationship Alive...LIVE! featuring Terry Real. We'll have a musical guest (Katie Matzell trio), and you'll also have the chance to ask YOUR questions. The show will be on June 6, 2019, at One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine. Limited seats available. Click here to buy your tickets now!

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


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Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. Today we're going to get really practical and we're going to get really practical about communication. But not only are we going to get practical about communication, we're also going to get practical about communication in a way that will bring you closer to your partner. And we're also going to address this from the perspective of things that you can do with your partner, structured exercises that will definitely take you to a new level of understanding and intimacy and vulnerability. And on top of that, we're going to get some tips about how to do things on your own, kinda renegade style, so that if your partner isn't necessarily signing up for communication exercises 101, you can still make huge progress in your relationship and your connection. And in order to have today's conversation, we have with us yet another esteemed guest. His name is Jonathan Robinson and he's the author of the book More Love Less Conflict: A Communication Playbook for Couples, among many other books. Jonathan has worked with many couples, has worked with Fortune 500 companies, and has been featured on TV and media.

Neil Sattin: Notably, he was on Oprah several times. And as you'll see his words are practical, applicable to your life. And they make a lot of sense, but they're not necessarily the kind of thing that you would automatically think to do. They're the kinds of things that once you hear them, you'll be like, "Oh yeah, of course, that's the way I should have been doing this all along." So I'm excited to have Jonathan here with us today. We are going to dive in momentarily, but before we do, just a reminder that if you want to download a detailed transcript of today's episode, you can visit That's the word more and the word love kinda squished together. And along with the transcript, Jonathan Robinson has also generously offered to combine with that his 50 desires. It's a list of things that are these universal desires that can, as you'll see, help you really get more in touch with what it is you're after anyway in your relationship and in any given moment. So that is also free for you when you download the transcript. And again, that's at

Neil Sattin: Or you can simply text the word Passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions which will lead you to a page where you can download the transcript, the bonus desires, worksheet, and a lot of other goodies as well from our other episodes. I think that's it for now. Jonathan Robinson, thank you so much for being here with us today on Relationship Alive.

Jonathan Robinson: Well, thank you, Neil. This will be fun.

Neil Sattin: I sure hope so. Let's see. How can we make it fun? Let's just start right in with something super fun. One thing that I really appreciate about your book, as I just mentioned, is how practical it is not only for people who have a partner who's willing to sit down with them and go through something structured but also the way that you're always offering these helpful hints that allow someone to just kind of incorporate it into their lives on their own and change the steps of the dance. And I'm wondering, obviously, ideally our partners work with us on the project of our relationships, but I'm wondering what you've seen as far as people taking some of these plays in your communication playbook and putting them into practice on their own, and what kinds of results you've seen them effect in their relationships.

Jonathan Robinson: Well, in fact, it's pretty rare to have two partners that both want to work on a relationship. If you have that, usually there's not that much of a problem. So mostly I get couples who are basically on the verge of divorce where one person is dragged in kicking and screaming. And even in those situations, if you have the right method, the right technologies so to speak, you can still get to a place of love often in like 20 minutes. So I use the analogy, if you're trying to go from where you are in Portland, Maine to California, well, if you have a plane, you can do it in six hours. If you don't have a plane, it's going to take you a couple of years. So some of these tools are really amazing technology that helps us get back to a place of love very quickly.

Neil Sattin: And some of them I noticed, okay, that kind of reminds me of Imago or that reminds me of something I've seen in the Gottman's work. And have some of those things just been trial and error on your part or what's that process of discovery like for you in coming up with these ways to help people in their communication?

Jonathan Robinson: Well, I use it in my own marriage, but also with my clients. And what I notice is that when people are upset they can't remember Imago stuff or Gottman stuff necessarily. They're too complex for most couples. So I tried to make it so that anything I taught in my book could be pretty well done in 20 seconds or less. Now, there's a few exceptions, but I know when I'm really stressed out or upset, I don't remember all the theory. What I remember is maybe I can say three words or maybe I can complete a sentence. So I tried to find the best and easiest methods that can be done usually in under 20 seconds. And that's usually what people actually can do, but the good news is, if they do it, it does lead to a transformation. My wife and I, when we first married we argued a lot, and I was looking for a way that even though we were upset, we could avoid arguments.

Jonathan Robinson: So I came up with a method called the Yellow Light Method, which just involves saying two words and if I can remember to say those two words we avoid arguments. And in the last five years, we've only had one argument. And basically, the method is if you're finding that you're upset or your partner's upset either you can say yellow light, and that's a signal to take two minutes out and take some deep breaths and then restart the conversation. And when you interrupt that momentum of upset, usually you don't go into an argument. So those are the type of methods I like the most. The ones that are so simple yet work pretty much 100% of the time.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, it's so important, too, to have something reliable that you can turn to that doesn't require a lot of thought, because as we've talked about here on the show a lot, you're not even really able to think. That part of your brain that accesses creative problem-solving thinking, it tends to go offline as soon as you start to feel your heart beating a little more quickly and get into that disconnected angry or hurt wanting to escape, angry wanting to fight, whatever it is. When you're in that mode, having to think it through is probably one of the most challenging things you have to do.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, I can't do it, so I can't expect other people too. [chuckle] That's why they pass... These methods have passed the most severe test possible. Do they actually work in my life?

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that's super important. And I like, too, that you offer examples in the book of things that happen with your wife. It's kind of a new theme here on the show because I think it's easy to get the impression that when you know all this stuff about relationships that things are smooth sailing all the time, and it's never challenging. And people like the Gottmans, they must just never fight. It's always bliss. It's always cherishing. And so lately, I've been asking my guests to name some of their own challenges just to make it real. And so I like that you offer that in your book, as well. These are challenges we've experienced and how I've used this particular exercise or how my wife and I have used it to help ourselves in these moments.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, that's been a way to keep it on us, because we all face challenges in relationships. It's just a matter of whether you have ways of getting around those challenges or if you resort to the time tested tried-and-true method that most couples work or use, which is blame. And as you know, Neil, blame never works. Never once have I blamed my wife for my annoyance or blamed her and telling her what she does wrong where she then came back and said, "Oh yeah, now I see where you're talking about. I'm going to have to change that." I bat zero for 500 on that one. So that got me looking for other ways to do it.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, and it's funny how ineffective so many of our innate strategies are, and yet without a new repertoire that's just what you do over and over again. Even though if you were to step back and look at the evidence, "Did this work? Did anything change? Do I feel more connected?" Any of that, the answer would probably be no for most of those things people just do. Blame, complain.

Jonathan Robinson: Shame.

Neil Sattin: Shame. Yeah, exactly. Criticize. Yeah, all those kinds of things.

Jonathan Robinson: Well, most of us, most couples don't even have 15 minutes of communication education in their life. And I think of a marriage or communication is something that we're doing all the time. We should have a lot of practice at it. If you even had 15 minutes on how to fly a plane, you would have a chance of not crashing, but if you don't have those 15 minutes and you have to take over a plane in mid-flight, you're probably going to crash. And that's an experience a lot of couples have is that they just don't have any other methods they've been taught other than blame, shame, complain. And therefore, that's what the habit they fall back into when things get tense.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, well, fortunately, we don't just have 15 minutes now. We have a good 45 minutes where we can help you who are listening come up the curve a little bit more. We're going to give you some cool exercises and things to try. And then, I'm just thinking about the study that... I just had John and Julie Gottman on the show and they were talking about this study where there were these married couples, I think they had children, both worked and they figured out that basically, these people had 15 minutes of communication time period, over the course of a week. That that was it. And of course, that time was more or less about the bills and logistics. And so if we can save that for you so that that 15 minutes can be something truly special and hopefully you have more than 15 minutes with your partner or with the people closest to you, then I'll feel like we did a good job here today, Jonathan.

Jonathan Robinson: That sounds good.

Neil Sattin: Awesome. So where's a good place to start? I know that I mentioned the universal desires when I first was talking about what we're going to talk about today, and maybe that would be a good place for us to just kinda drop in. But I'm open to your influence here about where do you like to start people out on this journey?

Jonathan Robinson: Well, you mentioned the Gottmans and they've done some great work. And one of the things I liked about them is they said that probably the best predictor of how happy couples are is the amount of appreciations they give to each other or the ratio of appreciations to criticism. So a very simple method, and I like simple, is that I have couples complete this sentence, "Something I noticed today about you that I appreciate is... " and you just complete that sentence. I have couples do that once a day and people are often hesitant like, "Oh, that's too simple or too mechanical," but it really does make a huge difference. And I'm a typical guy, so I actually have my iPhone remind me to do this every day, otherwise, I forget. And it's amazing how that can really help bond couples. Or if I did it with you, Neil. Something I noticed about you that I appreciate is that you're very clear in your communication. We had to do some scheduling stuff, but you were always very clear and helpful and before the show, during the show, it just makes it much easier to be a guest when I know where you're at and what you're thinking.

Jonathan Robinson: So I'm already thinking that thought, but when we say our appreciations, it helps to more bond, whether it be a couple or friendship. And that's something that's so easy to do that most people are missing out on because they don't make it a habit.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, and when I think about for a lot of us that can equal love or feeling loved is it gets conflated with appreciation, and so it's like you don't really feel like you're being loved by your partner if you're not getting that kind of acknowledgment from them about how you shine in their eyes.

Jonathan Robinson: Exactly, it's probably the quickest way for couples to feel emotionally connected.

Neil Sattin: And I really like the sentence stem approach, "Something I noticed about you today that I appreciate is," I think that's good because it gives us a way to focus our attention rather than being lost in the sea of all the possible appreciations. It's like pull something out of today, out of this moment. because I can imagine even just sitting down with my wife, Chloe, and what it feels like to have her attention. Even that in the moment would be something I would really appreciate, I'd probably want to reflect that right back to her just like how good it feels to experience her listening to me.

Jonathan Robinson: I like the method of sentence stems because they're so simple and yet can be so effective. I'll put out a couple more of the ones I really like. One is, "Something I've been hesitant to talk to you about lately is... " That helps bring in the difficult things that we sometimes avoid. Or how about this one? If you're in a disagreement and you're both trying to blame each other to use this sentence stem, "A way I see that I contributed to this upset is... " You say that and it immediately changes the energy of the conversation because now you're taking some responsibility which then leads to your partner doing that. So there's a lot of sentence stems in the More Love Less Conflict book that work really powerfully and immediately. And they only take 20 seconds to complete.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and that one you just named for diffusing conflict, I experienced that just the other day where Chloe and I, we had an argument about something. Oh, I remember exactly what it was. Sometimes our lives get a little busy and I think I've even mentioned on the show before that there can be dishes in the sink. And we each could be responsible for doing more dishes, I think. Our dog sometimes does more dishes than we do. And so there were no dishes, I was in a rush, I was making a meal. And we have a stack of special dishes that we're really not supposed to use. But rather than use a dish... I actually, come to think of it, I had just washed a bunch of dishes, but they were still wet and I didn't want to dry the dish with a towel, so I just reached for the special dish from the pile of special dishes. And Chloe got really angry at me. "Don't use one of those dishes. You just washed all of those dishes. I've asked you not to use those dishes." So innocent enough, I'm reaching for the dishes, and it would have been so easy for me to just get really angry and in fact, I did get angry. I was like, "Don't tell me what to do."

Neil Sattin: It was really a glorious moment for us of conflict. And we each stepped away for a minute or two, because we had been under a lot of stress that day, a lot of pressure. And then I came back, and I said something like, "I'm really sorry that I just yelled," or "I just yelled at you just then. I see that I went to use one of those dishes, and I know you've asked me not to use them a lot. And even though I feel like it's my right [chuckle] to take them, I recognize that you asked me not to, and I did anyway, and I can see how that must have felt like I was slighting you or not really paying attention to what you've asked me to do in the past."

Neil Sattin: And I will say that it didn't sound exactly like that when I said it to her. But it was along those lines. And it was really hard and painful for me to say that, because like you mention in your book, my ego just wanted to be right and wanted to make her wrong for having spoken up about it or tried to control me or whatever it was, that was her part in the dance. But I did have my part in the dance, and through owning it, right afterward Chloe said, "Yeah, I really... The way that I said that I'm really sorry, I know that must have... You must felt like I was really coming down on you or talking down to you," or something like that is what she said. And that was it, argument over, [chuckle] and we went back to just being connected and loving, and it was a really quick transformation. It's amazing because that gap from Maine to California that you were talking about earlier, that can feel like it's going to take two years, and it really can be as quick as making a shift like that.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, yeah. And one of the things I like about the sentence stems is that it can be hard to figure it out the right thing to say on your own, but if you have the first part of the sentence memorized like, "I see the way that I contributed to this upset is... " then it becomes relatively easy and easier on your ego to just say that sentence and then the shift happens. So I always try to take these big ideas like taking responsibility or being more appreciative and turn them into a method or a technology that's so simple that even me at my worst can do it. And it seems like that's really what people need because we often know the theory, we often know what we're supposed to do, but when the rubber hits the road, we don't have that keyword to say that is really going to turn it in a new direction.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, are there other magical sentence stems that come to mind?

Jonathan Robinson: Well, there's 30 of them in the book. [chuckle] I'll spread 'em out through this interview. One thing that I like as a sentence stem is just saying, "Right now, I'm feeling... " Whatever you're feeling, and then, "Right now I'm wanting... " whatever you're wanting, because saying what you're feeling and wanting is really key information for your partner. And normally, we're very indirect, we're very not good at saying that in a way that our partner gets. So during the day, if I'm spending time with my wife, I'll think that sentence stem "Right now, I'm feeling like I want to be more connected with you. I guess I'm wanting a hug right now." And that helps point me in the right direction.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, and I think it's important, you talk about this in the book, in the chapter where you're covering that sentence stem in particular, how important it is to identify what you're actually feeling versus, "I'm feeling like you're being an idiot right now," [chuckle] which is what people sometimes tend to do, which is to take an I feel statement and attach a judgment on the end of it, as opposed to just owning what they're actually feeling in that moment.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, that's why I have, in the book, a page of just feelings. Here are 30 feelings. You're probably feeling one of these, you're not feeling... Even if you're thinking I'm feeling like they're an idiot, what you're probably feeling is I'm feeling annoyed or I'm feeling frustrated. And to some extent, that's a learning process because a lot of couples don't have that practice where they say, well, this really isn't a feeling. What am I feeling? So having a list in front of you can actually be very helpful that way.

Neil Sattin: Right, yeah, won't that be great when... I think you talk about this in terms of languages and communication, but to be able to Google how am I feeling right now? And get an [chuckle] Oh, turns out that I'm feeling annoyed right now. That makes sense, actually. Thanks, Google. Yeah, and then the second part of that stem, I'm feeling this, and what I'd really like is... And I think I'm not getting it quite right, but that last part of really being able to identify what it is you would like and what the desire might be underneath that seems so important for people to get clear on.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, there's really two things that people want. They want... And usually, it looks like I want them to give me a certain action like maybe a hug or I want them to do the dishes. But underneath that, we think that if they did those things, we would get a certain desire fulfilled. Like if they gave me a hug I'd feel more connected, or if they did the dishes I'd feel more respected or something like that. So knowing what the ultimate aim is the ultimate desire or need you're trying to fulfill can be very helpful because they might do the dishes in a way that is throwing the dishes around and being upset while they're doing it, and the dishes get done, but you don't feel more respected at the end of it.

Neil Sattin: Right, right, and how useful is it for you to be clear about that with your partner so that the underlying motivations are the realm that you're dealing in, not trying in this roundabout way to get your needs or desires met.

Jonathan Robinson: And in fact, most partners are much more open to satisfying our underlying desires than they are to satisfying our other requests. If you said, "Well, I want you to do the dishes," they might have some resistance, but if you said, "What I'm really wanting is I'm wanting to feel more respected and more connected to you." That tends to be more vulnerable, and vulnerability is a real key to intimacy. If you look at the word intimacy, the instructions are there, into me see. So when we reveal what we're really wanting on an emotional level, that tends to open up our partners' hearts and makes them more connected and more open to doing what we want.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and then does it make sense to you to follow up with once your partner's offered vulnerability like that to ask, "What could I do that would help you feel seen and respected."

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Neil Sattin: And then they'll say, "You could do the dishes."


Jonathan Robinson: Actually, probably just asking what can I do to help you feel more respected would help them to feel more respected.

Neil Sattin: True.

Jonathan Robinson: But the dishes might be another way as well.

Neil Sattin: It might be, but what occurs to me is that it's more likely that if the dishes were kind of a surrogate for that feeling seen and respected that now that the true desire is out in the open, that on further reflection someone might be like, "Well, the dishes would be nice, but what would really help me feel seen and respected would be if I could talk to you about my day and have you just listen with your undivided attention."

Jonathan Robinson: Right, you're getting to a place where you're much more effective in satisfying your partner's real needs. And that's something that's really critical, because a lot of times partners don't even know what their partner's real needs are, and even if they do know what they are, which is unusual, they may be very ineffective in satisfying them. Take the issue of sex, which is a good example. A lot of couples don't ever directly say what they most enjoy in bed, so they find that they put up with their partner doing things which is not really what really does it for them. So here's a good sentence stem: Three things I really love that you do in bed are... And three things that I really don't care for much are... Just completing that sentence can improve your love life 50% in five minutes.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and I'm curious for you when someone hears three things I love are blank, that's going to feel really good. Three things that I don't particularly care for, it seems like it would be really easy for the person receiving that to, if nothing else, just kind of feel bad about it, but maybe even to go into a shame spiral, or it could be really bad. So what do you recommend people do to help create a safe container for offering more negative feedback?

Jonathan Robinson: I have a lot of suggestions for that in the More Love, Less Conflict book. One example is always end on a positive note, either something you appreciate or something that you like. But sometimes what's necessary is just a time out, like if you're going to give some kind of feedback that's negative that the other person can't respond for, say, 12 hours, because a lot of times we have an immediate reaction and then after five minutes we realize, well, that's actually useful feedback, or it's no big deal. So creating that safe container can be either ending with something positive or creating a time period where neither person can react to it.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and during that time period, what do you suggest people do to take care of themselves if they need that?

Jonathan Robinson: I actually do make several suggestions, and I have a list from watching funny YouTube videos to calling a friend to going to the gym. But I find that if couples are feeling connected and they feel respected and appreciated, and they're doing all those other things when you get a little bit of "negative feedback," it doesn't overwhelm them. What happens normally is that people aren't getting any positive stuff, so when they get another piece of negative feedback it can overwhelm them, and then you get into problems. So as long as you have love in your emotional bank account, so to speak, a little bit of feedback that tells you how you can do something better usually is not that big of a deal.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so important to probably to put your focus on some of the things we were talking about a moment ago, like offering the appreciations, and all the ways that you really do appreciate or resonate with your partner the things that you love about them, or the things that you see in them, so that when it comes time to offer something a little bit more discerning, let's say, [chuckle] it can soften the blow a little bit.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, and there's other ways, too, for example, sometimes I have couples give what could be called negative feedback in a written form, while ending with a positive thing, and it can be easier to just read it and take some time on your own rather than have that person right there, which might be more triggering. So there's a lot of different ways to create a safe container, and people's job is to find what works for them because different things can work for different couples.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, I'm thinking, too, you offer an anecdote in the book More Love, Less Conflict during the exercise about withholding and couples being able to give a voice to the things that they've been holding back from each other. And that's something that could be really edgy or scary depending on what's being withheld, but even there you talk about wanting people to end on a positive note, something maybe really good or a deep desire that they've been withholding. And you mention this one couple that talks about how in trouble their marriage is, and how one is feeling hopeless, and the other has been flirting with someone at the office, and these are coming out in the withholdings, but then they end with these statements about really wanting to feel connected with each other and how much it feels like that shifts the dynamic for them, even though they have also offered some incredibly vulnerable and hard truths to each other.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, you know, one moment of vulnerability or appreciation seems to be able to overshadow even years of negativity. Now, I've had couples who come into my office, they've been arguing and screaming each other for decades. And sometimes I'll have them do a couple of positive things, like saying what they appreciate or being vulnerable through certain sentence stems, and 10 minutes later they're holding hands and loving. And I find that is like a miracle because they've had years of negativity and yet their hearts really want to have that connection, they just haven't had the simple, reliable way of doing that. But once they do have that way, the bonding can happen very, very quickly, and I think that's a real testament to the human heart and spirit.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, the light it shines is much brighter than the darkness we can find ourselves in at times. And just to be clear for you listening, the withholding sentence stem, I just happened to have it in front of me right here: There's something I've been withholding, would you like to hear it? So again, important that your partner actually know that they're about to receive something. And then this is one of those cases where you mentioned, Jonathan, that it's helpful to create a container that says we're not even... We're not going to talk about this for 24 hours, and what is being offered is held sacred in some way, which is a great spin on it because I think so often when something is revealed that's been withheld, it can, just in and of itself, no matter what the content is, feel like a betrayal of some sort.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, yeah. And that's probably the edgiest exercise in the book, and it's not something that one starts with, you kind of build to that, because if you're going to deal with difficult stuff, it's good to have some love in your emotional bank account because those types of things are like a withdrawal, and you don't want to withdraw into bankruptcy, so I encourage people to have some connection, and when you have to deal with the hard stuff, then you'll be able to weather that storm, because you already have a bunch of connection banked, so to speak.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, and that, for some reason, is making me think of two other things that you mentioned in the book, one being the higher self-exercise. And I think I like that because we so often want to be able to give advice to our partners, or fix their problems, or tell them how they should be that will make our lives easier, and the higher self is a bridge into that in a way that's actually really connecting.

Jonathan Robinson: That's a fun game.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, could you talk about how that one's done?

Jonathan Robinson: Well, you do want to sometimes give your partner advice, and sometimes they see you, they know you better than you know you sometimes. So something my wife and I might do is I'll say, "Do you want to play the higher self-game," and she'll say, "Okay," and we take turns kind of being each other's guru, so I might say, "Well, I'm married to this woman who gets self-righteous really quickly. Dear guru what would you suggest I do when she gets really reactive and self-righteous quickly?"


Jonathan Robinson: And then she has to answer as like a relationship guru. Well, it sounds like you might want to try this, this, and this, and it's kind of fun because rather than going back and forth and trying to prove that we're right, or you should do this, it's kind of like a game and it sets it up in a fun way where I can hear what she has to say. And a lot of times her advice to me about her has been right on because she knows what I'm doing that might make it better for her. And it's just kind of a fun way of being with each other where you can temporarily go into the role of advice-giver or a teacher without all the normal ramifications of that.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and you mentioned an important aspect of that often being that the advice giver, guru, person sit with their eyes closed or blindfolded.

Jonathan Robinson: Yes, because that changes the normal mechanical way that you might be with each other. When you close your eyes and you're trying to give advice, it tends to help you to go deeper within and it also shuts you off from whether your partner is reacting to your advice. You get to really tune into, "What do I have to say to this question?" And that way it can be more pure and more truthful rather than a mechanical reaction to maybe how you think they're going to take it.

Neil Sattin: Got it.

Jonathan Robinson: I must say, Neil, I think you know this book better than I do at this point. I'm very depressed.


Neil Sattin: Well, it's fresh in my mind, so that's helpful, but don't worry, there will be no test. Nothing more than what we're already doing, I guess.

Jonathan Robinson: Okay.

Neil Sattin: It seems important to clarify, too, that if you're not doing that one as a structured exercise, one thing I noticed was that the simple practice isn't an offer to give your partner advice, it's asking them for advice. Can I get your best advice about something? So if you were going to sort of surreptitiously engage their higher self that's how you come at it when you're doing it more renegade style?

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, and people love that question, "Gee, honey, can I get your best advice about this?" And that's usually that asking for help in that vulnerable way usually leads to a lot more intimacy.

Neil Sattin: When it comes to knowing your partner better, we touched on this earlier when we were talking about the desires and wondering whether or not we actually know what our partner's deepest desires are and that's something I appreciate about that list of 50, I'm sure there are more than that, right? But 50 is a pretty good start and it helps you I think access the nuances of how these desires are slightly different than each other And I think it's also important, I loved your exercise on the perfect partner, and how we can share information with each other in a safe way about what we wish we were experiencing from the other person as a way to help them. It's like I'm helping you help me.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, it's kind of like painting a picture. Sometimes the best way to learn is through an example, and somebody can tell you what Yosemite looks like but one picture of Yosemite and the game's over. You don't need to say anything more. And the same thing with what we want. So, writing out what my perfect partner would do, or what my perfect partner would say helps me to get example of what my wife is really wanting because I always thought that she wanted me to fix her problems and then she wrote out, "Well, my perfect partner would say this, this and this," and she never mentioned fixing her problems, she really wanted somebody who was incredibly empathetic. And when I really understood that she's not wanting my advice, she's wanting my empathy, my understanding, it helped me to change how I was with her, and now she has said, "Wow, you're really good at being my perfect partner now." And of course, that leads to more love.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I did an episode a while ago on writing the user manual for you for your partner. This is kind of my guide to me and how that can be such a sweet offering to your partner. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on how to do that in a way that doesn't come across as a criticism.

Jonathan Robinson: Well, one sentence stem that can be a very simple way of doing it is to say something like three things that tend to trigger me are, so you're talking about you rather than your partner or three things that almost always lead me to feel more loving are... Because a lot of times we'll say that that person really pushes our buttons. Well, it's good to tell your partner what your buttons are. So that they know to avoid them, but we not only have upset buttons, we have love buttons. If my wife gives me a shoulder massage, I love her. A Gorilla could give me a shoulder massage, I'd love that gorilla that's just how I'm wired. Whereas, if I speak to my wife in a certain tone of voice, that she finds very loving, that is her love button. So just knowing what really triggers your partner towards upset or towards love in a very simple way is very valuable information. A lot of couples really don't know that information.

Neil Sattin: That just feels like how helpful would that be in general if we just knew that about each other. I've heard Dan Sullivan, who has, he leads this company called Strategic Coach, he talks about that in the context of the work environment and giving the people who work with you like, "This is the recipe. If you want to piss me off, these are the things you can do," and basically listing all the kind of triggers that he has and if nothing else, once you know what triggers your partner, you gotta think twice before doing it or after you do it, maybe you'll think again like "Oh, I just did that thing that I know triggers them."

Jonathan Robinson: Right, right. One thing that people often ask me about attitudes towards their partner, and if you can have an attitude of gratitude in your heart for your partner, I find that that makes love flow much more easily.

Neil Sattin: Oh my goddess, I love that anecdote that you talked... Did you actually go to India for that, is that story true that happened?

Jonathan Robinson: That story is true. I went to see another guru as well while I was there but... So the story is that this friend comes back from India and he says his guru gave him a magical mantra to help him to feel more grateful for both his life and his wife. And I'm always interested in very simple methods. So I said, "Well, what's the mantra?" He said, "Well, you'll have to go to India to get it." and I go "damn but India is a hard place to get to, it's 18,000 miles away" but I make a trip, because I wanted to visit this guru and another guru. So I get there and I have to wait in line five hours to talk to the guru for a minute, but I do that, I'm kinda pissed off because I didn't get this mantra from my friend. I told the guru I wanted this magical mantra for feeling more grateful towards my wife and such, and he says, in an Indian accent, "Ah, yes, my mantra is the most powerful mantra on earth." He leans into my ear to whisper it to me and he says, "Whenever possible, repeat the following words. The mantra I give you are the words thank you." While I look at him, I think he's joking with me and then, but he's not smiling, so I go, "Thank you, that's it? I traveled 18,000 miles to get 'thank you', that's it?" So he looks at me, he says, "No, no, no, 'that's it' is the mantra you have been using and that makes you feel like you never have enough, my mantra is 'thank you,' not 'that's it,' 'that's it' will take you nowhere."


Jonathan Robinson: So I'm totally pissed off at this point. And so I look at him, I kind of sneered him, I say, "Well then, thank you." And then he sneers at me, he says, "Thank you is not the mantra, you must say it from your heart many times a day, so when you wake up and you see your wife, say thank you from your heart and when you eat breakfast together, and you're enjoying talking, say Thank you from your heart, and when you see your child, say thank you from your heart and soon you will be filled with gratitude." Well, because I traveled so far, I actually did this and I found that to my amazement, it actually worked just taking a second, connecting with my heart and thinking and feeling thank you. My wife literally knows the days that I'm doing that without me saying anything. She says, "Your energy changes and I just feel so much more connected to you." Gratitude is like a secret back door that allows love in. And it's one more method that just seems to work that once you have that technology, it's almost like a superpower.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, I have a good friend who was going through a really stressful time in his life and came through it and when I was speaking to him about it, I asked, "What did you rely on when you were going through all that stress?" And the number one thing he said was, "I developed a gratitude practice and every morning when I woke up, I just spend five minutes basically in silent prayer thinking about all the things that I'm grateful for in my life, and that in and of itself pretty much turned things around for me." So it's so powerful.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, and the other thing I like which I think is so underrated is the power of good questions. On my website, I have what's called the 12 questions of instant intimacy that people can download for free. And if you ask the right question even if you're with a partner who doesn't want to do any communication, doesn't want to do any counseling, if you ask the right question, it opens up a magical door to intimacy. And I found that these 12 questions pretty much work with everyone. They work with your lover, your child, your co-worker, they're like secret weapons, so to speak, in the battle to have more love and less conflict. So I really like asking good questions, like an example might be, "What's been the highlight of your week or what gives you your greatest sense of joy in your life right now?" More people like talking about that, it makes them feel good. Or you ask, "What's one of the most amazing things you've ever experienced in your life? And people love these questions, but we don't ask them. And in this day and age, there's a lot of business, there's a lot of superficiality, but people really want deep connection and these types of questions help to open the door to depth and intimacy very, very quickly.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, I like one of the ones that you offer and you also have a separate exercise, that's kind of similar to this question, but it's what's something that you really want me to know about you?

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah. Because if you can get people to feel they understand each other that is a real key. I never had couples come into my office and say, "Jonathan, we really understand each other quite well, that's why we want a divorce."


Jonathan Robinson: But I do get the opposite, "We don't know, he doesn't understand me, I don't understand her," that can lead to trouble. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Well, in case you didn't get it when Jonathan just mentioned it, the full list of the 12 questions that lead to deeper intimacy is available on his website for this work, and that website is And if you go to that site, right on the front page there, you'll be able to download the 12 questions for deeper intimacy and we'll have a link to that as well as anything else that feels relevant especially a link to Jonathan's book on Amazon, on the show notes page for this episode, so you can visit, again,, all squished together as one word. To see the show notes, download a transcript, you'll also get, as a bonus for downloading the transcript, the 50 universal desires worksheet, and then on top of that, we'll point you in the right direction to access more of Jonathan Robinson's work, which is I just love it, it's so imminently practical and useful, really usable. So I hope that you're able to practice some of the sentence stems that you've heard today and then put them to use in your life.

Neil Sattin: So Jonathan before we go, I'm wondering, I'm trying to think now through because there are so many... And we've covered so many in this conversation together, and there are so many more in your book. So it really is, I feel like someone could get the book and kind of open to any page and be like, "Oh yeah, I'm going to try that tonight." It has that kind of flavor to it. So I'm wondering if you can talk about the process of when you actually do want something to change in your relationship, what have you found as a good way to help couples navigate? Like well, this really, this isn't okay the way it is right now, and I really want this one particular thing to shift if we could make that happen.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, that's a really big area. And of course, I talked about that a lot in the book. I think if you have the right ingredients then you can make it happen, if you don't, blame never works. You don't shame people into changing but if couples really are feeling close to each other and they make a request for something very specific, and then say, "How can I support you or what can I do to change something that bothers you, so we both are working on something that will benefit the relationship." That has a much better chance of success than the blame, complain, shame, method of changing which basically never works. So having good communication, saying something very precise, very specific, being willing to change something about yourself at the same time that your partner wants, that can be a really good method for couples actually making the difficult effort it requires to change something about yourself.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, and I love that, too, because in there, I feel like there's also an acknowledgment of how often we actually do know what would be meaningful for our partners, we may not know exactly what their deepest desires are, and that's why I think those conversations are helpful, but just like you could say, and you mentioned this in the book, if you ask someone, "Would you know how to piss off your partner?" They could do it, they could probably list 10 ways to do that. If you get right down deep into what you know about your partner, you probably also know something that would really light them up or make them feel super special, or loved, and I think it's great to offer those kinds of things. I mean, why not, right? If you can make someone's day, why wouldn't you?

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, yeah, and the other thing is, I think a lot of partners have to be focused on what feeds their soul, what feeds their sense of peace because when you feel peaceful and loving on your own, you probably make a better partner. I do a podcast called Awareness Explorers in which I interview spiritual teachers and I mentioned before like Dalai Lama, Adyashanti. Yeah, various people. And I'm always asking them, "What are your suggestions for going back to a place of peace?" Because I think the two most important things in life are peace and love and there's other ways to get them. You could have world peace, but what's the chance of that going to happen? That's not going to happen. So, how can you find inner peace? Now, with love, if you're lucky, you find a partner and you learn how to communicate that leads to a lot more love in your life, but there's also an inner way to love, loving yourself, having a connection with a higher power. But our mission in life should we decide to accept it is to find different paths to greater peace and love because when we're in touch with those things, we're at our best and we make a better partner, and we're better and more effective in the world, as well.

Neil Sattin: Totally agree, totally agree. Although I'm struck by your cynicism about world peace, I think it's possible, maybe sometime in...

Jonathan Robinson: Okay, maybe.

Neil Sattin: Our children's lifetimes, our children's children. I'm holding out the hope for that. One thing that I'm wondering before we go is whether... So many couples... This is so ironic, I think they come into... They're in that moment of struggle and often really not knowing if they should stay in the relationship that they're in, especially when they're in the midst of big conflict. And then it can get confusing, right? Because if you have some technology that actually helps you get along and connect, well then it can feel like, "Well, do I want to leave this person or don't I?" And I'm wondering if you have... And I recognize this could be a whole another hour's conversation so I'm not entirely being fair to you and just asking for your quick take on this, but is there a place that you go that helps a couple be resourceful or maybe an individual who's contemplating that? Should I stay or should I go question, that makes that practical for them like a sense of like, well, even if you can get along, maybe if this is happening, you're not right together, or maybe this is the kind of thing you don't want to tolerate. Yeah, how do people make that call for themselves?

Jonathan Robinson: Actually, I think that's really simple. What I find is when couples fully communicate honestly and vulnerably, one of two things will happen, they will either very quickly get back to a place of deep love and connection in which case, of course, they want to stay together or if they're very honest and communicating without blame and letting out all the things that they've been withholding, they may get to a place where they realize they want totally different things, and then they would naturally want to separate because we're not going after the same things in life anymore. But the key is really good communication. It will create the clarity that often is not there when couples are not so honest or so clear and vulnerable in their communication.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. And I think it's important to qualify that, just because you want two completely different things or 10 completely different things that doesn't necessarily mean you’re doomed, but if you're communicating clearly about it, then you get the opportunity to discover if you can navigate each other's vastly different desires and that feels good or generative or does it feel like there's just no way, in which case you're dealing with a deal-breaker.

Jonathan Robinson: Right, right, and you're right, that you can want different things and still have a happy marriage. It's just a matter of whether you're able to navigate those things in a way that is agreeable to both people.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, it makes total sense. Well, Jonathan, it's been such a pleasure to talk to you today, and I'm glad we finally made it work with all those scheduling issues that were totally on me. Just so if you're listening, you're like, "What's up with Jonathan and his scheduling?" No, it was me. And so again, I appreciate your patience with that. And it was well worth the wait, so sweet to talk with you. Jonathan's book, More Love Less Conflict, a communication playbook for couples is available from a bookseller near you or online, and you can visit Jonathan's website or you can check out his podcast that he just mentioned, Awareness Explorers, which is fascinating conversations with pioneers on the edge of consciousness. And Jonathan, is there anything else you'd like to add about ways people can find out about your work? I know you have a totally different body of work that you do, as well, and so, there's anything you'd like to add right now, this would be a great time.

Jonathan Robinson: Just that people should download those questions at and keep exploring stuff. I'm not naturally good at this stuff, which allows me to get good at teaching it, because by finding methods that worked for my wife and I really made a huge difference. I also want to say Neil, you're a great interviewer, I see why your podcast is so popular. It's really fun to go into some depth about some of these issues and hopefully help some people.

Neil Sattin: Well, thank you so much for saying that. I appreciate it.

Jonathan Robinson: You deserve it.


Neil Sattin: Okay.


186: Getting to the Truth within You

Mar 27, 2019 32:44


How do you figure out your truth? In a loud world full of distraction, chaos, and uncertainty, there's a simple way to get to the truth within you - that you can do in a mere 15 minutes (or less). In today's episode, Neil Sattin will go on the journey with you, to discover the truth that's right there within you, waiting to be known. You'll also get a break from overwhelm and information overload by getting in touch with your own stillness, the inner guidance system that's waiting there with wisdom for you to access.

Also, announcing that tickets are on sale for Relationship Alive...LIVE! featuring Terry Real. We'll have a musical guest (Katie Matzell trio), and you'll also have the chance to ask YOUR questions. The show will be on June 6, 2019 at One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine. Limited seats available. Click here to buy your tickets now!

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


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185: 20 Minutes a Week to Relationship Bliss - with Alicia Muñoz

Mar 19, 2019 01:17:54


What if you had a way to improve your relationship in just 20 minutes per week? Working on your relationship doesn’t have to be heavy and time-intensive. It does require time and attention - but today we’re going to show you how you can utilize simple strategies in just 20 minutes per week to make marked relationship improvements. This week, our guest is Alicia Muñoz. Alicia is the author of the new book No More Fighting: The Relationship Book for Couples: 20 Minutes a Week to a Stronger Relationship. Her work with couples, extensive training in Imago and AEDP, and research has helped her craft fast and effective strategies to overcome common relationship problems that you can do in just 20 minutes per week. After today’s episode, you’ll have a sense of how to improve the quality of your time with your partner - and worry less about the quantity.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


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Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. It's funny, we kind of fall into relationship a lot of the times. Sometimes it's when we're looking for someone and other times it can literally just fall into our lap, the spark of attraction or who knows what circumstance that brings you into connection and partnership with someone. And as we've talked about here on the show, often, though not always, in those initial moments things are easy, things seem to connect without too much trouble. You have the kind of sex you want to have, you have the kind of fun you want to have, and it sets you up for a potentially long future together. And then you commit to a long future together, only to find, sometimes not long after, that there's a little more to be reckoned with in order to actually be fit for long-term connection with another person. And that's okay, it's part for the course, it's just what happens. And of course, what we're focused on here on Relationship Alive, are the kinds of skills and awarenesses that you need so that no matter what stage you're in, you have resources available to you. So that you can get past whatever growth challenges you're meeting in the moment and take your relationship to the next level.

Neil Sattin: And so today I'm really excited to share with you something that feels like a really practical manual of sorts, to help you in your relationship, written by someone who clearly knows what she's doing, knows her stuff, and also you can just tell by the words in her book that she has, kind of like me, an insatiable curiosity about what makes us tick and how to find lots and lots of resources and pull them together in a way that make them accessible for you. Her name is Alicia Muñoz, and her book, No More Fighting: 20 Minutes A Week To A Stronger Relationship, just came out. And I have to say, like I just mentioned, I've really enjoyed this book, both because it is full of practical ideas and wisdom for you as someone in relationship, but also because it covers such a wide range of possibilities. It's set up really so you can do one thing a week over the course of a year and we're going to dive into some of the contents, you get a sense of what we're talking about. But it starts with things that are a little easier and by the end, you might get to things that are a little more challenging, but in a good way. In a way that really helps you thrive in your relationship and push your edges a little bit more.

Neil Sattin: As usual, we are going to have a detailed transcript of this episode. In order to get it you can visit, all pushed together as one word. So, and just click the download the transcript button. Or, as always, you can text the word Passion, to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. And as a special treat, we are going to also have a book give away. So to one of the lucky people who downloads the transcript in the first week after this show has come out, you will receive a free copy of No More Fighting signed by Alicia Munoz, the author and today's guest. Alright. I think that's enough from me. Alicia, thank you so much for joining us today here on Relationship Alive.

Alicia Muñoz: It's such a pleasure to be here, Neil. Thank you for having me.

Neil Sattin: You are welcome, you're welcome. And, as I was just saying, I was so impressed by the range of topics that you cover in your book, and I'm wondering if you could talk for a moment about... Just help give us a little context for where No More Fighting... Where that came from in your practice and in your life.

Alicia Muñoz: Sure. Well, I've been wanting to write a book for many, many years and there's never really been enough time, but gradually through various opportunities that have come my way, this one presented itself and I just dove right in. I still didn't have time, I was still busy, but it really, in a sense, I feel like it almost wrote itself because I had so many... Well, like 13 years of experience working with couples under my belt, and just so much that I wanted to condense and share to help people get these bite-sized doses of support in order to work through challenging issues in their relationships.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And so 20 minutes a week to a stronger relationship. You're not saying that all people need to give to their relationship is 20 minutes a week, obviously.

Alicia Muñoz: No.

Neil Sattin: But you're giving them this 20-minute long infusion that they can bring into the week that can give them a little extra. A little extra boost, a little extra thing to consider, a little extra way to connect.

Alicia Muñoz: Absolutely. And it is a little bit of sort of a carrot that we're dangling with that 20-minute promise, but if you do the 20 minutes, it can help you exponentially. So if you really invest that 20 minutes of time a week in sitting with your partner and following some of the guidance and some of the container tips that I give at the beginning of the book, then that will potentially help you connect in ways that you just wouldn't have a chance to connect had you not invest in the time.

Neil Sattin: Right. And 20 minutes to a couple that feels super busy that can feel like a lot. Well, hopefully not too much, because 20 minutes, it's better than an hour, right? I can find 20 minutes. That's between flossing and brushing. I think I've got 20 minutes in there. But on the other hand, I think it also works out that if you're able to find that 20 minutes and carve it out in an especially busy life, or in a life where you're sort of missing your partner, that it's kind of like when you set a timer for five minutes to work on cleaning your living room and before you know it, 30 minutes have gone by. I think it has that same kind of impact where so many of your exercises will bring people into a kind of connection where they might hear the buzzer go off at 20 minutes and be like, "Well, let's set that for another 10," or something like that.

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah, yeah. That definitely can absolutely happen. I think it's also important though, because with people that I've worked with, and well, with my own husband also. Having a time limit and having a container, can really be soothing to partners who have a low tolerance for extended dialogues or extended intimacy. I talk in the book about intimacy tolerance and that we really do all have different tolerance levels for intimacy. And this idea that, well, it's always good to have a high tolerance for intimacy doesn't really take into account the reality that it's neither good nor bad, it's that we have different tolerance levels for it. And so the 20 minutes is really there to protect both the person who gets flooded from too much, and to give enough of a dose of connection to the person for whom 20 minutes feels like 20 seconds.

Neil Sattin: Right, right. That's so important how it creates safety in both directions. Yeah. And maybe that's a good place to dive in because I think so many people, they might find themselves in circumstances like that. And I know as your work, with your Imago training, that you're no stranger to couples who somehow find themselves in relationship with someone who seems exactly like the wrong partner for them.


Alicia Muñoz: I'm not sure I've ever met a different kind of couple, but maybe that's just part of being a therapist, but people who come in, really have the sense of, "Wow, we're so different. How are we going to make this work?"

Neil Sattin: Right, right. And there's this illusion, especially when they find out about your Imago match, that, "Well, why don't I just ditch this person and find the person who's not my Imago match?" But of course, it doesn't really work that way, does it?

Alicia Muñoz: It doesn't. I think one of the humbling aspects of relationship is, I'm sure you yourself have experience perhaps at times is that we have an unconscious, so it's not so just...


Neil Sattin: I was like "Yeah, we do actually."

Alicia Muñoz: We do. That one took me many years to grasp, I really thought I was running the show and in control and could be in control and it was just a matter of being even more in control of everything, but I've gradually come to accept and surrender to the reality that I can't control everything. And that my unconscious makes choices or is drawn to things that I may not consciously be drawn to. And I would say drawn to, and certainly with my husband and previous partners, I think that plays a huge part in our love relationships.

Neil Sattin: Right, right. How many times have you had the conversation with someone where they're talking about the person that they've met that probably isn't their Imago match, that there's someone who's perfect in every way, except they just can't bring themselves to actually be attracted to them and want to be with them.

Alicia Muñoz: Yes, that is something I think we've all heard or maybe even experience, where it's like, "This is the perfect person and she's so generous, she's so kind. He's so thoughtful, and I'm just not into them."

Neil Sattin: Right. But let's also protect our listeners from feeling like it has to be at the other extreme too. I think what we're advocating for is that blissful gray zone, somewhere in the middle where you are attracted in that unconscious cosmic sort of you could never have made it a happen way, but on the flip side, there are relationships that are so problematic or fraught with turmoil and abuse or lack of safety that they shouldn't be followed through or you don't necessarily need to stick with those people.

Alicia Muñoz: Oh absolutely, yeah, that's definitely... It's a balance. And like you say, it's really that gray zone that we have both the conscious factors that draw us to somebody, and then there are these unconscious factors that through an alliance and through awareness, we can gradually work through and certainly learn to be more in collaboration with our partner around those.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that's a great word, collaboration. And getting to that place where you're on the same team with your partner. Do you have any special exercises that come to mind for you, that are about... What's coming to mind for me is something like when a couple comes in to see you and you can tell that they haven't yet figured out that the other person isn't out to get them. Like they're still operating in that paradigm where it's like they really don't feel safe because the other person maybe is actively undermining parts of them or they've introduced... You bring up in your book The Four Horsemen that John Gottman talks about. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling. So maybe there are some things that are undermining the safety of their connection. Where's a place that you like to start with a couple to help them feel that alignment or feel that sense of, "Oh, we actually... We're going to get a lot further if we collaborate like this with each other."

Alicia Muñoz: Well, in Imago, and I think in a lot of other frameworks, it's pretty common to try to begin, even the initial couple session, with gratitude and appreciations. So from the get-go really trying to open the container of connection by helping partners focus on what's working and focus on what they appreciate. And that can be challenging when there are a lot of frustrations and there's a lot that's not working, and there's kind of a mental cash of negative assumptions about one another. But being able to bring to mind the things that you appreciate is one simple but effective way of resetting people to see each other through this lens of positivity. And so that's one and I have many others I could share with you if you wanted.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, well, we'll maybe be able to bring them up spontaneously as we go through today's conversation.

Alicia Muñoz: Sounds good.

Neil Sattin: Let's set the groundwork for people though around... You mentioned already creating a space and carving out time. And this 20 minutes a week program that you have in the No More Fighting book, what is the context that's going to help people make the best use out of those 20 minutes?

Alicia Muñoz: I think that really agreeing on a location in your apartment or your home or wherever you are and beginning to develop associations with that place, whether it's two chairs that are facing each other in your dining area or you're sitting on the ground in the living room on cushions, and lighting a candle or some sort of associations that you can develop with the location that help it be pleasurable for both of you. So I think that that's helpful. And then also the time containers, so agreeing on the 20 minutes and agreeing that you're both going to take up more or less 10 of those 20 minutes and share it. And then, if there's a point where you want to renegotiate the... Extending the container, then being accountable to each other for doing that, not kind of blind-sighting each other or just talking over that time limit. So I think it's really important to be intentional and conscious about the boundaries that you're setting, whether it's the location or the amount of time that you're going to be talking. That's going to create a sense of safety and, "Okay, this is going to be too much, and this is going to be a positive experience." It's really valuable and important to cushion this whole process in pleasure.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And then you also talk a lot in true Imago fashion about being responsible for who is the one who's actually speaking in a given moment, who's the one who's listening in a given moment. And I'm going to ask you a question that I haven't even asked Harville and Helen about, which is: Is there a way that you think is the best way to choose who goes first in which role? I always think it's kind of amusing when I'm... I probably shouldn't say this, but when I'm working with couples to just say, "Okay, this is what we're going to do, who's going to go first?" And you learn something obviously from watching that negotiation process between a couple, and yet there is a part of me that wants to help people out. So if they're sitting here and wondering like, is there an ideal way to determine who should?

Alicia Muñoz: That's interesting. I would love to hear what Harville and Helen have to say about that.


Alicia Muñoz: I actually learned somewhere at some point, probably in my Imago training or maybe from my Imago supervisor, or might have heard it in a workshop. But this stuck in my head that at least for the initial session, it can be helpful to... Whoever called and made the appointment. So whoever was the initiator, sort of the motivated one to create the session, that asking them to go first or saying, "Would you like to open?" Or, "Since you were the one who called, I'd love to hear from you first." That that can decrease the anxiety of the partner who's the... What we call in Imago, the draggee. There's always a dragger, I shouldn't say always, but often there's a dragger and a draggee. So, the person who was the initiator tends to be the person who feels more comfortable, at least breaking the ice. It's not always the case, but that's one way that I do it with the initial session.

Alicia Muñoz: And then I think after that, I'll often say... And it's sometimes true, often true that I can't quite remember who may have started the last time, so I'll just say, "Whose turn is it?" Or, "Which of you would like to start?" Or, "Did we start first with somebody else?" And that way it gives them a sense to, if there's a feeling of inequity in terms of who speaks more, who starts first more, it gives them a chance to speak up and claim that space, that space to speak.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense too, just like there's safety in creating a time boundary, there's safety in knowing that, "Well, if I'm not the one to start today, I'll be the one to start next week." And knowing that that's going to be true. And before we go any further maybe we could talk for a moment too, about two little nuances, one being a good way to listen and the second being the sender, the speaker responsibility, in terms of being the one who's communicating.

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. Is that a question in terms of the good way to listen? [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Yeah. I think it would just be helpful for people who are new to this conversation and haven't heard the episodes that we've done with Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt to talk about Imago. We don't have to give them the whole structure, but just that sense of like, "Okay, this is how I know that I'm being a good listener. And these are like the little things to look out for and this is how I know I'm being a good speaker and things to look out for."

Alicia Muñoz: Absolutely. Well, with the listening it's helpful to do the first step of the Imago dialogue, which is reflective listening and that's when you just take in the words, your partner's words, and reflect back, paraphrase back in your own words. But also using your partners words, what you hear them say. So, that's a good way to ground yourself in active listening, it's really focusing on the words and then paraphrasing the words back. And then just keeping in mind a neutral body posture, as neutral as you can voice, neutral to warm. And yeah, it sounds easy, but it can be quite challenging. So those are some tips for that.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And as the listener, if you find yourself starting to think about how you're going to respond to the person, then you've probably stopped being a great listener. And what about when you... Do you have any particular things you like if you as a listener notice, "Oh, I am starting to get a little judgmental or I feel my defensiveness coming up." Or, "I want to refute the things that my partner is saying." What are some ways, just that within myself or maybe I introduce it into the conversation, that I could bring myself back online into active, empathic, non-judgmental listening?

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. It always helps to agree on these things with your partner before hand, like these signals and just let them know, "This is what I'm going to do when I feel myself starting to go into my own judgments, my own agenda." To gently raise your hand or come up with another signal where you're letting your partner know, I need you to pause while I reflect back what I heard you say. So actually having a hand signal or some other visual signals can be helpful. It's also good to have your own ways of self-soothing, and that could be anything from just taking a very deep breath, exhaling, closing your eyes for a moment, or wiggling your toes around in your shoes or just bringing mindfulness to your body for a second or two. And those can all be good reminders to just get centered and refocused.

Neil Sattin: Right, right. And just as a reminder, as Alicia said, you're going to do your best within the 20 minute confines of this time that you've allotted to take turns. So you'll be listening for 10 minutes and then you'll have your 10 at the end, but hopefully you're going to stick to the script in terms of... It's not like, "Well, that was horrible and now I'm going to blast you for 10 minutes." But you'll have a chance to also give your perspective and be heard. I think that actually makes me think of another good aspect which is, if you remember that your goal as the listener is to help the person who's speaking feel understood and feel like you really got them, like you really heard them, then there's a natural reciprocity that happens. That you can even ask for, because if you've done a really thorough job understanding your partner and they agree that you got them, then you can follow up by being like, "Well, now I'd appreciate it if you would really hear me, hear my perspective about this thing." And it gives you a chance to make the conversation also about that reciprocity.

Alicia Muñoz: Yes, yes. I love that word. That's a beautiful word Neil, and I think that's the foundation, incrementally as you are generous with your presence and with your listening and with sitting on or just back-burnering your own stuff. It's something that really opens your partner's generosity and opens their heart and makes them much more willing to also hear you when it's your turn. So, it really will build the more that you... Well, it doesn't always happen, but ideally the more that you can stretch out of your agenda or your comfort zone, the more your partner can also do that as well, as they see you modeling that.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. I like that word generosity as well that you use, that you're in the position of modeling what you hope to receive from your partner. It's one of the hardest things, especially if you get to a place where you're feeling like, "I don't want to be the one who always has to give or at least not right now." [chuckle] "I just want them to get me for a change." Next time you should be the one to speak first then, that's all I'm going to say.


Neil Sattin: And speaking of speaking, let's just talk for a moment too about the responsibility of being the one who's communicating. And this could be about a full range of things, your needs, your experience, your past, your present, what you hope for. But what are some ways to communicate that are the most likely to be generative and get you to some place new with your partner?

Alicia Muñoz: I think that really getting clear on your intention before you speak is one of the biggest things that I would suggest people try. I have to do this for myself all the time. It's really important to be honest with yourself about why you want to say what you're going to say. And if you're in these 20-minute containers with your partner, taking a second or two or five seconds to take a deep breath and remember that you're in this process because you presumably love your partner and want to expand and grow as a couple, then that's really going to put a little bit of a buffer. It's going to help you resist the pull to get maybe couch a criticism in a seemingly neutral statement or it's going to help you to really say what you want to say in a way that's not blaming or judgmental.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Let's talk about that for a moment, because Imago has that process of the behavior chains request. Because I could already feel like the sticking point in me even though I know the answer to this, but it's like, "But wait a minute, what if?" Like, "The reason that we're here is because I've got some complaints about my partner." [chuckle] "If I didn't have anything to complain about, we wouldn't be here, all would be good." I want to be able to deliver these complaints in a way that it's actually going to create some change.

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. So the intention is the starting point and then actually operationalizing that requires accountability, which means that you can say something to your partner when you arrive 10 minutes late at our romantic dinner date I feel angry, I feel frustrated. And the story that I make up is that your work is more important than our relationship. And then, I protect myself by ignoring you and spending the whole dinner scrolling through Facebook and texting friends. It's like, I didn't say anything blaming right then, but I did get my frustration out. So it's kind of breaking it down in a way that you're identifying the trigger, when you do X, or I feel such and such a way when this happens between us, but then taking ownership for the different parts, the different components. So trigger, emotion, mental interpretation, my coping mechanism, and that's really a way to just get clarity around what's going on for you internally versus just saying, "You're so inconsiderate. I'm never going to arrange a date night like this ever again."

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So let's just go into that break down for a moment because I think that was really helpful. So where you listed out the trigger and etcetera, etcetera. Can we identify what each of those things are? It sounds to me like a way for someone to really take responsibility for how they're feeling in the moment, and get at the crux of what their intention might even be when they're trying to communicate with their partner about something that's coming at them crosswise.

Alicia Muñoz: Right, yeah. And this takes practice, so I don't want to give your listeners the idea that, "Oh, this is just going to easily come out of your mouth this way." It does take some inquiry and self-reflection and using your relationship as a kind of zone to experiment and learn about yourself. But each of those points, often we feel our feelings and we're so busy and maybe we're not aware of what triggered it, and how did I interpret that trigger and then what feelings came from my interpretation. And then, how did I then sort of defensively respond to my own feelings? So, we're not aware of all that. Often we just, we're going through life and we're just like, "Oh my God, he pissed me off, she pissed me off, this is upsetting me. That person is rude or... " So, it's really, with our partners, it's important to think about all those different domains and slow down enough to be able to consider what your experience was based on even just one moment between you.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. And I like that, how it opens someone up to that process of figuring out how their own story about what happened is what contributes to how they're responding to their partner, which also seems so important in those moments. So, I'm wondering now, this is making me think of... You have so many amazing little chapters in your book because it covers a whole year's worth of work. And I'm going to read through some of the larger headings just so our listeners can get a sense of what I'm talking about. It starts with things like self-care and communication, and getting your partner's world and intimacy issues. Now, I'm just giving you section heading, so each of these has two or three chapters within it that give you a vignette of a couple that's going through this particular issue. And by the way, I just want to say as a side note, your vignettes were really fun and instructive to read. And that is not always the case. I read so many of these books and often I just get lost in the vignettes or I'm like, "Why did you even have to tell me that?" But the way that you laid this out, it just makes sense.

Neil Sattin: So you read the vignette and you're like, "Oh, okay. I totally get what Alicia Muñoz is talking about." And then there's some sort of meta level, like this is the exercise that we're doing and then there's the actual exercise with a little example. So it goes from those categories that I was talking about into, now I'm skipping a few pages, attachment issues, power and control, ruptures in your relationship, repair, money, parenting. I particularly liked the little chapter on blended families, which we have in our household. All the way down, and in the intro I said, "Yeah, it gets a little challenging at the end." So, at the end you cover relationship records, like addictions and dishonesty and wanting other people outside of the relationship and different takes on monogamy, so it really runs the gamut. What you were just making me think of though was the way that we take responsibility for ourselves and that also gets wrapped up in projection, which is one of those things where until you like... It's like when you notice that you have feelings and then suddenly you realize you're feeling all over the place like, "Oh, my God, I thought I was just like this rational automaton or whatever and going through life and it turns out I'm feeling all over."

Neil Sattin: And then that might get enhanced once you figure out, "Oh, and actually I'm getting triggered all over the place." Once you know how to recognize signs of sympathetic arousal in your body, fight or flight, you're like, "Oh, okay, I get it. This is happening all over the time." So for me, projection was another one of those things, where I was like, "Wow" At first it was, "I guess I'm projecting all over other people all the time." I had to really think about that a lot. And then experiencing other people's projection all the time. So let's dive in there for a moment, if you don't mind.

Alicia Muñoz: Sure.

Neil Sattin: And what wants to come out, I think from my perspective, is I would love to hear your take on how do you get a sense of what's real and what's projection? And if you know what your partner is saying to you, is just so obviously them projecting their stuff onto you, how do you respond in a way that's going to actually be helpful in that moment?

Alicia Muñoz: That's a great question. How do you know? Let me just start with, how do you know. Was it how do you know when you're projecting or how do you know when your partner is projecting onto you?

Neil Sattin: Yeah, let's just pick one, because I think that either direction will be instructive.

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. Well, our partners are really the perfect people to help us understand our own projections. I think it's one of the benefits of being in a relationship is that they are going to feel as projecting onto them and they're not going to like it, and they're going to have a response to it. I'll give an example from my marriage if that's okay. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Yeah, great.

Alicia Muñoz: So initially, when my husband and I were dating, I was never angry, I was always spiritual and I always felt very loving towards people, and I just... Anger was beneath me. So, I remember that at one point... But my husband was very angry, my then boyfriend was very angry, and I was always complaining about how angry he was and if you could just be less angry. And this made him angry.


Alicia Muñoz: So I remember a moment when he calmly said to me, "You know what? I think you're the one who's angry." And when he said that I felt this almost like flood gate of rage just... I felt it in my body and it was this visceral sense of almost wanting to throw up, it was just so foreign, first of all to be called out and then to actually feel it in my body, and it just kind of turned my world upside down a bit, that moment. We had these moments where... And I think what made the difference is that I'd done enough work and we had built enough safety, and we were in couples counseling at the time, to be able to at least consider the possibility that he was right, that I had this anger inside me that I was projecting out on to him.

Alicia Muñoz: And then being able to consider that, gradually helped me to make more and more room to experience my own anger and to take more ownership and more responsibility for it. And then, of course, to begin looking at why I have such trouble feeling anger, owning anger. So it's a process, but I think being able to consider... Notice when something makes you very defensive and that's usually a sign that there's some piece of it inside you that you can take ownership of. It doesn't mean that your partner might not always or might not also... You might not be a little bit right about your partner, but to be able to kinda look at, "Oh, when I point my index finger at my partner, there are these three fingers pointing back at me, and how am I this thing that I'm blaming or accusing them of being."

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, that feels like... Not that I do this, but now that we've had this conversation, I'm going to make a practice of this, which is, any time I think that my wife Chloe is doing something, I will ask myself, "How do I do the very thing that I'm sensitive about with her right now." And that becomes, I think you're right, an access point to just deeper truths about ourselves and to bring those parts of us online in a different way.

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. That's really brilliant. I think that's really a great tip and it reminds me a little bit of Byron and Katie's work, where you identify the thing you believe and then you turn it around, you flip it around to its opposite and consider that. So my husband is so angry, so the turnaround would be I am so angry. So it's that ability to look at the belief and then as you just said, you would do with your wife to be able to flip it around and consider how this lives inside of you.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Now, do you mind sharing in taking that on, and you can say I pass on this question if you want, because maybe your husband will listen and he'll be like, "That's not how it happened." But I'm curious, what did you discover about his anger in going through that process, because I'm guessing that he was angry at least at some things, right?

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. Oh, yeah, yeah. Well, it was true that he had a lot of anger and a lot of frustration and exhibited anger in a much more visible way. And of course, there's the whole gender part of this, where men are generally socialized to be more expressive of their anger, but not of their softness and their vulnerability and their tenderness, and whereas with women it's often reverse. What we discovered was that as I own more of my anger, he didn't have to be so angry and he didn't have to carry as much of that in our relationship. But he also gradually... And takes time and took time, but gradually he could be more vulnerable and could be more tender and the softer, more typically feminine parts of him could come out and live and be a part of our dynamic. So things got more fluid, there was less rigidity around our roles and our emotions and how we express them.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. We did have Harriet Lerner on to talk about the dance of anger, so I encourage our listeners to check that out. It's one of our earlier episodes, if you get a chance. And I think you're bringing up such a valuable point, which is that there is room for a healthy expression of anger for both people in a relationship. And the anger is so often sourced from something else, like a hurt or a fear or something that's being aggravated and being willing to be vulnerable can often get you to the exact same place. But in a way that actually brings you together with your partner.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, actually I'm curious about that, because I know you've done a lot of work with AEDP, and we had Diana Fosha on and in fact, I'm going to be speaking with David Mars in a couple of weeks, to talk about AEDP for couples, which I'm super excited about. But I'm curious from your learned perspective about this, what is the AEDP take on anger? Because I know it's listed out as a core emotion, right? What's the nuance there between anger as a core emotion and anger as sort of a secondary piece that comes after you've been hurt?

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. Well, I'm not sure I can speak to it even close to the way Diana Fosha would or David Mars would, but my understanding is that it can be either a defense, hiding, sort of an underlying emotion like sadness or helplessness or fear, but it can also be an enlivening resource, feeling anger can be part of this core affect that we need to experience. And another emotion like sadness could be the cover for it or the outer coating of it that we use to avoid feeling the anger. I think it has a lot to do with how it's used, whether it's used defensively or not.

Neil Sattin: Got it, got it. So you might look at your anger and try to diagnose it a little bit more. Am I trying to motivate change with this anger? Am I trying to protect myself with this anger? Am I trying to find a sense of power when I'm feeling powerless?

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. I think that's one way to try to work with it is to... I think also to really see how it works in your relationship, so is it... And how it feels in your body. When you're accessing anger that is more of a core emotion, and I'm not talking about acting out on the anger, but when I say accessing I mean more like you are able to feel it in your body, you're able to let it kind of run through you. It's something that will be like a release or it will open up new possibilities, it will help shift your sense of yourself as somebody with agency in the world. I think that that's really an important piece of it, is to look at how is how does this feel in my body and is this something that's helping me connect to myself and also connect more authentically to people in my life.

Neil Sattin: Right. Because just hearing you say that I think back to that conversation with your husband, who is your boyfriend, I guess, at the time, that on some level there was probably a certain place that you weren't accessing in your connection with him. So having that moment of truth around your own anger enabled you to access something that you could then feed to your connection. Like here's more of me.

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah, right. So it's about the authenticity and being able to access more parts of yourself, more authentically. Often we get locked into a limited range of our experience of our own selves, because so much of ourselves have been labelled or gone underground through conditioning or family conditioning or social conditioning. So I think one of the imperatives or one of the goals of our life force is just how do we feel more of ourselves within our body, how do we experience what it means to be fully alive, and anger is a part of being fully alive, and it can be part of what gives us access to our life force.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And we were chatting a little bit about that before I hit record, and now I'm super intrigued to hear more about your view on how we access more of that life force and bring it into our own lives, bring it into our connection with some... And you were talking about it earlier, now we're talking about it in the context of anger. Earlier we were talking about it in the context of pleasure, which is maybe a happier place to be talking about life force.


Alicia Muñoz: Yeah, yeah. It's so funny, I was just like, "Oh my God, I wrote this book, No More Fighting, and here I am talking to him and I'm like, "Yeah, access your anger."


Alicia Muñoz: I think it helps to have examples because all this stuff can get very heady.

Neil Sattin: Great.

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. So what was the question again?


Neil Sattin: Give me some examples of ways that we can bring more of our life force online with our partners, but maybe it's first within ourselves.

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. Yeah. I think that it's easy to get caught up in adulting. And I think one of the dangers of adulting is that we start to gradually live for others and for roles and for tasks and accomplishments and sort of serving. And I think that our life force is... There's no reason for it, it just is, it's what children often have, they just have this joy and bouncing around and using, playing and creating and making noise and being original in the things that they do and being creative in the thing they do. As adult, I think it's very easy to lose touch with that. So, pleasure for me is one of the big ways that we can access our life force. And pleasure is that sense of like, I'm in the flow, I am laughing, I'm alive, I'm connected, I'm enjoying nature, I'm reading poetry, I'm savoring this food, I'm in the moment, just being this channel for joy and aliveness and presence. And I think that finding the things is not necessarily easy to do, but finding little things that make you feel that way is really the foundation of self-care.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So that makes me go in two different directions. One being, I know for myself, I have a sense and it's even connected in some ways to childhood, because I have vivid memories of the things that delighted me. And in fact we even had Julie Henderson on the show, she has this whole body of work around embodying well-being. And so much of what she talks about are these simple exercises that literally are things that kids do, but spelled out for the adults who are so busy adulting that they've forgotten how to blow bubbles with their lips or how to do crazy stretches or talk in gibberish or whatever it is. It's really fun work. I'm wondering for you... So there are these glimmer of like, "Oh yeah, I remember these things when I was a kid that used to light me up." And maybe that's a place to start for some people. I know I talk to some adults who are so overwhelmed with adulting, I like that word, I don't like the word overwhelmed, but adulting is kind of amusing to me. That they really can be in that, like, "I don't even know what brings me pleasure anymore."

Neil Sattin: Or I think of an extreme example of someone who's been through some trauma, where they are shut off to their pleasure because they have to get through a whole, say wall of shame in order to get to the pleasure. So Alicia, crack open the door for us. If I were stumbling in the darkness, I'm so disconnected from my pleasure and maybe the only way I feel alive has been through fighting in my relationship, how do I get more at something that's more blissful and more sustainable?

Alicia Muñoz: That's a great question. And trauma is so pervasive and there's so many different forms and ways that we experience trauma, and I think becoming an adult often is almost a form of of micro traumas in itself. I think that having a witness or witnesses, whether that's a coach or a therapist or even this podcast, it's a way of developing this community and bringing mindfulness and awareness to another way of being. So I think that if there is that, if there's a lot of fighting and there's trauma and you can't even access pleasure, it's important to find a connection or multiple connections, where you can safely be held as you process your grief, as you show up in the truth of your numbness, your regret, your sense of loss, your sense of feeling lost. I think that finding... It's very important, the connection piece is really important, the connection in the community. So being able to know yourself well enough and invest in yourself to create the community through resources like your podcast here Neil or books or a group, and also having coaches, therapists, if you have resources to do that or a group that you create locally. It's really important to be held through the difficulties that get in the way of being able to feel joy and to be witness in wherever you are.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. So I'm hearing you name things that might be those initial obstacles to getting to your joy, is that there could be some painful things that you're avoiding or have numbed yourself to. And as far as I understand, you don't get to just selectively be like, "I'm never going to feel sad or I'm never going to feel grief, I'm just going to feel happy." Like it doesn't...

Alicia Muñoz: Right, no. That's bypassing. Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Right, right. And you probably meet people like that, where they are happy, but there's something that feels... It doesn't feel very grounded in who they are. I'm thinking of times where I've been in experiences where there has been someone who's been like, "Oh, I'm so happy right now. Aren't we having such a good time?" Where I'm just like, "Are you having a good time or are you just talking about how we're having a good time?"

Neil Sattin: And I love your listing of different options, different ways for people to get connected with support and identifying that connection is so much at the heart of a lot of the healing that needs to take place. It doesn't happen when you're isolated. And that, of course, can be why some relationships are so painful, because we feel isolated in them, even though we're with someone and yet we feel isolated. And that's another reason why your book is so powerful because it gives people just 20 minutes around a particular thing that brings them into connection with their partner around something, so that definitely is contributing to the healing conversation. Another thing that popped into mind too is, and it sounded like you had something to say there, but is the ability to just choose an accountability partner. Like just someone where you're like, you show up once a week and you agree like, "Okay, this is what I'm going to do over the coming week to honor my joy or my grief or whatever it is." And then you show up the following week and get to be accountable to this other person, helps you at least stay in conversation about and in process around those things.

Alicia Muñoz: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, it helps. It helps you to really have that human connection, somebody to bounce your thoughts off of, and to really have that attachment relationship, that can be so lacking in a lot of our histories, is just that kind of sense of even the secure attachment. So you're really kind of getting as an adult, you have the opportunity to get these doses of secure attachment. You can't do that in isolation, so it's really important to create those opportunities for yourself. I was going to mention that Amir Levine's book and Rachel Heller, their book Attached, that I really love one of the quotes in the book about this myth of independence. There's so much pathology, or there's often, we kind of talk about, "Oh, you don't want to be codependent." And I love the way that Amir Levine and Rachel Heller write about it, that when two people form an intimate bond, they actually regulate each other psychologically and emotionally, and that we are dependent, we are interdependent. And so, even if you're not in a relationship, it's very valuable to have those friendships or those bonds with other people where you can experience love and secure attachment.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And so just hearing you say that, I'm thinking that might look like finding the friends that you feel safe with to say like, "Hey, could we just get together and attune to each other?" And literally calling attention to that, that that's what you're doing. Like, "Can we just be together and meet each other's gaze and breathe together and then maybe we'll each share something about what's going on in our lives? I could see that being really powerful and super vulnerable for some people, so.


Alicia Muñoz: Yeah, yeah. Well, we do it a lot anyway. So whether we call it out or not, I think it's being aware of yourself that when you call up your friend or you meet them for coffee and you're discharging frustration or you're excited about an accomplishment or you're feeling vulnerable about a new connection you've made and you're just talking and you're sharing and you're a friend. This person, even if you're not romantically involved with them, is listening and taking you in, that that is a healing moment and those healing moments are supportive of you. So I think it's good to just kind of see where that's happening and acknowledge it.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. And let's circle back around to the pleasure. I think that I don't want to lose that thread, because I'm curious, from your perspective, let's say, okay, I hung out with my friend Jerry the other day, I vented all my grief and I'm ready, I'm ready for some pleasure, but I'm still feeling a little alienated from me and what makes me tick and what feels good and how to grow that in my life. What would be a next step for me?

Alicia Muñoz: That's a great question. This is a little bit of self-disclosure, but I engaged in this program called Mama Gena's School of Womanly Arts, for a little while. And her, Virginia Thomas Howard writes a lot about pleasure, and she writes about it more in the context of women claiming and reclaiming their own pleasure. A lot of it really... Pleasure is so shamed in our culture and many cultures, and productivity is celebrated, and her sort of hypothesis, her theory is that women are literally built for pleasure. We have more nerves, more availability for pleasure than men. And so, to shut down, to be shut down to pleasure is really to be shut down to our aliveness as women. And then of course, the more shut down we are to that, the less we can take other people around us higher. I kind of see it through that framework, but I think it's also relevant to men, especially when you think about the fact that we all contain the masculine and the feminine within ourselves, no matter what gender we were born as.

Alicia Muñoz: So I think that in your case, or what was the case of the hypothetical person, it would be about really connecting to your body, and not necessarily in a sexual or erotic way, although that could be a part of it. But to really connect to your senses and whether it's music or whether it's something visual or whether it's breathing or smelling, it's this idea that making time to enjoy life through your senses is an act of pleasure and it is kind of a revolutionary act because it's not anything you're going to get promoted for at work or people are going to slap you on the back for, or people are going to envy you for. It's sort of really approaching pleasure as a whole new paradigm.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. I got a little lost in what you were saying because I was just like, "Yeah, my senses." And I was taking a moment to just enjoy like what does this world smell that I'm in right now? And I was just touching my hands with... One hand with my other hand and just feeling what that felt like. And noticing how much actually is available just in the moment to me, while we sit here on Skype together, and I'm not violating the boundaries of my monogamous commitment to my wife, by sitting here and just breathing the air and touching my own hand. Yeah, I'm reminded of when Betty Martin was on the show, this was back this past summer, I think. Are you familiar with her work at all? She talks about the wheel of consent?

Alicia Muñoz: No, but I will go back and listen to that.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, you might want to check that out. And one thing that she talks about is this exercise where you literally just hold a rock in your hand, and just touch the rock and wake up your hands, your fingers, to the gift of sensation. And I'm not really doing the exercise justice by describing it here, but it just reminded me of that. And you're also reminded me that I wanted to have... What's her name? Mama Gena?

Alicia Muñoz: Mama Gena. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Yeah. I wanted to have her on the show, so I gotta reach out to her for sure. Great. Well, and you're also reminding me of one of the exercises that you talk about in your book that made me really chuckle, in a good way, which was the love catch.


Neil Sattin: It reminded me a little bit of the positive flooding that Harville and Helen talk about, but can you describe how that game works?

Alicia Muñoz: Sure. Maybe I'll tell you about the origins of it first and that'll explain a little bit. So I have a nine-year-old and we have ruptures, of course, around things like bedtime and homework and food and all kinds of other fun stuff. But one of the things that I discovered would help us work through a rupture was more physical. Sometimes we can do a little bit of talking, but we would go outside and just throw a football or kick a soccer ball and then my husband would join in. And so, we kind of brought this into the living room, because it's too cold to go out or it's snowing, we can't always do it outside. And then, gradually, my husband and I would occasionally do it where we would just try to add motion and movement to whatever we were doing, if we needed to process something or if we just needed to get a jolt of energy or connection, we would just pick something up and throw it.


Alicia Muñoz: Throw it, throw it! Hopefully you're not too angry and not throwing it at each other's heads, but just throwing a ball or an orange or maybe not a shoe, but a pillow and then speaking words. Saying, "I celebrate this or I love this about you." Like the flooding in Imago. It really changes your body chemistry, so that it's not just an intellectual exercise, but you're getting into that pleasure that we were just talking about. You're getting into doing something that moves your body and helps the connection, not just be this intellectual exercise, it helps to be fun.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And I could see that just there's something about the mechanics of tossing something back and forth that is going to invite you into that playful space in your brain.

Alicia Muñoz: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So just in case people didn't totally get it, what is the love catch exercise?

Alicia Muñoz: So the love catch exercise is finding something that is throw-able and throwing it at your partner, towards your partner, maybe not at your partner, and saying, "I celebrate our life together. I celebrate the amazing dinner we just had. I celebrate your gorgeous smile." And every time you say something, you're kind of tossing this orange or ball or pillow at your partner, towards your partner, and they're catching it and then tossing it back. So it's a way of reconnecting to that playful, young kid energy that we all have inside us.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. I'm hearing the kid energy, the playfulness, the pleasure, the appreciations that we spoke about way at the beginning of our conversation, and also developing that resonance with your partner to help you feel connected.

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Well Alicia Muñoz, thank you so much for being with us today. We kinda covered the gamut and I hope that's okay, I asked you some challenging questions, but I felt a little bit of licensed to do that because your book covers some many different areas. And I was like, "There's no way, I can't just single... Just dive into one thing here." But I hope that everyone listening got a flavor for how you operate and the gifts that you offer and your ability to synthesize so many different things. And I mean this sincerely, that as you read through No More Fighting, you'll see, "Oh, there's Dick Schwartz in Internal Family Systems, and there's Harville Hendrix in Imago, and there's Emily Nagoski talking about erotic energy and the brakes and the accelerator. And it's all in there and I love that. And so for you, if you're enjoying Relationship Alive and you're looking for a book that makes a lot of the wisdom on here practical in bite-sized chunks, then I definitely suggest you check out No More Fighting: 20 Minutes a Week To a Stronger Relationship.

Neil Sattin: Tammy Nelson wrote the foreword to the book, she was also here on the show not too long ago. And yeah, it's so valuable and I appreciate the way that you're able to take all these t

184: Forget the Love Languages - Let's Talk about the Four Fear Languages

Mar 13, 2019 47:22


The Five Love Languages only tell part of the story. It's just as important for you to understand the "Four Fear Languages" because they actually come into play all the time in your life - not only in your relationship, but also as you simply move through your day. And just like the Love Languages, the Four Fear Languages are universal - we all share them, but experience them in different ways. In today's episode we'll pick up where Gary Chapman left off, and you'll discover how understanding your core fears, and your partner's core fears, will help you create more love and connection in your relationship. And, most importantly, how to keep yourself and your relationship safe no matter which one of your Fear Languages is being spoken.

Also, announcing that tickets are on sale for Relationship Alive...LIVE! featuring Terry Real. We'll have a musical guest (Katie Matzell trio), and you'll also have the chance to ask YOUR questions. The show will be on June 6, 2019 at One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine. Limited seats available. Click here to buy your tickets now!

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


Along with our amazing listener supporters (you know who you are – thank you!), this week’s episode is being sponsored by an amazing company. is a USDA certified organic company, with a wide variety of meal plans to make having healthier food easy and convenient for you. And they’re offering you $50 off your first box to give them a try! Just visit and use the coupon code “ALIVE” at checkout for $50 off, and enjoy the delicious recipes and fresh ingredients that GreenChef sends your way.


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183: Real-Life Skills for Getting the Love You Want - with Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix

Mar 5, 2019 01:12:04


What if there were a guide written to help you not only communicate better with your partner, and experience love more deeply - but that would also heal the triggers that keep creating conflict between you and your partner? As it turns out - that guide exists! This week, our guests are Harville Hendrix Ph.D. and Helen LaKelly Hunt Ph.D, authors of the classic book, Getting the Love You Want which was just updated and re-released. Both are internationally-respected couple's therapists, educators, speakers, and New York Times bestselling authors. Together, they have written over 10 books with more than 4 million copies sold, and created Imago Relationship Therapy, a leading tool for helping couples bridge the gaps and deepen their connection. In addition, Harville appeared on the Oprah Winfrey television program 18 times! This week, hear them reveal how they have put Imago into practice in their own relationship - which will give you some helpful direction on making this work practical for your life and relationship as well.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


Our sponsor today is Blinkist. Blinkist is the only app that takes the best key takeaways and the need-to-know information from thousands of nonfiction books and condenses them down into just 15 minutes that you can read or listen to. Go to to start your free 7-day trial.


Visit Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix’s website to learn more about their work.

Pick up your copy of Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix’s book, Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples

FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide - perfect help for handling conflict and shifting the codependent patterns in your relationship

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Visit to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix.

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Past Episodes:

Please check out our earlier episodes with Helen and Harville:

Episode 22: Essential Skills for Conscious Relationship

and Episode 108: Creating Positive Intensity in Your Connection


Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. Here on the show, we are having conversations with the pioneers of what makes relationships work well. And today's guests are celebrating the recent re-release of their classic book, Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples. And along with celebrating that re-release, we are so excited to have them back here on Relationship Alive to take an even deeper dive into their work so that we're not going to reinvent the wheel. If you want to know more about things that we've talked about, well, we have two other episodes that you can listen to. But we are going to cover some new ground today and also, hopefully, get some personal insights from our two esteemed guests. Their names are Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix.

Neil Sattin: And like I said, they've been here on the show before, and it's... We, Chloe and I, have actually taken a workshop of theirs at Kripalu in Massachusetts. And it's just always such a treat to have you back, especially to be able to celebrate with you the re-release of your groundbreaking book, Getting the Love You Want, which has created a difference for so many people. In fact, I posed the question in my Facebook group, "Does anyone want to ask Helen and Harville anything?" And I had a couple of people who said, "Their book changed and saved my marriage. Saved my marriage." So I know you probably hear that all the time, but I just want to tell you, there are at least a couple more people for whom that's true.

Harville Hendrix: Good. Thank you.

Neil Sattin: So as per usual, you can download a transcript of today's episode by visiting That's I-M-A-G-O. And it's imago3 because imago2 and imago are other episodes, episode 22 and episode 108, where Harville and Helen have joined us previously to talk about their work. And you can always text the word "Passion" to the number 33444, and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode. And we have show guides for their previous two episodes. I think that's it for me. So Harville and Helen, thank you so much for being here with us again today on Relationship Alive.

Harville Hendrix: Thanks, Neil. We are delighted to be here with you. Thanks for having us back on.

Neil Sattin: It is...

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Yes.

Harville Hendrix: We're becoming a regular.

Neil Sattin: You are. Yes. And it's a pleasure. I couldn't think of two people I'd rather be regulars with.

Harville Hendrix: Aww.


Harville Hendrix: Thank you. How kind of you.

Neil Sattin: So I'm curious, for you, what... Let's just start by talking about when you were surveying Getting the Love You Want, which is such a classic. You were on Oprah 18 times to talk about Getting the Love You Want. What needed to be revised in the book? Why the new revision? And what were some of the main things that you felt needed to be updated, from your perspective?

Harville Hendrix: Basically, what is in the new book, as a revision and update, is a first chapter, which is a contextualizing of the book in today's cultural environment. The first chapter sort of brings us up today's... Sort of speaking to today's audience and making... And acknowledging how a relationship, culture has changed in the past 10 years or some, but certainly a lot in the past 30 years. And obviously, the thing everybody is concerned about is social media, and iPhones, and text, and what is considered to be the dissolution of connecting and as replacement with technology. And so that the audience reading this would know that we are speaking to, with some self-awareness, a new market. So that's the major thing, is to... The major first thing is the social context. And the second is that, since 19... Since, yeah, since 1988, especially, and even since it came out a new issue, but not too modified, 10 years ago, at its 20th anniversary, we have made some, I would think, two major shifts.

Harville Hendrix: One has been a clarification that connecting is the code word for Imago. Connecting is the code word for human yearning, how that connecting is the sort of... Misused everywhere by everybody now that even tech people and telephone people do sales and all that, you'll see connecting everywhere. But we posit that connecting is the nature of nature, and that we are living in an interconnecting universe of which we are participants, and that we have moved out of a universe set up by Newton in which individuals were in... Were separate and independent and isolated and in competition with each other, to a new universe in which we are not individuals and cannot live outside of relationship. So we made really clear that there's a... Quantum physics has given us a new view of what humanity is, what nature is, therefore what humanity is, and we tried to bring that into an understanding of marriage.

Harville Hendrix: The basic yearning, we think, with couples is to be connected, and to feel connected, and to know how to sustain connection. And so we brought that into consciousness and gone all the way through the book, removing the vestiges of the individual, isolated individual that was there in 1988 because that... That was the... The foreground in 1988 was the self. And now we're saying the self is a derivative of context, of ourselves conscious enough at the time that we were simply espousing what was ordinary in the culture. Although, behind what we were doing, was this un-languaged awareness of that... Of interconnectivity, but now it's languaged. And then we have some additional exercises at the end of the book. The part three is basically exercises that help people work with that. One of them is the removal... One of them is the addition of a process we call zero negativity. And Helen wants to comment about that.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Yeah. Could I please mention then...

Harville Hendrix: Please.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: In addition to what Harville has said, may I mention three things?

Harville Hendrix: Sure.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Absolutely.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: To add, we have a new definition of the self that typically... I'm sorry, a new definition of a relationship. What is a relationship, people think, "Well, Harville and I have a relationship. The relationship is Harville's and me talking to each other in our history or whatever." But our new definition of a relationship is, there's Harville and then there's me, but there's a space between us. It's a space, and it's actually that space between us that determines... How we steward that space between us that determines the quality of our relationship. It's sort of a whole new definition of what is a relationship. And second, we bring in ideas like zero negativity.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: And you all know the dialogue process that helps the space between become safe, so that when you're talking, you know who's talking, you take turns talking, and there's a structure, but also zero negativity. And then third, we used to have a process that, oh my goodness, we thought was going to be the best process for Imago therapy, which... This is way at the beginning, that if people could express their anger and not keep it locked inside, just let it out, like express... Take turns expressing your anger. And it was called the Container Exercise, where one partner would contain the anger of the other, and not only did we recommend it to couples, but Harville and I did it all the time... And...


Neil Sattin: Oh, yeah. I know where this is going.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: We had a horrible marriage. And that was before neuro... The neurosciences say that with neuroplasticity and all the brain, what you focus on is what you get. And Harville and I looked at this exercise and went, "Uh-oh. I think this wasn't the right thing for a couple to do practice being angry to each other." And this is where we tossed that out and we've put in exercises only that creates safety between the two and help focus on what our partner is doing right instead of all the things they're doing wrong, even if there are many, many, many. You just try to focus more on what your partner is doing right. And we also then had that process of what to do about the things you'd like them that you wish they did differently.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah, and that's... It was important not to say to people, "You can't have your anger." What we had to say to people is, "You can't abuse your partner with your anger. So here is a way to talk about it so that... " And it's not the Container Exercise, it's more of a behavior change request process. Here's the way to talk about it so that the need behind the anger gets expressed, rather than the anger becoming so toxic, too. Because the other thing Helen and I have discovered, it was really interesting, because psychotherapists always work with memory. But somehow, there was like, "Well, all the memories you have are in the past." And one day it dawned on us that we're making memories all the time.

Harville Hendrix: And since our partners look at us, and cannot not look at us through the veil of memories they have of us, it's really important that you decide what memories you want your partner to have of you, and then create those memories. And if so... If you have a, even a therapy exercise in which there's a screaming face, your amygdala doesn't care whether this was in therapy or not, it just remembers the screaming face. And you may have regulated it. So we've gotten tremendously focused on this space between being the domain where safety is there so that you can deal with difficult issues without hurting each other, and that way you maintain connection while you're dealing with the difference.

Harville Hendrix: I think the other last thing is that we have emphasized more now of the need for affirmation, and that affirmation has become not just a, "Thank you, that was nice," but affirmation, sort of like Martin Buber long ago in the I-Thou relationship talked about, to affirm another person in their being is the function of the I-Thou relationship. And that has impacted me again, and many years after reading Buber, that to affirm another human being... But what we've added to Buber is that, "When I affirm you in your being, I simultaneously experience my being as affirmed." That the brain is a twofer; what you do for and to another person is simultaneously experienced by you. So that I think nature set it up so you couldn't cheat, because if I hurt you, I hurt me; If I care for you, I care for me. And that it works that way, that principle of simultaneity. So we've done some stuff like that in the new book.

Neil Sattin: Wow. There's so much that we just covered, so many directions to go. In reflecting upon what you were saying, Helen, about anger and realizing its effects on if you were giving it full expression, and also what you both were talking about, in terms of how we've evolved from a very self-oriented theory of relationship to a very... A more relationship-centric orientation, a relational orientation with the space between. I'm thinking about how going through the dialogues, in particular, how that helps everyone get to the hurt that's beneath that anger, and how that creates safety to be able to identify with your partner, the wounded part of your partner, as opposed to be identifying with a part of yourself that's really angry about whatever it is they did. Or for them, identifying with their angry part instead of by really getting in touch with, "Oh, this is how I've been hurt." And from there, it's a much more generative place. It would be like if your relationship space is a garden, to borrow maybe an overused [chuckle] metaphor, if you find a little plant that has broken in places, you want to tend to it. You wouldn't just necessarily yank it out if it was what you were trying to cultivate.

Harville Hendrix: Right.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Right, right. And so what I think we try to do is stay away from anger as much as possible, because it releases cortisol. And you know who feels horrible when cortisol is in their own body, and that's the person being angry. You think you're hurting someone else, you're also hurting yourself. So we do as much... What I appreciate about Harville is he has people more and more, in a simple way, circle what my wound was from childhood, just circle it, and not necessarily re-experience it. The cathartic thing that in the '70s and '80s, psychology said to get your feelings out about your parents, what they did wrong. Like if you express it, then you'll be getting it out of your system, and you don't have to carry it locked inside anymore. Well, guess what? That theory was wrong. [chuckle] Do you remember primal therapy by...

Neil Sattin: Oh, yeah.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Yeah, okay. So you would buy therapy or books to lay down on the floor and scream, and express your anger to your parents, your pretend-parents, to get it out. Well, so we are realizing that that's really damaging for the brain and damaging for the person expressing it. Harville has ingeniously headways a couple can identify the wound by circling it on a piece of paper. This wound is then a challenge from the past that they've brought to the relationship. And then they circle what is the need that they have from their current partner now, and changing an anger and frustration into a need and making a request. So we quickly accelerate someone on that path of something that your partner did wrong, well, you gotta name it. You gotta name it and maybe say how that made you feel, but say as quickly as possible what your partner should do, so you'll never feel that way again. And so the whole emphasis is making a request of what you want instead of telling your partner of what you don't want.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah. And in the dialogue process then, what we do to operationalize that is that we'll give people the sentence stem. Which when they say what their frustration is, then Helen is very adamant about moving from frustration to, "What do you want?" And then we're giving a sentence stem as when I have that frustration that reminds me when I was little, and people then go to the hurt. And that hurt that I go to when I say, "It reminds me when in childhood my dad was not there," or, "My mother yelled at me," or whatever, that hurt then triggers in Helen, as my listening partner, empathy for me instead of judgment about me. And that revealing of the safety to reveal my hurt is created by the structure of the dialogue process, because I... By the way, the dialogue process works. We finally figured out is something that Dan Siegel said one time was, "Do you know why meditation works? Meditation works because the brain needs to know what's coming next."

Harville Hendrix: And in meditation, the brain knows you're going to breathe in and then you're going to breathe out, and there won't be any changes in that. And the brain doesn't care what you're focusing on, whether it's God, or a mantra, or your breaths, or whatever. The predictability of what's coming next helps the brain relax. And in dialogue, when I heard him say that, I thought, "Oh, so that's why dialogue works." The brain knows that when I talk to you, you're going to say, "Let me see if I got that," instead of, "What in the hell did you mean when you said that?" Or, "No, you shouldn't say that." So I can predict, when I talk to Helen, that she's going to say, "If I'm getting that," rather than, "Why are you talking about that?" So, that predictability. So in the dialogue process, you know that your partner is going to check and say, "And that reminds you in childhood of?" And I'm going to say, "Well, it reminds me, blah, blah, blah, when my mother wasn't there," and then she's going to mirror me.

Harville Hendrix: So what's happening is that she's regulating her prefrontal cortex by holding me in the dialogue process. And when she asked me, "And what did it remind you of?" and I tell her about my hurt, she is then going to experience, in the amygdala, an emotion called empathy. And so she will get empathy at the same time that I'm feeling safe with expressing my vulnerability with her. And when we shift that, we then move into curiosity rather than judgment, and when we go to curiosity, we've been deep in safety, and therefore, we can talk about vulnerability without fearing that somebody's going to say, "Well, that sucks, it's just too bad. You need to get over your childhood", which is kind of what is interesting, is what the message underneath psychoanalysis is, is that you finally have to go to adulthood and give up that fantasy that you ever... I remember my therapist now, nearly 40 years ago, when I was in analysis, saying to me, "Harville, you are never going to get what you want from Helen."


Harville Hendrix: "You must come to terms with that."


Harville Hendrix: I was like, "Oh, let me give you a book." I think we had... No, I think this was after Getting came out, that I was working with that therapist and I said, "Could I bring you a book?" [laughter] "Getting the Love You Want, in which I take opposition to your point of view." And he said, "No matter what you wrote in the book, it is still an illusion."


Harville Hendrix: What we have to say is, I got it from Helen. I didn't have to give up. You can't give up the desire, it's connected to your survival. It has to happen, but it has to happen with somebody with whom you are engaged, who will be present so that you can have your vulnerability and they stay in the curious and empathic place.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: And partner isn't going to do it unless their partner asks in a respectful way. Like Harville has brought his needs to me, explaining what it was like in childhood, and thus exactly what he needs from me, and he and I actually work on this not just once, but over time. Because I'll say, "Honey, I just still want to know exactly what you wish. If I did it perfectly... And tell me exactly what it is you need from me." And he'll say it to me kindly, instead of saying, "You never do this and you never do that." Well, that... What is it? Squelches my motivation. I get discouraged when all I hear is what I'm not doing.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah. It disempowers you.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: And so the power for a couple just to shift from judgment to curiosity and wonder to each other, and shift from being critical to asking for what they want with sender responsibility.

Neil Sattin: Right. And when you say sender responsibility, you're talking about, as the sender, the one speaking, the one making a request, taking responsibility for how you are making that request?

Helen LaKelly Hunt: How it lands.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Such as your partner sticks their fingers in their ears and goes, "La la la la la."


Helen LaKelly Hunt: Let's say... And then you could ask your partner, "Could you coach me in how I'm asking for what I want? Could you coach me so that I could ask for what I want in a way that might make it something that we could have healthy dialogues around?" And just be curious about your partner, when they do shut down, were you part of the reason they shut down?

Harville Hendrix: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and I'm thinking back to what it feels like when there is anger, or disappointment, in the room, and how disconnected. I can feel that cortisol and maybe the powerful anger response happening, but in the end, what I really want to get back to is connection with my partner. And so I love how this process creates that shift back to the ways that we open to each other. Curiosity, understanding, compassion, versus staying in that shut-down place where you might be making demands or levying your judgment of the other person.

Harville Hendrix: Yes. Right.

Neil Sattin: I appreciate, too, that you're using yourselves as examples a little bit, and that makes me curious, and you can pass on this question if you want, but I'd love to know, for you, what are the things that... If you could name something that you continually have to revisit? Because I think a lot of people have this illusion that we who are talking about relationships all the time and writing relationship books, we have perfect relationships, meaning there's never conflict, there's never negativity. None of that. So I'm wondering if you could share a little bit with what that journey is like for you, and what is the thing where you might revisit, you might find yourself revisiting over and over. "Oh, right, that's my thing that I'm working on."

Harville Hendrix: You want to go first?

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Right now, it's easier for me to share something that I always do wrong, or get feedback that I'm doing wrong. So could I start with that?

Harville Hendrix: Sure.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Because I am so great at multitasking. Oh, I am awesome at it.


Helen LaKelly Hunt: But when Harville is talking to me, that is so insulting to him. Like my great gift is making him feel invisible. And I get that, and I love that when he speaks, and especially if he's excited about something, excited positive or excited negative, my job is to stop what I'm doing right there and then, and turn around and be as excited as he is about something, or as frustrated as he is, and just be present for him as he's experiencing his feelings. And I used to try to fit that into my schedule, but I was doing important things, and he would understand if I wasn't looking at him while he was saying something important... Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And no, if he wants me to stop, "Wow, your... " What's more important, or what's more holy than getting to be present for Harville's experience of life. So over time, I've gotten clear that, "Wow, that's my number one job." So that's what...

Neil Sattin: And just I'm curious, Helen, is there something that you've done to remind yourself so that when you find yourself... Harville is sharing something with you, and you're in the middle of 20 things which you excel at, do you have a way of bringing yourself into presence in those moments?

Helen LaKelly Hunt: I do. When you came to our workshop, do you remember the video, the Still Face experiment?

Neil Sattin: I do. Yeah.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Okay. If anyone listening would look up, Google online the Still, S-T-I-L-L, Still Face experiment. A lot of psychiatrists at Harvard and psychiatry schools all around the country conducted this experiment, and Harville had picked that three-minute video to show in our workshops. And when the mother was present for their child, when the child was looking at the world, boy, was the child happy, but the moment the child... The mother had a still face that is not animated with the child, but just still, not angry, not distant, but just a still face, the child would try to get their caretaker to respond.

Neil Sattin: Engage. Yeah.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Engage. Engage and resonate with what the child was feeling. And in this little three-minute video, the child begins to go into shock that the mother has a still face and decompensates and starts screaming and yelling, even though the mom is about five inches away. The mother is right there, but it's the look in her eye that the child is missing. The mother is present but doesn't have presence. And so after watching that video for some years, I woke up to the fact that, "Oh, my goodness. Why don't I practice being the mother in the still face that is resonant face?" It's like... And it's a whole lot of fun to do that. I am having so much fun doing my best to when Harville might need me to drop everything, turn around, and just practicing presence.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah. And what's interesting, and... But ordinary, is that you can imagine, therefore, that I grew up with a mother who had eight children plus me and no husband, he had died on a one-horse farm, and she was always busy. I have no images of her paying attention to me. None.

Neil Sattin: Wow.

Harville Hendrix: She died when I was six, but I, in that six years, I do not have a single picture. She was a wonderful woman. When I talked to my oldest sister, who at the time was an adult when I was a child... She is the most wonderful woman you can imagine. She was kind, loving and caring, and you look at all my family. They had to have a pretty good mother, because nobody went crazy and did drugs, and nobody killed anybody and so forth. But I was the last, and my primal memory of her is trying to get her attention and failing. So when I walk into the room and Helen is busy at the stove, at the fireplace, doing what my mother did, but hers is on the... Usually on the phone. That memory pops in, like I'm not going to be able to get her attention. So Helen has a practice of when I walk into the room, she'll take the phone away and check and see if I want to talk to her or... Or the other thing is, on Helen's side, is that asking her, "Is now a good time to talk?" is a way of establishing her availability, and she can say no. So we've moved out of, "You gotta always respond to me when I walk into the room," to, I can ask, "Are you available for a question right now?" And she can say no, and come back to it later.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: And the key thing for me in terms of being vulnerable is, a big request I've asked is if you would coach me before presentations.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah. So it's that...

Helen LaKelly Hunt: So that's a childhood thing.

Harville Hendrix: That Helen did not grow up being empowered by the people around her to function.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: He's such a great speaker. Oh, wow. He just is so good, and I don't mind not being as good, I just want the memories of him coaching me. So that's been our thing.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And when you say that, I just... I get the feeling of what that must be like to be supported by him, to have all that attention and encouragement coming from him.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Exactly, exactly.

Harville Hendrix: Except that right now, she's so good on the stages that people... There is a line up with her at the end of the workshop, and I'm over putting away my computer and nobody's talking to me. Everyone's talking to her. [chuckle] That's how good my mentoring has been.


Harville Hendrix: Yeah, but I get that. But that was you were not empowered as a child. And so to say, "Here's how you could do that, practice projecting, clear up this concept, make eye contact when you're talking, move around," anything that makes it charismatic, because speakers who had done it on stage a long time know how to hold an audience, and you don't hold them by standing there lecturing out of your throat. You engage them. And so she is... You do that with such magnificence. Well, you saw her do that with such magnificence, so... But the thing that's important is, we have talked about the new book. I think we finally clarified that healing is a medical term, and that it applies to the body getting well of a wound, but psychic healing, memories are not healed ever, that they are always resident in the... The emotional ones in the amygdala, and the event ones in the hippocampus. They're always there and can be activated by a behavior. So that what we work on is creating a relational environment in which we don't trigger the memories. And if we do, we have a repair process, in which we'll quickly put those memories back in the background, but they're not going to go away.

Harville Hendrix: We used to think, when we were working out of the medical model for psychotherapy, which came from Freud and he was a physician, so he did what he knew how to do, that all emotions were a disease and had to be treated, and now we know that emotions are triggered by memories and that those memories will always be there. And what you wanted is... When we talk about creating new memories to replace the old memories, but when the old memory is triggered, that you move quickly in and all old memories are triggered by the absent caretaker. Whether they are missing in their bodies or missing emotionally, although they're in the room, they are not present to the child, and like that baby in the Still Face experiment, not being able to get the resonant face is terrifying. So if we... We know that all the time we have to live with that kind of conscious intention that we want a play... Our relationship to be safe enough that we don't trigger each other's painful childhood memories. And when we do, we move to repair quickly.

Neil Sattin: Can you talk for just a minute about... And I want to make sure we don't lose sight of you also offering if you have something to share about your own personal thing that you revisit in the relationship, that you've been working on, Harville. But before we do, I'm curious, how do you encourage reciprocity in a relationship? I think, particularly in processes that require a lot of generosity of really listening with intent and being present and helping someone through a hard moment and being willing to come back to the table and repair, all of these important things. There's a danger that people perceive, which is like, "Well, I'm always giving and/or I'm always willing, but my partner isn't necessarily." So I'm just wondering if you have some guidance to offer around how to encourage partners to both be able to come to the table.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah. Do you have a comment about that?

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Thank you.

Harville Hendrix: Well, I'd have to think about that because I'm thinking that I'm not associating that with us.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Well, actually... We actually did when we were in a low point.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: We created a calendar of on-duty and off-duty days where before going to bed at night, one person was in charge of making sure that they and their partner were connected before they turned out the lights, and the next day it was their partner's job to make sure they were connected. And that was something that really brought us both in charge of participating and making sure the relationship was healthy. Because in most relationships, one person might be a little bit more active doing that. And if one person is more active, the other might go, "Well, it's their job to do that," [chuckle] or withdraw. Every relationship has a turtle, as well as a hailstorm. So these on-duty... This calendar that invites a couple to co-create accountability for reciprocity is a beautiful way that, no matter what, you have to be connected before you go to bed. The other person on their on-duty day has to figure it out.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah. And I think we've talked about that some. I'd say that was a really good training process, but I don't experience now, you and me saying, "Well, I did five things that were positive and you didn't do any," that we're not in the tit-for-tat consciousness. We do have a ritual every night that, before we go to bed, we give each other three appreciations, and rather than point out three things that we did wrong in dealing with the zero negativity calendar, that we moved that out and...

Helen LaKelly Hunt: We both are really responsible for the relationship these days.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: But if someone... If it's one-sided, that's a suggestion.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah. And so that really is an amazing structure, that you have a day on which you are the one who is going to contain whatever is chaotic, and the next day you're off-duty. What we discovered, though, is we like the days on-duty better.


Helen LaKelly Hunt: It felt better to be on-duty than off-duty.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah, because you're working out of your prefrontal cortex and you're not into your reactivity. And if you do feel reactive, "I'm on duty, I can't drink."


Harville Hendrix: So you go and do the other piece, and you wind up feeling better because you have not gone into your negative emotions. And then after a while, we were both feeling better so that we kind of made that we are both on-duty every day for the quality of our relationship. And given that, we don't have a whole lot of things to clean up, and when we do, I think the thing I would say about that is we have got this repair process down so that if one of us does miss out, we just go fix it in the next five or 10 minutes.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: So that's the zero negativity process.

Harville Hendrix: That's the zero negativity process.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Which Harville could talk about for a long time. We do a better job at that, but...

Harville Hendrix: Let's see what Neil wants.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Well, I would definitely love to have you share that, but is there something, Harville, in particular, that you'd like to share about something that you've had to revisit in your relationship with Helen that's kind of your thing, that you've been working on, and maybe a struggle that is less and less of a struggle over time?

Harville Hendrix: Well, I'm thinking about that. I think that my growth edge is to listen until Helen finishes her sentences. That I interrupt her, and then that triggers her invisibility vulnerability. And to... Because my brain quickly is listening and has something to say to add to it, or an alternative, and I rationalize it by, "Well, it's a conversation, it's not a dialogue. We're playing tennis, we're not having a dialogue." But all interactions are and should be dialogical. And I still work on, as the co-creator of all of this, implementing it all the time. I would think that's... Would that fit with you? Your view of my growth edge? What else would you see as my growth edge?

Helen LaKelly Hunt: I think me finishing sentences.

Harville Hendrix: Finishing sentences, not being interrupted and deflected.


Helen LaKelly Hunt: Mm-hmm. And I said the coaching.

Harville Hendrix: And the coaching. Because I think when you were little, nobody listened to you in the household, the family, the parents.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: I didn't talk. I didn't even try.


Harville Hendrix: Well, and you didn't talk because nobody was listening. That was not cool. [chuckle] So interrupting her, but... And also appreciations, to notice what excellent things, more than just the ritual at bed time, that during the day I'm trying to grow into awareness that the way she just handled that phone call was amazing, and to say that instead of, "Well, we got another task done." That's the affirmation process, to be engaged in that. Because I grew up on the farm, and where I grew up on the farm was people didn't spend much time thanking you. It was like, "Did you milk the cow?" And then they didn't say, "Wow, what a good cow milking you did." [chuckle] It just was, "Did you do it? And did you feed the horse before you came in?"


Helen LaKelly Hunt: And all of those affirmations...

Harville Hendrix: So appreciations was not a part of that, and affirmations.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Appreciations and affirmations create safety, and that's bottomline.

Harville Hendrix: Yes, absolutely. And they then empower you, you know what you did that made a difference. And if you do something, like you did feed the cow or milked the cow real well, and nobody noticed it, then you don't know whether you did it right or not, or if you even want to do it again. But if somebody says, "Good milking. Wow, see the horse was fed. Good job." That's the kind of affirmation, appreciation, that becomes spontaneous rather than just the ritual at the end of the day.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and that reminds me, too, of John and Julie Gottman's work around having that ratio of 20:1, positive to negative, interactions in normal day-to-day life. They were just on the show talking about the importance of cultivating cherishing in their relationship as well, so...

Harville Hendrix: Yeah, I like them.

Neil Sattin: It makes sense that you'd be on the same page.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah, yeah. John and I were talking one time at his home on the island, in San Juan Islands, where he lives, we'd gone out there to visit him. And at the time, there was some kind of... We're not sure we're on the same page and so forth, but he pulled me aside and he said, "Having been here for two days and talking, so forth, I think we're basically all doing the same thing, we just phrase it differently." And I thought, "Good! That means we pass your approval."


Neil Sattin: It does feel good.

Harville Hendrix: And I love the word "cherishing", that... I love that word, "cherishing". And I think the repair process, we prefer to call it the "reconnecting process" because repair seems so mechanical, but the methodology of that, the quickness of repair as a sign of a healthy relationship is another thing they threw into the world that we have picked up and said, "That's really important," is how quickly you get this thing fixed and get back on the road.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about your approach to repair that you've brought up a few times?

Harville Hendrix: Well, yes. The zero negativity is a pledge that you make, and we know that because of the wiring of the brain to be paranoid means that to change your brain to affirmations, goes... Is by changing the evolutionary patterns so big, so that when you commit to zero negativity, you gotta blow it. And we say to people, "We're telling you a great thing to do, but we know you gotta have difficulty doing it. So let's just say that upfront. But it's okay if you blow it, if you repair it." And because when you blow it, you'll disconnect, and what we want you to do is reconnect, which we like the word "connecting". So what we... There's a range of repairs, and one is to say, "Could I just do that again? Could I send that again?" Or Helen might say, "Would you be willing to send that in a different way that doesn't sound negative to me?"

Harville Hendrix: So, the re-do process. And then a sort of parallel to that is, if I'm not clear what you want, I could say, "Will you model it for me? So I can see how you want me to look, the tone of voice you want me to have, the words that you want to say." And the agreement is that we will let our partners teach us. Then the third thing is that we discovered some people don't need to do all that, they just need an apology. "I'm really sorry that I had that tone of voice." Helen likes apologies. I like behaviors, because when I grew up, people who apologize just hit you again. So apologizing means nothing to me. But if, stop hitting me and do something different, so then I will have to ask her how something she wants. A hug? We both respond to hugs, sometimes, "Just hug me," or, "Look me in the eye." A connecting behavior of some sort may repair it quickly.

Harville Hendrix: And then if, however, the memory that was a real sensitive one, we have the option of going into a full dialogue and talking about how that negative thing I experienced from you, triggers this memory for me, so that she can know or I can know that, then get curious, can know that I need to go to empathy and to holding that. And then we have a really complicated one. If it's really difficult, I may need more than empathy. I may need an actual request for behavior change, and we call that the behavior change request process. And that means we go through a process to arrive at a behavior that I need to have from you so that I can predict my safety with you. And then Helen will agree to initiate that maybe, or if it's on my side, I will initiate that behavior, so that the repair... But that's when it's really deep.

Neil Sattin: Right. I remember, in going through that dialogue in your workshop, how nice it was... I believe you have us come up with three or four options.

Harville Hendrix: Right.

Neil Sattin: So it's not just like, "This is my request, honor it. Please honor it." But, "Here are a few options for you. And any one of these things would satisfy me, or would feel like a step in the right direction." And I feel like that's important.

Harville Hendrix: It really is important because if it's just one thing, "Here's my hurt, here's what I want," it sets up a power struggle instead of a collaboration. But if they're, "I'm hurt. Three things, any one of three things would help with that," then I get a choice about which one of those I can do, which one I will do, and which one will not stretch me at all if I did it, and so I'll pick one that's challenging because I want to grow. But if I have choices, then I can participate. But we found that if I don't give you a choice, it's going to trigger your resistance. Then even if you did something, it wouldn't matter, because the psychological energy of a generosity is not there. But if I have a choice, I can be generous; If I don't have a choice, I'd be resentful. We don't want a therapeutic process that creates resentment.

Neil Sattin: Speaking of, I'm curious about the way that Imago handles shame. I could see, for instance, you take the zero negativity pledge and one person or the other dumps something toxic into the relational space. It happens. So how would you want to handle the shame that one might feel from having done that? Or we're in the Getting the Love You Want conversation, a lot of people have shame attached to their desires and to the very thing that they want to ask for. It might bring them shame to ask for it. So I'm just wondering if you have a way of holding that?

Harville Hendrix: Well, to me, the shame is dealt with by holding the request or holding the failure, so that you... I think the reparative or the healing or the reconnecting process always is that if it's guilt that you mirror back at, so you're feeling guilty about that, so shame... So that felt shameful to you. I'm getting that, there's some more about it, so then don't shame back or guilt back. But once a person has become... Has had their... And you know those emotions are all connected to developmental processes. If you're always into guilt, you're probably not into shame, you're into... You did bad behaviors. But if you're into shame, which is an earlier developmental issue, you're into not being a good person. And so...

Harville Hendrix: But in either case, they are all created by the parent who does not hold the child's behaviors and experiences at the time. And when those are held without judgment but with curiosity, that for us is what restores connection, whether it's shame or guilt, is it's... I don't end up... Haven't been able... I know there are shame books and guilt books and all kinds of things, but as I have read the literature for the past 40-50, nearly 60 years now, underneath all of those things, there's something that repairs everything. So it's not a shame repair. And what repairs shame and guilt and anger and all of that is presence. If I can be present to you without judgment, and hold you with curiosity, something will happen inside of you around that transaction, whether it... Whatever it was, guilt or shame. And it will be mitigated by the fact that it's not repeated in our interaction.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I am so appreciative of your time and wisdom again. I just want to remind everyone that if you want to download a transcript of this episode, we've had so many valuable action items and takeaways from this conversation, you can visit That's I-M-A-G-O 3, after their Imago therapy and Imago dialogues. And I also encourage you to listen to our first two episodes together, episode 22 and episode 108, where we go into more detail about how to do dialogues in the structured way that we've been referring to today. And also, we talk a lot in episode 108 about creating lots of positive force in your relationship.

Neil Sattin: Before we go, I just... I want to mention something that feels super important to me, and it's kind of funny that we waited until the end to chat about it, but one of the most important changes that I noticed in the book, along with all of the wonderful updates to the content that you mentioned, is that now, Helen, your name is also on the cover of the book as an author. And I just want to acknowledge that you write about it beautifully in the preface, both of you, about your process of how that came to be. Do you want to give us just a quick snapshot of that now? Because I know a lot of people ask about that and why, for so long, Helen, your name wasn't on the cover when you so clearly were involved in creating this work.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Well, thanks for asking, and maybe I'll go first.

Harville Hendrix: Okay.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: I look back now and am surprised at my own disassociation of the idea of being on the cover. At the beginning, I vehemently fought against it because I had a prominent last name and was from a family that had sort of, not world recognition, but in certain industries, world recognition. [chuckle] My last name is known around the globe and in certain places, certain industries, and Harville was a sharecropper's son and both parents had passed away by the time he was six. He was the youngest and was almost sent to the orphanage. So while I saw his brilliance, I didn't think his last name... Well, I just wanted this chance to have the theory so powerfully presented in this book, I just felt like it should be his name. It was his idea to focus on this book and so much of the content was him, and I was the ideal number two for him, we both think, but I wanted his name on it.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: But I just kept... Once he became so famous, I really missed that I wasn't recognized very much at all, but I dreamed I would be on the cover, and that was Harville's idea. But from the very beginning, there was some sort of dissociation that women have that I was a part of, that I had been, and that I recently wrote a paper on all of the things I did to prepare myself as a therapist before I met Harville. I got a master's in counseling psych, went halfway through a PhD in clinical psych. I love this stuff, but I just sort of dissociated from it. And it's a tremendous, joyful, beautiful thing that Harville had the idea of including me, and that I get to be visible as his number two.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah. Well, and the reason her name is on the cover is that she is the co-creator of Imago. The first few sentences in the first year, in 1977, when we met, the conversation led to Getting the Love You Want, and Helen facilitated finding a writer and facilitated the research, all kinds of things, plus the conversation about content was there and the contribution, like Helen invented dialogue, it was her idea to do that structured process. Zero negativity came from Helen. And so I pick up a lot of things that she would say, and since I'm a systemic thinker, I then build that into the system, but... So a lot of pieces in the system... I take full credit for the structure of the system, but not for all of the limbs on the body of the system. So it was clear that we are co-creators with equal and unique contributions to it, and that Helen refused to have her name... That she was offered to have her name on in 1988, then she said no. But after a while, it began to agitate both of us that there was something wrong with this public recognition of me, part of which could be explained, because I was on the Oprah show.

Harville Hendrix: But that was also part of the problem that Helen, not being on the cover, didn't get on the Oprah show. So I'm the visible person, and she is the supportive housewife, even if she does have a famous name. I suddenly became as well-known, if not better known than her last name. So it began to just look like that. So when we got to the 30th, it occurred to me, and then I had this epiphany that it's not like a deserved thing. She deserves to be on it, or I want to be generous. It dawned on me one day that I colluded with the cultural devaluation of women, and that I'm married to one of the most powerful women in the world, who was a co-creator of a book and she's invisible around one of the things she loves the most. Helen colluded, too. She's a feminist, she is probably ranked as the second most influential feminist in America in terms of her contribution to women. But somehow, she disassociates herself from... Not from that work, but from our work.

Harville Hendrix: So it dawned on me, as we were getting ready to write the preface to the new book, that, just like an epiphany, "Wow, look at this. Can you imagine, if we colluded with the cultural trance, how could we understand everybody else's collusion with the cultural trance? No wonder it's so hard for women to get the right jobs and break through the glass ceiling, and be pastors in churches and bishops in Catholic churches, and everything where women are unequal. It's just wrong, and it needs to be righted." So we did it to cleanse our own souls and to make a statement to the culture, that gender inequity is basically a pathology. And hopefully, we have awakened from that trance and into at least a smidgen more health as a result of that. So her name is where it belongs. And another thing, it's a justice. Social justice is when equity shows up. And so this is a relational justice or partnership justice, in which we are truly partners, and she's not my helper. She's a partner, and we are equal in this project.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Well, and for me, I was known for being in the Hunt family and getting dividends. I started using dividends and I'm known as a donor, and my work in feminism is my head, but Imago is my heart and...

Harville Hendrix: Yeah.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: That's who I am at my heart. And so it's a beautiful experience, getting to have my heart seen more and being more of a partnership. So thank you for asking.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And just, for me, it was super powerful to pull the book out of the wrapper and to see both of your names there. I had a visceral experience, so...

Harville Hendrix: Are you...

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I did.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah. Great.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Harville Hendrix: Oh, we're glad. And I think, as it occurs to me, while we're talking, is you cannot really become without the resignating other. And so it's really helpful to me, and I think probably helpful to you, that people can say, "Yes, you all are equal partners. And Helen is an equal partner with you." Makes her an equal partner. There's something about the resonance of you and the public to that, that helps Helen integrate it. Otherwise, the disassociation is hard to overcome for both of us, because I was disassociated too.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And for me, this is a reminder too, for everyone who's listening, to just think about what you, in your relationship, what you are creating together, and to acknowledge that the ways that we do create things or support each other, but even in the support, it's truly a co-creation.

Harville Hendrix: Yes.

Neil Sattin: Things wouldn't be possible without... And that's the beauty of it, right? Is we get to create amazing things that wouldn't have been possible otherwise.

Harville Hendrix: And you're co-creating each other all the time, just like you create a baby together, then you co-create each other as parents, in where every interaction changes us. So we're constantly co-creating, but we don't know it, but it's so subtle. But it is the primary reality, we think. So thank you for asking.

Neil Sattin: My pleasure. And thank you both for being here and being willing to talk about the theory, the mind stuff, and the heart stuff, and to share some of your own personal journey. It's super powerful and such a treat to be able to talk to you again here for Relationship Alive.

Harville Hendrix: And for us, Neil.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Thank you.

Harville Hendrix: Thank you. We love talking to you.

Neil Sattin: My pleasure.

Harville Hendrix: We read your newsletters every time they come out.

Neil Sattin: Do you? [laughter]

Harville Hendrix: Yes.

Neil Sattin: Well, hopefully, you've been entertained lately. [laughter]

Harville Hendrix: We keep up with you. Yes.

182: Is Variety a Spice or a Vice?

Feb 27, 2019 38:05


We all share a need for variety in our lives. Without it, our lives can be tedious and boring. But sometimes, our quest for adventure and novelty can stop feeding us, and instead can actually become detrimental to our well-being, and can eat away at the fabric of our relationships. How do you know if you have a healthy amount of variety in your life? And how do you know if your pursuit of variety has become something negative? After today’s episode, you’ll be able to quickly diagnose yourself, or your partner - and know exactly how to remedy the situation, if the situation needs fixing.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


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181: Depression? What You Can Do with Michael Yapko

Feb 19, 2019 01:26:46


Is depression affecting you or someone you love? What do we know about the best ways to overcome depression? And how can we mitigate the ways that it impacts our relationships? This week, our guest is Michael D. Yapko, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, marriage and family therapist, and author of 15 books including Depression Is Contagious: How the Most Common Mood Disorder Is Spreading Around the World and How to Stop It. He is internationally recognized for his work in developing strategic, outcome-focused psychotherapies, the advanced clinical applications of hypnosis, and active, short-term non-pharmacological treatments of depression. Dr. Yapko has been a passionate advocate for redefining how we think about and treat peoples’ problems, especially the most common ones of anxiety and depression. Michael shares how he approaches treating depression and provides some steps that you can take if you’re dealing with depression yourself.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


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Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. It's come up again and again in conversations that are happening in our Facebook group and elsewhere, what do you do if you or your relationship is impacted by depression? In other words, if you're feeling depressed, what can you do to help and get better, and maybe how can you mitigate the effects that your depression is having on your relationship with your spouse or significant other, with your kids, with the other people in your life? Because depression is relational, it affects us, but it also affects how we interact in the world. And then there's also the question of what if your partner is suffering from depression, what can you do then and how can you stand the best chance of helping your partner recover from depression?

Neil Sattin: So, these are important questions because depression is affecting more and more people. And I just want to say too, I have a personal story that I'll talk about in a little bit about my own experience with depression in my life, in my family. So, this is personal and I'm prepared for a powerful conversation with today's guest. His name is Dr. Michael Yapko and he is one of the world's foremost experts on depression and its treatment, both for lay people and for therapists who are learning how to help their clients more effectively deal with depression. Among many books... I think he's written more than 10, are the books Depression Is Contagious, How The Most Common Mood Disorder Is Spreading Around The World And How To Stop It. And also, the popular book, Breaking The Patterns Of Depression, which as he just told me, is entering its 19th printing. So very popular work and very helpful in terms of ending or mitigating the effects of depression on your life. We will, as usual, have a transcript of this episode, you can grab it if you visit or you can text the word Passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript for this episode. I think that's all I have to cover for now. So Michael Yapko, thank you so much for being with us here today on Relationship Alive.

Michael Yapko: My pleasure. Thank you, Neil.

Neil Sattin: So, let's start by creating some context because I think a lot of us feel like we know what depression is and yet there are a lot of common misconceptions about what actually constitutes depression and what the causes of depression are. So, could you start us out with a little bit of background on just answering that broad question, What is depression and what do we know about what causes it, and what doesn't cause it?

Michael Yapko: Two very huge questions that I will try and break down in a reasonable way. What is depression? Depression is technically defined by the mental health profession as a mood disorder, but it is in fact much more than that. Depression's tentacles reach into every part of a person's life, from their ability to work, their ability to relate to other people, their ability to function and the depressions that people experience can range from mild to severe, they can range from short term to long term, they can be integrated into a person's life as an ongoing way of just existing. There are so many different facets to depression, that it's really difficult to just think of it in a simple, one-dimensional term. And that's one of the things to appreciate right off the bat is that each person's depression is different. How one person experiences, it can be very different than the way another person experiences it. And so that requires, of course, different considerations in the way that we deal with it, respond to it, manage it. And then as far as what causes depression, the best answer that I can give you is many things and if I were to list all of the things we would have dozens and dozens of risk factors that all contribute to and exacerbate depression.

Michael Yapko: When I first started studying depression now almost half a century ago, there were really only two risk factors that were known, gender and family history. And now all these years later we know there are many, many risk factors, but we can group these risk factors into three primary domains. Some of the risk factors are biological, that would include things like neuro-chemistry, disease processes, side effects of medications and so forth. The social factors, the kinds of relationships that people have, the culture they grow up in, the family they grow up in and the kinds of interactions that predisposed people. And then there are the psychological factors, person's individual history, the kinds of traumas that they may have been exposed to, the kinds of stressors that they have faced, coping skills that they have or have not developed, problem-solving skills that they have or have not developed. So, we look at depression in a very multi-dimensional way, the bio-psycho-social model addressing those biological, psychological and social factors that operate in different degrees, in different individuals.

Neil Sattin: It is a multi-faceted subject, and I appreciate that when you talk about it, that you're willing to pull all of these different facets in because often the treatment of depression is so one-dimensional and that's something that you talk about right at the beginning of Depression Is Contagious, which is this sense of how, in some ways, the medical model and how it's treated depression through the use of antidepressants has actually hindered people in a lot of ways from really truly being able to surpass the ways that depression is impacting them.

Michael Yapko: Yes, I think that that is one of the great disservices of the mental health profession that I'm hoping we can gradually correct. I wish we could instantly correct it, but the first new generation antidepressants came out in the late 80s. I sometimes measure time as BP and AP, before Prozac and after Prozac because with the release of Prozac everything changed. The idea was promoted really as a marketing tool that antidepressants would correct presumed biochemical, neurochemical imbalances. It's a curious thing to me that you can stop almost anybody on the street and if you ask them the questions, "So, what do you think causes depression?" How quick they are to say a shortage of serotonin or some other neurochemical anomaly. And, of course, that has never been proven and, in fact, over the recent years, it has in fact been disproven. The serotonin hypothesis is really all but dead, but the simplistic nature, the one-dimensional nature as you described it, is exactly right. The idea that somehow if you just find the right pill, everything's going to be okay. And especially given what I said earlier about the fact that we know that there are dozens and dozens of factors that contribute to depression, to think of it as only a neurochemical anomaly is really underestimating the complexity of it, which guarantees, therefore, undertreatment.

Michael Yapko: And so, it's not even that I'm against antidepressants as much as I'm extremely aware of how very limited they are in their capabilities. And when you look at all of the things that antidepressant medications cannot do, not just will not do, but cannot do. They cannot teach you better social skills and social problem-solving skills. They cannot build a support network for you. They cannot teach you coping skills or problem-solving skills. And the reality is that life is challenging. As the great American humorist, Mark Twain said, "Life is one damn thing after another," and he's right about that and there's plenty of evidence to show that the people who are better problem solvers do better than the people who don't really have much in the way of problem-solving skills.

Michael Yapko: So, part of what I'm expecting our conversation to be about is what are some of those problem-solving skills, how do we look at life in a way that decreases the vulnerability. And the reality is no one is immune. If you're capable of moods, you're capable of mood issues. And so, it really is about learning to manage and learning to stay a step ahead of what your own risk factors are. And when I use the term risk factor, I'm talking about anything that increases your vulnerability to a particular disease or condition. And so, when we start getting into what are some of these risk factors, particularly in relationships and families and cultures, there's a lot to say about that.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I definitely want to talk about the risk factors and, most assuredly, want to cover the skills. There were a couple of things though that really surprised me and I think it would be helpful to hear from you about them. One was, you mentioned that in your book that a lot of the studies that seemed to show that the effectiveness of antidepressants were actually selectively published and leaving out the studies that were showing them to be ineffective and couple that with other forms of treatment that have shown to be either as, if not more effective, and especially when you factor in whether or not someone is likely to relapse then they're way more effective than antidepressants.

Michael Yapko: Yeah, this is one of the great disappointments to me, that the pharmaceutical industry had very deliberately created this mythology about the shortage of serotonin as a vehicle for selling drugs and it worked. It sounded very scientific, it sounded very clear that depression is a disease, you take a drug to cure the disease and there you go. And even in the most prestigious medical journals, the Journal of the American Medical Association, which is arguably the world's premier medical journal, devoted an entire issue, not that many years ago to how it had been fooled itself into publishing data that were selectively provided by drug companies, how they hired what are called ghostwriters, people that have great reputations that they paid a great deal of money to sign their name to studies that were, in fact, written by the drug companies. And in one of the editorials by the editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association, who did a mea culpa expressing a lot of regret about having published erroneous data, misleading data, unwittingly, unintentionally, of course, and other journals followed suit. The Canadian Medical Association Journal, others as well, New England Journal of Medicine. Very prestigious journals that acknowledge this is a huge problem and have had to change the way that they gather data and use data in the studies that they publish.

Michael Yapko: So, when it filters down to individual doctors who are prescribers and then certainly to the consumer, the person who's taking the medication, who relies on the physician to provide an accuracy in the science and in the prescriptions, and the physicians themselves are relying on the studies that appear in the medical journals, you can see how the dominoes fall in the direction of people being misled and then forming these belief systems that make it very difficult to change people's minds. So, even right now we have to deal with the fact that the great majority of people who are receiving treatment for depression are receiving antidepressants. And even though the professional associations advocate for at least what's called a combination approach of medication plus cycle of therapy, less than half of people are being given that option, they're just being given the medication as a sole form of treatment, and it certainly isn't doing the patient a favor since that particular sole form of treatment, medications alone, also has the highest rate of relapse of any form of treatment.

Michael Yapko: So it's really an important thing for people to appreciate. There isn't a miracle drug, there isn't likely to be a miracle drug. I don't think I'm extreme in saying that when we know that so much of depression is about relationships, the social life of the person. We're probably not going to find a drug that cures depression any more than we're likely to find a drug that cures other social problems like racism or poverty. It's the wrong lens for looking at the problem. And, little by little, that viewpoint is becoming, what started out as an arguable point, is really becoming mainstream, especially as the sophistication of epigenetic research continues to advance.

Michael Yapko: Epigenetics is the field of how environmental conditions influence gene expression and it's the field of epigenetics that is highlighting how much of social atmosphere influences individual mood. So it's a really exciting time, but it really challenges many of our pre-existing beliefs about what we think depression is. So, I'm just hoping that for anybody who's listening, they come to appreciate. You can't underestimate how many facets and how many challenges there are associated with depression, and you certainly shouldn't buy into an under-treatment model of just taking a drug and hoping it goes away.

Neil Sattin: Right. What gives me so much hope, especially after having read your book, is that it really is a matter of changing the way that you interact with the world. For me, it raises the question, especially in light of this part of our conversation, what about when people suggest, "Well, we'll start you out with the antidepressants to boost your mood so that then you can take on learning the skills that are required for you to learn."

Michael Yapko: Well, things depend on individual circumstances, of course. The kinds of factors that somebody would take into account are how long this person's been depressed, how deeply depressed they've been, what their own belief system is about the merits of these drugs. The reality is that when you prescribe medication to someone there's only a 50-50 chance that the first drug you prescribe is going to have any meaningful impact. And, unfortunately, you're going to have to wait a long time for it to develop any kind of therapeutic response. So, to have to wait for the drug to take effect before you can do something with someone, I think is one of those unfortunate beliefs that really isn't grounded in science. There isn't any reason why somebody has to wait. If they're going to take medication, okay, go ahead and take medication if that's your preference and if you think that it's going to make a difference, go ahead. Just believing that it will make a difference will, for some people, actually make a difference.

Michael Yapko: This is one of the curious things about depression, it has a very high response rate to placebo-based interventions. And so, you can provide really many different types of interventions that people will respond favorably to, but for every day and for every week that you sit around waiting for the drug to work, you're really disempowering yourself, you're really saying it's the drug that's going to work not me. It's not going to be my abilities, the things that I learned, the things that I changed in my life, the ideas that I change about myself or the world or the nature of depression itself, to put yourself in that passive role is part of the problem. One of the things that I think everybody in this field would agree on, there's not many things that everybody would agree on, but I think this is one of those things that everybody would agree on, that depression is built on a foundation of passivity. If depression was a commercial product, its advertising slogan would be: Why bother? Why bother to try? Why bother to read the book that my therapist recommended? Why bother to do the exercises that my therapist gave me to do? Why bother to go see a therapist in the first place? Why bother?

Michael Yapko: And so, the last thing that any therapist wants to do, whatever their orientation happens to be, whatever their personal, professional philosophy happens to be, how important it is for people who want to get past depression to be actively engaged in the process and the idea of telling somebody, "Wait for the drug to work and you don't have to learn anything new and you don't have to do anything new in the meanwhile," to me is just the proverbial fingernails on the chalkboard. I think it's just terrible advice, and I would never encourage anyone to give that kind of advice much less follow that kind of advice.

Neil Sattin: I mentioned in the intro that this topic is one that's very personal to me, and I'm hoping I can just take a moment to fill you in on what that even means. And just so everyone knows, I've gotten permission from my mother to talk about her struggle. So when I was about 12 or 13 years old, I was actually away for a trip and while I was away, I got a phone call from my father telling me that my mother was in the hospital, and she was in the hospital because she was suicidal. And this was the first moment that I even had any inkling that depression was going to be something that impacted me directly. It was something out there, it was not something that I even knew was part of what was happening in my family.

Neil Sattin: And that moment was the beginning of a struggle that lasted years, with my mother getting all kinds of treatments. And at the time that was the primary vehicle for treating people was, "We're going to find the right drug." And when the antidepressant drugs that they tried weren't working, they decided, "Well we have these other drugs that are for your heart," or for I can't even remember, "but they're for other things, but a side effect has been elevated mood. We're going to try those drugs on you." I don't know the exact number of drugs that they tried with my mother, none of which really had any appreciable effect.

Neil Sattin: She also tried shock therapy, which again, changed her but didn't really seem to ultimately return her to being a person who was engaged in the world and not suicidal. And part of this story is that, for me, as the person who is immersed in this and observing it as well, one thing that was talked about was that my mother had experienced some pretty severe trauma when she was young and they talked about how this trauma and the ways that she had learned to cope with the trauma that had been the precursor to all of this, to the mood disorder, to her not knowing how to cope with things that were going on in her life. And to me at the time I thought, "Well if environmental things could be what set this ball rolling, then doesn't it make sense that environmental things could be the thing that actually helps get the ship back going in the right direction?"

Neil Sattin: And I had an argument even with her psychiatrist at the time about it and wrote a letter, and really tried to advocate for something more than just, "We're going to find the right drug." Ultimately, my mother who is thankfully still alive, though there was a time when we really didn't think that would be the case, now it's 30 years later from that moment when I got that phone call. And she's doing pretty well. And what ultimately helped her, was being in a program that helped her learn skills for relating and coping with emotion and all the things that I think we're going to be talking about in today's conversation. So reading your book for me, felt like a huge indication for one thing of what I had experienced. And also, I think it's so important for everyone listening who might be feeling hopeless if a drug isn't curing the situation, that there really is more to it than just finding the right pill. And in fact, in my own experience that wasn't remotely what helped my mom survive.

Michael Yapko: Yeah. Well, that is an amazing story, and I'm sorry you've had to endure it, all these years. And I'm especially sorry for your mom, but I'm really glad to hear that she's doing a lot better now.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, thank you.

Michael Yapko: Well the fact that she was run through the mill of trying all of these different drugs and even something as extreme as electroconvulsive therapy or shock therapy, this has been the model unfortunately for many years, when people went in for treatment, they were exposed to that kind of biological one-dimensional treatment. And again, it's not that the antidepressants are bad or should never be considered, it's approaching them realistically. It's understanding that the best that they can do is help with managing some of the vegetative symptoms. They can help with sleep, they can help with agitation, they can help with anxiety when they work for people. And so when you find a drug that works, and there are people that have told me many times over the years that, "This drug saved my life," and I believe them, but to point out as well that there's an upper limit as to what these medications can actually do and how important it is for people to grasp the notion, that even if they choose to go the route of taking an antidepressant medication that it shouldn't be considered enough by itself.

Michael Yapko: The importance of getting psychotherapy with somebody who really understands depression well, who can help you identify your particular vulnerabilities, your particular risk factors, because the things that affect you don't affect other people, things that bother you that don't buy their other people, things that bother other people that don't bother you. And that's the point is, as you learn yourself, as you really discover who you are and co-create who you are, to have that deeper insight working for you of, "Here's the kind of person I am." It means that I can take this kind of job, and thrive, but I can't take that kind of job because I'll wither. I can be around these kinds of people and thrive, but I can't be around those kinds of people because all wither. And it's really up to you as an individual to learn your risk factors and learn how to manage yourself. And I think that's one of the other misconceptions that I would want to speak to, the notion of curing depression. I don't really know of any depression expert who would talk about curing it. You learn to manage it, in the same way, that you learn to manage other parts of your life. You don't discipline your child once and now you're done doing the parenting thing.

Michael Yapko: You don't make a bank deposit once and now you're done with banking, you don't exercise once and now you're done with the exercise thing. These are things that you have to manage on an ongoing basis and mood falls in that same category of having to manage it constantly and being aware of what your vulnerabilities are and which situations to avoid or to minimize contact with. And which kinds of things to seek out that provide you with the kind of balance and the kind of good experiences that lift your mood and make you feel better about yourself.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, one thing that I loved about your book, Depression Is Contagious, is the way that it laid out specific skills that you can develop. And even, I'm not someone... I don't feel like I struggle with depression but as I was reading through, I was like, "Oh yeah, that would be a great skill [chuckle] to actually work on in my life." And what I like is that by doing something that's as practical as developing a new habit or learning how to be discerning in terms of the type of people that you let into your life or how you set boundaries with people, and we're going to get more into this, that these are things that you practice that become part of the fabric of how you act, and because you're doing that, you're weaving your own web of support that helps you manage anything that could lead you down the road of being depressed.

Michael Yapko: I think that's true, and I think the starting place is if you understand, truly understand that your views, your perspectives, your way of looking at life is arbitrary. Other people look at it differently. And that really for me was the starting point when I first started researching and studying depression decades ago. Yeah, I started with an interest in the people who faced traumas, the people who faced adversities, the people who probably should have been depressed, but they weren't and I wanted to know why not. What were the skill sets, what were the mindsets that people had who managed adversities and traumas well, without sinking into despair, without sinking into depression? And then it became the challenge, of, can I identify what those skills are, and then can I make them learnable for other people? So it's really not a surprise if you knew my history, of studying depression and my orientation towards it, why I would write books that emphasize the skills and help people identify these are valuable skills to have. And if you don't have these skills, you're much more vulnerable to the kinds of situations that arise where the absence of that skill puts you at greater risk.

Michael Yapko: So just as a simple example, you brought up the question of how you decide who to let into your life. That is a very complicated skill set, and it speaks to the question of how do you assess people. How do you determine someone's nature? How do you determine someone's value system? How do you know whether it's going to be a good fit? And for many people, they're so insecure about themselves and they're wondering, "Am I okay? Am I okay? Am I okay?" it never occurs to them to ask the question, "Is this other person okay?" And they end up getting into relationships that are hurtful and damaging and even outright destructive and abusive at the extreme. And when I ask people like that who are in those kinds of relationships, how do you decide who you're going to bring into your life? They look at me quizzically and ask, "Decide?" as if they're not an active agent in the process.

Michael Yapko: And that passivity shows up, that I referred to earlier, that passivity shows up in so many different ways. And this is one of the primary ways in the relationship domain, that a person doesn't realize that you have to shape relationships actively, that even the dating process if, if you asked me, "What is the purpose of dating?" I can say it with just a mild degree of being facetious. I think the purpose of dating is to find out, is this person trainable? And can you provide limits to this person and have somebody who actually respects those limits? That's what I mean, and vice versa. But the reality is that by the time somebody starts dating which these days is around age four, by the time people... That's kind of a joke.


Neil Sattin: I was wondering, I was like, "Who studied that? That seems really... "

Michael Yapko: I'm joking, but people start dating at a much younger age, but by the time you start dating you already have an idea about relationships, you already have an idea about love, you already have an idea about sexuality, you already have an idea about these things and if your ideas are naive or misinformed you bring that mindset to relationships and there's a very good chance then that you're going to build relationships that aren't particularly healthy and productive and you'll pay the price in terms of how it feels to be in that relationship and how it makes you feel about yourself. So that's one of the primary pathways into depression when relationships go bad and when relationships start off badly.

Michael Yapko: And for a lot of people, they meet somebody and they fall in lust, and everything is really great for about three weeks, and then they start to discover who this person is or they start to discover things in themselves relative to this person, and then the things start going downhill pretty quickly, and then the whole thing is over in a matter of a couple of months. And when you have people who go through that same cycle repetitively, eventually a lot of people just give up. They think that love's not for them or their relationships just aren't in the cards for them, and without ever realizing that's an incorrect conclusion. But you might want to take a look at the strategy that you have for how you decide who to date, how you decide what to reveal about yourself, how you deal with the inevitable differences between you, how you evaluate this person's way of relating to you. So there are a lot of things that go into it.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, the skills that you talk about in Depression Is Contagious, as I was reading through them, I was like, well each of these skills, it should surprise no one. Not only are they good for building how you relate in the world, in general, but they're all really important powerful skills for being in a committed long-term relationship. And I like your emphasis on trainable when I heard that. I appreciate your drawing the distinction of how does someone respond to limits that you set and how do they set limits for you? And I think those are really important distinctions to make. I was also thinking about it just in terms of how we are imperfect beings who enter into relationship and wondering like, "How well do I, as a partner and does my beloved, how well do we respond to the training that's required to actually get better at this?" Because so few people enter it being any good at it.

Michael Yapko: Sure, the basic social psychology is that we get attracted to people who are like us, people that we view as having similar beliefs, similar values, and that's great, but what keeps people together is how they deal with the inevitable differences, and that's where the training part comes in. What happens when I want to spend money on things that you don't value? What happens when I want to have friendships with people that you don't particularly like? What happens when I want to spend time on things that you consider trivial or frivolous? And it's in those moments that you're going to discover whether this person can be accepting of the inevitable differences, tolerant of the differences, respectful of the differences or whether they're going to use it as the basis for a constant barrage of criticism that makes you feel less than, make you feel bad about yourself. And therein lies, if you don't have an acceptance of yourself, if you don't believe for yourself that this for you is a reasonable use of your time and your money, and your energy and all those kinds of things, then you can easily feel belittled and victimized. And if we talk about the single greatest risk factor for depression, it's victimization. Victimization of any kind.

Michael Yapko: And it's why when you were telling the story about your mother when she was exposed to trauma early in her life, that kind of history of victimization is a huge risk factor. And some people learn earlier than others how to get past that sense of being a victim of life or a victim of other people, and get back on track, and other people end up defining themselves as a victim forevermore. And the reality is that nobody, but nobody overcomes depression by declaring themselves a victim. Now that's not to minimize how traumatic a life experience can be, but it isn't until people come to terms with it and say some variation of, "I'm not going to let that trauma define me. I'm not going to let my history define me." And it's one of the most important messages that I'm giving people all the time. The message is in plain language, "You are more than your history," and to discover what more you become the challenge. But when somebody adopts the perspective, "I am my history," and this is one of the things that I actually chide therapists about, because of how readily some therapists will unintentionally contribute to that by saying to the person, "You are a trauma survivor, you're a survivor," and while on one level that sounds very empowering, on another level, it says that you can define yourself by your history.

Michael Yapko: And I don't want to say that to anybody. I want to make sure the message comes across to every person I work with. You're more than your history, that whatever has happened to you... Whatever has happened to you, yes, it needs attention, yes, it needs the opportunity to vent, yes, it needs the opportunity to explore its impact on your life and all the value of what good therapy can do in helping you come to terms with it, but also at some point, sooner rather than later, someone's going to have to be able to say that, "Despite this happening to me, I want to move forward, I want to bring positive people into my life, I want to make better choices for myself, I want to make choices that aren't based on my identity as a victim, I want to make my choices based on the kinds of things that I want happening in my life, eventually, gradually."

Neil Sattin: So let's cover maybe some of the top risk factors, just so people can have more of a sense of what they are. And also a question about victimization, because I think so many people might have trouble figuring out or reluctance to identify whether they are being victimized or seeing themselves as a victim. I'm thinking of someone I worked with in particular who is like, "I don't think I'm a victim, I just think other people are to blame for everything that's wrong with me." So I'm wondering if there's a way that we can help someone just get that sense of whether they are adopting more of like a victim mindset in ways that aren't about the word "victim", but are about ways that they might be interacting with the world that would suggest, that sort of thing.

Michael Yapko: Okay, well, I talk about victimization, and what most people do, unfortunately, is they instantly assume that what I'm talking about victimization I'm talking about the things that other people do to you, and that's only part of the story. There is no doubt that there are bad people out there, people who are willing to hurt you to get what they want, people who are willing to abuse you, to get what they want, people who really don't care how you feel; they just want what they want. There are people like that out there. And there are also people out there who are absolutely wonderful and that becomes your job to determine who's who. But the other part of the victimization story is how people victimize themselves, and in fact, that's more the common victimization. People are victims of their own beliefs, people are victims of their own attitudes, that when somebody, for example, defines themselves as a perfectionist they're instantly setting themselves up to be a victim of their own inevitable imperfections since nobody's perfect.

Michael Yapko: And when you're a perfectionist, while you can justify it to yourself by saying, "Well, I just have very high standards," that's nice; the problem is that what victimization's evolved from perfectionism it means you're creating a toxic internal environment where no matter what you do, it's not good enough, so you're always criticizing yourself, you're always feeling less than, that even when people compliment you, and praise you-you dismiss it as they really don't know what they're talking about, or, "Gee, I guess I fooled them," and that kind of victimization. So to me, one of the most important skills somebody can develop is the ability to step outside your own thinking long enough to evaluate whether what you're thinking or the way that you're looking at things, is reasonable, whether it's accurate. The simplest way I can say it is a lot of what depression is about is that people think things and then they make the mistake of actually believing themselves, and it's why it's so important that people learn how to be critical thinkers, they learn how to gather information and use information.

Michael Yapko: But when you say, "Everybody else is to blame. I'm not the victim," you're missing the fact that you are a participant in these interactions. If you're interacting with another human being, then by definition, you are 50% of that interaction, and to act as if you have no contribution to it, then to blame the other person for whatever happens is if you play no role in what happens, is misguided, to say the least. It is leading yourself astray, in terms of the quality of your own thinking. And so the last thing that we want to do is think that "All of these things just happen to me." It's a really difficult thing to be able to discern what are you responsible for and what are you not responsible for, to discern what you are in fact helpless to change and what you're simply assuming you're helpless to change.

Michael Yapko: There are times when somebody is genuinely helpless. There's nothing that you can do, there's nothing I can do about the government shutdown that's currently going on as we record this right now. There's nothing I can say that's going to make a difference. I am in fact helpless to change the shutdown. How I view it, what I tell myself about it, how I gauge its significance in my life, all of those things are negotiable, all of those things are malleable. I'm not helpless in that regard. And so the importance of people recognizing that they have decisions that they can make, and this is one of the most telling models of depression, depression like any human problem can be viewed in many, many different ways.

Michael Yapko: We can look at it through the lens of biology, we can look at it through the lens of psychology, we can look at it through the lens of sociology, but the important thing about viewing depression as something that is malleable, not fixed, and I think this is the difficulty in dealing with people we love who are depressed, who have given up, who believe that it can't change. And that's really the first challenge is if you really grasp the notion that your ideas can't be trusted, and it's not that you're wrong, you might be in the way that you view things, you might be misinformed, you might believe something that really isn't true and the evidence is contrary, and that's really the challenge then of, I could say for myself, having been in this field now for so many years, how many times as a "depression expert" have I had to redefine my ideas about depression over the years, how many times if I had to change my ideas based on new evidence and new research.

Michael Yapko: But that requires flexibility in thinking, and very often depressed people are not known for their flexibility in thinking. They manifest what is called cognitive rigidity where they say, in essence, "That's the way it is and there's nothing I can do about it." And that's the hardest part about being in a relationship with someone who's depressed, who manifests that kind of cognitive rigidity or other forms of rigidity like social rigidity or rigidity of self-definition or behavioral rigidities, those kinds of things. So the biggest risk factor: Believing yourself and the idea of going out of your way, going out of your way to find out, "Here's what I believe. Is that really true? Here's what I think other people are thinking. How can I find out if that's really true? Here's what I think would be the perfect thing, in everybody else's eyes. Well, how do we find out whether that's really true or not?"

Michael Yapko: And it's that ability to go outside yourself and to use other people as sources of information, that if you happen to be depressed and you're in a relationship with someone who isn't, think about how much you could learn from that person about how they cope with adversities without getting depressed. What are they doing differently than you? How are they looking at it differently than you? And when you appreciate that viewpoints can be arbitrary, that somebody else can see it entirely differently, that's the challenge is, "How can I move in the direction of seeing it from another angle? How can I experiment with my viewpoint to find out whether that's really true?"

Michael Yapko: There's a lot of times when I'm having people go out as a homework assignment in my therapies, to go out into the world and conduct surveys. Here's what you think. Let's find out if that's really how other people see it. Here's what you think you're hopeless or helpless to change. Let's see whether other people see it the same way and start to loosen up those ideas that keep you imprisoned, that lead you to be a victim of your own thinking or your own reactions to things. So there's a lot there, but the other risk factors, is there was the question we started with, what are some of the primary risk factors?

Michael Yapko: One primary risk factor is family history. The child of a depressed parent is anywhere from three to six times more likely to become depressed than the child of a non-depressed parent. Just having a depressed parent represents a significant risk factor. And to be more specific about it. What represents the risk is what's called the explanatory style. Every time a two-year-old asks you, "Why, Daddy? Why, Mommy?" and two-year-olds do that roughly 1000 times per day, every answer you give models what's called explanatory style, a style that you have that's quite unconscious for how you explain why things are the way they are, or how you explain how things work. And it's through that explanation and through modeling that children learn the same qualities of explanations, or what is more clinically called attributions, as their parents.

Michael Yapko: So, it's really no surprise how when you hit your teenage rebellion years when you're 15 years old and you're saying, "I don't want to be like my mom, I don't want to be like my dad, I don't want to be like my mom, I don't want to be like my dad." And then you hit 38 and you go, "Damn, just like my mom and dad." And the reality is, how could it be any other way? They're the people who shaped your way of looking at things to a significant degree. And so that quality of parenting and modeling and the role of explanatory style is huge, and it's also through them that you learn coping skills for how to deal with stressors, that if every time your mom was depressed, she'd take drugs or every time your dad was depressed or stressed, he'd get drunk, you're not going to learn really good coping skills or good problem-solving skills.

Michael Yapko: And then, another factor, and then I'll stop lecturing away here. But another huge factor is the quality of expectation. What do you expect to happen, how do you view the future? The future hasn't happened yet. So it has been said that there are two kinds of mystics in the world: The optimistics and the pessimistics, and they represent two very different viewpoints about the open-ended future. And we have lots of evidence at this point, that it's not just six of one or half a dozen of the other. There are measurable benefits to optimism. Optimists suffer fewer mood problems, optimists suffer fewer health problems, optimists live longer, optimists recover faster from surgeries with fewer post-surgical infections. Optimism has all kinds of benefits.

Michael Yapko: And to me, it's such an important point to make that since the future is wide open, I can't do anything to change the past, but the future hasn't happened yet. And there is a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln that I absolutely love. And the quote is, "The best way to predict the future is to create it." And I spend a great deal of therapy time helping depressed people create better futures.

Neil Sattin: Wow. Okay, so many things occurring to me, and directions I'd like to go and I'm aware of our time, so I want to make sure, that we stay reasonably focused here. Alright, I'm curious about... Here are a couple of thoughts that are weaving in. One is if part of the problem of being depressed, is this feeling that "Well, this is just the way I am," and I'm willing to go out and I love this idea of actually taking surveys of people, and I could see that as a way to engage random people, right? It's just like, "What do you think about... Do you think, blah, blah?" and test out your ideas about what's true with other random people. But what is the process of change like for changing your beliefs from, "Well, that's just who I am," to actually being able to experience your own malleability, your own flexibility, and to get to a place where suddenly you realize, "Well, that isn't just who I am. I'm not just a victim of the fact that my mother was depressed," let's say, or whatever it is? That that, in fact, even though I have this risk factor or anything that might be a risk factor, that I'm free to change, I'm free to actually learn how to experience seeing the world and experiencing the world in a totally different way. What does that arc look like for people to feel like they can own it versus just, "I'll try that on, but that still doesn't feel like me"?

Michael Yapko: Well, of course, we're speaking in very general terms now. And for people that are depressed, that's actually dangerous. Here's another risk factor, it's what's called the global cognitive style. In plain language, it's moreover, general thinking. So for example, someone's boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with them and then they say, "I'll never date again, or I'll never let myself be vulnerable again, that's a manifestation of global thinking. And so really the first step is when you say something like, "Well, that's just the way I am," the starting point is, let's get much more specific. It's not a total overhaul. There are a lot of things about you, no matter who you are, that are good things, things that don't need to change.

Michael Yapko: The question is what happens when you brush up against a belief system that limits you? What happens when you brush up against a viewpoint that victimizes you or holds you in place? That becomes the moment where the question arises. Is this fixed or is it malleable? How can I find out? It may feel fixed, it may feel unchangeable but is it really true? And by first asking that question, is there some way to examine whether this is really as fixed as I believe it is, that's what then opens up.

Michael Yapko: There's the initial first step of being curious. Socrates said, "Curiosity is the beginning of wisdom," and that is so true that unless you're willing to examine, unless you're willing to question yourself instead of just passively giving up and saying, "Well that's the way that I am." And then to be able to look at other people, you don't have to love everybody, or find something wonderful and everybody and be really Pollyannaish about it, but clearly even the people that you don't particularly care for the people you don't particularly necessarily respect are still good at doing something. What are they good at doing that, what can you learn from them? I've spent 48 years studying people who are good at things to learn how they do what they do. I'm the person who just somebody in the grocery store who's pushing their kid around in a cart and their kid throws a tantrum because he wants cookies, and this parent handles that kid really well. I feel compelled to go up to that person and say, "Wow I really love the way you just handled your kid's tantrum and can I ask you a few questions.

Michael Yapko: And learn something from what are they thinking, what are they focusing on? How do they endure the tantrum in order to teach this kid a lesson that you can't just demand cookies and expect to get them every time we go shopping? And really learning from the people around and viewing other people as potential mentors. The value of self-help materials, the value of going into therapy. When you hit the wall, metaphorically speaking, when you reach a point where you just don't know what to do, that doesn't mean there's nothing to be done, it means you don't know what to do. Go talk to somebody who does. That's what the value is of another perspective, and that's where you have the chance to explore other ideas and other possibilities to start to redefine yourself.

Michael Yapko: Literally, everybody who has ever recovered from depression, their initial belief was, "I'm going to be stuck feeling this way for the rest of my life." And then they did things, they went to therapy, they experimented with new behaviors, they learned about depression, to discover that it wasn't what they thought it was. They learned to recognize the signs and symptoms, they learned how to experiment with new ideas and possibilities and perceptions, and they invested themselves in redefining themselves so that they would no longer say, "Well, that's just the way I am." So that's really what the art looks like, is starting with curiosity and not necessarily believing things are going to change but being curious that if they were going to change, how would that happen? That if my life was going to move in a different direction if I was going to reach this goal, how would I define it? But here's where the thinking processes get in the way when I talk about global thinking. So often the great, great majority of the time, people come into therapy and they know what they want, they just don't know how to get there.

Michael Yapko: And I view the therapist as a bridge builder. Here's what I can do to help build a bridge that helps you get from where you are to where you want to go. But when I ask people, "Okay, if this is your goal, what are the steps to get to it?" They have no idea. And that's really an important thing to appreciate, it's not that they can't reach the goal, it's that they don't know what the steps are, it's too global, for them. It's too poorly defined. Honestly, I wish I had a dollar for every time a client said to me, "Well, all I want is to be happy. Is that too much to ask?" Well, can you get any more global than that?


Michael Yapko: And then when I ask somebody, "Okay, so what do you think it takes to be happy?" They look at me like, "What's wrong with you, you don't know what happy is?" Well, of course, I know what happy is, for me, but I don't know what it is for you. And then when I ask the person to identify what are the steps to accomplish this, that's when they discover they have no idea.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Michael Yapko: And so it's not that they're pathological, it's not that they're neurochemically defective, it's not that they're a genetic mutant, it's that they don't know. And that's my point when you don't know when you know what you want, but you have no idea how to get there, talk to somebody who does, that's what the value is of somebody who really understands what it takes to get from here to there.

Neil Sattin: Great. Michael, just a quick meta moment. Are you good to go another 15 minutes?

Michael Yapko: Yeah, go ahead.

Neil Sattin: Okay, great, so this might be a great time to mention, because it's clear that you're super skilled with working with people who are depressed, and I know that you do a lot to bring that skill set to other therapists. So maybe you could just talk for a moment about the kinds of trainings that you do. I know you do occasionally some things for just the regular general public, but the bulk of your work is actually helping therapists learn how to deal with these problems more effectively.

Michael Yapko: Yes. I've authored 15 books, and most of those are books for the profession, the other mental health professionals. And much of my professional life is devoted to training other professionals around the world. For the last 30 odd years I've averaged being home, only 100 days a year because I'm doing clinical trainings everywhere else. I'm on a plane every week. And so, the trainings that I do are primarily for mental health professionals. They can easily go to my website, and check out my teaching schedule to see when I'm in an area that's close to where they are, and what people can expect to learn are very practical strategies for helping people move through their problems and get to the other side where they feel like they're not just feeling better, but doing better.

Neil Sattin: Awesome.

Michael Yapko: I'm making a very important distinction there. It doesn't take much really for people to feel better, but it does take a lot for them to actually be better. And by that, I mean to come to terms with the risk factors and reduce those risk factors so that they can move through life, far less vulnerable, far more skilled and managing their own moods.

Neil Sattin: And your website has a wealth of information for everyone, so I definitely suggest that you listening, go check it out, you'll see where Michael is teaching around the world. There are resources available on the website as well. Videos, he's done etcetera. So definitely check out his website.

Neil Sattin: Just as a quick note, when you were talking about global thinking, I was just reminded that I wanted to tell everyone that we have had David Burns on the show to talk about cognitive distortions, which is, your knowledge of that is a great way to recognize ways that your thinking may not be entirely accurate, that what you think may not be true. So, that's episode 133, if you are interested in listening to that.

Michael Yapko: David is a wonderful speaker and he's very, very knowledgeable, and he's somebody I've known for a long time. And in fact when people visit my website, one of the videos, it's posted there, is an interview that I did with David talking about his history as a drug researcher and why he left the drug field to move into the realm of providing psychotherapy to people. So that's a good recommendation on your part.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, interesting. I had no idea about that part of his history as well. So, I'll definitely check that out. So, let's get back into a couple of important things. One is, I want to ensure that we give our listeners who are in a relationship with someone who's depressed, a certain sense of what they can do. And I know you talk about how valuable going into couples therapy can be for actually helping stimulate the health and well-being of the depressed person as well as the relationship and that seems to weave in with me. All these skills are interwoven, I think, but I'm thinking in particular about the tendency to ruminate and questions about... You've brought up seeking help or asking other people for what they know about how to achieve certain results or dispositions. And I think that's another thing where, if you're depressed, you might tend to ruminate, where you're just kind of obsessively thinking about things and at the same time not know how to reach out for help without feeling like you're burdening other people, and thus feeding into the way that your social network reinforces your depression. And then of course, if you're in a relationship, there's your loved one and there's that dynamic.

Neil Sattin: So that's how I tied all those three things together in my mind, and I'm hoping that just kind of giving those quick brush strokes gives you something to work with here because I feel like those are all related and I'm hoping that we can shift people into seeing like, "This is how you avoid making inappropriate requests of people for support, and if you are a person in a depressed person's life, this is how you can show up in a way that's most likely to be helpful."

Michael Yapko: Well, you are perceptive in your statement about all of these things being interwoven because they are as well as many other variables as well. And you mentioned rumination. Rumination is a coping style, where the person does spin it around and spin it around and spin it around over and over and over again. And the interesting thing about rumination is if you ask people who are prone to rumination, do they think they're doing something, they would answer, yes, they think the rumination is in fact problem-solving. They don't realize that it's just pointless obsessing.

Michael Yapko: And if there is any cure for rumination, it's action. Why I keep emphasizing taking positive action over and over and over again, "I got another facet to, of how it corrects for ruminative thinking and when somebody is in that position to stop the rumination and ask themselves, "Okay, I'm doing this analyzing, what does it mean I should actually do?" If I'm ruminating about, "Did I offend that person? Did I offend that person? I wonder if I offended that person, maybe I offended that person, God, I hope I didn't offend that person." How about if instead of spinning all that around you go ask, "Did I offend you? And if so, I'm sorry," and find out. And that's what I mean by taking action. But the other thing that you're raising is about boundaries in the relationship. How do I keep my depression as best I can from infecting the relationship?

Michael Yapko: And there are so many different ways that depression can end up impacting the relationship. How many couples I

180: Are You Truly Committed?

Feb 13, 2019 52:23


Are you truly committed to your relationship, or is it possible that you’re only partly committed? How would you know? Or, perhaps you know that you have a fear of commitment - but you’re not sure why? In this week’s episode we’re going to tackle the ways that your commitment (or lack thereof) could be impacting you in your relationship. You’ll learn two important questions that can help you let go of your fears, and discover how your world might transform when you bring yourself into full alignment with your commitment. In last week’s conversation with Julie and John Gottman, we talked about just how important commitment is to the success of your relationship - and in this episode you’ll get a chance to transform your own inner relationship and unleash the power of fully committing to your partner (or anything that you want to be committed to).

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


Along with our amazing listener supporters (you know who you are – thank you!), this week’s episode is being sponsored by two amazing companies.

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179: Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love with Julie and John Gottman

Feb 5, 2019 01:01:54


What if you could have eight powerful dates that could totally transform the most important aspects of your relationship with your partner? Whether you’re in a new relationship and trying to figure out if someone’s right for you, or have been with your partner for decades and trying to figure out if your partner is STILL right for you, today’s conversation will help jump-start your curiosity and lead you into deep connection with your partner. This week, our guests are John & Julie Gottman, the founders of The Gottman Institute. They are the co-authors, along with Doug Abrams and Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams, of the new book "Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love". World-renowned researchers and clinical psychologists, Drs. John and Julie Gottman have conducted 40 years of breakthrough research with thousands of couples. They have published over 200 academic journal articles and written 46 books that have sold over a million copies in more than a dozen languages.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


Along with our amazing listener supporters (you know who you are – thank you!), this week’s episode is being sponsored by 2 amazing companies.

This week’s episode is sponsored by Blinkist. Blinkist is the only app that takes the best key takeaways and the need-to-know information from thousands of nonfiction books and condenses them down into just 15 minutes that you can read or listen to. Go to to start your free 7-day trial.

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Neil Sattin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of 'Relationship Alive'. This is your host, Neil Sattin. One of the most important things that you can do for your relationship is something that we've talked about occasionally here on the show, which is to have a date night with your partner, to have something regular that's on the calendar, that's about connecting, and honoring your relationship. And yet, there's more to it potentially than that. Certainly, there's something good for just the regularity and the dedication, but what if you want to actually enhance your connection, enhance your understanding of your partner, and have a series of dates that actually leads you to someplace deeper, someplace more connected, and someplace that really gives you something to offer each other in terms of how you share your futures together. So, it's not just more of the same, but it's a springboard to something even more rich in your connection.

Neil Sattin: In order to find out more, we have the pleasure today of being joined by Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, and also Dr. John Gottman, who are the co-authors, along with Doug Abrams and Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams, of the new book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. They are here today to talk about this book and explore exactly why it's so important to come together with your partner with some intention to understand each other more deeply, and not just for the purpose of bringing out the ways that you're the same, but in particular, coming to understand your differences. And we're going to get more into that in a moment. As usual, we will have a detailed transcript of this episode. In order to download it, you can visit, that's Gottman and the number 4. And you can also just text the word "Passion" to the number 33444, and follow the instructions, and that will also get you to a page where you can download the transcript for this week's episode with the Gottmans. So I think that's a good enough start. Without further ado, John and Julie Gottman, thank you so much for joining me today here on 'Relationship Alive'.

John Gottman: Thank you, Neil.

Julie Gottman: Thanks, Neil. It's great to be here.

Neil Sattin: And we were chatting briefly before we got started. Julie, it's especially a pleasure to have you here. We've gotten to listen to John ramble on here and there, but it's nice to have you both here together. And I'm looking forward to hearing more about your connection, and I know that my audience is really excited to learn from the two of you together.

Julie Gottman: Oh, thanks so much, Neil. That's really kind of you.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. So, let's start with maybe a softball question, which is, where was this book born from, the "Eight Dates", which each cover such an important area of relationship, and a way to steer into knowing your partner more deeply?

Julie Gottman: Well, initially, what happened is that we were privileged to be part of a think tank about relationships, and how to really support relationships nationwide. And we met our friends, Doug and Dr. Rachel Abrams at this think tank. And together, we were talking about how can we really help to deepen connection with couples through a book that would really give people a fun way to connect with one another, give them different types of dates, different kinds of opportunities to really get to know each other better, whether at the beginning of a relationship, or all the way towards the end of a relationship in age, any way we can enhance their connection, deepen their connection, so that people really keep up with who the other person is, how they're changing, how they're evolving over time. And so, the four of us together sat and talked for days on end, recording everything, including our own personal dating experience, which was kind of hilarious, especially before we met each other. And really sharing stories, as well as, what kind of dates would particularly be great for relationships. And then we decided to do some research about it. So we crafted 12 dates and recruited 300 people...

John Gottman: 300 couples.

Julie Gottman: 300 couples.

John Gottman: Yeah.

Julie Gottman: Thanks love, he's always accurate with the numbers. To take these dates and see what they thought about the dates, to really experience them. And then we recorded their conversations, the dates that they had, and we learned that out of the 12, several of them were complete duds, they were terrible, people were completely bored, they ended the conversation after two and a half minutes, and then they went to the movies. But there were eight dates that, in particular, people really loved, and we created the book from those.

Neil Sattin: Great, great. Yeah, and we're going to get into the stellar dates in a minute, but I'm curious, do you remember what any of those duds were?

John Gottman: We had one date that was just about work, and how people felt about work, and that was pretty boring.

Neil Sattin: Right.

John Gottman: We had to really re-shape that date and change it. And by the way, we had... 37% of the couples of the 300 couples were brand new relationships, and so the dates were really very important for people in very new relationships to find out who they were dating and see if that relationship had any potential. But the overwhelming majority were couples who've been in relationships for some time, and they found it really did enhance the quality of their intimacy.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, what I really love about this book, among many things, was that it feels like, in many respects, it's a crash course in curiosity. And so, whether you're in the initial stages of a relationship where you can kind of throw curiosity to the wind, it can sometimes feel like, you're on that dopamine-fueled high of just enjoying everything about your partner, or if you're 20 years into a relationship and you feel like you just know everything there is to know about your partner. I love the way that this book gives people a structure to actually support deeper questions, and to discover how there may be these places where they actually don't know each other, in the case of a long-term relationship. Or yeah, I love that model for new people who are getting to know each other, to really have an opportunity to flesh things out before they're deep, deep down the rabbit hole.

John Gottman: Right.

Julie Gottman: Yeah. You know, when you think about some of your earliest dates, oftentimes they are so awkward. Everybody's on your best behavior, you've spent maybe six weeks planning what you're going to wear, and you meet each other, you're nervous, you're awkward, you're anxious, and that can last for a while, several dates in perhaps. So, people aren't quite sure how to proceed in getting to know each other, and what aspects should they get to know about in terms of this individual when they're considering the possibility of having a long-term relationship. So, what we really wanted to do was to help people with clear ideas about what fun things they could do in the setting of the date, and then give them, again, these very particular questions to discuss together. And it's not an interrogation, we don't have the big shining light in the parking space as they were answering these questions. Instead, it's really people discussing them together and sharing at a deeper level what their values are, what their history is, what their needs are a bit. Nothing that makes them over the top vulnerable, but something more about where they really live inside, as opposed to the more superficial aspects that people tend to focus on in the beginning.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I'm... And I noticed that you started... Like, date number one is with trust and commitment.

John Gottman: Right.

Neil Sattin: And obviously this is an important topic in a long-term relationship, and it's one that I thought was curious, it wasn't... There wasn't much of a warm-up there. It's like, here we are talking about these deep things, and particularly for a long-term couple, they're probably at a place, I would guess, where there have been a lot of assumptions about trust and commitment, there have potentially been betrayals of some sort, hopefully just minor ones. But I'm curious if you can set the stage for that conversation in a way that really helps keep people safe as they have the trust and commitment conversation?

Julie Gottman: God, that's a wonderful question, Neil. Well, first of all, what we really understand about relationships after learning about relationships for over 40 years, is that the one question that people have with their partners is, "Can I trust you?" That is one of the most important questions. That's what they're focused on, really, right from the beginning.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Julie Gottman: And so, shoot, why not start where people really live, right?

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Julie Gottman: And so, that was part of our decision. And in terms of staying safe, we're not asking, "Are you going to commit to me? Are you going to be somebody I can trust?" It's not about that. It's more, "How did your parents show that there was trust between them if in fact there was? Or if there was a lack of it, how did you see that? How did you witness that? What does trust mean to you? Is it important to you? Is it not? Is commitment important to you? Is it not? What makes it important to you?" So again, you're talking a little bit more in the abstract about people's history that doesn't necessarily involve maybe some mistakes they've made. They're talking about what they witnessed in their own life, what they experienced in their own life. And sharing that with one another, so that each partner can just kinda get a snapshot of, "Do we both think about trust and commitment in the same way or do we think about it very, very differently? And if so, does it make sense for us to proceed in our relationship?"

John Gottman: Yeah, that date, Neil, turned out to be the most powerful date of all the eight. And couples liked it the most too. So, one of the things that we did was, we had some webinars with the couples in our sample, and they could ask questions and give us feedback. And that date was really, really... It went deep. It was very powerful. And they were able to talk about other relationships they'd seen where people had violated trust, and where people had really demonstrated that they weren't quite committed to the relationship, and the other person didn't know that. So they could talk about how to avoid disasters about trust, how to avoid future disasters of commitment. And what had been the history in the relationship of that, showing that they were trustworthy, that they were committed. So it turned out to be a really fascinating sort of conversations that people had. And I don't think anybody felt alienated in that date from one another. They felt actually reassured and safer with their partner after this date.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. And I want to just point out to our listeners that your book does a great job also of setting the stage not only for the date itself but also for someone to ask themselves these questions first. So there's a certain amount of self-exploration that you do before you're out on the date, so that you already are starting to get your own perspective on this, and can bring that to your partner.

John Gottman: Right.

Julie Gottman: Yeah, that's one of the beautiful things that I really love about this book. You know, as we all experience, Neil, we are so caught up in the minutiae of our daily lives, and running from task, to task, to task. Sometimes paying attention to the news, sometimes not, sometimes trying not to. And at the same time, do we give ourselves those hours of really looking in the mirror and saying, "Who am I now? How has experience changed me? What are my values now? What do I believe now?" And so, in a way, it's... As you pointed out, the book really gives the opportunity to meditate on who we are as individuals, so that when we do come together in a date to share that, we can do so with more clarity, and maybe humor too.


John Gottman: Yeah. I want to mention, there was a study done at UCLA by the Sloan Center, and they put microphones and cameras in couples homes, and they studied 30 dual-career couples in Los Angeles, and they had young children. And their wives had really become kind of an infinite to-do list, and they never went out on dates, they spent less than 10% of every evening in the same room with one another, and they talked to one another an average of 35 minutes a week.

Neil Sattin: Wow.

John Gottman: All that conversation was about, who's going to do what when. But they never had a date that was a romantic date, that really built on intimacy. So they basically were carrying on with life and work and really ignoring their relationship.

Neil Sattin: I'm wondering if you could speak to that a little bit on a personal level in term... Because both of you are very active in your careers and have... You had a family together. How have you managed honoring that commitment to date night? And is that something you had all along or was it just kind of discovery along the way, and you were like, "We better do that. It's working for everyone else, we should do that too."? Or, how have you negotiated and navigated that for yourselves?

Julie Gottman: Well, one of the things that we used to do when we were living in Seattle, where we are not currently, but we used to not have all that much money. John was a professor, I was a clinical psychologist, private practice, and we were spending money on schooling for our child. And so we discovered the most beautiful hotel lobby in all of Seattle. There was this great hotel, and it had this gorgeous stone fireplace, dark lighting, beautiful soft couches, and we would go on our date night, commandeer a couch and not let anybody else sit there, and we would order one glass of wine, and we would pretend we were guests in the hotel. And we would sit and talk for hours and ask each other these big open-ended questions, similar to the ones that we address in the dates. And John would always bring a yellow notepad to take notes about what I said, which was always a worry because it meant it was definitely going to show up in the book later on. And so, it was kind of like, "Oh my God, I better watch my wording here." So those were our initial dates, which were really, really fabulous. And now, with our busy lives, we are talking all the time because we work together, we are talking on planes as we travel somewhere, we're talking over dinner, we're talking about work, we're talking about the news, we're talking constantly. So...

John Gottman: Yeah, but tell them about our annual honeymoon.

Julie Gottman: And our annual honeymoon, okay. So, we found that because our schedule is so erratic, it's really, really, hard to have a weekly date, we don't have a schedule like that, because we're always somewhere doing something. So, when our daughter was about eight years old, she went away to camp for three weeks for the first year during the summer and did so every year after that for a while. And we decided, "Hey, she can go to camp, let's go to camp, too." So, we decided to take ourselves to camp, which was specifically this beautiful B&B up in Canada, on one of the islands close to Vancouver BC, called Salt Spring Island. And we would go there for about 10 days and do nothing but talk, we would just talk. And we called it our annual honeymoon, and we've been doing it ever since, every year.

John Gottman: We bring our kayak.

Julie Gottman: Yup.

John Gottman: And we ask each other three questions: What did you hate about last year? What did you love about last year? And what do you want next year to be like? And then we talk about that for 10 days, and really evaluate the year, and then make plans about how next year will be different.

Julie Gottman: And the reason we always go to the same B&B, it's been 20 years now, is that there's a restaurant in this little town that serves schnitzel, which is John's favorite. And we have schnitzel every single night for 10 nights. [laughter] It's not only the annual honeymoon but the annual schnitzel fest.


Neil Sattin: That's good. Well, it's schnitzel every night, and then maybe the rest of the nights of the year you get to indulge in other delights as well.

John Gottman: Right.


Neil Sattin: Well, I did want to mention that Maine has some lovely places to kayak. So, if you're ever in this neck of the woods, make sure you bring your kayak with you.

Julie Gottman: Yeah, we would love that.

John Gottman: Yeah. And Rachel and Doug also found that, when Rachel was in medical school and doing her residency, that date night was just absolutely essential for maintaining the relationship, and not ignoring it, not making it the last thing on a very long to-do list. So, they kept passion and romance alive that way, and also the emotional connection. So, date night has been important for all four of us.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and I like the idea, too. When I envision Doug and Rachel's story, which they talk about in the book, and I love that, that we get a window into your lives together. I think that's... Maybe we'll even talk about that a little bit. I think it's so curious for everyone, right? Where they're like, "Well, they have all the answers, but what's their life really like? Are they really doing all this stuff?" So, it's helpful to hear. And I also like this idea that if you've prioritized it, and you've shown in so many ways how important it is, families with young kids, families who are... A relationship who's getting older, and why it's important to honor each other that way, and the connection that way. Yeah, I can imagine people triangulating, and just being like, "Alright. This is important, we're committed to how important it is. And this is the one hour that we have in a week where we can find ourselves in the same place, at the same time, without all those other responsibilities," and being willing to be committed in that way, to the process with each other.

Neil Sattin: I realize we haven't gone really beyond that trusting commitment chapter in our conversation, but I'm also thinking about... You mentioned the anecdote of John working with a couple who he has this realization that they were never even really committed to each other, they'd always had a foot out the door. And when they got that reflected back at them, that became an opportunity for them to reflect on what commitment really was. And as much as they thought they were committed, were they truly committed to each other? Which is probably one reason why that first date is so powerful for people.

John Gottman: Yeah.

Julie Gottman: Exactly.

John Gottman: Yeah, that couple, every time they had an argument or things got stressful, they were each thinking, "I can do better than my partner." They were thinking about their exit strategy, rather than, "What can I do to get closer and more committed? How can I get past this period? It's stressful."

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I think you mentioned that as a harbinger of doom in not your classic Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, but the negative comparisons, and how the impact that that has. Can you talk about that a little bit, so that our listeners understand what that means?

Julie Gottman: Sure. There was a fabulous researcher who studied the antecedents to betrayal. What is it that led up to people having affairs? And what she discovered is that, in particular, an individual in a relationship would always be comparing his or her partner to some better alternative, another person who they thought was better than the partner they currently have. And we call that a "negative comparison," or a "negative comp". And we found in our own research that when people continually make those negative comparisons, always finding their partner wanting, always seeing the negative side of their partner, rather than being grateful and cherishing what their partner does provide for them, then that often leads to crossing the lines into developing relationships with someone else, perhaps beginning with a friendship, and then perhaps deepening into a possible betrayal, whether it's an emotional affair or a physical affair, or both. And so, the whole idea of not making negative comparisons with your partner and someone else, but instead trying to see the good in what your partner is, who they are, what they do give you, what they are beautiful in, is a way to really keep the relationship stable, keep the relationship loving, warm, really a treasure for you.

John Gottman: And another thing that this researcher, her name is Caryl Rusbult, R-U-S-B-U-L-T, Caryl Rusbult found was that when conflict happens, these couples, instead of giving voice to their complaints and talking about their needs, they'd talk to somebody else about how miserable they were in the relationship, and confide in someone else, not in their partner. And so, part of what this book talks about is, one of the dates is about how to deal with conflict. And the other thing about the book is that it tries to teach the skills of managing conflict well in the relationship, and having intimate conversations.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, I'm wondering... Just a quick little footnote on the negative comps; is that an intervention that you suggest? So, if I'm someone who notices, "Oh, I do that all the time, I'm always thinking, 'Oh, if I just were with so-and-so, or, the grass is greener.'" And I could even see that being a bit of an addiction for people. And I'm using that term loosely, but that kind of like, "Oh, I could just escape this, and... " What is a way that...

John Gottman: Yeah, it's kind of a mind...

Neil Sattin: Go ahead.

John Gottman: It's kind of a mindset.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Julie Gottman: There are two things that need to be changed with a couple where that's going on. One is that the individual who's making the negative comps needs to be thinking about what do they need that is not being met in the relationship, and bring that up with their partner, not talk to somebody else, as John mentioned, but to bring it up with their partner. To really think about, "Okay, what's missing for me, what is it that I'm feeling? Am I feeling lonely? Am I feeling starved for affection? Am I feeling criticized, or put down all the time?" What is it that they need? And taking their need, and expressing it in a positive way. We call this "Expressing a positive need." Which means if something feels bad, flip it on its head, to think, "Okay, what do I want in place of that negative thing?" For example, if you feel criticized all the time, "I would love to hear appreciations from you. I would love to hear some compliments from you about how funny I am, or how I look, or what a great human being I am," in general of course. So, flipping that need on its head and giving a positive need to it. What is it you do need, rather than don't want or need? That's one thing.

Julie Gottman: The other thing is looking at your partner with different eyes. And this, again, takes a whole mental shift. What is my partner doing right? Not, what are they always doing wrong, but what are they doing right? For example, John and I have been together for 32 years, and every single morning he makes me coffee. Anybody who makes me coffee is my hero.


Julie Gottman: for life upon life. And so, John has been doing that every single morning, and he makes the best coffee in the world. And so, I always thank him every morning for making coffee, seeing the good. I could take it for granted and say nothing, but that's not helpful in a relationship. And I do appreciate it.

John Gottman: Hey, you do.

Julie Gottman: Right.

John Gottman: Well, you can think about the fundamental problem in relationships is that we are actually attracted to people who are very different from us. And that's why the dating websites are really... Have a broken system of match-making. Because they're matching people and saying, "If you date somebody who is just like you, you're going to really like each other." But it really doesn't work. Okay, Cupid, for example, will pair 50,000 people, and 200 marriages result from that pairing. So, they're 96% ineffective for people to meet who like each other. So, it turns out, we really like people who are not like us. We don't want our clone. And then, when we're attracted to this person, we have this asymmetry. But that we have to act as a couple, we have to create symmetry. And the worst way to do that is to try to get your partner to be like you, to try to criticize your partner for not being like you. And that's the fundamental problem in relationships, that's not the way to do it. Really, you have to accept your partner for who they are. And they are different and cherish those differences. Julie, for example, is very different from me. She was a downhill skiing racer in college, she went downhill 50 miles an hour. Her idea, her dream was to go to Mt. Everest base camp, number two with 10 other women. And I'm very different, my dream was to study differential equations.


John Gottman: I sit in my chair to do that. And so, she's an athlete and an explorer, and I'm just the opposite. I call myself an indoors man.


John Gottman: So, we have these really big differences. But the ways in which she's different from me, really are quite wonderful, and I love them and cherish them. And if she, on the other hand, said, "What's wrong with you, why can't you have more of a sense of adventure like me?", then she'd be trying to turn me into her, which really doesn't work. And if she was successful in turning me into her, she wouldn't be attracted to me.

Julie Gottman: And the other side of that is that John has failed miserably in trying to make me either a mathematician or a physicist.


Julie Gottman: We accept each other's differences. I do listen to John when he describes some latest discovery in physics and math. I try desperately to understand. I don't, but I nod my head. And so... [chuckle]

John Gottman: But you actually do understand a lot.

Julie Gottman: Okay. So we make it work. We make it work.

Neil Sattin: I want to point out that at the back of your book, you have lots of great suggestions for people to help them identify ways they actually do cherish their partner. So, if you're listening and thinking, "Well, I've kinda lost touch with that." Or, "It's just like I can appreciate them for the same old thing. I've been appreciating their coffee making for 32 years, but I'm not sure what else to appreciate." Then, it can be helpful to have some prompts in that regard, to help you reflect upon all the different ways that your partner shows up for you. I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about... Because this is another, in a way, a pre-requisite for the book, although I have a feeling that as you go through each of the dates, you will cultivate this as well. And the question is making the mental shift around developing understanding, and embracing your differences, the way you were just talking about, versus that sense of judging your partner's differences. It's one thing to say, "Listen to your partner without judging them," and then it can be a totally different thing to actually put that into practice.

Julie Gottman: Right. So, you're asking how do you work on accepting your partner's differences, yeah?

Neil Sattin: Yeah, what is that... Well, I think I'm just highlighting it for one thing, because it's so key to how to have these conversations, I think, is just to realize like, "I'm just trying to understand this person who's sitting across from me, or next to me."

Julie Gottman: That's really a wonderful question. We have a particular way of people doing that, which is, first of all, asking each other things like, "What's the history in your family about that particular characteristic or value that you have. Where does that come from for you? What's the background to that that led you to either value this particular way of being, or has led you to love this particular dream?" So, asking about background is important. Also, asking things like, "Well, what does it mean to you to have this particular passion, or this particular love, or this particular characteristic? Is there some underlying purpose to living by this value? What does it mean to you?" So, you're carving out kind of a subterranean region, where you're discussing both more personal history, that may be good, maybe not so good, as well as the more existential piece of who you are, how you've arrived at some particular set of values or characteristics that have meaning and purpose for you.

Julie Gottman: Now, the other thing though, is that there's always going to be either lifestyle preferences, or just personality characteristics that you don't know where they come from, they don't have particular meaning. But they are who your partner is. And so it's not necessarily that you're going to absolutely love and cherish those differences, they might drive you crazy. John and I have characteristics like that. He calls himself "Charmingly sloppy," and I'm obsessively neat, a little OCD.


Julie Gottman: Okay, so that's a big difference, right? So I'm not going to adore the fact that there might be piles of books everywhere. However, however, you create almost ways of coping with those differences that are not necessarily conflict, they're simply, "Okay John, it's been four weeks. I'm now at risk of my life when I make the bed because the pile books next to the bed is so high that I may trip over them and be buried in an avalanche. So, can you please move the books?" It kinda looks like that. So you accept those differences in each other and cherish the ones that really have some purpose and meaning to them.

Neil Sattin: Yes, in the very second date night that you talk about is how you work with conflict.

John Gottman: Exactly.

Neil Sattin: And probably no chance, it's not just a total happenstance that that comes second after trust and commitment.

Julie Gottman: [chuckle] Yes, indeed. Because that is what most couples struggled with. We are a culture that has a lot of trouble expressing emotion. We've all been taught that, for example, it's not okay for men to express fear, sorrow, vulnerability, anxiety, fine for them to express anger, but the more vulnerable emotions, not so much. And women are taught that they're horrible human beings, with the B word, if they express anger. So, how then do you have conflicts where there are these constraints and fences around what you express or don't express? So, what we believe is that it's incredibly important for people to express all of their emotions, whether it's anger, or sorrow, or frustration. But that chapter, in particular, really focuses on how do you express those emotions, especially if they're negative ones, and how do you respond to them with empathy when you hear them, rather than just defensiveness, which takes you down the wrong path. That's that chapter.

John Gottman: Yeah. We learned that behind every one of these negative emotions, there is a longing, and in that longing, there is a need and a recipe for solving the conflict. So, we have blueprints that we can offer that make conflict really constructive, so it doesn't alienate people, it actually brings them closer together, and creates that understanding that you mentioned earlier.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. That reminds me of, I think, it's the 'Dreams within Conflict' exercise that we've mentioned here on the show before, and I think, if it's okay with the two of you, I'll offer it here as well, that if you download the transcript for this episode, we can also include that 'Dreams within Conflict' exercise, which touches, maybe not ironically, two of the dates. It touches that conflict piece, but also the very last date is all focused on your dreams, and what you aspire to as individuals. And it just feels like such a powerful addition, because I want everyone to know who's listening, it's not all trust and commitment, and addressing conflict. You get those out of the way, the very next one is being able to talk about sex and intimacy. And in there is play, and fun, and how you foster that in your relationship, too. So yeah, go ahead.

Julie Gottman: Right. So, a lot of people think that "Well, if you solve all of your conflicts, your relationship is going to be just dandy." But we found in our research that that really wasn't true, that you do have to focus on how do you create a more positive experience in the relationship. We all work so darn hard that we forget how important fun is, how important play is, how important a sensitive venture is. And the fact that we can share those with each other is part of the wonder, the beauty, of having a terrific committed relationship. You've got a playmate, you've got somebody you can do all of that with. You can have wonderful sex, you can have intimacy, but you have to be able to talk about what it is that you love, what brings a sense of adventure and fun to you, ways that you would prefer to have an intimate connection. How do you want to do that? What's going to feel great for you? So, it's very important to be talking about all of that as well. That's part of this book.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And I love, too, how because the focus is on developing that shared understanding with that, as opposed to trying to make your partner like you or trying to just figure them out so you can get past all your conflicts somehow, I think what it actually does is it opens up this huge resource for you, of energy, and ways that you can bring more variety and connection into your life. Like each of these dates strikes me as a seed for so many different other experiences that could come from that understanding that you're building with your partner.

Julie Gottman: Exactly. That's a lovely way to say it.

Neil Sattin: I'm wondering if, and you can say no, you can pass on this question if you like, but I'm wondering if you'd each be willing to share what you think the most valuable skill for you has been in your relationship. What is the thing that... And I'm sure there's more than one thing, but when you think about what being together for 32 years has been like, what has been something that you fall back on, something that not only is reliable for you in terms of helping you in your connection, but also you've had to maybe revisit it again and again, as like being reminded like, "Oh yeah, this is something I'm working on, and I have to bring that attention to my own work and growth in order to make this connection work."?

Julie Gottman: I love that question. I'll start, yeah? [chuckle]

John Gottman: Yeah, go ahead.

Julie Gottman: Okay. So, I think what I've had to work on the most is kindness, without question. Kindness, and keeping in my mind a fixed picture of who my husband is. So, I'm a person who really reacts quickly to things, impulsively to things, I would have been a great emergency doc.


Julie Gottman: You have a response to stuff, and can respond well, or perhaps not so well. And so, I've really had to work on my tone of voice, what words I use, patience, and remembering that... I've had this vision... I'm going to embarrass John now, Neil.

Neil Sattin: Uh oh.

Julie Gottman: But, yeah. But I really see John as a genius. You can't say anything. And when you are living with somebody with the kind of mind that he has, then there's going to be unbelievable gifts that you get to share as that person shares their ideas, shares their creativity. And all of those gifts I have been privileged to experience with John. And so, when he's not perfect, when he doesn't clean the counter the way I want him to, see, there's the OCD, the books pile up or whatever, it's like, "Okay, he's writing a grant," or, "Okay, he's working on a book, and he's completely immersed in that." "Okay, he gets up at 3 O'clock in the morning because he's just had an idea come to him, and he's gotta go write it down, and he's going to wake me up with a flashlight in my face."


Julie Gottman: That's the way it is. And again, the privilege and the honor of living with somebody with whom I will never, ever be bored, ever, is such a gift, that add the little stuff as trivial. And so, I keep that impression and image of who John is in my mind as a fixed picture, and remember the gifts of that, and try like crazy to be kind and to be patient. And believe me, I do not succeed a lot of the time, but... And thank God he's patient with me.


Neil Sattin: Thank you for your honesty about that, Julie.

Julie Gottman: [chuckle] Right. You're welcome.

John Gottman: Well, my big problem is defensiveness. And I have to learn over and over again that when Julie is feeling something very strongly, it's time for the world to stop, and me to listen without being defensive, even if she's disappointed in me, or angry with me, or I've done something to upset her. And I do a lot of things that are thoughtless, and often I ignore her because I'm so involved in a paper I'm writing or something like that. And when I concentrate, a lot of times I don't hear her calling my name even, because I really literally don't hear it. So I do things that really hurt her, and I need to listen. And for me, that's very hard, because the first thing I'm thinking is, "Why is she so negative? Just appreciate everything I do, and just come to me when she's really happy." So I had to learn when she's upset about something, the world needs to stop, and I need to listen without being defensive, and try to understand what she's feeling. And usually, when I can do that, it rapidly diffuses the situation. She feels listened to and understood. Even if I'd hurt her, we can repair the relationship and figure out what to do. So that's my constant struggle, I think.

Neil Sattin: And do you have a particular way that you remind yourself of that when you feel the defensiveness coming on?

John Gottman: I carry a notebook in my back pocket, and I take it out and I take out my pen, and I tell her, "Okay, I'm listening. Slow down, let me write down everything you're saying." And as I'm writing, I get less defensive. I'm thinking, "Boy, why does she have to go into that? What's wrong with this woman?" And then, as I'm writing, I go, "Well, that's a good point."


John Gottman: "Yeah, she's right there." And pretty soon I'm really paying attention and listening. So, for me, having that notebook and writing down what she says, and slowing her down, really helps me to be less defensive.

Neil Sattin: I love that. And that really reminds me too of your dates together and the notebook that comes along on the dates. So I could see it kind of being a little reminder of like, "Right, we have a connection that transcends this whatever-it-is that's causing conflict right now."

John Gottman: Yeah. I probably have about 400 notebooks that I've filled in the 32 years we've been together. [laughter] And they're all piled on my bureau.

Julie Gottman: And I'm going to burn them. [laughter]

Neil Sattin: Won't that be a lovely ritual for the two of you. [laughter]

Neil Sattin: Well, John and Julie, it's been such a treat to have you here with us today on 'Relationship Alive'. Your new book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, is so rich, and I think obviously has a lot to offer couples, no matter where they're at in a relationship. And I think, even if you're single, going through the prep work questions would be really helpful as a way of just understanding who you are and how you operate in a relationship. If you want to get more information about the book, there's a website that is devoted to the "Eight Dates" book, which is eight, the number eight, You can also visit to find out more about Julie and John's work, the work they're doing through the Gottman Institute. And they're going to be on a book tour to support the "Eight Dates" book, traveling all over the country, so you may be able to catch them in your community. And I definitely encourage you, if they're anywhere nearby, go check them out. You'll have a chance to ask questions, I'm sure. And as you can tell, they're delightful people. So I encourage you to go and find them when they're in your neck of the woods.

Neil Sattin: Other than that, if you want the transcript to today's episode, And as you might get, that's because we've had John on a few times before, so you can go to Gottman, Gottman2, Gottman3, and you can get your dose of Gottman, and it's so sweet, Julie, to have you here with us as well. I've loved your contribution today in this conversation. Thank you so much both for joining us, and I look forward to having you here again on 'Relationship Alive'.

Julie Gottman: Thank you so much, Neil. It was really fun. Thank you.

John Gottman: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Great.

Julie Gottman: Okay.


178: The New Monogamy: From Assumptions to Integrity with Tammy Nelson

Jan 29, 2019 54:22


What does monogamy mean to you and your partner? Sometimes a couple will have a different definition of what monogamy is and that miscommunication can lead to problems in your relationship and today we’re talking about that and a whole lot more. This week, our guest is Dr. Tammy Nelson, she is an AASECT certified Sex Therapist, and she's also a Licensed Psychotherapist, with almost 30 years of experience working with individuals and couples. Tammy, also offers training for therapists who are working with couples around these issues is the author of The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity. Her work will help you heal and rebuild if you've experienced betrayal in your relationship, and it will also help strengthen your bond if you're simply looking to create an even more robust version of monogamy that really works for you, and your partner.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!



Visit Tammy Nelson’s website to learn more about her work.

Pick up your copy of Tammy Nelson’s book, The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity

FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide - perfect help for handling conflict and shifting the codependent patterns in your relationship

Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner's Needs) in Your Relationship (ALSO FREE)

Visit to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Tammy Nelson.

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Neil Sattin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. Recently in episode 167, we talked about how to keep assumptions from eroding your relationship, it's crucial for you to take all those implicit ideas about what it means to be in partnership, the things you're assuming that you and your partner agree on, and to make them explicit, actual conversations and agreements that you share with your partner. And there's no place where this matters more than in defining what monogamy actually means to each of you. It turns out that there are a lot of nuances to something that on its surface, sounds as simple as forsaking all others, and if you don't take the time to talk about it, those assumptions and nuances can spell trouble for your relationship.

Neil Sattin: On the flip side, if you do talk about it, there's a ton of energy that it can create for you. That energy is the energy of being in integrity, diving into truly uncover your deep truths about what you want and what monogamy means to you, and what it also means to your partner and what your partner's deep truths are, and then living in that truth with each other. Sometimes though, before you have a chance to do that, some sort of betrayal happens in your relationship, where either your implicit or explicit agreements get violated. Today, we're not only going to be talking about how to help you create the version of monogamy that truly works for you in your relationship, but we're also going to talk about how to heal from an affair, and how having infidelity rock your relationship can actually create an opportunity for an even deeper, more rich connection with your partner, if you're willing to do the work.

Neil Sattin: Today's guest, Dr. Tammy Nelson, is the author of The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity. She's also the author of Getting the Sex You Want. Tammy Nelson is an AASECT certified Sex Therapist, and she's also a Licensed Psychotherapist, with almost 30 years of experience working with individuals and couples. Tammy, also offers trainings for therapists who are working with couples around these issues. Her work will help you heal and rebuild if you've experienced betrayal in your relationship, and it will also help strengthen your bond if you're simply looking to create an even more robust version of monogamy that really works for you, and your partner. As usual, we will have a detailed transcript for today's episode, just visit, T-A-M-M-Y to download it. Or you can text the word Passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. Tammy Nelson, thank you so much for joining us today, here on Relationship Alive.

Tammy Nelson: Thanks, Neil. Thanks so much for having me.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, it's a total pleasure to have you here. And I have to say that, as I was reading The New Monogamy, I couldn't help but think, wow, imagine the power if a couple went through all of these exercises around defining monogamy when they were first committing to each other.


Tammy Nelson: Yeah, I agree. Or at any point in the relationship. I always find it fascinating that we renew our driver's license every two years, but we have this assumption that we can go on like a one-time promise at the beginning of our relationship, around whatever our monogamy agreement is and that's supposed to last forever. It's kind of like saying, "Well, I told you I loved you when I married you, so I'll let you know if I change my mind." And that should suffice. [laughter]

Neil Sattin: Right. And clearly, it doesn't. Clearly, it doesn't.

Tammy Nelson: Clearly.

Neil Sattin: We're growing as people the entire time, hopefully, that we're with our partners, and that growth necessitates being willing to talk to each other about what's changing, what's developing and how that's impacting how we're showing up in the relationship.

Tammy Nelson: Oh, absolutely. And our relationships themselves develop over time. So, we go through our early phase of romantic love. And then you basically go into the power struggle of your relationship, which lasts forever, for the rest of your marriage, or the rest of your committed partnership, and that's totally normal.

Tammy Nelson: What isn't so common is for people to understand that there is a new conversation that happens in every phase of your development as a person, but also as your relationship develops. If you make a commitment to each other during your romantic phase, that's going to be different than maybe you have kids and the kids are little, or when the kids get older or when the kids leave for college. Or when you go through what I call your own second adolescence, which is usually a time in middle age, when we get really interested in our sexuality again, and we're a little insecure about our bodies, but we're super interested in this new individuation phase, where we kind of redo our adolescence and we want to sort of do over the things that we might have not gotten right in the first adolescence, but now we're grown-ups. [chuckle] And all those times when we want to have a conversation even well into our 80s and 90s, with Levitra and Viagra and Cialis and even joint replacements, there's an expectation that we're going to be sexual for the rest of our lives, and either we're going to do it together or we're going to find a way to figure that out for ourselves.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And let's just get it all out on the table right now as well. When you're talking about the new monogamy, and I like this because here on the show, we've talked a lot about how we're having relationships in ways that are different than how our parents did or how our grandparents did. And generally, when we talk about that, what we mean is we know so much more about how to be successful in monogamous relationships. So the way that societal and cultural norms kind of kept the boat steady for prior generations except that in many cases it didn't and it actually failed those people, at least that was the case with my parents. Then, right now we're talking about new ways of being really intentional about the relationships that we get into  so that we're prepared for the storms that may come our way. But that being said, on top of that I think in this book, you're adding the additional possibility here that monogamy may be evolving into something totally new and it's a way of entering that conversation. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Tammy Nelson: Yeah. I agree with it. And I really believe that with the hundreds and hundreds of couples that I've seen and the people that I've talked to all over the globe, it's not just America, I think because we're all living such long lives. It used to be, 200 years ago, we live to be an average of 38 years old and you were married like maybe 15 years. By the time you got bored, you were dead.


Tammy Nelson: And so now, you're supposed to live with the same person for a half a century or more, and only desire that person, which is virtually impossible. 98% of us have fantasies of someone other than our spouse, which pretty much means everyone except my husband.


Tammy Nelson: And I think that monogamy has developed into something that has to sort of keep up with our new lifestyle, and yet we're still going on this old idea that we were living on 200 years ago, that monogamy means certain things, and if we get it wrong, then we fail. And so there's a lot of shame around and guilt around, around marriage and around divorce and around infidelity and pornography and all the ways that we've kinda tried to cope with this long stretch of relationship life. And so now, I think people are creating new and more unique ways to not just cope, but to create sustainable and more healthy and joyful relationships. And so they're realizing they can't do it the way their parents did it or their grandparents did it because it's not going to work for them. And they don't necessarily want to get divorced and they don't necessarily want to cheat, they don't want to lie, they don't want to be dishonest. I really think that the way to have a sustainable relationship is to live in some kind of integrity because we're not necessarily faithful to another person. We're faithful to our own values.

Tammy Nelson: And so, that's true for everyone. And so if your value is to live in some kind of integrity, which basically means I want to feel like I can keep my promises, like, I'm not going to lie, I'm going to be a good person, whatever that is, for me. Then we have to redefine what it means to be living in integrity, and integrity, basically means I have to align myself with what it means to be faithful, and if being faithful to my own values means we have to create a conversation around what our values are so that we're not constantly disappointing each other, then monogamy has to look like a conversation, an agreement where we create that definition. It's not the definition of the past because we're going to fail at that. 50% of people get divorced, more than that cheat, so statistically it's bad odds.


Neil Sattin: Right. And what I love about your book, The New monogamy, is that it has some really great questions and it also coaches you the reader on a dialogue process for navigating those questions. But it has some great questions that help tease apart all these different aspects of what it means to be committed, what it means to be faithful so that you can know yourself and your partner way better than you would if you were just assuming that you knew the answers to these questions. And through doing that, I think it's really crucial in order to bring yourself into the kind of alignment and integrity that you're talking about right now.

Tammy Nelson: Yeah. And I think that those questions and the answers may change over time, which is why they get to revisit it, but I think just asking each other those questions and talking about your own answers, creates this really nice intimacy. Intimacy is like into me see, like how transparent can we be with each other around what we truly want, because we can pretend to the that this is all we want, we're just going to live together until we die, and we'll never think about anyone else and never want anybody else, and never want anything else, and you're perfect just the way you are. And then live this other compartmentalized life with our real desires and our real fantasies, and never feel like we're living in integrity, never feel like we're integrated as a person. Never feel like we could be totally transparent with our partner about who we are.

Tammy Nelson: And I'm not saying that you're going to always want to be with someone else and that you should be in an open marriage, although for some people that might be true, but for other people it might just be; I really want to have lunch with my co-workers every week, and be able to talk about whatever I want without feeling like you're always worried I'm in an emotional affair. Or I want to have a private masturbatory life and not feel like I'm keeping it a secret. Some people walk in on their partner masturbating to porn and feel like you're cheating on me and the other person feels like, are you kidding? I've been doing this since I was 10. This is my life.

Neil Sattin: Right, right.

Tammy Nelson: And those are conversations that should be included in your monogamy agreement.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. Well, in that there are so many things that are really interesting to me, and I'm not quite sure where to go next.


Neil Sattin: But alright. So let's dive in here. First, one thing that I just felt for myself is like, wow, what a risk to take a topic like infidelity and to combine that with this idea that... Well, maybe one thing that we need to start talking about is loosening our definition of monogamy. And I think that for someone who is really still in a lot of pain from a betrayal, that might be a challenging thing to wrap their brain around at that moment. So how do you guide people into seeing; yes, you're dealing with a major trauma right now, and all that that requires. And then like... But on the other side of that, hopefully, you can experience that this is potentially a real breakthrough moment for your conversation about your relationship and what's actually possible.

Neil Sattin: And I just want to say, too, for people listening, even on the other end of that, it could be an agreement that we are... I'm not implying that on the other side of that is an open relationship of some sort, where one or both people now have permission to sleep with other people, and so now you're not cheating magically because we have this agreement. That could be there, but you could end up in a space where, no, actually we've gotten really clear on how we just want to be with each other and end up there. So, I'm curious for you, how do you navigate the tenderness, around this, is a major trauma and there are some bigger pieces going on here, that are important for you to be thinking about.

Tammy Nelson: Well, there's three phases of recovery after an affair. So there is the crisis phase, which is, as you said, a very tender time of, where there's been disclosure or discovery and people are quite distraught, and the person who finds out about the affair is always lagging, behind because the other person who had the affair has known about it for a while. It's going to take a while for that person to catch up and whose just finding out, and the trains are on different tracks and one person's always ahead in the recovery process. A lot has to be decided in that time, about how that is going to be worked through. But you don't have to decide if you're going to stay or go during that time, that's not the time to decide if you're going to make things work. Because eventually, you do... If you go into therapy and you read the book and you really want to work through to the next phase which is like the insight phase.

Tammy Nelson: The insight phase is where you figure out, how did this happen? And what is this affair or what does this infidelity mean about us, and how did we get here? And you know you're in that phase when you say things like, "This affair happened to us," instead of, "You did this to me." And you don't blame the victim. It's not like, "I know I deserve this. I made you do this to me." But it is a shared experience with some curiosity about the meaning of the affair. And then you go into the third phase, when you've done a lot of discovery and then you decide, are we going to make this work? But I'll be honest, you can never go back to the marriage or the committed partnership that you had before the affair because that monogamy is over. People know when they have an affair, you don't fall into bed with somebody. You know when you cross that line that you're breaking your monogamy agreement, so you have to draw a line in the sand and say, "Okay that's over. We can't go back to that." If you try to go back, it's going to happen again.

Tammy Nelson: And so, you both have to grieve that this was not the vision we had of how this relationship was going to turn out. And then, and only then, do you decide okay we could have a new monogamy together or we could break up and do it with someone else. But if we're going to do it together, it can't look like the old monogamy, because that didn't work. So our only choice is to discover together what we want going forward in this new relationship, and it's gotta be something that you agree on together. You may not agree on every single point, and certainly, an open marriage is not an excuse to continue an affair. So you might want to start with small things like, is it okay to send pictures of ourselves to our friends on social media? How much should you text? And should you share each other's passwords? And there's a lot of steps in between fantasizing and open marriage. Monogamy is a continuum. And so there's a lot of things that have to happen before you have that ultimate conversation about whether or not you even want a new monogamy together.

Neil Sattin: Tammy, before we continue, I have to go meta for a moment because I'm noticing a lot of that scratchy sound again.

Tammy Nelson: Oh okay.

Neil Sattin: And I'm just wondering if we can figure out quickly... Okay, so diving back in.

Tammy Nelson: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: I appreciate that you broke it out into these separate phases, and it would seem like when you're in that tender spot at the beginning, that's a time when you're trying to shore up the safety of a couple so that the immediate danger is not there. So that probably wouldn't be a good time for the affair person; the person who had the affair to say, "Well maybe we should just have an open relationship, and then what I did won't be considered cheating anymore."


Neil Sattin: What are some ways to help couples, once they've never navigated the tenderness phase, to develop that understanding that you're talking about? Because that does seem so crucial for both people to understand each other, and to start to get that sense of how they co-created the dynamic that led to one or both people having an affair?

Tammy Nelson: Well, I think in that first phase of the crisis, one of the biggest struggles that people have, is not so much safety but trust. Because what happens is you kind of get to this place where you realize I'm never ever going to be safe with this other person again. You go from this naïvety about love being, I'm never going be hurt by this person to realizing that that risk of being in a grown-up relationship is knowing that another person could always hurt you, and choosing to love them anyway. And that's painful.

Tammy Nelson: And knowing that relationships are a choice, knowing that you're going to get hurt because that's what love is. And that knowing also that trust is not about trusting the other person. Trust is about now learning to trust your own intuition, again. Because most people aren't really mad at the other person so much as they're mad at themselves. How could I have trusted you? How could I not have known? How could I have ignored my intuition? Why didn't I listen to my inner voice or I did listen to my inner voice, but I chose to ignore it because it was easier for me because the kids were little or it was more convenient, or I didn't want to believe that about myself, that I would actually stay with someone who was cheating on me. There's a lot that happens in the damage to your own belief and your intuition, and you have to learn the difference between your intuition and your fear.

Tammy Nelson: And that's a turning point when people put the onus on themselves and realize, you can jump through all the hoops I set for you. You have to come home at a certain time. You have to give me your password. I have to have access to your email, you have to tell me you love me 10 times a day. You have to tell me all the details of what happened. We have to have these conversations three times a day. People can do that but it doesn't change the level of trust, because the trust issue is internal. And once people can shift that onus onto themselves, then they're ready to move into that insight phase where they can talk about perhaps what was happening before the affair.

Neil Sattin: Great, great. And before we go there then, I love how you brought that up. It was something that really struck me in your book, is that distinction between whether you're experiencing your intuition or your fear, and how much our fear can be misinterpreted as intuition because that primal part of our brain is trying to protect us from some pain.

Tammy Nelson: Exactly. Exactly.

Neil Sattin: Perhaps could you offer our listeners a way that they could maybe start to discern between the two, fear versus intuition?

Tammy Nelson: Yeah. I think it's such an important part for everyone to discover in themselves. Part of an affair is it's not so much about the affair partner; with all due respect to the third party, but it's who you become when you're in that affair. You discover this whole other part of yourself, that you long for or that you miss or that you want to discover and... But I think one of the things we don't talk about too much, is that the person who has been cheated on also discovers a part of themselves. When the affair has been disclosed and they're going through the pain of the recovery, they discover a new part of themselves, and one of those parts of themselves is a deeper understanding, a deeper listening, a deeper mindfulness or awareness of what is going on inside? Of what fears do they have. And being able to really listen closely to that inner voice that says, "What do you mean you're coming home late? Does that mean you're still cheating on me or does that mean you're just nervous to tell me you're coming home late and that's why you sound weird?" To really discover that part of yourself, that has that inner strength to know that you will always be able to trust yourself, you will always be able to listen to that voice and be able to discern. And that integrity, that integration of those parts of yourself, means that you will always feel strong, regardless of whether or not that other person lives in integrity, and that is a huge shift.

Neil Sattin: So what are some signs that you're in your knowing versus being in your fear?

Tammy Nelson: I think that's a shift into the second phase, which is recognizing your stories, the stories you make up. So one of the exercises I have couples do is talk about the story I make up about the affair and what it meant about me, and the story I make up about what the affair meant about you, and the story I make up about what the affair meant about us. And I have both partners or if there are more than two partners in the office, I have everyone talk about those stories that they make up, and I certainly have stories about what the affair meant as well, as the therapist. But once people can talk about those stories and what they mean. They're always connected to our own childhood, our own beliefs about ourselves, our own fears. And when you do that, you start to see that your story is totally different than your partner's story.

Tammy Nelson: For instance, I had a couple today, where she said that the story she made up, about his affair... He had an affair with another man. And she said, "Well, obviously it means you're gay, and you're never going to want to have sex with me, again, and I've never made you happy." And the story he made up was, "I'm just a very sexually curious person, and I don't identify as gay, maybe I'm bi, maybe I'm just curious, but what I make up about me is that maybe I won't ever be satisfied. But I still love you and I consider you my partner."

Tammy Nelson: And she said, the story she made up, about what it meant about her is that, she went back to a time in her childhood where she was never good enough, her parents criticized her perpetually, she didn't play the violin well enough, she didn't get good enough grades, she didn't clean the kitchen well enough, and it was like the story again about she would never be good enough. She would never compete with a man. And so once again she was never good enough. And he said the story he made up about what it meant about her, was that she was so loving and so caring about him as a person, that she was allowing him to have this freedom to explore who he was, and that's not what had happened to him as a child. He wanted to play sports and his parents wanted him to go to science camp. And he said he never felt so in love with her. And she just fell apart. She just bawled in the office and cried because, for her, she didn't see it as a sign of their love. She saw it as a sign of her inadequacy. And so they could have a... Whether either of those stories was true or not, is irrelevant. The fact that it opened a conversation and a dialogue between them, that can last for weeks or months.

Neil Sattin: Right. And you talk about and encourage people to have regular dialogues, where they're structuring it in imago dialogue fashion. And we did have hard and have Harville Hendrix and Helen Lakelly Hunt on the show, back in episode 22 to talk about the imago process. So we don't have to go into that here. Though, I will say that one thing that's really great about your book among many things, is that you offer some great prompts for those structured dialogues, that help people get at the nuances of what was going on when an affair happened, and the stories that people were telling themselves about themselves and about each other in those moments.

Tammy Nelson: Yeah, thanks. I think it's easier sometimes to have a little bit of structure. Otherwise, we go down a rabbit hole with our stories. Well, you didn't love me, you just did this to hurt me. You don't care about me. You are a narcissist. You didn't pay enough attention to me. We didn't have good enough sex. All those old stories of critical voices and inadequacies and our own self-hatred basically. Instead of approaching it with a little bit of curiosity, and being able to really hear each other, which is hard.

Neil Sattin: Right. And the Imago dialogues, more or less force you to do that.


Neil Sattin: To really actually hear the other person and do your best to understand them. One thing that stood out for me in terms of that discerning between fear and knowing that you talked about in the book, was that when you're in your intuition, when you have a truth, and you have people go through a process, it's like a mindfulness process of getting really quiet, and then putting a question into that quiet space to see what arises. And you talk about if you're in your fear, you'll actually feel fear, like signs of fear happening in your body, whereas when you're in your knowing, that brings with it a sense of calmness. Or when I went through it myself, I experienced it as more like a solidity, that I would have called it almost the antidote to fear for myself. Yeah.

Tammy Nelson: I think that's very true. I think most of us spend a lot of our time in our heads. If you're an analytical person or an intellectual person, that sort of can be a defense against your feelings. If you feel an intense emotional reaction to something, sometimes you'll go into your head, but underneath your head and all those monkey brain kind of thoughts are perhaps real feelings, and then underneath the feelings, if the feelings are overwhelming, is your intuition. So all those places are telling you something. Your thoughts, you have a story, and then you have your emotions, and then under that much deeper are the things that you actually know. And sometimes we can't hear them because our feelings or our head is too loud. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Yeah. The question that popped up for me when you were talking about how often we did know or we may have known that something was going on, or something that wasn't right, is something that we use in our relationship and with our clients, it's, "What do you know that you're pretending not to know?" Which hopefully helps people unearth those layers of like, "Oh yeah, beneath all of that, if I'm willing to let myself go there, this is what I actually know to be true."

Tammy Nelson: Yeah. That's a great one. That's really important.

Neil Sattin: Now, there was something that I found a little confusing and I'm hoping that you can clear it up for me. I love that you talk about exits, and that's a topic that's come up on the show several times. And how people... How we have these strategies that take us away from our partners, away from intimacy, away from our vulnerability. And then I think where it gets confusing, is as we think about what it is that we want and what it is that we desire, and particularly where this circles back onto the conversation, of, "Well maybe I desire to have some freedom in this relationship to be with other people. How do you discern the difference between something being an exit versus... Oh, that would actually be a healthy choice for me and for us, in our relationship.

Tammy Nelson: I think that's a good question. I think there's a difference between being conflict avoidant and living in your own truth. Your honesty is like your true north. So, that's different than turning around and walking north to avoid your conflict in your relationship.


Tammy Nelson: So we all do things to avoid what's uncomfortable. Some people are more conflict avoidant than others. Some people are more minimizers or more withholders like they'd create space around themselves, to avoid conflict because they don't want to fight, and that makes total sense. That makes good sense, particularly if you've had a background where there's been a lot of fighting. And other people are pursuers and they're maximizers, and they get loud or more intense and pursue their partner because they feel abandoned, they feel like you're not listening to me, you're not hearing me, you're not taking my feeling seriously. And so that's the thing that sets up that pursuer-distancer relationship.

Neil Sattin: Right.

Tammy Nelson: But even pursuers have exits, they have ways of avoiding real intimacy and real transparency. And for most couples, it's really hard to sit, to sit with the uncomfortable stuff, to sit and be true. The longer you're together, you would think it would be easier to share what you really want, to share your true fantasies, your true desires to say, "Let's try something new." You think it'd be easier because you're more comfortable, you're safer. But just because you're safer doesn't mean you trust each other. You actually have more to lose the longer you're together, so you might feel like it's harder to take risks, to start making changes because you don't want to disrupt the safety of your relationship, you don't want your partner to change their feelings about you. And one of the things that shut down in a long term relationship is curiosity. We put our partners in a box and we're like, "Yeah, I know them, I know what they like. They wouldn't be into that and there's no way they could take it and they're too jealous, or they don't like that kind of sex, or they couldn't handle it if we did that." That kind of boxing your partner in is the opposite of love. We fall in love with someone when they're curious about us. When they say, "Oh tell me about you and what do you like and where did you go to school and what turns you on?" And I mean that's why we go to therapy.


Tammy Nelson: So someone is curious about us for an hour. But that's also why we end up having affairs because we meet someone who is curious about us and we get sucked into that attention and it feels really good in the beginning. It's really exciting.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. I think that's helping me focus this question a little bit more, which is how do you know as you are entertaining thoughts of like, "Oh, maybe we should be entertaining thoughts of other people on some level, maybe that would be good for us or maybe that's my true north." Yeah, I'm having trouble articulating this. I'm holding that up against the notion that, let's say, if we're going to be in a closed monogamous situation, so it's just you and me forever, which is, I think, at least implicitly, what most people are choosing when they're choosing to be monogamous with someone. And they may find after they've gone through the questionnaire in your book, like, "Oh there's actually more nuances to that than I thought." So I invite you, listening to go through the questions in the questionnaire. They're very insightful and evocative. However, choosing closed monogamy is a difficult predicament, that brings with it the questions of how are we going to handle the inevitable humanity that exists in us when we are attracted to another person. And I think where the line gets blurry, is someone might think, "Oh, well, this is because, and there are certainly some people and authors who are making this argument, this is because monogamy is a bad choice. Like closed monogamy is just stupid."

Neil Sattin: "And what we should really be doing is figuring out how to be safe with each other, while we allow ourselves to be human and experience other people." Other people might say, "Well, that's part of the whole project." As soon as you're entertaining other people then you are potentially jeopardizing the whole safety of your container with your relationship and that can create huge problems for your deepening intimacy. And I'm not monogamous relationship. So it's really the higher level question of, yeah, how do we know what's right for us in the middle of that? because there it seems like there's no right answer really.

Tammy Nelson: Well, I think it's a great question and I think that it goes to this idea of some researchers who say that we're not born to be monogamous. Humans biologically are not really monogamous. And I would argue that fact and say, we're not born knowing how to eat with a fork either.


Tammy Nelson: But we can learn. We are higher primates and we have a prefrontal cortex, we can choose. And that's the fundamental issue, is that you have a choice and so yes, you can choose any kind of monogamy you want. And the issue is that you have to choose it every day like it doesn't just happen with a one-time decision, it's a choice that you make every day and you might have to modify. But it is something that you choose and give to your partner. It's a commitment, it's like a sacred commitment like yoga or meditation, that you give to yourself because it's something you value if you value the freedom to choose and be with different people. Because that to you helps you express different parts of yourself, then you're never going to feel good about your partner or yourself if you don't do that, and that's a different choice. And you have to honor that choice. But one of the ways you can figure that out, and I can tell you the secret to having that conversation with your partner, is you're never going to change your sex life, or your relationship life, by saying, "I hate it when you go to the left," you say, "I really love it when you go to the right."

Tammy Nelson: And because the secret to the universe is you always get more of what you appreciate. Our tendency is to point out what's not working, and to criticize our partner or criticize the structure of our relationship, or to go to therapy and say, "Just change them and we'll be fine." And the idea is to really point out what is working, what you do appreciate, what you do like, what you want more of. So to expand on what's already working, and then, and only then, talk about what you want to try. Because if you start off saying, "Look, I think we should open our relationship," it automatically creates a fear in your partner if they are not on the same track. And even if they are on the same track, the threat that it might create for someone who isn't normally in that same mode as you happens because it creates a hole in the implicit assumptions that you've already made. But if you start off with; I really love the times that we can joke together about how attracted we are to other people, I really love the times that we've been able to watch pornography together, instead of hiding it. I really love the times when I've seen you dance with other people, it's really exciting for me. To be able to share some of the ways that you've already done it in maybe simple ways that were good for your relationship.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And you talk about how appreciation is even one of the key areas that you need to address in terms of what may have caused an affair to happen in the first place. The kind of communication that was happening in a relationship, the kinds of appreciations that were being shared, and then, of course, the question of what was happening in the bedroom with you as a couple.

Tammy Nelson: Yeah. I think we have to go beyond this idea of forgiveness as the goal after an affair, and you really have to work on erotic recovery or else that another person is still going to be in bed with you like this is an erotic injury. And so you have to work on a new erotic life together. If you don't, then you're both going to feel somewhat disappointed and stuck, and there's no impetus to making a new relationship between you work. You need some kind of a new vision for what this new relationship between you is going to be. And if it's not hot and sexy then you're not going to be excited about it.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So take us on the first step or two of erotic recovery and what's required for a couple who has gotten through the crisis phase, has developed some understanding of what led to what happened, have explored these questions of creating a new vision and what's okay and what isn't, and really gone deep on that. So now they're really communicating with each other about what they're looking for and understanding each other better. Yeah, how do we take that further into erotic recovery?

Tammy Nelson: Well, what I would tell all my clients, and all your listeners, is to create a sex date once a week. And to do it the same time every week, same day and to show up whether you feel like it or not, whether you're mad at each other, whether there's something better on Netflix, whether you have a headache or you ate too much, or you feel gassy or you drank too much wine. And you show up, say, it's every Thursday night, at 9 o'clock, and you show up and you light the candles and you turn on the music and you create an intimate erotic date. You don't have to have intercourse. It doesn't have to be any specific kind of sex, depending on if you're same-sex or trans-sex or whatever, that kind of specificity is not necessary. But the idea is to have something that's a sacred dedicated time to your erotic life. All the other time of the week can be for your companionship, it could be like; who's walking the dog and who's picking up the pizza, and who's paying the mortgage. But there is something truly important and sacred about your erotic life that makes you feel like you're in love. All the other time is about loving each other and caring and supporting. But if you don't have that erotic time, you're not going to feel in love. And a lot of people react by, "But that's not spontaneous."

Tammy Nelson: And I want to say, you can be as spontaneous as you want, if you plan it, even when you were dating, you kind of planned it, you knew when you were going to see each other, and you wore nice underwear and you shaved and you... It was a plan.

Neil Sattin: Right.

Tammy Nelson: I think what people are worried about is it's not going to be impulsive. And if you want to come home and sweep the dishes off the kitchen table and say, "Take me now", then do it, but still keep your Thursday night at 9 o'clock, as something that's like your sacred practice for each other. And then you can practice other things during that time but if you don't have that commitment, then when are you going to commit?

Neil Sattin: And this is a great example of why I think the process in The New Monogamy is so helpful for anyone, even if you're not recovering from infidelity, going through the process of figuring out who you really are, what you really want, who your partner is, greater understanding. And having a regular date-night where you're there in the bedroom, or maybe occasionally in the kitchen or wherever.

Neil Sattin: That how important that is to just be prioritizing feeding that energy into your relationship.

Tammy Nelson: Exactly.

Neil Sattin: So yeah. So whether you're recovering from infidelity or not, I think that's such a valuable practice. And you do outline in the book, like six week, six weeks of erotic nights once a week, and kind of a step-by-step that takes people through an experience that I think would alleviate some of the pressure of what we're showing up and now what we're supposed to have sex with each other, like, what do we do? Yeah. So maybe could you talk about that a moment? And then we probably gotta go.

Tammy Nelson: Yeah sure. And if your listeners want me to send them a protocol for like six weeks of sex dates, I'm happy to do that, if they want to contact me directly.

Neil Sattin: Awesome.

Tammy Nelson: because the six weeks of erotic dates I think is important, particularly for people who haven't had sex for a while, or are finding it difficult to get back into or really need some time to remember and re-integrate what it means to really receive pleasure and to give pleasure. That it's not about getting to the finish line, which is usually the male orgasm and if you can't get there we'll give you a pill, which I have nothing against. But the idea is to redefine what intimacy means and to remember what it feels like to experience pleasure with this other person at the moment, to be really mindful about it and to also change what it feels like. Because there's a lot of stuff that gets stuck in your habits and patterns around sex and your communication, that you definitely have to change. So you don't get triggered by thoughts around an affair or boredom, or the story that you make up. We're creating a new story. And so you can do that over six weeks, with these exercises, and at the end, things will be different. It's absolutely possible.

Neil Sattin: Great. So people should reach out to you through your website, which is...

Tammy Nelson:

Neil Sattin: Great. And we will have links to that in our transcript. So for those of you who don't remember that, you can just check out the transcript. Which again, you can download at T-A-M-M-Y or by texting the word Passion to the number 33444. Tammy Nelson, thank you so much for your time, your wisdom and I think your optimism about what we're capable of, and I really appreciate your being here with us today to share your strategies on how to build stronger and more modern monogamous connections.

Tammy Nelson: Thanks, Neil, I really had fun with you, I appreciate being on your show.

Neil Sattin: You are most welcome.

177: How To Get Past Your Resentment

Jan 22, 2019 39:22


How is resentment affecting your relationship? Are you holding onto something from the past, or is there something that occurs again and again in your relationship that you just can’t get over? Or do you feel that your partner resents you for something, and you’re not sure how to resolve things? In this episode, we’re going to talk about how to heal the resentments that may have built up in your relationship. You’ll learn what parts of the process require collaboration, and which parts of the process you can work on yourself. How your boundaries can help keep you from harboring resentment in the first place. In the end, my goal for you is for you to experience what it’s like to live resentment-free and to take your power back in the places where resentment is keeping you from showing up with love, compassion, and generosity in your relationship.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


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176: Healing Trauma and Attachment Injuries through Intimacy: AEDP with Diana Fosha

Jan 14, 2019 01:11:40


Have you ever felt stuck, within yourself or within your relationship? Have you felt the effects of depression or anxiety as a result? You may know that intimacy is important - but today we’re going to show you how intimacy can help you heal your traumas and attachment injuries - so that you can get unstuck. This week, our guest is Diana Fosha, PhD, the developer of AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy), a healing-based, transformation-oriented model of psychotherapeutic treatment. Diana Fosha is the Founder and Director of the AEDP Institute, and the author of The Transforming Power of Affect: A Model for Accelerated Change. Diana shares how she creates intimacy in a therapeutic setting and how that intimacy and safety helps clients make huge transformations in terms of their experience of their own lives.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


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Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. You know, intimacy is a powerful thing, super powerful. It brings us together with our partners and enables us to achieve more than we would be able to on our own. And yet sometimes we get stuck and things don't flow quite so well. And that could be a stuck-ness that happens in our relatedness, in our relationship with our partner, or it could be more like an inner stuck-ness, where you feel like you're not being quite as effective as you'd want to be in your life, or you feel the effects of depression or anxiety; the kinds of things that hold you back where you know that you might not be shining your brightest.

Neil Sattin: And yet intimacy has this amazing transformative power in how it gives us access to these deeper parts of ourselves. And I'm bringing this up because today's guest is a master of creating intimacy in a therapeutic setting, in a way that helps clients make huge changes in terms of their experience of their own lives. The name of her therapeutic modality is AEDP, or Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy. Now that sounds like a mouthful. It is a mouthful, but what you are going to discover in today's episode is just how simple it can be to effect profound transformation, all through harnessing who we innately are as humans, as feeling creatures.

Neil Sattin: And I know we're called homo sapiens, we are people who know, but I believe that it's also important to acknowledge how we feel and that our feelings, as many illustrious people before me have noted, are part of what has allowed us to adapt to our world in ways that are beneficial to our survival and also to our enjoyment of life and living. So today's guest is none other than Dr. Diana Fosha who, along with being the creator of AEDP is also the author of The Transforming Power of Affect: A Model for Accelerated Change. And her modality uses attachment science, interpersonal neurobiology, to help therapists, again, create amazing changes, or facilitate amazing changes in their clients. And I think there's also a lot that's useful just for us to learn here about how we operate as people, that we can take into our lives and into our relationships in order to enhance our experience. And we're even going to talk about that process of enhancing our experience in today's conversation. So I think that's it from me, along with just mentioning that if you want a detailed transcript of today's conversation you can visit, F-O-S-H-A, which is Diana's last name. Or as always you can text the word "Passion" to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. I think that's it, so Diana Fosha, thank you so much for being here with us today on Relationship Alive.

Diana Fosha: Such a pleasure to be in conversation with you Neil. Thank you so much for the invitation.

Neil Sattin: You are most welcome. And I hope I encapsulated everything in a way that... That makes sense, but we are of course going to dive in a little more deeply and help everyone understand what AEDP is all about.

Diana Fosha: You are absolutely did a stellar job, and it's actually a wonderful thing to sort of hear my work sort of mirrored and condensed in that way, so I think we're off to a good start.

Neil Sattin: Excellent, excellent. Well, to condense it and mirror it even further, because I've had people ask me, "What is that?", and "What's that big book you're reading?", because I've been carrying around The Transforming Power of Affect with me for probably the better part of the past month, and "Who is this person?" And the way that I've explained it to them is that by creating safety in the therapeutic setting, so a therapist creating enough safety so that you can experience the core emotions that contain within them the power to transform your experience.

Diana Fosha: That's great, what shall we do for the rest of the hour? [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Well, let's talk about how we get there. And maybe you could start by talking about your stand, because it's clearly super important to you that a therapist be able to participate actively with their clients, as opposed to what I think we tend to think of with our therapist, which is that they're more passive or receptive, or maybe they validate, but they're not necessarily down there in the trenches with us.

Diana Fosha: Right. And I'd be happy to talk about that. And I want to sort of just take one step back to sort of... To the... Another what I think of as really essential aspect of the model, and then we'll go to the stance and then get more deeply into it. And what I want to say is that, in addition to the safety that you talked about, in terms of the safety to really have people feel safe to come forth with their experience and who they are and then process those emotions, I would say that the most sort of core, core, core, fundamental assumption is that healing resides within us, that it's there from the get-go, side by side with the suffering, the stuck-ness that you talked about in your introduction, what have you, trauma, depression, difficulties in relationships, whatever it is that brings people to therapy and accounts for their not being fulfilled or shining as brightly, again, as you sort of said it in your introduction, that side by side with that, always, there's a capacity for healing that's just absolutely wired into us.

Diana Fosha: And I think that's just something that's the guide, and an assumption that actually allows me to sort of sit with whoever I'm working with, just in a confident or comfortable way, that what they need is already... So much of it is so deeply within them, if we can just bring it forth. So with that, as I was going to say it in the background, but it's not in the background, with that as a foundation, I think that my stance as a therapist, is about creating a relationship, that the safety really comes from the fact that we actually are two people in the room and acting in that way. And that I consider myself part of this healing diet that my patient and I formed together, and that my experience and my responses, not just my thoughts and not just my words, are really part and parcel of what we're co-creating, that allows the person, hopefully, to start to feel safe from very, very early on, at the beginning.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, you speak very eloquently in your book about the importance even of, right from the beginning, of the first session, to be creating that context of safety and being in it... Co-creating the process.

Diana Fosha: Yes. I really spend a lot of time... I do a lot of training of therapists, and one of the things that I like to talk to them about is that the first session is sacred and it's sacred in one very, very particular way, it's the only encounter that we will ever have that has no history, that we're creating history in that first meeting, we've come to it with no history of each other, even by the second session, we already have an established way of being, not that it can't change, not that it can't be altered, I don't mean that, it's not fixed, but it's history. Whereas in the first session, you have this unique opportunity to define the relationship in particular terms, so that I think it's incredibly important. So that in AEDP, the first session is not really so much devoted to, "Tell me where you were born," and, "How many people are in your family?" and, "How many therapies, did you have?" that kind of history taking, which, of course, is important, because it captures information. But that information is there for the acquiring in the second session or in the seventh session, or in writing, or by a million different ways. But this unique interaction between us, where we're sort of creating something together for the first time, it's a unique opportunity; so therapy really starts from the very, very first moment of that very first encounter.

Neil Sattin: It reminds me of a first date. And sometimes that can be a degree of pressure that people don't really like. But it's really true that before that moment, you don't have any idea about that person, or do they of you. And what I really like is that you're honoring the fact that you're creating a relationship by going to see a therapist.

Diana Fosha: Exactly. Exactly. And in a way... And I like the first date analogy, it's a little bit easier in some ways, in that there's one person who's sort of in charge [chuckle] So it's not both people, sort of in one way it is and it one way it isn't there, that's why we have roles, and that's why you're going to see a therapist. But it has some of that unknown and potential and excitement, as well as terrifying aspect; being vulnerable with a total stranger who, by the second meeting, will not be a stranger anymore.

Neil Sattin: Right. And one thing that really... Of the many. There are so many things that actually stood out for me about your work, but it was this idea of how so much of our suffering and pain comes from having experiences that occur in isolation, where we feel like we can't share them with another person, or there's something wrong with us and we have no way of really checking that out because, again, it's all happening inside us. And so the power of bringing an acknowledgement to every experience with an AEDP therapist of, "You're not alone. What you just went through right here with me, do you see how we were in this together?"

Diana Fosha: I think that it's so crucial, and of course, it's implicit in any relationship, or in any therapeutic relationship. Yet the strange thing is that merely by being with another person, whether in conversation or in relationship, does not necessarily automatically translate into not feeling alone. And actually, I think, one of the most painful ways of feeling alone is feeling alone in the presence of other people. So that... One of the things that I'm very, very, very conscious of is to actually explore together with the person that I'm working with, who I'm working with, what their experience is of are being together; if it feels like we're being together, and if they feel accompanied.

Diana Fosha: If they are aware, that as they're sharing something, or saying something, or feeling something, or not thinking something, and saying it out loud, it's actually being registered by another human who's there with them. And that's... To actually be able to have that experience of not feeling alone as you're going through something, is just very powerful and potentially very therapeutic, in and of, of itself. Because I think, as you've said, so much of what becomes our suffering or various forms of it, really has something to do with our aloneness, and either the fact that there's nobody that we can share it with, or the fact that we're experiencing something that absolutely overwhelms our resources, that were we there with somebody else.

Diana Fosha: The trauma was... Would be as horrible, that our capacity to bear it or deal with it would be quite different. There's very, very interesting research that shows that for people who are in combat, if they have a buddy that they're going through the combat experience with, their chances of getting PTSD are significantly reduced, and that kind of finding is present in many, many other settings. Another... Just to mention one other, and sorry, because you were about to say something, there's also a similar kind of research that during World War II there were all these kids who were orphaned as their parents were taken to concentration camps and they were actually in a therapeutic home school run by Anna Freud and this other woman named Dorothy Burlingham, and they studied these orphans. And what they found out is that, again, with those kids who had somebody they were close to, a sibling, or a friend, or somebody really whom they felt bonded, were much less traumatized by these most devastating of experiences that they were going through, and this actually influenced the therapy.

Neil Sattin: What I was going to say is... What was striking me in that moment was how we're here to talk about relationships, and it's always such a big irony when things start to get a little uncomfortable in relationship, how, theoretically, you're there with another person, but you can feel so alone. And I think that that's part of what we're trying to overcome when there are issues in a couple, is to remember that they are also there for each other, they're on the same team, they are each other's buddy, which hopefully helps them survive without too much trauma that they're inflicting upon each other from that stuck place.

Diana Fosha: Exactly. Exactly. And of course, that so many couples who come to therapy are in a couple, but the difficulties have been such that they have been feeling very alone. So that's really the paradox, that if we're just able to sort of recognize that presence and share enough of ourselves that the other person also feels us, we've already done something very significant.

Neil Sattin: Can we talk for a moment about what is it about this model that... Where does the healing take place? And in particular, I'm thinking about the difference between our core affective emotions and other things that come out as more like our defenses, our defensive strategies.

Diana Fosha: Yeah, the healing... God. There are many opportunities for it and there are many aspects of AEDP that are experienced as healing, we're actually in the process of doing some empirical research into the model, and to do so we needed to create some scales to measure that the therapy is actually happening in some fashion related to how we say it should be happening. And we created a scale to measure change processes, and there are nine, and there could have been more. But I'll try to be... [chuckle]

Diana Fosha: But I'll try to actually reduce it and condense it, even from the nine. I think that sometimes what we have been talking about, which is the experience of having one's alone-ness undone and feeling seen or feeling cared about, or just validated or understood, that in and of itself can be so profoundly transformative, not in and of itself and not forever, but those kinds of moments have tremendous power, so I think that's one piece. I think the other that you were beginning to talk about, which is that when we can't process, we can't fully process or express them, feel them, express them and do something about our emotions, either because they're overwhelming or because we're in environments where our core emotions are met with criticism or with ridicule or what have you, we do develop these kinds of protective strategies and... Which work beautifully in the short term; you don't get hurt, and you don't get shamed, and you don't get overwhelmed.

Diana Fosha: But over time, by relying on them, they sort of... They form almost like a crust, a... Or a shell over our hearts and ourselves. And they become sort of like the I who we present to the world, and that person is not authentic or is not our true authentic self, so that just in being able to break through or let go of those protective mechanisms that protect us but also limit us, and have the courage to be vulnerable and touch our emotions, and start to experience them and express them and process them with another person, is another huge transformative opportunity, particularly because those emotions are wired into us to help us. I mean that's why they survived over so many eons and eons of evolution, they're really good for us, even though they're difficult. So that's the second piece.

Diana Fosha: And then, I think I've said... So that's sort of three. [chuckle] And I'll mention one other, which I'm sure we'll end up talking about a little more, which is that in AEDP, in the kind of work that goes by that name, we do something very, very specific that, to my knowledge, is not done by any other therapeutic model, or it's not done systematically in any case, which is this. That any time there's a moment of change for the better, be it big or small, in a given session, we start to focus on the experience of that change, the experience of that moment of transformation. And we've discovered something really cool, which is that when you do that, the experience and the process of change or of transformation grows, and that in and of itself, is a huge source of transformative potential.

Neil Sattin: Right. The power of focusing on what's going right versus always being focused on what's going wrong. And as soon as you fix something, "Well, let's move on to the next wrong thing," as opposed to...

Diana Fosha: Exactly, like, "Okay, now we did that, it feels better. Excellent. Let's tackle the next thing." [chuckle] Which is reasonable enough, except that there's this other thing that can happen, that when we stay with a positive, when we stay with this thing that has just changed, and just gotten better or that feels right, these amazing, cool things happen when we do that.

Neil Sattin: Like what? [chuckle]

Diana Fosha: Like that feeling of something right growing, and it grows in a way that we can feel it in our bodies, literally, that we start to feel our chests expanding, or we start to feel this kind of streaming of alive-ness; so that's one aspect of it. And another aspect of it is that one feeling of something feeling right or good leads to another; pride can lead to calm, which can, in turn, can lead to joy. It varies from moment to moment and from person to person, but all of a sudden it's like you start with a little nugget and it just... Or you start with a seed, there are so many metaphors. And if you sort of nurture this particular seed, it just blossoms, right? We have this term, "flourishing," and I think that's, for me, one of the coolest things about the therapy, which is that people come in because they're suffering and they want their suffering relieved, and that's certainly a fundamental aim of the work, but it doesn't stop at relieving suffering, it continues, sort of organically, seamlessly, moves into also creating flourishing, this kind of from little seeds of growth or little seeds of change, and letting them flower.

Neil Sattin: Right. And it makes an intuitive sense to me. And I'm reminded of, I can't remember who said it, but someone said something about how you get rid of darkness by shining the light brighter and... But not by taking away the darkness, and... So it makes me think of that, that the more you amplify the flourishing and allow that to grow organically, and that brings up a question for me, but the more that you do that, the less room there is for the shadow, the dysfunction, to be there and to be a problem.

Diana Fosha: I think that's true. I think that's true. Yeah.

Neil Sattin: So the question, the question was, and I do want to go back to core affective emotions, but before we do, what are some ways... because I don't know about you, but I've been in situations where someone has shone a spotlight on how good a time we're all having and it's actually doesn't amplified, in fact, it feels almost inauthentic, or like that person is somehow kind of removed from the moment instead of actually they're participating in it with all of us, so what are the qualities of shining a light on positive change, or on a moment of goodness that actually help create resonance?

Diana Fosha: Right. No, I think that's excellent. So first of all, it has to come from within the individual who's doing the experience. In other words, it's not the therapist who says, "Gee whizz, look at that, isn't that great?" Which can evoke very much, or elicit very much exactly what you're saying while, actually, it actually isn't. You think it may be, but I'm actually sitting here feeling embarrassed, or it's evoking a lot of discomfort in me, or whatever it is. And so that we're always attuning to the experience, the internal experience, so that it's not that it looks like it feels right, it's the person, him or herself, who's really... So that, for instance, if I said, "What's that like for you?" Then the person will say, "Wow, I am really, really aware in this moment that this discomfort that I walk around with usually, is just not here. It's crazy, but it's really not here." I had this woman, and I'm thinking of her as I'm saying this, and I can hear her words sort of echoing for me, that she kept saying, "This is so weird. It's good, but it's so weird." [chuckle]

Diana Fosha: Right? Because the actual experience of not having the depression, or not having the uptight-ness, it's nice, but if that's what you're used to, and like if you're wearing a tight shirt and you've just worn that tight shirt all the time, it's so nice to take it off, but it's also so strange, if that's what you're use to. So we're just... That's what we're processing, we're processing the person's very sort of granular and very specific experience. And as to your point, it's not just a linear process that one good thing leads to another, it can very often lead to another defense or another block or all of a sudden self-consciousness or embarrassment or anxiety. I mean it can go one thing... I'm sort of theoretically talking about what can happen and often does. But sometimes we're as uncomfortable and as embarrassed when we're feeling positive things, they feel exposing. Alright, so then there's another round of work, be it with protective mechanisms or shame or other traumatic issues that can be brought forth by the positive emotions. So it's not like the A leads to B leads to C leads to D. It's very... The process is very individual and the safety isn't staying very connected to what each person's experience really is. And welcoming it, welcoming it whether it's good or whether it's difficult.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And one thing that, in what you just said, that really stood out for me, even just in my initial question was, that it wasn't so much a declaration about, "Isn't this amazing what just happened?" It was more like a recognition that something is happening right now, and the question like, "What's your experience of this that's happening right now?"

Diana Fosha: Right, what's this like for you?

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, which I mean I'm just even thinking in terms of our day-to-day lives, the number of times that we make assumptions about what's going on in our partner's worlds, versus just asking, "What's going on for you right now, what's your... What's this like for you, that we're experiencing right now?"

Diana Fosha: And may I add? And also listening. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Diana Fosha: Right. It's asking the question, knowing to ask the question and not assume and then really listening to what the other person has to say, because our experiences are so specific to us, and those assumptions so often turn out to be surprisingly not true for the other person.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. And that's so much I think about what excited me in reading more and more about AEDP. And, you know, actually I was like looking are there any AEDP therapists in Maine. There aren't many actually, which is where I am. But I definitely want to experience it. Because again for me, I'm experiencing this more on a gut level that the power of being held that way in a therapeutic setting of being accepted, of having someone see me of being... Having someone there with me, and allowing me to get at whatever I haven't been able to quite get at before, and where my defensive structures and protective structures might be getting in the way of me just doing something simple like getting my to-do list done in an organized way.

Diana Fosha: Yes, and I [chuckle] think I need to try to see if we can...

Neil Sattin: Right, hook me up, Diana.

Diana Fosha: Absolutely, absolutely. I'm doing the match-making. And we do have a therapist directory. But I appreciate what you're saying, it's a powerful thing.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and so let's talk a little bit more about...because we've been generalizing about particular kinds of emotional experiences that contain within it a lot of resource. It's resource for how we show up in the world, how we show up with our partners, how we fuel creative endeavors, but they're not... It's not all... It's not all joy, right? There are other emotions there that are important in terms of their power for us.

Diana Fosha: Yes. Yes. Absolutely, all of the emotions, and there are really two that come to mind that I might want to just mention, because we tend to... Or people often avoid them, and one has to do with grief, and the other is anger. And I think there's just a... There's something about grief which is intrinsically painful, grief and sadness about losses and disappointments, and...

Neil Sattin: Right, you even talk about how that can... And this... I read this and I was like, "Yes, of course," how that can come up in a therapeutic setting where something great has just happened, and then, rather than that feeling amazing, you can feel this overwhelming sense of grief for all the missed opportunities or times you didn't feel that when you were younger, and how important it is to be nurtured through an experience of grief or mourning around those losses.

Diana Fosha: Exactly. Exactly. And to just recognize that actually, particularly if we're not alone and we're supported and that grief can be witnessed as we're feeling it; actually something very, very important happens, that in going through it and going through the process of mourning or feeling our sadness or grief, there's actually... When we come out the other side, there's a tremendous feeling of relief, and... I can feel it sort of as I'm saying it, that I almost feel my chest expanding and I feel... I feel my heart and all of this kind of energy is not going into containing something but actually feeling it. It's almost like you see a movie or a play that's deeply emotional, and you're crying, and then you come out, and there's an openness that comes in the wake of the grief, whether it's perspective or acceptance, but there's just something about... Our organism needs to mourn when we have those losses, and that's part of what psychic health really is. And when we just reflexively tighten up not so as not to feel it, we're putting all our energy into containing something that's natural; it's difficult but very profound and important.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Something that feels important here is how all of these deep emotions, when you experience them, you get to metabolize them, and I think that's not always clear to us that...because grief... The prospect of mourning something important, the loss of a relationship or a loved one, or a friend, or an opportunity, it can feel like, "Well, how will that... How will going through that pain help me?" so I'm going to, instead, I'm going to just pretend I'm okay, or like I got over it.

Diana Fosha: Right. Right. Right. And it's sort of... That's what I mean, that these are very sort of powerful wired-in emotions, we have them; people all over the world, regardless of culture, experience grief and anger and sadness, and fear and joy; these are just sort of wired into us, and they're also wired into mammals. They're very, very powerful experiences, and if we don't fight them and we experience them, and metabolize them, then we're able to really come to terms with whatever these experiences are that evoked them and realize things. So I'll tell you something... A story comes to mind of work that I did many, many, many years ago, pretty early in my career, when I was working with a man whose father had died when he was a young boy, and he was left very alone with that experience. There was the belief in his family that he was too young, and therefore, nobody talked to him about it, I think under the good intentions of saving him pain; again, misguided intentions.

Diana Fosha: He wasn't allowed to go to the funeral, so he was really... And by the time I met him several decades later, that wasn't the only thing, of course, but that was a major aspect. So he was a very numb person, he was very numb and dissociative and so on and so forth, and quite, quite distant and disconnected from his feelings, and he couldn't have... It manifested in his not really being able to have intimacy in his relationships. So after some time, we were finally able to make our way back to the little boy, he was seven or nine or so, I think, when his dad died, and he really was able to feel the grief and the fear of those early experiences, I think, for... Really for the first time, or one of the first times, certainly first time with somebody, and it was really, really deep sobs and deep pain. And I just have it as clear as if it had happened a week ago, or yesterday, of his weeping and the wave of tears ending, and his sort of breathing deeply and looking at me and starting to sort of calm, and his saying, "I have to go sit at the grave of my father," which he had never done.

Neil Sattin: Wow.

Diana Fosha: And that there was something about the power of that moment, of that knowing of what he needed to do, that only came after he went through this deep grieving.

Neil Sattin: I'm feeling really moved by that, just imagining that person's experience and the power of that, and it makes me wonder how do we know if we're safe enough to go there? Is it a knowing or is it more like a deeper knowing where... I'm not even sure I'm articulating this question well, but I'm thinking about how often we end up in relationship because the dopamine and oxytocin and that potent cocktail, that... Of bio-chemicals that we get to experience when we're together, it gives us that illusion of safety, and often there's even the sense of like, "I can tell this person anything," or, "They see me more deeply than anyone ever does." And then part of the reckoning that comes later is trying to establish true safety, and I'm just wondering, yeah, how do we... If our goal is to really foster that safety where we are allowed to go to those deep levels of experience and come out the other side metabolizing them, what... Yeah, how do we know that we have that?

Diana Fosha: You don't mean just in a therapeutic relationship, you mean really in the relationships that we have?

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah.

Diana Fosha: Right?

Neil Sattin: Right, because so many of us are trying to heal attachment wounds, right? And especially with our partners.

Diana Fosha: Right. Right. I think a couple of things sort of come to mind in response to that, I think we... That's how we gain experience, is that sense of when we go to those deep places, how the person that we're with is able to respond and they can listen and empathize and be there with each time one of these things happen in small ways or large ways, I think that increases our sense of safety and vice versa, that sort of heavy cocktail that you're talking about of early days and... You know and then being willing to be really, really vulnerable to only discover that that person then sort of shuts down or disappears or gets critical or... Right?

Diana Fosha: So, but then, which are... They're both very not unusual experiences, and I think the learning and the intimacy is forged through caring about getting better at it and repairing and owning our mistakes and trying again and being willing to risk again, because I think what's... And that takes me back to what I said at the beginning about the healing within, the great big assistant all of that is that while we want to feel safe and need to feel safe and we spend so much effort protecting ourselves, there's another way in which we want to be known, we want to... We also, much as that gentleman I was talking about had spent 40 years in numbness and dissociation, when he finally felt safe, there was also something in him that needed to grieve and wanted to grieve. So it's both; we need to feel safe, but we also want to feel known and that pushes us to take chances and be vulnerable and also, the importance, and this is what I want to emphasize, whether it's therapy or... And/or life, to learn to repair, because we sure as hell don't get it perfect we're just right so much of the time.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that must be an amazing part of your training for AEDP therapists, is that art of repairing with their clients when they haven't made quite the right step, in terms of an intervention or a noticing.

Diana Fosha: Exactly. Exactly. And all of a sudden the person before you gets defended or spaces out or starts to talk pretty superficially. So there's maybe something got activated for them, but maybe it's something that I, as the therapist, "Wait a second, have I done something? Did I miss that? Did I... " Or any number of things. And I think the willingness to just want to know and the willingness to own those mistakes or those... Yeah, is so huge. "I am so sorry, please tell me," and let me look in myself, "What happened there? What made me space out? What made me be insensitive, or say something that felt un-empathic or... Right, let's be with that together, and let me own my stuff."

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that willingness to be vulnerable that way, as a therapist or as a partner, to say, "Wow, I'm really sorry. I clearly messed up just then," and to recognize, in that way, that you're holding the well-being of the other person within you, and recognizing that you have some responsibility in that moment, for that.

Diana Fosha: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Diana Fosha: And I want to say another thing about that, that's sort of specific to how we teach and train in AEDP, which is that we make use of videotape, we videotape our sessions. So first of all, that requires our patient's trust in allowing us to do that, but patients really want to be seen and very often appreciate the fact that not only do they have their session, but that the therapist is going to look at the session again or... But it's the willingness of therapists to be vulnerable in showing their tapes to their supervisors. By the way, tapes is a dated term.

Neil Sattin: I was going to say. [chuckle]

Diana Fosha: We still call them video tapes, I haven't had video tapes in 20 years, but the language hasn't quite caught up with the technology, but it's that patients allowing the therapists to do that, the therapists being vulnerable and sharing that with their supervisors. And myself and my colleagues who teach AEDP are being vulnerable and actually showing our video tapes. You don't have to just... When you're training in AEDP, you don't have to just listen to me tell you, "Oh, do this and do that," I have to be vulnerable and put this thing up on the screen that shows me doing this work, for better and for worse, right? And I... So...

Neil Sattin: I love that even in your... In the book, The Transforming Power of Affect there are lots of clinical vignettes, where you describe work, and it's annotated, so we know, as the reader, what's going on. But I loved how you even annotated like, "Well, this was a place where I totally messed up," or... It's really helpful to see that. And then, to also see, after, subsequently, how... What you do about that, how you don't just kinda go off the rails and stay off the rails.

Diana Fosha: Right, or have to get it perfect all the time, because then we would [chuckle] be in very big trouble.

Neil Sattin: Right. Right. Diana, I'm wondering if we can... There are obviously so many other things to talk about. And your work is so rich, I appreciate you taking the time to chat with us today. Hopefully, we can talk again at some point. One topic that's come up several times in this conversation has been the topic of our defenses, or protective strategies, and I'm wondering if you could give us some thoughts before we go on how to recognize a defensive strategy in ourselves and maybe in someone else, and then that next question of like, "When you recognize it, what do you do?"

Diana Fosha: So I think maybe one of the ways to recognize it in ourselves is that we feel maybe comfortable enough, but nothing happens. [chuckle] Meaning things don't deepen, things don't open, they... It's almost like a conversation that stays somewhat superficial. Nobody's making a faux pas, but nobody's learning anything either, it's a little boring maybe. Conversationally, that's the equivalent of sort of keeping safe, but too safe, so safe that there's no exchange, right? So it would be some version of that, the sense of, "Okay, I stayed safe, but nothing happened, I didn't connect, I didn't learn, I didn't take chances." And I think the opposite of that feels a little whatever one's version is, a little breathless and a little risky, a little scary, a little exciting, a little bit like you don't exactly know what you're going to say next, right? I'm describing, I'm trying to describe sort of qualities of...

Neil Sattin: My best podcast interviews. [chuckle]

Diana Fosha: Right. Right. Right. When you ask the question to which you really don't know the answer yet.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Diana Fosha: As opposed to the... Right? Either way, in both ways. And similarly, you recognize it in somebody this, if you walk out of an encounter, a get-together, and you're not moved, or you haven't learned anything, or you're leaving much as you came, that's a pretty good indication that everybody's nice and protected, and nobody got hurt and nobody got shamed, but nobody connected. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and so if I recognize that's going on, two questions come up for me, one is the... “What do I do about that?” The second is like, “are there hints of how I could discover what's the core experience that my defenses are actually protecting me against, to know myself more deeply?”

Diana Fosha: There's actually a book that was written by a colleague of mine, which does a wonderful, wonderful job of talking about that, outside of the therapeutic situation. She actually uses examples from therapy, but she uses examples from therapy to help people identify their own defenses and their own emotions. It's called, It's Not Always Depression and the author is Hilary Jacobs Hendel, H-E-N-D-E-L. So that might be a very, very good recommendation about how to sort of apply this stuff to oneself. And I think the other is that we know... We know when we're avoiding grief... Not always, but a fair amount of the time we know that we're trying not to be angry, we know that we're trying to pretend that we're not anxious or afraid. I think there's a fair amount of knowing what we're trying not to feel when we're trying to not feel it. Right? I'm talking about sort of ordinary interactions rather than sort of deep-seated drama. That sort of necessarily takes us to therapy. But in our daily interactions, I think we have a pretty good idea in some part of our mind are these core experiences, core emotions. So, we're trying to not go near because we're scared of them, or they make us feel just vulnerable.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I could see even asking yourself the question in that moment of just asking yourself, "What am I avoiding by doing this thing that I always do, this engaging in this habit and being open to the answer that arises there?"

Diana Fosha: Right, right. If I weren't talking so much now or if I weren't just asking the other person questions about him or herself, what might I be feeling? You know, whatever one's particular strategy is.

Neil Sattin: Whoo. Yeah.

Diana Fosha: Yeah. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: My sigh in that moment is just a recognition of... As much as I myself am an optimist, I try to dwell in the gratitude and all of that, but I recognize yeah, there's... There are a lot of places where there's pain or there's anger or there's disappointment or... And I'm feeling for all of you listening, the blessing hopefully in allowing yourself to feel more of that, so that you get the richness that's on the other side of metabolizing those things in your life. Diana, are you still there?

Diana Fosha: I am.

Neil Sattin: Okay. [chuckle] You were so silent, I wasn't sure if you had just been like, "And cut." I really appreciate your taking the time to be here with us today. And what's the best way for people who want to learn a little bit more about AEDP or therapists who might want to get some training in that modality. What's the best way for people to find out more about you and your work?

Diana Fosha: Yes, thank you for asking that. I think that we have a very rich website. The URL is A-E-D-P institute, one word, lower case. And there is a lot about AEDP. There are a lot of papers that people can download for free, by myself and by my colleagues who teach in the AEDP Institute. And there's a lot of stuff on our trainings. I myself teach an immersion course, which is a five-day intensive, which I teach several times a year. The next one is coming up at the end of January in Florida. And there are other courses. We have skills courses and so on, and so forth. And we have a therapist directory [chuckle] where we might look for somebody that you or other people who are interested in this might see. And so I would highly, highly recommend that people who want to know more about it, either for therapeutic training, or just to learn a bit more about the approach really go to our website and has references to all of my books, and video tapes, and just a whole bunch of different kinds of resources.

Neil Sattin: Great, and we will have all those links on the show notes, which you can get, again if you visit F-O-S-H-A. And so we'll have a link to And you can also download a transcript of this conversation to study it again and again. Unfortunately, we won't have a videotape for you to watch. [chuckle]

Diana Fosha: Videotape. You're picking up my antiquated language. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Diana Fosha, thank you so much for being here with us today. Such a treat to be able to talk with you.

Diana Fosha: Neil, thank you so much. This was one of those conversations, much like we were talking about that doesn't feel flat. And it goes to unexpected places, which makes it feel lively. And I'm really, really appreciating this chance to share this work. And you're really having gotten to know it. So, thank you so much.

Neil Sattin: You're welcome. And the pleasure is totally mine I think. Well, maybe not totally, but quite a bit mine.

Diana Fosha: I don't think so. Very mutual.


175: What’s Keeping You From Changing?

Jan 7, 2019 24:37


Did you make any New Year's resolutions? Every January 1st many of us make resolutions to make some changes in our lives. Whether it be to change something significant in your relationship, spend more time with your significant other, or even something small like reading more, we all start off meaning well but we don't always follow through with making the changes we want to make. In fact, studies have shown that around 80% of New Year's resolutions fail by February. What is stopping us from making those changes and why do we hold ourselves back from change? What do you do if your partner isn’t on board for the change you desire? In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about the things that may be holding you back, so that you can move past them and become a beacon of strength, change, and integrity. Let’s get the year started off right, together.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


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Hello, and welcome to another episode, another YEAR, of Relationship Alive. This is your host Neil Sattin. And...Happy New Year! Big things in store for you this year on Relationship Alive - some exciting new guests, and some return visits from some regular favorites here on the show.

Has it ever happened to you that you’ve set an intention to grow, or change, but then - not followed through? For instance, if you’re like me, and not totally jaded, then perhaps you like to start the new year with reflecting on the past year and setting some intentions for the coming year. And while that can initially be inspiring, I think it can often be followed by a bit of dread. That dread can be accompanied by thoughts like “How do I make this year different from year’s past? Am I really capable?” - but, especially in the case of relationships, it can also be something like “All this change and inspiration sounds great to me - but what if my partner isn’t on board? What happens if I’m committed to all this change and growth, and they’re not?” So in today’s episode, we’re going to talk about the ways that this can be holding you back so that you can move past it and become a beacon of strength, change, and integrity - so that you can feel inspired within yourself, and in your relationship. Let’s get the year started off right, together.

OK - let’s dive in.

Growing in your relationship - creates a conundrum. What if your partner doesn’t want to come along for the ride? What if you grow in different directions? What if you find yourself in a place where your relationship doesn’t work for you anymore? This is actually kind of a big deal when you’re contemplating your own path and growth because if you don’t have actual answers to these questions, you could find yourself with a fearful part protecting you from actually making any changes.

So when I asked, at the beginning, if you’ve ever experienced being excited about some potential change, only to have it not happen, this is a dynamic that’s often at play - the internal parts that can sabotage our best, inspired intentions.

The obvious problem is that if you’re not actually committed to your growth, and truly taking action towards it, then things will truly not shift.

You also don’t want to get caught in that cycle of getting excited about some new thing that you’ve learned, only to not even try to implement it because your partner might not be along for the ride. Or because as you see yourself shifting, changing, and growing - you’re not sure if you’ll even be compatible with your relationship anymore. See - it’s no wonder that these shifts and changes don’t come so easily, is it?

In some respects, your relationship is what it is. It’s something we’ve talked about here on the show before - that the way things ARE is the product of how you and your partner are, in your lives, right now. If nothing changes then, well, nothing changes. You put the same ingredients in, you get the same ingredients out. And it’s natural to think that we’d WANT good change, right? But the truth is, that if change could mean that everything actually changes - well, that might not be so great. Often the reason that things are the way they are is that they serve some purpose in our lives. It may not be the greatest, most sustainable, most healthy purpose - but it is a purpose nonetheless.

In some ways, I’m letting you off the hook for the way that things are. And, at the same time, hopefully, this is helping you get clear on WHY things are the way that they are. It’s really helpful to stop before you try to change anything, and to ask yourself - How is it serving me to have things be just the way that they are? What beliefs about myself does this allow me to perpetuate? What stability, or certainty, does it give me to have things just continue on as they are? If things were to actually change, what would I be afraid might happen?

If you can get really honest with your answers to these questions, then you will have some help in taking things to the next level.

Now it’s funny - I’ve talked about my communication guide here on the show quite a bit - because it has some helpful secrets for helping you connect with others around difficult topics. If you’ve downloaded and read the guide already, now would be a good time to re-read it, and to ask yourself how it applies to communicating with YOURSELF. Because some of those inner conversations can be challenging too! If you haven’t downloaded it yet, you can grab it at, or by texting the word RELATE to the number 33444 and following the instructions.

Now what about that fear that I’ve mentioned a few times now. The fear that if we grow, that we’ll leave our partner behind. Or that they won’t be interested in us. Or...basically the fear that if we change, it might mean that our relationship ends.

There are two important ways to think about this, that hopefully will help get you unstuck.

The first is to be able to draw a distinction, for yourself, between KNOWING what you’d like to do, and/or change - and actually DOING it - taking action. Are you stuck in the knowing stage, without really doing much? I’m asking you this in all sincerity - because I’ve noticed that in myself at times, and because I often notice it in my clients. We KNOW what we SHOULD do - but do we actually make a choice and commit to doing it? No. So before you go down the road of saying, for instance, that you’ve already tried changing, and your partner ISN’T coming along for the ride - take a hard look at the evidence of what you’ve actually changed. Change your beliefs and your mindset, sure! And...have your actions changed? If they haven’t, then there’s still some work to be done.

Now, how do we take on the fear, the ways that our fear of what change might do could be holding us back? Let’s get right to that. But first, I’m going to take a moment to talk about this week’s sponsor. I’ve found them to be REALLY useful over the past few weeks, and they have a special offer for you to try them out for yourself.

So - how do we take on the fear that our growth is actually going to separate us from our partners?

I don’t want to lie to you here. It’s possible. What I mean is, it’s possible that if you grow in a way that really resonates with you, and feels true to the essence of who you are, that there is a chance that your partner might not want to come along for the ride. And, if that happens, then you will have some decisions to make. But you’ll be able to make those decisions from a place of actually having grown, having embodied something new for yourself, and thus the WAY that you approach those conversations and decisions will be different than they would be right now, as you’re simply imagining what that would be like. And you have no way of knowing that until you actually do the growing, until you actually experience it, and see how it impacts you and the other people in your life.

Now I don’t think that you should just grow without considering your partner. By all means, consider how your actions and growth impact the safety of your relationship, the agreements of your container, and make choices that feel like they’re in integrity. If it’s clear that this represents a shift, do your best to NOT go rogue - take time to check in with your partner about what you’d like, the choices that you’re making, and the vision that you have for yourself. You might also share with them some of the ways that you see this having a positive impact on them, and on your relationship. Because most people respond to change with their own fear. So recognize that you’re going to have to address that head-on in your conversation.

That’s a bit of sidebar here, though. Because we’re talking about you and your growth. You and the way that you might be holding yourself back. And, as I said, there is a real possibility that your fear will come to pass.

But - love is a strong thing. And if your growth is fueled by love, then my guess is that you’ll find that it only increases your capacity to show up in your relationship. To be more fully who you are, and to bring that to your partner. Can you do that and, at the same time, invite your partner into your world as it’s expanding? And can you give them the time and space to digest it, so that it’s not a now-or-nothing proposition - so they’re allowed to stretch into something new. To experience the discomfort of that and come back into balance.

What is it about you that doesn’t trust your partner could do that? Talk to that part of yourself, and reassure them that you have chosen another human and that all humans have the capacity to grow, especially if it’s in ways that are ultimately positive for them.

And, in the need to take action. And then be ever-aware for what might happen next. Make connecting to your partner your priority in those moments, just like I was talking about back in episode 171 - because that will help them feel safe despite the tension that your growth might be creating. And I say *might* because you don’t really know until you try. It could be that your partner was, for some reason, just WAITING for you to take action.

This dance, of each person holding back, waiting for the other to act, while living in competing fears - first that something either of you does will disconnect you, and second, that you’ll never get to grow and live the way that you want to - this dance is something that most of us do at some point, or at some points in our relationship. And it’s possible that if you’re not the one doing the growing in this moment, that your partner is actually doing some growing and wondering if YOU are going to come along for the ride. Wouldn’t that be an interesting thing to discover?

So. Notice your fear. Address it head-on. Take steps to re-regulate yourself, to bring yourself back into balance.  Then ask yourself, what am I truly afraid of here? Get really clear on your resistance. This is a good time to do a little work - dialoguing with your inner parts - using Internal Family Systems - can be great. Check out episodes 26 or 140 for that. Or if you’re familiar with Byron Katie, and the work, this could be a good time for that too. Yes - I’m definitely hoping to have her on the show at some point!

Because in the end, your goal should be to get clear so that you can actually move forward. A life of holding yourself back for fear of what *might* happen - that’s not what I want for you. A life of shining brightly, and inspiring others - especially your partner - with your integrity - now that sounds like something to shoot for.

Ultimately, you are going to have to make the choice, the actual commitment, to follow through on your path. As I alluded to earlier, it’s possible that you’re not actually making the choice - that instead, you have the knowledge, but you’re not actually following through on making it happen. Is that possible? Only you know for sure. But see what shifts in you if you decide that you are COMMITTED to a particular path of growth…

Here are some examples you might try on:

I am COMMITTED to being truthful in my relationship.
I am COMMITTED to taking care of myself when triggered, and not trying to have important conversations when I’m in a state of dysregulation.
I am COMMITTED to being positive, and having fun - and to not bringing negativity into my relationship.
I am COMMITTED to being monogamous and pouring my energy into fostering connection and intimacy with my partner.
I am COMMITTED to self-care, to giving myself what I need - and if I don’t know what I need, I’m COMMITTED to figuring it out.

Try some of those out, and feel the energy that commitment brings to your actions. Are you choosing to do something? Or are you just going to “try” to do something?

In the end, once you realize that your fears are holding you back, you may or may not be able to eliminate your fears. But as you’ve heard me say before, this is a time for courage. Feel the fear, and do it anyway. And then - keep paying attention! You don’t want to bluster on ahead - do what it takes to stay present to however the world, and especially your partner, are responding to your path. And, if you need to, make adjustments. But at least your adjustments will be made based on reality, not what you think might happen, or what you’re worried might happen.

That’s my wish for you. That this New Year you can set whatever intentions truly matter to you. And make the commitment to choosing, to taking whatever actions are required to get you there. And that you can stay present, taking care of yourself, and the others in your sphere of influence so that your path of growth is informed by your impact on the world, and the world’s impact on you. Happy New Year - and see you again next week where my guest will be Diana Fosha, creator of AEDP, which is an amazing modality for healing trauma and attachment injuries so that you can show up more brightly in your life. I’m really excited about her work - and to bring it to you next week on Relationship Alive. Until then, take care! And keep me posted.

174: She Comes First: More Orgasms For Women with Ian Kerner

Jan 1, 2019 50:12


What are some of the keys to helping a woman experience pleasure, and orgasms? If you’re a woman and you’re not having orgasms - and you want to be - then this episode could be really helpful - sure, for you - but especially for your partner. Maybe leave this episode’s transcript under their pillow? This week, our guest is Ian Kerner, New York Times bestselling author of She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman. Ian is a licensed psychotherapist, and nationally recognized sexuality counselor who specializes in sex therapy, couples therapy and working with individuals on a range of relational issues. Today Ian Kerner shares how he has helped couples create more intimate and satisfying sexual relationships and he addresses the knowledge gap that many of us have about a woman’s sexual anatomy.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


Visit Ian Kerner’s website to learn more about his work.

Pick up your copy of Ian Kerner’s book, She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman .

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Visit to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Ian Kerner.

Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of: The Railsplitters - Check them Out


Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome, to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. Today I have with me Ian Kerner who is a nationally recognized sexuality counselor specializing in sex therapy, couples therapy, and working with individuals on a range of related  issues. He's regularly quoted as an expert in various media outlets with recent appearances on CNN, The Today Show, The Dr. Oz show, and now...he's here on Relationship Alive. Ian is The New York Times best­selling author of numerous books including "She Comes First", which is what we're  here to talk about today, and I should say that "She Comes First" is subtitled "The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman". In addition to being a clinical fellow of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, Ian is also certified by the American Association of Sexuality  Educators, Counselors, and Therapists - also known as AASECT, with a doctorate in clinical sexology. If you download the transcript of today’s episode you will ALSO get a bonus show guide with highlights and action items from the show. You can do that at (I-A-N) or by texting the word PASSION to the number 33444 and following the instructions.

Ian Kerner - thank you so much for joining us today on Relationship Alive!

Ian Kerner: Thanks, Neil, my pleasure.

Neil Sattin: Great. Well, we are here primarily to talk about She Comes First, which is a book about how to give pleasure to a woman and before we get started I was wondering if you could just let our listeners know a little bit more about you and how you came to write this book.

Ian Kerner: Sure, well, I guess that there are two ways I came to write the book. One is sort of the professional path and the other is the personal path. Professionally, as a sex therapist at the time that I wrote the book and even through today, one of the questions I get asked most often by women is “what can I do to have an orgasm during intercourse, and what am I doing wrong?”. So I really wrote the book as a response to that question. I wanted to let women know you're not doing anything wrong. It's just that, you know, a lot of the men that you may happen to be partnered with are what I would call ill-cliterate, they know more about what's under the hood of a car than the hood of a clitoris and it's often through no fault of their own, and there's nothing wrong with you. It's just that we are sort of all trapped in what I'd call the Intercourse Discourse in terms of thinking of sex often in one way and that once you kinda break out of the intercourse discourse and think of other ways of pleasuring, and once men understand that the clitoris is the powerhouse of the female orgasm and how to stimulate the clitoris, then you really won't be asking the question, “what can I do to have an orgasm during the intercourse?”

Ian Kerner: You may not be having intercourse at all, or you may be having intercourse plus other activities. So that's kind of the professional path. Personally, I suffered for many years from a very common sexual dysfunction, premature ejaculation. It's actually more prevalent than erectile disorder but certainly much less talked about, and it's an issue that leaves many men feeling sexually crippled, leaves many partners feeling frustrated and dissatisfied. And I suffered quite a deal from this... Quite a bit from this issue to the point that it affected my desire to date, and my desire to make love to a woman, certainly my confidence and my self-esteem and...

Ian Kerner: When I began to learn more about female sexuality and about the power of the clitoris as sort of the centerpiece of female sexual arousal and I was able to learn how to pleasure a woman in other ways outside of just intercourse and with just my penis and I began to make love with not just my penis, but my mouth and my mind and my hands and every other part of my mind, body, and soul, it really liberated me and actually that liberation and that confidence and self-esteem became one of the most important tools that I gained at my disposal to manage premature ejaculation.

Ian Kerner: So that is sort of the professional and personal pathway that led to writing She Comes First and I've been, you know, amazed over the years in terms of how the book has resonated and continues to sell and I hear not just from men but from women as well, who learned from the book and give it to their partners. And probably I'm most flattered when I hear from a parent who says, whether it's a mom or a dad, "I want my son to be sexually competent and to be respectful of female sexuality and understand female sexuality. And so I gave your book to my 18-year-old son." So that's a little bit of background to She Comes First.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that's great and it's really interesting to me because... Well, for one thing, we had Wendy Maltz on the show to talk about sexual healing and I got connected with you through Wendy and that was without really even knowing what you had done and what you were writing about. And then on the show, we've also talked a lot with a few people in particular, Diana Richardson, who wrote "Heart of Tantra" and then also Marnia Robinson, who wrote "Cupid's Poisoned Arrow", about both non-orgasmic sex and also the problems that orgasms can cause, particularly for men, in disconnecting them from their partner. And I'm bringing both of these things up because as I was reading your book, which is basically about how to perform cunnilingus, like that's what this book is about, and it does it in a very informative way, where I learned a lot about female sexuality that I didn't even know necessarily, and it's... I wanted to bring this actually to our audience because sometimes, for one thing, you may just want to go for it and have orgasms and she wanted to have some great methods and knowledge at your disposal on how to do that, so you're not just winging it.

Neil Sattin: And I appreciated how in the book you brought up that most men actually don't have a lot of sources of information for how to please a woman. It's maybe the locker room, probably porn and apart from that, there's not a lot of guidance being offered. So I liked how you offer it from that perspective as a way to help bring people up the curve.

Ian Kerner: Yeah, no, thank you. I mean, certainly on one level, the book is a very practical guide in how to pleasure a woman and how to, you know, create or get help to mutually co-construct and create orgasmic satisfaction and that is, I believe, through cunnilingus, not only in my own experiences, but you know, study after study shows that women, not that they prefer oral sex to intercourse, just that they most more consistently orgasm from cunnilingus as opposed to intercourse. That has a lot to do with the distance between the clitoris and the vaginal entrance, and in some women, it can be anywhere from two centimeters to four centimeters and many sexual positions or most sexual positions miss the clitoris altogether and the greater the distance, they call it the vaginal clitoral distance, the greater the distance between the clitoris with the clitoral glans, the head of the clitoris, what's visible and the vaginal entrance, the greater that distance, the harder it is for a woman to orgasm through intercourse. So, certainly manual stimulation, whether with your hand or with a sex toy and oral stimulation are more direct and consistent ways of eliciting orgasms. And I wanted and I hope that the book... I think actually the staying power of the book has been that it's a little more than just a cunnilingus guide and that it is both a real introduction to understanding female sexuality and hopefully there's a little bit of a fun philosophy in it as well.

Ian Kerner: And I just came across a really interesting statistic that related to porn use and that heterosexual women are the biggest consumers of lesbian porn. So heterosexual women are the biggest consumers of lesbian porn and that's for a couple of reasons. One, that heterosexual porn often really objectifies women and that's not a turn on to women who are watching porn. And then of course lesbian porn features a lot more cunnilingus. And when you look at the top search terms by women that women enter into porn sites... How explicit is this show, Neil? How G-rated, PG-rated or R-rated do you want me to keep it?

Neil Sattin: We're good, we rate it explicit on iTunes.

Ian Kerner: Okay. So when you look at the top five search...

Neil Sattin: However, let me just interrupt you and say if you're listening with your eight-year-old in the car right now, it might be a good time to hit pause and then come back to it.


Ian Kerner: Okay, I would say you should have hit pause like 10 minutes ago.


Ian Kerner: But if you need to hit pause now go ahead and hit pause now. But the top terms are things like "pussy licking", "pussy eating", "pussy touching". I mean, they're all terms that really come back to clitoral stimulation and particularly oral stimulation of the clitoris. So I guess, I just wanted to provide a little bit of context and both around the importance of direct clitoral stimulation and the way that I'm trying through the book to take an act that's traditionally considered foreplay and turn it into coreplay, a complete act of love making that really vouchsafes and guarantees almost the female orgasm.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I love that, especially because we are arriving at a very similar place where we're talking about expanding the definition of intimacy and expanding what it means to be making love with your partner, coming at it from different directions. But you arrive at this very similar place which is, how are you really exploring sensuality with your partner and are you doing it in a way that's actually not objectifying your partner, but really about tapping into what really makes them tick and feel good? So let's start with that because one of the most fascinating things in reading your book was that there are 18 parts to the clitoris, and I'm not expecting you to necessarily remember what all of those are right here now.

Ian Kerner: [chuckle] Okay.

Neil Sattin: But I was like, "What are you even talking about?" And then you went on to elucidate. And so I'm hoping that you can just give us a little bit of a taste of what you're talking about.

Ian Kerner: So male and female sexual anatomy, although they look very different, they're actually homologous and that means during the early months of gestation, when a woman is pregnant with a baby, the baby isn't really differentiated as male or female until around the 12th or 13th week and up until that time, the baby doesn't really have an assigned sex, and all of the tissue that's ultimately going to form the genital structures, it's really up for grabs, which way is it going to go, male or female? And then around the 12th or 13th week, there's some different bursts of hormones, namely testosterone. And the fetus is either differentiated as male or female, but all of the same tissue is used and male sexual anatomy will grow outward into a penis and scrotum with testicles and it's all very visible.

Ian Kerner: But those same structures really exist for women, they just kind of grow... Everything grows inwards. And so what you end up seeing is a vulva that includes a vaginal entrance and inner and outer labia, as well as what we would also call the clitoris. Really what we tend to think of as the clitoris and sometimes people refer to it as a bump or the little man in the boat or the pea in the pod. I mean, there's a lot of sort of vernacular around the clitoris but really that what you're seeing is the head of the clitoris, or the clitoral glans just as a guy has a head on his penis, and really for a woman that clitoral glans is really just kind of the tip of the iceberg. And there's a whole internal development of sexual anatomy and really the latest science is really showing that all of that material really encompasses what you would consider sort of like the clitoral network, and so that even the g-spot is probably just the back and roots of the clitoris.

Ian Kerner: And so that's really what I mean when I say that the clitoris has 18 parts, that the part that we normally associate with... Usually are generally associated with the clitoris again, is really just the tip of the iceberg and there are other parts that are internal and external that constitute the totality of the clitoral network, and it would be extremely... It's really rather rare for a woman to really experience arousal and certainly orgasm without clitoral stimulation.

Neil Sattin: Right. So even if you're having, say vaginal orgasms, that's probably because you're stimulating the part of the clitoris that is actually surrounding...

Ian Kerner: Correct, correct. And those... That part of... Those parts of the clitoris tend to be either on the surface of the vulva or within the first inch or two of the vaginal entrance and the deeper you go into the vagina, the less nerve endings, there are... The less sensitivity there is. And so really when you think about making love, making love to a woman, rather than thinking vaginally, you should really be thinking clitorally. And rather than thinking about penetration, you should be thinking about stimulation and rather than thinking about really internal stimulation, you should be thinking about external stimulation of the vulva.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so hence what you were talking about earlier, about how the penetration really doesn't even have to happen at all.

Ian Kerner: No, it really doesn't. And that's why, you know, when men obsess over penis size, not to say that size is totally irrelevant, or that size doesn't matter, or that it doesn't feel good to a woman to have a penis inside a vagina. I'm not trying to discredit entirely the role of the penis in pleasuring a woman, but I don't think that really size is as relevant as men think it is.

Neil Sattin: And when you're talking to people about performing oral sex on a woman, what kind of problems or obstacles do you run into around actually someone diving into doing that?

Ian Kerner: Okay, well, I mean, first of all, it is about thinking of oral sex, not just as sort of an optional appetizer but is a required entree and understanding, thinking of oral sex, clitoral stimulation as a complete act of love making that often can include the female orgasm. It's also not just what you're doing, but when you're doing it and being tuned into a woman's arousal arc and thinking about it as a dance in which you are both participants in which she's often leading the dance in order to cue to you the type of stimulation that at the time feels good and right. I mean, as we sort of know the more you get aroused, the more tolerance you have for sensation. So certain things that may feel not so great at the beginning may feel really great towards the end of an act of love making closer to orgasm. The other thing that I deal with is probably just self-esteem issues, misconceptions. I often am working with couples in which ironically, believe it or not, it's often the male partner who's very eager to engage in oral sex, really loves going down on his partner, really enjoys it, wants to sort of liberate himself from the tyranny of his penis.

Ian Kerner: I'm using rather a hyperbolic language today on this podcast. And very often, it's a female partner who has genital self-esteem issues, so maybe she feels like she doesn't look beautiful down there, or taste wonderful, or smell is great, or maybe she feels like she's taking too long. Women often can bring a lot of anxiety around receiving oral sex, and for many women, especially women who have experienced faking orgasms, it's sometimes easier to give pleasure than it is to receive pleasure. I know a lot of women who really enjoy giving pleasure and can really participate in that way, but when it comes to receiving pleasure, they tend to get very anxious or very inhibited. And so a lot of times that's the point at which I'm kind of entering into this situation and certainly there are men who are ambivalent about oral sex who don't understand it as being important, who don't understand clitoral stimulation, who maybe have had some negative experiences in the past, or were brought up to feel that maybe a woman's vulva or vagina is unhygienic in some ways. So there can be a lot of myths and misconceptions, and opportunities for discomfort around oral sex.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that brings up so many questions from me. I guess the first one would be, well, let's talk about those hang ups. So if someone is really feeling self-conscious about their own vagina or vulva, how do you work with someone like that so that they can relax into receiving?

Ian Kerner: Well, it's sort of like throwing a stone into a pond and watching the ripples. How close to the stone are you going to get? Like at what point do you address the rippling? Do you think that... Well, really, I want to be in the kind of relationship that lends itself to intimate connected sex, and I really need to focus more on the positivity in the relationship and being in a sex-positive relationship and being able to communicate openly and constructively and arousingly around sex and then maybe you need to get closer to the sex act itself. And what are you really doing to stimulate desire and arousal? Some studies really show that the closer a woman gets to orgasm the more parts of the brain that are associated with stress, anxiety, high emotion deactivate and that as a woman is having an orgasm, she's actually entering into almost a kind of a trance-like state. And so what is happening to facilitate that process of deactivation where a woman can shut down those stress centers in the brain and those anxiety centers? And what are you doing in the actual environment around sex to create a sex-conducive environment to actually create sort of a love nest? And does that require music? Does it require lighting? Does it require certain types of being dressed or undressed? Like what does it take for a woman to feel really comfortable?

Ian Kerner: And then I think the most important factor is really to be able to hear from a guy, hopefully a guy with whom she loves and has a secure, trusting attachment that she can really let go with, to hear from a guy, to be reassured like, "You are absolutely beautiful. I love doing this and it's arousing to me and I get so turned on by this and the longer it takes actually, the more I'm just postponing my own gratification and the more intense my own gratification is going to be." I think so many women just wonder, "Does he like doing this or is it a chore?" And you ask so many men and they say, "Well, I love doing it. It's the last thing from a chore. It's completely arousing. I get into my own kind of zen headspace." And then just the way you would look into a woman's eyes and let her know how beautiful you find her, I think, you want to be able to let her know how beautiful you find her vulva and you want to contribute to, again, that concept of genital self-esteem, positive genital self-esteem, that doesn't come from just your own sense of your body, like you need to be told by your partner that you are beautiful. And I think we often are focused on, "Oh, your hair looks great, or that dress looks great, or you look so hot and sexy right now." And we need to be able to extend those compliments to our mutual genitals.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah and I noticed you were using the pronoun he but, I mean, this can apply to both...

Ian Kerner: Right. Absolutely, absolutely. I didn't mean to take the words out of your mouth, but yes, it can apply to... I work with a lot of lesbian women who have bought She Comes First because they may have some inhibitions around oral sex or they want to be more proficient. And so, yes, I didn't mean to be gender-specific although I do have to say, I didn't write the book in a gender-neutral way. A lot of sex books and I've written a bunch of them can be written in a gender-neutral way, but I really wanted to send a specific message to heterosexual men.

Neil Sattin: Yeah and probably rightly so, because if nothing else, we don't have a woman's body, so we don't have... And in fact, our penises can probably take a lot more and a lot different kinds of stimulation that we don't even think about than we might practice if we didn't know any better when we are with a woman.

Ian Kerner: Yeah, I think that's true. When you look at the age at which men start having nocturnal emissions or wet dreams and they start masturbating and having their first orgasms, there's a huge concentration all in those early teen years, 13, 14, 15, and men have their first ejaculations and they figure out how to give them themselves these ejaculations repeatedly, and for most men orgasm and sex are very tied together, and most men wouldn't really think twice if you ask them, “do you know how to give yourself an orgasm?” But when you look at women, it's a very different story across the board. Women have their first orgasms at vastly different ages, many women who have had orgasms early in their teen years don't necessarily know exactly how to replicate them. Even today, I have a number of women in my practice who weren't really sure they've ever had orgasms. They've certainly enjoyed sex and they've felt a lot of arousal, but they're not sure that they've had orgasms.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. One thing that you mentioned in just a few moments ago, it came out as part of how you reassure a partner, but I heard you talking about this what you call The Three Assurances. So I'm wondering if we can just enumerate those for people listening, so they know exactly what you're talking about that... because these seem really key.

Ian Kerner: Yeah, do you mind if I go grab the book off my shelf then? I don't have it, so...

[overlapping conversation]

Neil Sattin: You know what I can... I'll read them out loud.

Ian Kerner: Oh, that would be lovely.

Neil Sattin: Because I have it right in front of me.

Ian Kerner: Why don't you do that? Yeah, well, okay.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I didn't mean this for this to be a pop quiz...

Ian Kerner: No, no, no, no, but I think the book says it better than I would just impromptu.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so what you write are, "To that end, the three assurances of the cunnilinguist manifesto are as follows: Number one, going down on her turns you on. You enjoy it as much as she does." So, I would paraphrase that, something like your pleasure gives me pleasure.

Ian Kerner: Absolutely.

Neil Sattin: "Number two, there's no rush. She has all the time in the world. You want to savor every moment." So that's taking the time pressure off and letting it just be what it is. And I have a question about that, but I'll come back to it.

Ian Kerner: Okay.

Neil Sattin: And then the third thing is that, "Her scent is provocative, her taste powerful. It all emanates from the same beautiful essence." So basically, where you're saying the whole visceral experience of being there is great, is amazing for me. So the question I had about the second one, the all the time in the world is... The book is about bringing a woman to orgasm and yet we also talk a lot about not being orgasm-focused and being real sort of process-oriented instead of product-oriented.

Ian Kerner: Well, that's interesting, I don't... Yeah, let's talk about this. I don't think that there is anything necessarily wrong with being orgasm-focused. Our body participates in the process of arousal. There is a vasocongestion but blood flow to the genitals. There's myotonia, there's sexual tension being developed throughout the body and when those two processes kind of reach a tipping point, that muscular tension causes orgasm which is a flood of different sort of feel good hormones that are all triggered and connected to the release of sexual attention, and men and women have capacities to orgasm. Women have an innate capacity to experience multiple orgasms, and certainly, over the course of the life cycle, our relationship with orgasm changes and orgasms can feel differently and happen at different intervals. And we can lose our ability to have orgasms, but I don't think that there's anything wrong with being focused on, or wanting to have an orgasm, or wanting a partner to have an orgasm. And very often you will hear in the media and in writing and from professional therapists, many of whom are my colleagues, you'll sometimes hear, "Well, men tend to be orgasm-focused. Women tend to be more process-focused, more pleasure-focused, can enjoy sex without necessarily having an orgasm every time."

Ian Kerner: I think that there is some truth to that, but I also want to just say that I meet with women every day in my practice who are sometimes on their own or sometimes as part of a couple and they are often very, very, very frustrated that they're not having orgasms in the sex that they're having. And given the choice between not having an orgasm and having an orgasm, they would much rather have one. And certainly there are times in life when you don't always have an orgasm, but if you're in a relationship where you are having sex and you are consistently not having orgasms, I'm going to wager that there's going to be a lot of distress and dissatisfaction. And I think also that one of the reasons we often tend to say, "Oh, women can be pleasure-focused or less concerned, or care less about orgasms," is because as men, we don't live in a culture where men really consistently are tuned in, care, and can kind of elicit orgasms consistently. So I think a lot of that sort of verbiage around being pleasure-focused and non-orgasm-focused is also justifying a paradigm in which men always get to have orgasms during sex and women do not. And so... My dogs are barking incessantly in the background.

Neil Sattin: They agree with you.


Ian Kerner: So I just want to challenge that assumption again. Listen, I understand that we should all be pleasure-focused. I've been working with a client for the last few weeks, and he's a gay man and he experiences erectile issues and delayed ejaculation, and one of the biggest changes he made on his OkCupid profile is saying that he is pleasure-focused as opposed to orgasm-focused. So I don't want to say that I don't understand the sentiment and that there aren't certain people for whom they really are going to be more pleasure-focused than orgasm-focused, but I also really don't want to discount the value and importance of orgasm, and I don't want to live in a world where we think that, "Oh, men consistently get to have their orgasms and women don't and that's okay, because women are more pleasure-focused and less orgasm-focused than men.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I really appreciate your taking a stand for the orgasm just now. And it makes a lot of sense that the mechanism is there. So if the experience of not having an orgasm is about the inability to have an orgasm or about... Well, not being able to take the time to have an orgasm which is what brought us down this topic, this line of conversation, then yeah, don't let it be an excuse by any means.

Ian Kerner: Right. Now the other myth that's out there, it's not exactly a myth but it's sort of a semi-truth is that it takes women longer to get aroused and reach orgasm than it does men. And that's certainly something that I see in my practice all the time that I wrote in She Comes First, that I pretty much stand by. But when you also talk to women about masturbation and their sort of approach to self-pleasure, many if not most women will say, "Well, if I want to I can get there in three minutes." And it kind of starts to really resemble the way men masturbate and the road to orgasm can be as short for women as it is for men, that doesn't always translate into relational sex between two people, but I would say it's also something of a myth that it always takes women longer to reach orgasm, and that's so... Even in my reassurance about time, when you have all the time in the world then you're just happy to be there, it doesn't have to be a chore and it doesn't have to take so long.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, and another thing I wanted to just clarify for you, too, is that when I say that here on the show we've talked a lot about non-orgasmic sex, we've been really approaching it from the perspective of well, for one thing, the way that for a man having an orgasm changes the level of connection that they're experiencing with their partner when they're making love. So in a way it's like taking it off the table so that you can actually prolong what's happening when you are doing the rest of the stuff, which is affecting you, obviously, biochemically and also energetically.

Ian Kerner: Absolutely. I would agree with that. Very often when I'm working with couples and there's a sex issue, or they're not having mutual orgasms, or they're not enjoying sex as much as they could or there's some kind of dysfunction, I'll often say, "Well, let's take orgasms and sex off the table and let's just sort of go back to a ground zero and build up from there."

Neil Sattin: Yeah, well, I think that this podcast episode would not be complete without talking about some actual techniques and details of how to do it and we don't have to cover everything. There's a lot of information in Ian's book, She Comes First, and that makes me think of another question but before I ask that, let's just talk about a few things that are important and that maybe you find to be the biggest problems when people are actually performing oral sex on a woman and how to do it differently?

Ian Kerner: I think one misconception is that the tongue or an oral sex, it's about penetration or that the tongue is kind of a stand-in for the penis. And then a lot of guys sort of focus on sort of showing off a little bit. And again, all of the nerve endings that really contribute to the female orgasm are located on the surface of the vulva. They respond to gentle stimulation rather than penetration. Some women have told me, when complaining about their partner's oral sex techniques, "Oh, it's like the running of the bulls in Spain, a mad stampede for my clit." That's not what you want to be doing. They're like, "When he goes down on me, it's like a cobra fighting a mongoose." It's just like don't want to be that vicious cobra. You want to approach oral sex again as a dance in which a woman is often leading, sometimes just providing a very flat still tongue or a simple point of resistance.

Ian Kerner: There's an area of the vulva, of the clitoris, that's actually just above the clitoral glans which would be more in the area of the hood that kind of covers the glans but it's just that area, just sort of a little above and behind the clitoral glans that's called the Front Commissure and it's a little smooth area that's so kinda like the... As big as... Less than the size of a fingernail of your pinky, but there's a lot of nerve endings there and that area responds very well to pressure, not necessarily friction but pressure and if you just sort of get into a groove and get into a position where a woman is...

Ian Kerner: Where there's contact between the front commissure and either a tongue or even better, something that's firmer than a tongue like your front gum just above your tooth, if you just sort of raise your lip into kind of like a little bit of an Elvis Presley snarl and just kinda nestle your gum against that front commissure which is, again, not exactly on the clitoral glans but more sort of just above and behind the clitoral glans a little, and then just kinda get right into that. And let her do... Let her sort of set the routine. It's a little like when a woman is on top during the intercourse. One of the reasons the female superior position is the position that most consistently leads to orgasms for women is because in that position they can really get a lot of clitoral stimulation by pressing the clitoris against a guy's pelvis and pubic bone and also really control the frequency and pressure and the nature of the stimulation against the clitoris as well. If you can do the same thing during oral sex and really let her sort of press into a point of resistance, again, sort of like the soft area of your gum just above your tooth might be, I would say, is ideal.

Ian Kerner: And really let her lead the dance. In some ways you don't have to do anything more than that. You can certainly use your tongue to be providing, to be going back and forth against the clitoris or looking inside the vulva and the vaginal entrance, you can also... You should also certainly think about enhancing oral stimulation with manual stimulation, whether your fingers or a sex toy. You can raise your fingers and sort of press into the g-spot area, but certainly a combination of manual stimulation and oral stimulation and again where you're less of the lead dancer and more of following her lead is one approach that I often recommend for people who are just sort of entering the world of oral sex.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and one thing that made a huge impression on me was you mentioned stillness, as being really important as well as movement.

Ian Kerner: Uh-huh, yeah, and part of that is because men reach a point of ejaculatory inevitability and this has a lot to do with evolution and the importance of the male ejaculation to reproduction of the human race, but men can very quickly, often very quickly reach a point of ejaculatory inevitability. You're going to have an orgasm, you're going to ejaculate and there's no pulling back, and you get to that point of no return. And I think for men that's sort of how we conceptualize the sexual response cycle. But most women will tell you that they can very easily lose an orgasm, and that even as an orgasm is starting to happen, it can still be lost. There is no point of inevitability, there is no real point of no return, and that's why I emphasize both stillness and predictable routines. If you're doing something and it's working, keep doing it until she lets you know otherwise. Too many men I hear from their partners are doing great jobs, a woman is very close to having an orgasm, she's very excited. And based on that excitement, they will sort of get excited themselves or change what they're doing. And it's in that change that a woman often loses her orgasm. So, I do emphasize tuning in, I do emphasize stillness, I do emphasize following her lead, and I do emphasize predictable, consistent, rhythmic routines.

Neil Sattin: Great, well, Ian Kerner, thank you so much for your time and for all the valuable  information that you've given us today on the podcast. And I just wanna say that Ian's book "She  Comes First: The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman" is available on Amazon and also probably at your local bookseller. You can visit Ian on the web, his address is And again, if you’d like to  download the transcript AND the bonus action guide for this episode, just visit, that's I­A­N or you can just text the word "passion", P­A­S­S­I­O­N to the number 33444 and follow the instructions there.  Ian, thanks again for coming on the show today, and for defending the orgasm, and also giving us some great words of wisdom for how to have more pleasure in our intimate lives.

Ian Kerner: You're very welcome. I can't think of anything I'd rather be defending, so thank you.


173: A Gift For You

Dec 25, 2018 12:13


What are some key things you can do to start off the new year in a way the improves your relationships? How can you take action without feeling overwhelmed by all of the things you can work on and improve?

To thank you for joining me on this journey to improve relationships, Chloe and I have a gift for you. Our gift to you this holiday season is the first 4 days of our 21 Days To Deeper Intimacy In Your Relationship course, totally free. 3000 people have taken this course and the first 4 days is our gift to you so you can start making progress in your relationships in 2019. Inside the course, you’ll find tools for diagnosing where you are now and how to improve it.

If you decide you’d like to do the entire 21-day course, you’ll have that option as well. Whether or not you do the remaining 17 days, the first 4 will have a big impact on how you see your relationship, how you see your past relationships, and how to use this in other types of relationships. These relational skills will help you no matter what relationship you apply them to.

To get access to your gift just go to or text “21days” to 33444 and follow the instructions. I am so excited to share this with you and I know it will help you start 2019 right.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


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172: The Power of The Hold Me Tight Conversation with Sue Johnson

Dec 18, 2018 01:32:50


How can what we know about attachment and the power of our emotions, create deeper intimacy and resolve conflicts with your partner? In today’s episode you’re going to learn about a particular kind of conversation that you can have with your partner that can change everything. This week, our guest is Sue Johnson, author of  Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, and the founding director of the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy. In Hold Me Tight, Dr. Johnson shares her groundbreaking and remarkably successful program for creating stronger, more secure relationships and she’s going to share some of her wisdom on that topic with you today.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!

Also, please check out our first three episodes with Sue Johnson – Episode 100: Attraction – How to Sustain It and How to Revive It – with John Gottman and Sue Johnson, Episode 82: How Safety Leads to Better Sex – Sue Johnson, and Episode 27: Breaking Free from Your Patterns of Conflict with Sue Johnson.


Along with our amazing listener supporters (you know who you are - thank you!), this week's episode is being sponsored an amazing company with a special offer for you.

Our first sponsor today is Audible. Audible has the largest selection of audiobooks on the planet and now, with Audible Originals, the selection has gotten even better with custom content made for members. As a special offer, Audible wants to give you a free 30 day trial and 1 free audiobook. Go to or text RELATIONSHIP to 500500 to get started.

Our second sponsor is one of my wife Chloe’s favorite online clothing retailers, ModCloth. With the year wrapping up, it’s time to put a bow on 2018 and...think about new outfits, and the new you! Whether you’re still craving cozy sweaters or you’re ready to start stocking up for spring, ModCloth is your go-to. To get 15 percent off your purchase of $100 or more, go to and enter code ALIVE at checkout. This offer is valid for one time use only and expires on March 3rd, 2019.


Check out Sue Johnson's Hold Me Tight Online course

Visit Sue Johnson’s website to learn more about her work.

Pick up your copy of Sue Johnson’s book, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.

FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide - perfect help for handling conflict and shifting the codependent patterns in your relationship

Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner's Needs) in Your Relationship (ALSO FREE)

Visit to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Julie Henderson.

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Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome, to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. We've spoken a lot on this show about attachment, and the way that attachment influences how we operate in our lives and in our relationships. And I wanted to bring back one of the masters of showing us how to use what we know about attachment in relationship to the show, to talk about her new online program, and also to answer some questions from you, because we had some people in the Facebook group chime in with questions for this illustrious guest, who has been with us several times before. Her name is Sue Johnson. You probably know her as the creator of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy or EFT, which is how we'll refer to it in this episode. She was here in Episode 27, talking about how to break free from patterns of conflict. She was here in Episode 82, talking about how creating safety in your relationship leads to better sex. And we had the double hitter in Episode 100, with her and John Gotman, both talking about how to sustain and revive attraction in your relationship.

Neil Sattin: Today, we're going to focus on Hold Me Tight, which is one of Sue's breakthrough books that explains how couples can take this journey, these several conversations that they can have, that lead them into deeper intimacy both in terms of understanding themselves in relationship, also how to work through conflict, forgiveness, sex, you name it, it's there in the book. And this has all been rolled out recently in an online program called Hold Me Tight Online, we're going to talk more about that. Sue also has a book coming out right around the beginning of 2019, on attachment theory in practice. And this is using emotionally focused therapy with individuals and families as well as couples. So, we may touch on that a little bit, and hopefully we'll also get to have Sue back to chat when that book comes out.

Neil Sattin: I think that's enough from me. In the meantime, if you want to download a transcript of this episode, please visit, so that's S-U-E, and then the number three. Or as always, you can text the word Passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions to get the transcript for this episode and our other episodes.

Neil Sattin: Also, if you are interested in the online program that Sue is going to be talking about, you can visit, and that will take you to a page where you can find out more about Sue Johnson's Hold me Tight Online program. Sue, thank you so much for sitting through that long introduction and it's such a pleasure to have you here again with us on Relationship Alive.

Sue Johnson: Oh, it's always nice to be with you.

Neil Sattin: Well, we have a lot to talk about today, and we'll do our best to be succinct. And I also want to encourage you listening that we're not going to go over all the finer points of what we've already talked about, those other episodes are there for you to listen to. But Sue, maybe we could start by just talking about what is emotionally focused therapy, what makes it unique from other ways that people might be used to working with therapists or understanding themselves.

Sue Johnson: Emotionally Focused Therapy, as the title suggests, it basically works from the premise that the most powerful thing in a relationship is the emotional music that's playing. The emotional music is what structures a relationship, it's what organizes a relationship, defines, leads the partners to dance in a particular way with each other. So it's sort of dedicated to the idea that, if you want to understand relationships, and if you want to shape your relationship intentionally, whether to repair it or whether to just simply keep it strong, it's very important to understand the emotion that's going on when you dance with your partner. It's important to be able to deal with that emotion in a way that pulls your partner towards you. It's important to understand the impact you have on your partner. So EFT, really has focused on making emotion the couple's and the therapist's friend, and shown therapists and couples how to understand that emotion, how to deal positively with emotion, and how to use emotion to feel more connected with your partner.

Sue Johnson: And I think the fact that we know how to use emotion, and we honor emotion in our work with couples, is one of the reasons why... The other special thing about EFT, is that we have a fantastic amount of research on outcome. We have over 20 studies, positive outcome studies, which makes us unique in the field of couple therapy. We're the gold standard of research in couples therapy. We do not have a problem with relapse in our research, which is pretty amazing, really. It always surprises me every time we do a study and we find no evidence of relapse, because all the sort of elephant in the room in couples therapy is that even if you can create change with a couple, you see them in a month's time or in six months time and they've kind of relapsed, they've gone back to being distressed. And that's not the case in our therapy.

Sue Johnson: It's unique in that it's based on research, in terms of intervention. We've been doing this for 35 years now. It's unique in the way it deals with the most potent thing in the room, which is emotion. But in the end, the real thing that I think makes EFT different is that it's not based on somebody's idea about what love is or what relationships are all about. It's based on hundreds and hundreds of studies of adult bonding. It's based on a science of love. And so we have a map to what matters in relationships, what goes wrong, and exactly what you have to do to put it right. And that means that the EFT therapist is on target. We expect to create change, we expect our partners to grow, we expect our couples relationships to look not only a little happier, but more secure and be more stable at the end of therapy.

Sue Johnson: Obviously I'm biased here, because I'm talking about my own work. I'm talking about 35 years of research and clinical work. But the truth is that we're the only approach to couple and family therapy that's based on a real science of relationships, and that science is attachment and bonding. And I think also, because of that science, in this model... The model suggests that together we're much more powerful than we are individually, and it values and honors connection between people. And so EFT practitioners and ICEEFT, the International Center for Excellence in EFT, which is our not-for-profit organization; basically, the headquarters are here in Canada. We've created communities all over the world. I think we have about 66 right now, affiliated with us to support therapists and health professionals to learn EFT, to get together and support each other, to help each other grow, to help therapists in those communities contribute to relationship education.

Sue Johnson: We believe in creating community and I think that's something special about EFT. We do that wherever we go. The latest community that looks like it's going to take off is in Iran.

Neil Sattin: Wow.

Sue Johnson: And that's fascinating. Because of course, attachment science is about who we are as human beings. Attachment science applies to all of us, regardless of tribe, religion, political persuasion, race, gender. Attachment science, basically, is based on biology, and it tells us who we are as human beings, what our most basic needs are. So that's a bit of a mouthful, but that's what's special about EFT. [laughter]

Neil Sattin: Right. Sue, I asked you for the short version. Come on.

Sue Johnson: I'm sorry, I'm sorry.


Sue Johnson: Okay, well, that's very hard, Neil. You know how passionate I am about what I do and how successful we are, so how can I... I'm sorry, that's the shortest I can manage, okay?

Neil Sattin: No, that's great. And one thing that I really appreciate about the experience that you offer couples who are going through EFT, is that it literally does bring them along on an experience that allows them to feel each other in a different way. To feel each other's emotions in a different context, and to have that experience of getting through situations that are really tender, or challenging, or triggering and get to the other side in a way that is really constructive for their relationship and for their bonding.

Sue Johnson: Yes. And we're talking about therapy here, but I know that later in the program we're going to talk about Hold Me Tight.

Neil Sattin: Yes.

Sue Johnson: The Hold Me Tight educational program is based on my book Hold Me Tight. And I put that relational program together. There's groups all over the countries, and all these communities run by therapists, or even people who aren't therapists. Pastors, anyone can actually buy the program and run the group, a Hold Me Tight group. And what always blows my mind when I go and do one of these groups, I think the biggest one I've ever done was with 100 couples at a time in San Francisco. And what always blows my mind is, people come up to you in the groups... Usually I do them over a weekend. And they go through the conversations that we teach them in the book. And people come up to you and they say things like, "Well, we just came cause we were curious. We don't even have any real huge issues in our relationship. And I thought that our relationship was pretty good, but this group experience has taken our relationship into places I never even knew existed."

Sue Johnson: I just had one of these beautiful ones last week. This person sent me an email: "We didn't even know that we could have this kind of closeness and this kind of emotional connection. And we feel like it's changed how we'll be with each other in the future, so thank you." And I think what they're talking about is the profound, profound effect of being able to help people move into profound, bonding, conversations. They are the conversations... This is biologically prepared, powerful, experience. These are the conversations that our nervous system is wired to resonate to. These are the conversations that our brain says, "Yes, this is safe, and this is close, and this is what I want and need. This is what gives me the ability to stand up in the world and be strong." And people resonate with them. They are powerful, powerful experiences. And that's why we don't get relapse. Because you're brain... If you know how to have these bonding conversations, you remember them. They're not just something you put aside and say, "Oh, that was interesting but I don't think about it anymore."

Sue Johnson: Your whole nervous system zings with the memory of them. And once you've had these experiences, your brain wants you to go back there. So bonding experiences are... We remember them all our lives. We remember the moments when we were vulnerable and our father turned and held us and said something to us. We remember that all our lives, we hold on to it. We go back to it when we're unhappy and sad. We go back to it with a thrill of joy. These experiences are core to what we need as human beings. So when you help people move into them in therapy or in an educational group, or even online together in the privacy of their own home, there's something very profound about that, and truly growth producing for individuals and for couples about that. And attachment science has shown us how to get there, how to... If we really understand who we are as human beings, of course we can craft powerful, transformative, experiences. Right? And that's the thing that keeps me passionate about this work. I think it keeps... EFT is passionate in general.

Neil Sattin: And I want to take our listeners on this journey, a little bit, today. We'll give them a taste of this kind of experience. But before we do, I'm curious about how do you get when someone isn't along for the ride?


Neil Sattin: And this is often the case in a couple, right? Where one person hears Sue Johnson on Relationship Alive and says, "We gotta find an EFT therapist, or we gotta buy this book Hold Me Tight." Or whatever it is, right? And the other person is maybe just like, "Yeah, I don't buy that therapy stuff." Or, "Sounds really like unhealthy co-dependence." When people come at it with their negative bias about it, or maybe they're just stonewalling and they're shut down to the influence of their partner at this stage in their relationship. How do you help enlist the partner in actually wanting, or hopefully, inviting them to participate in something like this?

Sue Johnson: Oh, well that happens quite a lot. Even when people come for therapy sometimes, they're kind of being dragged there.

Neil Sattin: Right.

Sue Johnson: You can tell they're waiting... They're in the room with their teeth gritted, and they're... [chuckle] They're just wanting to wait for you to stop talking so they can explain how they've got to leave now, that's how you feel. What we do in EFT is what we always do. We start where people are. It's an incredible mistake from an EFT point of view to start telling people to be different. You just become dangerous when you do that, and they'll protect themselves against you. So, we start where we are. And I can give... For an example, I just did a session with an an Inuit couple, and we started with the fact that to sit and talk to somebody like me is definitely not part of Inuit male culture. And we talked about the fact that from his point of view the very best way of dealing with any problem was to go hunting. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Sue Johnson: And I talked about that with him. I didn't explain therapy. That's the wrong channel. He's not interested in getting information from me, he's not even interested in it. So we talked about hunting, and we talked about what that did for him, and how when he hunted he felt competent. And he was out in a bitter environment but he was somehow in charge. And we talked about how strange it was for him to even think about sitting and talking about his emotions with someone like me, or reading the Hold Me Tight book. And as I joined with him, and listened to him, and had him teach me about how he dealt with his emotions, engaged other people, dealt with his needs for closeness, how he dealt with his vulnerability, which is... You can't get out of those things, they are universal, right? Unless you're a lizard or something, you have to be actively engaged with those three things. As we sat and talked about it he became more open. And I said, "Alright, well it sounds like your hunting has saved your life. It sounds like your hunting has really done a lot for you. And I think it's wonderful that you've been able to do that. And you're right, I can't offer you that experience. So would you like to talk to... Are you curious at all? And maybe I can help you feel some of the same kind of sure... "

Sue Johnson: Cause he talked in words like "sureness" and "ground under his feet". He used these images. So I said, "Well, maybe I could help you find some of that sense of sureness and ground under your feet, when you're talking to your lady and you see that she's disappointed with you, which I'm hearing is one of the moments where you decide to go hunting."


Sue Johnson: And I'd listen to him, he'd listen to me. He experienced me as safe. I wasn't telling him how to be. And so he said, "Yes that would be interesting." And he starts to look me in the eye and he starts to look up at me more, and he starts to... He's suddenly engaged. And we begin. We begin with what would he like to change in his relationship and what is happening to him in those moments in the relationship? We begin with his pain, we begin with the dilemmas that he would like a solution to, and we go slowly because in his culture that's the way it works. You speak slowly and you deal with things at a slow pace. I'm sorry, I'm getting interruption here, I forgot to turn off my phone it'll stop in a minute.

Neil Sattin: It's okay.

Sue Johnson: So we go slowly. And gradually he comes, he becomes curious. So you start where people are, you validate their uncertainty, their reluctance. If you think about it just in very human terms, the last thing you want to do if you are uncertain and vulnerable, is to go to talk to some strange professional person about that. You're worried about being shamed, you're worried about them telling you that there is something wrong with you, you're worried about what they are going to tell you about their relationship. You don't feel safe.

Neil Sattin: Right. And of course what's challenging about these conversations when they happen just between partners in a relationship, is that they are so often very quickly triggering conversations.

Sue Johnson: That's right. That's right. The partner hears, "Well, you don't even care enough about our relationship to go and talk to somebody about it, so that just proves what a creep you are." And people get stuck there. But what we are talking about is also another reason why I went to all the trouble to try and create the Hold Me Tight program, educational program. Because I assume that even though couple therapy is becoming a bit more normative, there are a huge number of people who would rather have their feet roasted in an oven than come to couple therapy, right? And they won't come. So I said, "Okay, then maybe they'd come to a group put on by their pastor in their church. Or, maybe they'd come to a group put on in the local hall with 10 other couples." And then it went to, "No, there's a whole bunch of people who won't come to that either." [chuckle] Beause in our culture, we hide our vulnerability or our uncertainty. And so I went, "Okay, well then there is a whole bunch of people, maybe they'd do an online program that's friendly and fun, and they do it in their own homes where they feel safe and private." So then of course that leaves us putting all the energy into creating an online.

Sue Johnson: And I think what we are talking about here is the EFT commitment. Well, I'll just make it personal, my commitment. The commitment in this model, and if you are an attachment theorist, is not just to create a very good model, research it, and teach people about it. Which is big enough. We've been doing that for 35 years. The commitment is that as a psychological approach, that we have something to offer society and that we can help society learn to honor and value relationships, shape better relationships. That's what we're trying to do. So therapy, education. I think the main issue here that we're up against, where the person asked the question, is that our society, our culture, has not seen love relationships as something that are understandable, are shapeable, that you can shape, that you can learn to create, that you can nurture deliberately with intention. We don't talk about love like that. We say you fall in, you fall out. And we've basically had a very narrow mistaken view of romantic love relationships, and I think who we are as human beings. So people, they really don't see... They not only, "I'm not sure a therapist can help or a group can help." They really don't see love as something that you can craft and shape and understand. And we're trying to change that. We're trying to have an impact on that.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and I think that's one reason why we resonate, you and I, so much is that that's definitely part of my mission and Relationship Alive's mission in the world as well. To affect that transformation. Because that is definitely a big deal, that there are a lot of people who don't quite understand that you can actually adjust things in ways that are actually helpful. Sadly, I think a lot of people have this story that they know of a couple that tried therapy and it just blew up their marriage or that sort of thing. It's just one positive experience at a time, I think, and the way that that ripples out in to the world. That people get the sense of, "Oh actually we know a lot more about how to do this than we did 20 years ago." And that's why we are having this conversation.

Sue Johnson: Right. And that's the message we keep trying to get out there. And you know it is so interesting, the news is always focused on bad news. That's what the news wants to report. But I always say I don't really understand, it's beyond me why at some point, it hasn't been all over the front of the New York Times, that we now have a science of romantic love, of love period. That we now understand it. We have an incredible theory and science about what it's all about, that attachment started off with looking at the bonding between mother and child, and now it's grown. In the last 15 years it's been applied to adult relationships, and it really has so much to say about who we are and what we need to thrive and survive, and how we are relational beings, and how to create good loving relationships. And surely, this is revolutionary. Surely this is at least as important as understanding DNA, I think so.

Neil Sattin: It's at least page two, if not the front page.

Sue Johnson: I think it's the headline. I think it is much more important than us putting all this energy into going in rockets to the stars. Why don't we learn to become powerful, bonded, connected, cooperating human beings on this planet? Maybe we wouldn't need to go to the stars. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I hear ya, I totally hear you there. And this makes me wonder too, because there needs... I want to befriend to that person or persons who decide what goes on the front page of the New York Times. And if I meet that person I'll put in a good word for you, Sue.

Sue Johnson: For sure, okay.

Neil Sattin: And I am thinking that often what brings light on a particular subject is not how amazing it is, although sometimes that is true. But often it's the controversy that accompanies it. And that makes me wonder for you, your own perspective on what I think some people do still perceive as a controversy between attachment theory in relationships and how important it is to understand the science of bonding, and differentiation, and people learning to stand on their own two feet, and taking responsibility for themselves. And the interplay of those things. Yeah. So go ahead.

Sue Johnson: Well, basically I think we in psychology have a huge responsibility here. Because we didn't know enough and so we set those things up. We set up being a strong individual and acknowledging your need for others as dichotomies. We set them up like they're on opposite sides of a long line. Like they're opposites. And of course they're not. That is a mistaken way of looking at it. All the research, and I'm talking about thousands of studies now. All the research since about 1960 points to the fact that the bottomline is the more securely connected to others you are, the more sure you are of yourself, the more... If you like, the more securely connected you are, the more articulated, coherent, and positive, your sense of self is. So, you find out who you are, you differentiate with others, not from others. If you look at the differentiation literature, it almost implies that there is a point in time where you just decide to look in the mirror and define yourself and tell yourself you're great, and that you can self soothe and you can do all this for yourself. This is nonsense, this is not who we are. We never get to that point.

Sue Johnson: And the only people who look in the mirror, and totally define themselves and tell themselves they're wonderful and don't need other people, we call them psychopaths. And they are not particularly known for being wonderful members of society or particularly happy. It's a mistake we made because we didn't have the big picture. We just saw a little foot of the elephant that said that our needs, if they are expressed in negative ways, can get us into trouble. Our needs for others can get us into trouble, And indeed, that's true. But that's what we saw. So in family therapy for example, we focused on issues like enmeshment. And that's so interesting because we don't do that when we work with families in EFT. We focus on how people deal with their anxiety, and we help them move into that anxiety and hold it and regulate it, and be able to express that anxiety in ways that are not cohesive to other people, and not demeaning for themselves. And ways that pull the other people close. And they grow, and the relationships grow. That's what we do and we do it all the time.

Sue Johnson: We don't find enmeshment or co-dependency particularly useful concepts. We just see it that people are stuck being anxious about the safety of their relationships. And when you're anxious, you either get all upset and try to yell and scream and demand and control things, or you tend to shut down and numb out. And neither of them are useful. They don't get you what you need. I think what I'm saying is, it's a much more integrated and rounded out and complete picture of differentiation and individuation and self soothing that you get from taking the whole picture of attachment and bonding in context. It's the little child who knows the mother will come if he calls, who goes out and believes that he can run down the slide, and who manages his distress if he finds that maybe he falls off the slide. He knows that if he calls his mum will come, he's in a safe universe where he feels loved and held, and his mother has come a number of times. So he's learned that distress is manageable and that he can manage it, and that he can call for another. He's internalized that sense of safety in the world. And he will grow up with a stronger sense of self and a stronger ability to go out into the world and take risks.

Sue Johnson: This isn't a theory, there's thousands of studies on this now, this isn't a theory. Securely attached people who know how to trust others and reach for others, and who believe that others will be there for them, consistently have a better self-image, they are more able to take risks, they're more able to face the world, they're more resilient. They're basically, if you like, more differentiated. So this dichotomy is a false one, and it's really about the old theories of human functioning which are kind of in boxes. We've never had the whole picture coming up against the new approach to looking at human beings, which is attachment. And it's really the conflict between the old and the new there, and there doesn't have to be a conflict at all is what I'm saying.

Neil Sattin: Right. I appreciate that. That you've, I think, shown very clearly how they include each other. That one comes with the other. And as soon as you split them apart that's when they start, either one, starts to become a little dysfunctional.

Sue Johnson: I think on emotional level it really isn't about that. I think on an emotional level, it's about the fact that we all know that if we need another, that introduces a level of vulnerability. And I think, and especially in our society, we don't want to talk about that vulnerability. We want to believe that we're invulnerable. And society says you're supposed to be able to soothe yourself, deal with everything, live life at 50 miles an hour, have everything. So we want to believe we're invulnerable. And what attachment really says is, "That's not the way to real strength." Real strength is to understand where you're vulnerable. Understand the essence of your vulnerability, which is also a beautiful thing in human beings. Understand their need for closeness, the way they be able to tune into others, and you're own need for closeness, and accept that vulnerability. And then know how to deal with it positively. That is really strength, not the denial of vulnerability."

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And this makes me think of the Hold Me Tight conversation.

Sue Johnson: Yep.

Neil Sattin: And I love how in our very first conversation where we talked about changing your conflict patterns, we talked a lot about discovering your demon dialogues, and the first three conversations that are part of the overall Hold Me Tight sequence.

Sue Johnson: Yes.

Neil Sattin: But then I'm thinking of the fulcrum, really, of Hold Me Tight sitting in the middle. So could we talk for a moment about what is the, 'the', Hold Me Tight conversation that happens and why is that so important?

Sue Johnson: Well, what happens in a Hold Me Tight conversation is you have already... If you're helping a couple create one, it doesn't matter whether you're doing it in therapy or in an educational group or in an online program. Before you ask people to go into a Hold Me Tight conversation, you have helped them create a certain safety and sense of trust in their relationship. Because you cannot do a Hold Me Tight conversation while you are vigilant for danger, waiting for a negative pattern, like some sort of... Waiting to deal with an attack from your partner, or just waiting for your partner to let you down. When you're on guard, you can't move into a Hold Me Tight conversation. So you have to have a certain sense of safety first, and we've learned to take you there in EFT, and all the various forms of EFT. But once you have that, really what a Hold Me Tight conversation does is it moves people gradually into the three elements that we know are key to a bonding conversation.

Sue Johnson: What defines the safety of a bond in a relationship is how emotionally accessible, responsive, and engaged you are. A-R-E; Accessible, Responsive, and Engaged. And I always relate it to, that the key question in a lot of relationships is, "Are you there for me?" A-R-E. Are you accessible? Are you open? Are you responsive to me? Will you tune into me? Will you move towards me when I call? Am I important enough that you'll tune into me and pay attention to me? Do you care about my needs? Will you engage me? Will you come and meet me on the dance floor? Maybe struggle even if I'm struggling with me? Are you committed to really being with me in a dance, even we are caught in a negative dance? Hold Me Tight conversations really create that emotional openness, that ability to send messages to each other that evoke empathy and caring, help the other person respond, that help us see that vulnerability in our partner and respond with what they need. And help us stay engaged even when that engagement gets hard. And it's really about being able to talk about... In the end, it's a conversation about your fears. And we all have the same fears in relationships, we're all terrified of rejection and abandonment.

Sue Johnson: Those things are wired in, it doesn't say... It's nothing to do with personality strength or anything, it's to do with the fact that we're bonding animals, and abandonment and rejection are danger cues to our mammalian brain. They're life threatening, literally. We're born so vulnerable, when our brain is being formed, we know how to take our next breath, that if we are totally rejected or abandoned and left, we die. We know we're at risk. And we never lose that sense. So this vulnerability is wired in, and we're all afraid of rejection and abandonment, so we have these fears. And how we deal with these fears really has a lot to do with how we end up engaging others. And then it's not... But it's not just about how we deal with our fears, it's about whether we can actually know how, or have had the experience of being able to actually pinpoint our needs for connection, comfort, support, caring. Our needs... Just to share our reality to find out how valid it is. That's such a human need.

Sue Johnson: To be able to share our needs, pinpoint them, and share them in a way that our partner can hear them and pulls our partner close to us. In the end, a bonding conversation is about sharing your vulnerabilities, your fears, and your needs in a way that helps your partner respond and come close. And helps you and them become accessible, responsive, and engaged on an emotional level. And that is the essence of bonding. And powerful conversations that can change the way you see yourself, the way you see other people, the way you experience your world.

Neil Sattin: So this conversation that's about talking about your fears, sharing your needs and your vulnerabilities with your partner. And I love how you... The important thing comes at the end there, which is, in a way that invites your partner closer.

Sue Johnson: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: And I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about what allows that to happen versus... 'Cause I think some people might hear that and think, "Oh god, my partner's already so needy and vulnerable. They're needy all the time. So I want them to be more needy? How's that going to work?"

Sue Johnson: No, it's not about being more needy. It's about being able to hold on to your emotional balance and own your needs, and then ask for them to be met. And that is very different from what most of us see as the norm in relationships. Which is, "I expect my... " For most of us it's like, "I expect my partner... If my partner loves me, my partner already knows my needs." That's a huge myth in relationships. And what we want to do is we want our partner to respond to those needs without us having to actually show that we need. Because in our society we've been taught that showing that you need is somehow shameful or not okay, or it means you're immature, or whatever it means. It means you're not an independent adult, whatever that is. So most of us don't want to show our needs, and we don't quite know how to talk about them. And so then of course we're massively surprised that the message doesn't come across to our partner.


Sue Johnson: It's quite humbling to write these books and do all these training tapes and do all these studies, and then talk to your own partner, or your own children, your own son, and hear yourself doing exactly the same things that we all do, and that couples do. You just hear yourself rather than turning and telling your partner that you are feeling upset by something and you would like to be reassured and comforted, you hear yourself turn and get accusatory or demanding or give advice or start telling your partner they should know better, having been married to you all these years, and read Hold Me Tight a few times.


Sue Johnson: They should know better and they should be more supportive right now. Which of course I'm asking for support in a way where I have a hammer in my hand and so my partner just looks at the hammer and backs off. We get stuck in these dances because we're not tuning into our own emotional music or our partners. We don't make it easy often for our partner to see what we really need, and then when we don't get what we need, we're not very good at keeping our emotional balance and dealing with that. We get very agitated and attack or criticize, or we shut down and numb out. And neither of those things work. It's what a good science does, is it tells you how to look at basic phenomena in the world and understand them and how they work.

Sue Johnson: And attachment science tells us how we work emotionally, and how relationships work. And giving advice to your partner, telling your partner what to do, explaining to your partner that they're somehow inadequate, [laughter] that doesn't work. That might be more comfortable for us than pausing for a minute, taking a breath, getting our emotional balance and saying, "What is happening with me, why am I getting so agitated here?" Then realizing that we are off balance, we're on our back foot, and we need someone to reassure us or just calm us for a moment. And being able to slow things down... And that's a lot of it actually, that emotion is fast and sometimes it's overwhelming for us and we either numb it out or we get carried away with it.

Sue Johnson: Being able to keep your balance and slow things down and say, "Oh, I'm finding that very difficult, getting this letter that is telling me that I'm maybe not going to be considered for this promotion. I was pretending it didn't matter to me but in fact I'm finding it very difficult indeed. And what I really need is to be able to tell my partner somehow I feel kind of small right now because I expected to get an interview immediately, and I expected everyone to be delighted to interview me. And I'm feeling pretty small and I just need some support and reassurance." That's not what occurs to us. We get irritable or... So there's lots of ways not to connect, unfortunately. There's lots. And we do them anyway, even when we sort of know lots of information in our prefrontal cortex, we still get stuck.

Neil Sattin: Right, because that part of our brain is turned off when we're in those moments of distress. And I'm wondering, for you, especially because you so graciously pointed out that you may have moments where you don't act quite by the book, What are your...

Sue Johnson: Of course.

Neil Sattin: What are your best ways, what are your favorite go-tos in your relationship for regrouping when things have gone off the rails a little bit? And I'm looking for your specific ways you bring yourself back into balance, ways you take responsibility for what just happened and corral the interaction back into a more generative space?

Sue Johnson: It's interesting because basically I tune into all the things I've learned in EFT, but I can't... That takes a while. So if you ask me what my fast route out of that is, I'm usually able to see the few minutes of interaction, and I'm able to see the negative pattern, that I'm not actually asking for what I need. I'm usually able to see it. I should be able to do this after watching thousands of couples and all kinds of research studies. And so I'm able to see. My vision expands, if you like, from the little tiny piece of interaction that I just had or my feeling of frustration that I'm feeling. I listen to what I just said to my partner and I'm able to hear it in a broader context or see, " Wait a minute, that doesn't work, this is not the dance I want to be in." So I somehow have to have a sense of that. That I'm somehow getting stuck in some sort of narrow place that isn't going where I want to go, which is to feel safer, sounder, more connected, reassured. Somehow I know I'm going in the wrong direction.

Sue Johnson: And then one way of thinking about that I've been thinking about lately, and I've written about it in my new book that's coming out in January, which is a professional book. Is I change channel. I change channel from just coping with the emotion and somehow putting it out to my partner in a way that I'm just putting it out and I'm not actually thinking about how to really connect with him with that emotion. But I change channel. And usually what that means is, I change into listening to my emotion differently, and being able to stay with the softer feelings. And I think that's what people do in general when they can do these things. They move from somehow lecturing their partner or complaining or pointing out issues or just saying a few things and hoping their partner are going to guess.

Sue Johnson: They move into being able to name their emotions and to say... Or describe them in very simple ways. Like, "I feel small," or, "I feel uncertain right now," or. "for some reason I'm feeling really uncomfortable, maybe even a bit scared, and I don't quite know why." They trust themselves enough, they trust their partner enough, that they can go into those softer feelings. And when they do, when they move into that emotional space, emotion just... It's like the picture evolves. It's like what you're scared of becomes clearer, what you need becomes clearer. And when you turn and change channel into that deeper more open emotion, you give different signals. It's just natural if you stay there. Saying to someone, "For some reason that conversation I had with that person left me feeling really, really, frazzled and uncomfortable, and even a bit scared and I don't know why." That is an invitation to empathy and connection. That's completely different from, "I've had a bad day and you're not helping. I thought you were going to cook supper. And what I hope is underneath all my bad temper, you're going to see that I really need some help and comfort. But unfortunately you don't." [chuckle] "You just see that I'm dangerous and you avoid me." Right?

Neil Sattin: Right. Which is exactly what you don't need in that moment.

Sue Johnson: Yeah. We are not wired to deal with our vulnerability by ourselves. We can do it if we have to, for short periods of time. But we're not wired, and it's not the most efficient and effective way of dealing with our human vulnerabilities. It's not the strongest or best way to deal with our human vulnerabilities. We're wired, we're social bonding animals. We're wired to connect with other people. We're stronger together.

Neil Sattin: What I hear you saying too is that, by changing the channel, you're basically going from the channel that's all about, "I'm having this emotion and I'm expressing it on you." To the channel of, "I'm realizing that I'm having this emotion. And if I wanted to connect with my partner in this moment, and around the fact that this is how I'm feeling, how would I do that?" Which invites maybe a totally different course of action in that moment.

Sue Johnson: Yeah. But I don't think it's as deliberate as you're making it sound here. Usually in the first instance, people are being reactive. They're actually coping with softer emotions by shutting down or being very... Just giving facts. Or getting angry and becoming demanding. They're actually... Those are coping devices, really. The real core emotion underneath is not spoken, and so then the partner doesn't see it and doesn't see the need that that core emotion speaks to. There's a lot of conversation about this too. There's all kinds of conversations in our field about how empathy, and how empathy is a skill and you have to teach empathy skills, you have to train for it, I'm sorry, I don't think so.

Sue Johnson: Empathy is right into us, it's there. What we have to do is understand what blocks it. And the main thing that blocks it is, I can't be empathic to my partner if I'm too busy dealing with my own overwhelming emotions. If most of the glucose going to my brain is dealing with my own discomfort, fear, uncertainty, I don't have any room to tune into my partner's emotions. I don't think we teach empathy, we model empathy, I guess. In Hold Me Tight groups and in the online program, people will see models of couples interacting with empathy and connection, but in the end, it's really about what blocks it, how you put out your message that blocks your partner's natural empathy, or how you can talk to your partner in a way that evokes that empathy. People are naturally empathetic and responsive, so in the EFT we just understand the blocks. And we help people dance in a way that those blocks don't come up or to see beyond those blocks. I guess that sounds a bit abstract but I think it's clear.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and I think that's getting at the heart of the question that I asked you a few minutes ago, around how do you have the Hold Me Tight conversation? A conversation where you're able to tell your partner about your vulnerabilities and your fears and your needs, without it coming across as being a demand or being needy, that it comes out of that place of being aware of your feelings and seeking, I think you've said it a couple times now, the softer emotions that are underneath the things that are on the surface.

Sue Johnson: Yes. And I think the other thing about that is, a big part of EFT is it's a lot easier to do that if you grasp those emotions, and you have the normalized and validated, and you don't see those emotions as somehow proof that you are somehow not strong enough. Or that you're somehow not mature enough or that there is something wrong with you. A lot of EFT is validating, honoring, and holding people's emotions. Walking, setting up experiences where they walk into those emotions gradually, and at the same time are safe in that experience because they are given a framework where those emotions are understood, honored, validated. And our society hasn't been very good at that. We don't teach kids in schools about their own emotions or about the impact they have on other kids, and how to have safe conversations. We don't teach that. It's insane, we teach kids trigonometry but we don't teach kids what I just said, and so that's nutty. There are thousands of couples out there in the world.

Sue Johnson: I'm just going to give a talk, public talk, in a few weeks in Toronto in December, called "What Every Couple Needs To Know", at the big Museum in Toronto. And I really believe that this stuff is what every couple needs to know. There are thousands of couples out there who have no way of understanding the dances they're caught in. No way of understanding even their own needs. You say to people, "What do you need?" And they say, "I need her to stop nagging." Or, "I need the conflicts to stop." Or, "I need... " These kinds of... "I need my partner to have more communication skills." These are huge. They don't know how to really go to the core of what they need and what they want. And we have taught people to be ashamed of them. So, a big part of EFT is we help people understand their own emotional lives, their own... The terrain of emotion. And who we are as bonding animals. And when you can accept those needs, when you can accept that we're all human beings who need comfort and security, and life is so huge. We all need to put our hand out in the dark and call, "Are you there?" And have a reassuring hand come and meet ours. And when we can do that, we can deal with the dark. And that's just the human condition.

Neil Sattin: That makes me think too that that must be how EFT approaches couples where one partner or another has a deeper trauma history.

Sue Johnson: Absolutely, that's right. And I think EFT is particularly suited to helping traumatized couples, traumatized individuals. Well, in fact what's interesting is we're talking about Hold Me Tight educational groups, that's only been around for a while. And this is what happens in EFT. Things have sprung up. There's now a Hold Me Tight educational group called, "Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go", for teens and their parents. There's a Hold Me Tight educational group based on the Christian version of the book Hold Me Tight, which is called, "Created For Connection." Which looks at how Christian beliefs fit in with attachment science and the link between those two. There's a Hold Me Tight educational group for in medical settings, which is very interesting. The biggest one we've just done, which we've just got a huge grant for, in Canada, is the Big Heart Institute back in Ottawa has asked us to adapt the program, and I hope one day we'll adapt the online program for this, too. Adapt the program for couples we're dealing with where one person's had a heart attack, because the research says that the best predictor of whether you'll have another heart attack, is not the severity of the first heart attack or even the damage done to the heart, it's the quality of your most intimate relationship.

Sue Johnson: And so the cardiologist actually read this research.


Sue Johnson: And said, "Oh, we're a relational human beings." "Ah, relationships really impact health." "Ah, we better get this crazy lady in and she can adapt her educational program to cardiac patients." So we did that. It's called, "Healing Hearts Together", and the preliminary data on it says it's great, really works. I ran a few of those groups and they blew my mind, they were wonderful. So everybody needs to know this, and the uses of creating this knowledge about what matters in love and how love works and how to repair it and keep it, has infinite, infinite usefulness. Whether it's in therapy, in educational groups, and for sure, we've got to take this stuff online. The Hold Me Tight Online was a huge project. Took us four years and oceans of grief and work. And there was a number of times when I really thought, "What on earth am I doing this for?" But you have to do it. If you feel that we all need this, and that we... This is sort of very basic information for us thriving and surviving. We have to make it accessible for people and so many things are online now.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And having gone through the course online, I can say that it's clear how much effort that you put in and how you tried to address different learning styles and give people lots of different examples, and make it entertaining at times.

Sue Johnson: Yes. [chuckle] We even have cartoons, which at first, when my colleague said, "We need a cartoon couple." I said, "No, no, no, no, no." But yeah, we've got cartoons and we've got music and we've got images, and we've got me giving chats and other experts giving chats, and we've got exercises that we tailor to you. It was a lot of work. But hopefully, the couples... The idea is that it's accessible to everybody, then. What I would like, which is a complete silly dream, but... Oh no, it's actually not a silly dream. What I would like is for our western governments, the government of Canada, for example, to say, "Okay, Sue, we'd like to make the Hold Me Tight Online educational program available to all couples in Canada, or everyone who's just gotten married or something. We'll make it incredibly cheap. Will you help us do that?" And I say, "Of course." And I was just going to tell you that's impossible, and I forgot that actually a much simpler version, not at all the online program we've got now, but a much, much simpler, pared-down version. The government of Finland, has actually just helped my Finnish colleagues make their version of Hold Me Tight Online, a very simple version of it, available to almost all Finnish couples, which blows my mind.

Neil Sattin: Wow.

Sue Johnson: But they've done that because they believe that stable loving relationships and stable loving families, create stable, caring, positive, thriving societies. And of course, they're right about that. That's the way to do it. So. Yeah. Why am I talking about this? I don't know.


Sue Johnson: Hold Me Tight online was a lot of work, but at this point I'm quite proud of it. And I'm glad that you enjoyed it and that you found it very... We wanted to make it fun. We made it for the people who would never dream of coming for therapy or even reading my book or even going to a group. So we thought, "Well then, we better make it fun because these people are used to having fun online." We did our best. I think it's pretty good. It's just like everything we do, we're very pleased with it for about a year and then we find ways that we could have done it better. This is kind of classic. I know that I'm going to feel the same way about my book, my therapy book that is coming out in January, which is EFT For Individuals, Couples, and Families. But it's really a book all about attachment. I know that I'll be pleased for about a week, and then I'll read it, and by next Summer I'll have found all the ways that I could have done it better. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Well, fortunately, that ensures new editions or new books or new versions, and new conversations for the podcast. So I feel totally fine about that, that you're...

Sue Johnson: Do you?

Neil Sattin: Yeah. That you'll be constantly improving. Sue, you've been so generous with your time and wisdom. And I do want to ensure that everyone has the links so that... They will be, of course, available on the page for this episode which is And then you can also, if you're interested in the Hold Me Tight online program, you can visit and that will take you to a page where you can find out more about the program. Sue, I'm wondering if we can... I have just two quick questions for you.

Sue Johnson: Sure.

Neil Sattin: They can be quick or not, it's up to you, But if they're quick it's totally fine. The first was another take on when I asked you what are your favorite ways of coming back when your conversations have gone off the rails, and you brought up changing the channel. Often, because we're such astute observers of our partners, it happens that we notice that our partner is totally triggered about something.

Sue Johnson: Yes.

Neil Sattin: And so I'm wondering, when you notice, "Oh, my husband is... He's triggered right now." What do you like to do in order to help bridge the gap in that moment?

Sue Johnson: That's a nice question. I think the best guide to this is what we naturally do with beings where the vulnerability is not so hidden, I.e. Children and dogs.


Sue Johnson: If you watch people with little kids, or you watch people with dogs, which I find fascinating, okay? They naturally, if they see vulnerability, if you watch them they slow down, they lower their voice, they lean in, they give more attention, they give a focused kind of attention, they might ask a question or they

171: Does your need to feel special keep you from connecting?

Dec 10, 2018 27:51


We all want to be special, right? Being special, or important, the need to feel significant, is universal. But is it possible that your need to be special is getting in the way of your ability to connect, to give and receive love? Or does your partner value significance more than connection - keeping you from connecting with them? This week we’re going to dive into the paradox, the conflict, between the need for significance and the need for connection - so that you can discover how to have both.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


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170: Embodying Well-Being and the Lover Within: Zapchen - with Julie Henderson

Dec 3, 2018 01:30:15


How can you bring a new level of presence to your relationship? And what if this new level of presence could also help you find a sense of well-being in any moment? And how can you make sure you’re being yourself - instead of trying to be what somebody else wants you to be? This week, our guest is Julie Henderson, author of The Lover Within and Embodying Well-Being, and the creator of Zapchen Somatics. Zapchen is a Tibetan word that suggests something naughty, or improper - and for Julie Henderson it’s a practice of how sometimes things that are unexpectedly simple can have profound results. The practices and principles of Zapchen Somatics are a direct approach to embodying well-being, which Julie refers to as "feeling as good as you spite of everything."

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


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Julie Henderson: Most people don't know how to be present. So, they don't know how to be present in relationship to someone else, so they make something up. They make it... They make some kind of a guess. And then, they do that and see if it has the effect that they want. I would like to say that my... One of my two inside cats has come into the living room and is sniffing the sun, that's nice. So, what it is to be present? Most people are not encouraged to learn how to do that. That's central to everything. So, I would say, notice... Well, notice that you are. That might be a surprise to a lot of people, in fact, just to do that, but it's a huge step for most people to notice that they are, and just to experience how they are, when they are noticing that they are. [chuckle] It's kind of a strange, strange way of talking about things, but it's... Almost everybody is born knowing how to be, but they are often taught from an early age not to be because it bothers their parents.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So...

Julie Henderson: When we are being, frequently, we are loud, if we're kids. Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Julie Henderson: So, you were going to say?

Neil Sattin: Well, that was the exact thing. I was going to, hopefully, get you to point out. What are these ways of being that come naturally or innately that we would be conditioned not to do?

Julie Henderson: Well, it varies from person to person. Don't you see? There are... It almost always involves... When we're young, it almost always involves spontaneous movement, spontaneous noise really because often we are being noisy before we know how to talk. And so, when we are both noisy and active, dancing around, or... Yeah, dancing around, often. Young people like to experience being by moving, and lots of times, parents don't like that because it's... Parents are tired, parents don't know how to be themselves anymore because they have to go to work and stuff like that, so they encourage their children not to be loud, not to be moving, not to be having a good time being. That's the main difficulty, I would say. We are taught not to be. Not to be present, certainly. What is it? I'm trying to think how I would say, What do we mean "present"? Noticing, in various ways, what it feels like to be present, what it feels like to notice that we actually are. I don't know, maybe it's old, but it all sounds a little bit who cares, but I find it absolutely necessary.

Julie Henderson: And it's not so hard, except that when we are grownups we have often spent a lot of time learning not to be present, not to notice that we are really this being of presence. And so...

Neil Sattin: Yeah, there are some things that are clicking into place for me. For instance, yeah, when we were young, let's say before we're even verbal, we have very limited ways of communicating with our parents. And if I think about my experience of being a parent, I was recognizing a lot of what seems like discomfort and unease in my children and trying to address it in a way that hopefully brings peace and happiness to them. But what I'm hearing, or what's clicking into place, is that through that process there's inadvertently really... What happens is the ways that our organism innately wants to communicate and express and just kind of deal with being a body, existing in this realm, that we might become either alienated from those ways, or like you were just saying, told that we can't do those things. We can't express, can't make noise, can't be unruly, can't jump around. This is common, I think, for a lot of us to go through that experience.

Julie Henderson: Very, very common, very common.

Neil Sattin: And so then we find ourselves as adults trying to make sense of the world, and trying to make sense of our relationships. But at that point there's a communication system, the communication that emerges from within us, and in many ways we're alienated from that. We're alienated from the messaging that comes from within that tells us about how we are.

Julie Henderson: Yep. We have learned to ignore what's actually true and to come up with something that's acceptable, or we have been taught is acceptable. And then we try to bring that into a relationship with people that we find attractive.

Neil Sattin: Right. No wonder it gets confusing.

Julie Henderson: No wonder it gets very cranky.


Julie Henderson: We try so hard to get it right so that that person will love us, and by and large it really doesn't work.

Neil Sattin: Right. Or it works for a little while, and then it starts to get confused, or there's all this tension and bumps that could happen.

Julie Henderson: Yep.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Julie Henderson: I think eventually there's a... What... A resentment that arises in us spontaneously because we are not being who we are. And we may not even recognize that that is what is going on, but that we are trying to be what somebody else wants us to be, and that's uncomfortable.

Neil Sattin: Right, and I'm getting the sense that when you talk about being who we are, in some respects you're not talking about being... Like being who we are as an expression of your preferences, or your likes and dislikes. It's something on a deeper level than that.

Julie Henderson: Oh yes, yes, yes. One of the things that I have found people take to, even given the invitation and the possibility of trying it out is to, I say... When you say I, where is it coming from in you as a body, is it coming out of your head, is it coming out of your chest, is it coming out of your belly? And I just invite people to notice where that “I” is that they are talking about is located. And very often, very often, especially with Westerners, it's in their head. So then I would say, "Okay, well, if you were to move that voice into your heart, would you say the same thing that you just said, when you were being in your head, in your brain? And often, often they're just really startled that the rest of them, starting with the heart in this particular instance, is not feeling or responding to being the same as we have been taught to do by being located in our head, especially if we went to school a lot.

Neil Sattin: Right. There's a lot of head instruction when you're in school.

Julie Henderson: Yup, yup. I remember for myself, when I first went to. I was at Cal as a freshman, the University of California, Berkeley, and I was sitting in a classroom and suddenly I was noticing that it was not my head that was engaged here, it was my whole body, ideally speaking, but I didn't get that far that suddenly but just noticing that I could be more of myself, so to speak, and that that was very attractive.

Neil Sattin: And was there something particular about that class that created that experience for you?

Julie Henderson: I think it was in English class but I don't remember because what studies stayed with me was that recognition and whatever we were talking about in the class was not it, was not the relevant recognition.

Neil Sattin: First let me just say that I find your work, at least to the extent that I've been exposed to it so far, to be both fascinating and comforting and it's just, for me, like such a curious blend of all these different practices and techniques and ways of looking at experience that even in just my simple introduction to your work, that they've made an impact and in particular, I'm thinking...

Julie Henderson: May I say that's very nice to hear.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, of course. And in particular, I'm thinking right now about one of the first conversations that we had and just to give you listening, a little background, my introduction to Julie was through her book, The Lover Within, which had been given to me by a friend and reached out in a number of different ways to try and connect with you, Julie, and then when we finally connected and started talking about your work, you were like, "Oh there's been so much since then. And let me send you a few things," and you sent me, among other books, which we'll get to in a little while, you sent the Hum Book. And that was where I started actually was by reading your book about humming, and in the time since then I've used humming as a way of bringing myself back to presence, a lot actually. I'm curious if you can...

Julie Henderson: Oh, it's a treat.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, can you talk a little bit about the practice of humming, and also what is it about humming that's so restorative, in your opinion?

Julie Henderson: Well, there are 75 different ways of answering that. [chuckle] One of the... One of the ways would be to say, "When we hum, we are touching our whole body." If we are relaxed enough to let the hum go through the whole body, which most people aren't, to begin with, but eventually. When we are touching our whole body from the inside, and what drives me wild with joy, just to think about it, and to talk about it, is that we are touching... We are touching the cellular presence of being a body, and offering it nourishment, because of the oxygen that goes with the hum, and the encouragement to be a body that goes with that kind of inner contact with ourselves. And it's very relaxing, for one thing. I'm sure you've noticed that.

Neil Sattin: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Julie Henderson: But it is... Yeah? Go ahead.

Neil Sattin: And when you talk about how it... How you're actually touching the cellular structures within you, I just want to give the people listening a sense of what you're talking about. As a visual, you describe someone, I think bowing a violin, and in the presence of a pane of glass with a bunch of sand sprinkled on the glass, and that by making the sound, everything on the glass dances. And then, when the sound stops, it comes to rest in a coherent pattern that comes from the vibration. And so, through humming, we get to send this coherent pattern through our entire body.

Julie Henderson: Yes.

Neil Sattin: And experience that, the results of that resonance. How long should someone hum to experience that, do you think?

Julie Henderson: How long do they want to hum?


Neil Sattin: I love it. And is there a quality of the hum that you... So, when people are like, "Well, I've hummed before. I don't think I've experienced what they're talking about." How do you get at that particular kind of humming that has such a deep effect?

Julie Henderson: I would say, be the hum. Mostly, if somebody says, "Well, I hummed and nothing happened," something like that, it's because they weren't there. They weren't there as the hum, for the hum, following the hum, so of course it didn't have the same effect. I think a lot of times it just doesn't occur to somebody to be present in the hum, and as the hum. And you can go... Well, I've got to tell you, the first time I had the good sense to do this that I'm about to say, it was just stunning to me that I could, for example, I could hum in my chest. And then, the hum, if I relaxed a little bit and changed the location of my attention, if I would take my attention into my belly then, for example, then the hum would automatically go there, and down my legs, and into my feet and toes, and so forth. Wherever I placed my attention, that is where the hum will go, and feel good. Feel good.

Julie Henderson: So, one of the things that happens is that if you are humming into your chest, for example, where in your chest? If you have learned about the mediastinum by studying this or that, then if you hum into the mediastinum, the tissues there which we often... When, for example, we feel unloved, if we notice that the tissues in the mediastinum, if they are contracted, automatically we will be feeling unloved because that is the way we have of protecting ourselves from being alone or feeling like everything is too hard, or whatever our practices of that sort are. So, if we locate the mediastinum, that wonderful, wonderful set of, excuse me, set of tissues that surround and support the heart, and a lot of the... A lot of the feelings that we have about how we are arise in the cells that surround, that fill the mediastinum and surround and support the heart. That's a wonderful thing to do, really wonderful.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. I'm reminded of how, at the very beginning of your book, Embodying Wellbeing, there's a foreword from Paul Ekman. And some of you listening may know of Paul Ekman because he studied micro-expressions in the face and your ability to tell what someone is really feeling or thinking by studying their micro-expressions. And then, he further went on to talk about how, if you could reproduce those expressions in the face, you could create emotions. And then, just to give everyone the background here, because I found this so fascinating, Julie ended up being in contact with him. And you can correct me if I'm wrong, Julie, but he studied you in his lab, and was amazed that not only were you able to create different emotional states, seemingly at will, but also you weren't bound by having to change your facial expression or the way you were breathing.

Neil Sattin: There was something you were doing that was allowing you to experience joy, and rage, and sadness, and all of these things, just through how you were... Well, you tell me, because I'm so fascinated and curious to know. [chuckle] What were you doing?

Julie Henderson: Because my body knows how to do that.

Neil Sattin: Yes, great. Great.

Julie Henderson: As I am a body, I already know how to do that. And if you look at that very first part of Embodying Wellbeing, where the basic, basic, basic exercises are, those are things that kids do spontaneously. And if they are not suppressed from doing them, they will grow up with that capacity, inherent in themselves as being a body, and they will be able to do what I can do.

Neil Sattin: And so, let's just talk for a moment about what it means to embody well-being. because we've brought up presence, we've talked about embodying, and I'd like to converge that into what the heck are we actually talking about? Embodied presence, what does that mean?

Julie Henderson: You want to talk about embodied presence, or embodied wellbeing? They're not quite the same. They go together, but it's... It will be helpful if we choose one to begin with.

Neil Sattin: Where's a good place to start?

Julie Henderson: Well, whichever one for whoever is wanting to try it out, whichever one is easy for you. For example, for me, it was easy because both of my parents were actors and they would be preparing for roles and they would be feeling various feelings and stuff, so it was not an uncommon experience for me and I could try things out, I was not suppressed from doing that. Let's see.

Julie Henderson: It all seems so straightforward to me, at the moment. Yeah, either way, well being or presence, it doesn't matter, you start by bringing your attention into your body as sensation and let yourself take in the qualities of those sensations and that will tell you what you are at that time inclined to feel. So if then you want to feel well-being, which is a very nice thing to do, it's sort of like tweaking. What do you want to invite yourself as a body to do so that well-being arises, that would be the question from a grownup point of view. And if you have access to what it has been like for you to be a kid, a child, it's very easy if you have permission from your experience to [chuckle] laugh and to think of something that attracts you, that you like, that you are glad that you know about and let your body sense in to those sensations and, yeah, just enjoy them, just enjoy them.

Neil Sattin: When I think about being in relationship and how much energy goes into trying to solve problems. Then what occurs to me is that the first thing that has to happen in order for you to be trying to solve a problem is you have to imagine that there is a problem and that sense of there being a problem is probably coming from some sense of discomfort within you. And one of the lovely other insights that your book, Embodying Wellbeing, starts with is this idea that you don't have to wait to fix the problem, if there even is a problem, to feel good, to embody well-being.

Neil Sattin: And I'm imagining, because I haven't fully experienced this yet, honestly, but I'm imagining what it could be like for people in relationship to be so aware that they say, "Okay there's a problem right now. First thing I'm going to do is I'm going to hum and then maybe I'm going to laugh and yawn or jiggle my body," and I'm just kind of cherry picking a few of the techniques that you mentioned at the beginning of Embodying Wellbeing. And I'm going to see what that does to my state of being and the way that I feel before we even try to solve anything.

Julie Henderson: Yup.

Neil Sattin: And it's such a profound degree of... Well it's funny, I was about to say control, but that word control feels so like not the right...

Julie Henderson: Try choice.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, there, perfect.

Julie Henderson: Try choice.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so the ability to choose what our experience is in the moment.

Julie Henderson: And to play around with... Suppose you feel like there's something wrong and you don't know what it is exactly, suppose then you choose to do some or one or two or three or four of these things that help us to move towards well-being before you worry about it and see if it's still there.

Neil Sattin: Right and what if it is, what if it is still there?

Julie Henderson: Well, then you may also have more clarity about what it is that you would like to have different.

Neil Sattin: Right. because so often we're just reacting from a place of, "I'm uncomfortable I want to feel better." And the illusion in those moments with a partner especially is that the way to feel better is for you to change, the other person to change.

Julie Henderson: Yeah, "be different for me darling".

Neil Sattin: Right, exactly. Do you have any suggestions for a practice that might be a good invitation for two people to do together, maybe even in a moment of tension between them but maybe even before a moment of tension it could be, they practice it with [chuckle] when there's less at stake or something like that.

Julie Henderson: Well before they decide that they're going to feel bad because they don't like what's happening, that would be nice. There are... Horse lips is perfect and I guess probably most people have long gone past practicing horse lips. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Horse lips?

Julie Henderson: Horse lips.


Julie Henderson: You can do it that way, or you can do it with more relaxed lips, so it's like. It won't do it for me at the moment. I'm getting it wrong.


Julie Henderson: Yeah, there is a way if your lips are really, really relaxed, that they vibrate and flap instead of making the buzzy sound and that's a lot of fun.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, kind of like this?

Julie Henderson: Yep, that's horse lips. Horse lips because horses do that, God bless them. When they are excited or interested or just playful, they will do that.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and I'm noticing right now that... Well, okay, so it feels silly to have done that. Here we are, we're in an interview and thousands of people are listening to us and...

Julie Henderson: Oh my God.

Neil Sattin: I know, exactly.

Julie Henderson: I didn't do it. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: But it feels like silly and good.

Julie Henderson: Well, it is the beginning of a willingness to move towards well-being even if we were taught not to be silly.

Neil Sattin: Right, that is so funny. Just hearing you say that, it makes me think of those moments when we are abdicating our choice to feel good and in particular those like tense moments with, it could be with our partner, could be sitting in traffic, whatever it is, but those moments when we choose to stew, or choose to be angry or choose to be fearful and I'm saying this right now and I can even hear myself in a different frame of mind being like, "I'm not choosing this," it's like, "It's overtaking me." But yet if in that moment if someone said, "Oh well, just like do horse lips," a favorite one of my wife Chloe and I is to speak in gibberish. But it's like, it can take a serious amount of effort to actually make yourself do that in a tense and triggered moment because there's so much that wants to resist.

Julie Henderson: Well, I tell you what. It is really something worth trying, to say, "I am feeling like I want to be pissed off about something and I'm going to try feeling good first, then I can be as pissed off as I want to be." If I still want to be because if I'm allowing myself to feel well and happy first, then the whole organismic context, the attitude that is held in the cells and all of the ways that we are put together as a body, when we are feeling good as a body, then it's unlikely that we will want to feel pissed off. We may have an objection still, but we don't have to go into a contracted state of being. I mean we can, we always have that choice. It's just that we don't... It's not necessary that we go in that direction.

Neil Sattin: Right. And even then you get to bring the element of choice to how you handle your objection versus just...

Julie Henderson: Absolutely. Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Losing choice because you're in a contracted state.

Julie Henderson: Yep.

Neil Sattin: So I can already imagine the next little bit of conflict that comes up between me and Chloe, I'm going to be like, "Just excuse me for a moment," and go into the next room and do some horse lips and laugh and hum and then come back and be like, "All right, let's try this again. Let's have this conversation again."

Julie Henderson: Mm-hmm.

Neil Sattin: Can you talk about the difference between well-being, feeling good in that way, and pleasure? Because I think at least in part, the desire for pleasure and mutual pleasure is another aspect of what brings two bodies together.

Julie Henderson: Yep, often enough, unless they've already been taught not to do that. Then they have to practice letting themselves enjoy being for its own sake rather than some screwy version of getting things right.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So maybe, where would we start with like where's our introduction to pleasure?

Julie Henderson: Well, we're born moving into pleasure by being when we're babies, and then we can do that but some parents are very encouraging of that and then it stays that way, and then we get to... [chuckle] Then we get to learn that we don't always like everything that's happening and we get to practice not liking it. And that's one of the things that kids are very good at, and then parents don't understand why they are choosing to scream and holler.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So if I'm someone who... Like I don't think this is me, honestly, but at the same time I do think it's really important for us as adults to kind of re-learn pleasure so that it's free from the cultural constructs, the ways that we've been taught are the ways we should and shouldn't experience pleasure, and to actually experience it from the inside out. So we're not trying to re-enact something that we think will give us pleasure, but... If this is making sense. So I'm wondering, is there an exercise for you that comes to mind that's about kind of re-awakening this experience? Like a very kind of raw experience of pleasure in our experience in our bodies?

Julie Henderson: Well [chuckle], first be a body. If you isolate yourself in your head, for example, which many people in the West are brought up to do... If you let yourself... Well, I'm trying to think... The easiest thing really is to notice something that you like and let yourself rest in that and feel the bodily sensations of that. And as you do that you will be feeling pleasure.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. It's almost like you're saying experience what it's like to like something.

Julie Henderson: Mm-hmm. Let yourself experience what it's like. Let yourself experience that there is something that you like. Some people feel like that's... Well, some people would say, "Oh that's just the kid thing," or, "I have to have something that I like to like." I think, yeah, if we give ourselves... For example, if you will plant some flowers or if you will plant a tree... I mean, here where I live, I have a house that I thoroughly enjoy having living in and six and a third acres of forest. It would be very difficult for me to feel bad. I'd have to really work at it.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So there's something...

Julie Henderson: And I have cats.


Neil Sattin: Yeah. So there's something to knowing yourself that well to know what you, what you like and what you don't.

Julie Henderson: Yeah. And to practice noticing what we like rather more thoroughly than what we don't like. It is important to notice what you don't like, but it's better to notice more often what you do like so that you don't get stuck in not liking.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and that makes me think of your concept of appropriate touch, which is something I'm really curious to hear more about from you because it seems like... When I think about the sexual paradigm that we're all born into, the ways that we learn to experience pleasure with each other. And actually, I don't want to say born into, it's more like, "This is what our culture is created," and we're seeing a lot of this manifest right now in the Me Too movement and recognition that a lot of people are feeling violated in the name of at least one person's pleasure others are feeling super violated and disrespected, and so I'm curious to where this brings a couple so that they can experience each other and awaken pleasure and awaken touch with each other in a way that is appropriate. That's the word that comes to mind for me. So can you talk a little bit about what that means for you, appropriate touch and how that enters the picture?

Julie Henderson: Okay. If I were to talk about it just as me, rather than me in relationship to somebody, I would say it's interesting. I would first ask my body, ask myself as a body if there was some touching that it would like, that I would like and whether that would be, for example, to go outside and lean up against one of the trees or whether it would be asking one of the cats to sit in my lap and purr, or because there's... At the moment there's nobody else living in this house except me. It's just me. Only me.


Julie Henderson: One of the things, one of the things that's very, very helpful. If there are two people that are either confused about how to approach touching each other, or just wanting to be very tender and slow with something. If you sit back to back so that you can feel your heart from behind and you can feel your heart touching the presence of your partner's heart. That's a very, very helpful thing to do. It's very respectful and it's very tender.

Neil Sattin: So okay, I'm going to ask maybe a sort of crass question.

Julie Henderson: Crass on sweetheart.


Neil Sattin: Okay. How do you get from back-to-back to front-to-front?

Julie Henderson: Well, not all at once. [chuckle] Take your time and sit side-to-side. Sit side-to-side on the ground, so that your thighs are contacting each other and hold hands, I would say. I think that would be a lovely thing to do. You can also do that lying down, which is nice. If you do that lying down and then reach across and hold each other's hearts, so if I am lying down with my friend, Tony, and we are side-by-side, the whole side of the body touching each other, and I reach across and put my hand on his heart, and he reaches across and puts his hand on my heart, that's a very full embrace really. And it's easy to maintain for a short time or a longer time, without trying to make it sexy. It can easily become sexual, if both people are wanting to do that, and if they feel safe to do that, but they don't have to do that.

Neil Sattin: And what are the energetics that are going on when this is happening? What are the energetics that are happening within a body and then between bodies?

Julie Henderson: You mean what is, how is the body expressing its experience of what's happening?

Neil Sattin: Sure, and I think this also goes in a little bit to your ideas about what is happening energetically, in those more subtle levels as bodies interact with bodies, and hopefully, present bodies interacting with present bodies.

Julie Henderson: Well, if the body is not being present, there will be very little if any contact actually. If you mean, by energies, if you mean the sensations that arise in and around the body, when it is not... What? When it's not staying inside its skin. If it lets itself move beyond its skin, then what you would be experiencing would be some of its energy. Otherwise, the energy is felt as movement and sensation when it's inside the body.

Neil Sattin: So if I wanted to taste the energy, the beyond the body experience, what... Yeah, how does one approach that?


Julie Henderson: Well, I would say, first feel... Aha, my bird clock is about to say it's noon. Squeak, squeak. First, it would be a question of recognizing, learning to recognize what those, the sensations of the energy, of being that body, and check it out from one place to another. You know like what does it feel like to be your liver, for example. Bring your attention out of your head into your liver, and feel what the sensations of being a liver are, and just go around the whole body and try them out. And then, if you have the background, you can follow the circuitry, the circuitry of that body, which lots of people have been to classes to learn how to do that. And it's not always the case that the teaching includes noticing that those branches of energy movement, they do not stop at the skin.

Julie Henderson: So you can follow the... I'm trying to think a bit. There are many, many of these ways of... Especially the Chinese. They're very good about teaching people to perceive the movement of these channels, and you can follow them from each of the chakras, and each one, each chakra has more or less numbers of first a location within the body, and then these channels that go out from each of the bodies, each of the...

Neil Sattin: The chakras.

Julie Henderson: Yeah, each of the chakras, yeah. And when you follow them, they will come to the edge of the body, and you just don't automatically stop there. You let that channel and the movement of energy through that channel extend beyond the skin. And the more you have practice doing that qi, the more access you have to feeling your awareness and presence beyond the body. And then, not only your own but others.

Neil Sattin: Why would someone want to do this?


Julie Henderson: Well, some people would like to do it because it's fun.

Neil Sattin: Right. Fun and cool, yeah.

Julie Henderson: Yup, and then it's an exploration for many people. They discover that they can do that and then they say, "Well, I wonder what goes with that? If I do that, what will I discover?" There are many, many, many, many things that people discover about being a body that are beyond the body.

Neil Sattin: So that brings me to two questions. Earlier you mentioned something depending on our background. And it's funny to me, in some ways, that I feel like we've done this interview backwards because typically we would have started here, but I would love for you to give our listeners just a sense of your background. Like where does all this work come from for you?

Julie Henderson: Depends on which aspect of it we would like to look at first. I guess the earliest would be that both of my parents were actors, and they were, at least until I was 12, they were frequently preparing for roles. And so I had a lot of support in feeling things and feeling, and I just relaxed about doing things that are a little odd. And that was enhanced when I went to Cal, to the university, because although I started out studying chemistry, I rapidly discovered that what I really wanted to do was to learn to act, so I did that. And after I graduated from the university, I spent a lot of time studying and I learned a lot from that. I'm trying to think... Round about the same time, I met my first Tibetan teacher, and from that time, until just the last few years, the main influence on me was my Tibetans.

Julie Henderson: And, most recently, one of... Well, about a year ago, my closest teacher died. And so, I have spent time being aware of him, completely without restriction on his presence. So, he's been very, very vast, I would say, very vast. And his son, who is still being a body, since I don't have any children, and I was trying to think, I want to try and find a way of preserving this house and land for people to practice in and support themselves with, and I was going to ask my main teacher's son if he would like to have it as a place to come in California when he was not... When he was moving around a lot. And he thought, "Well, here's a nice thing." I was... I did not, and have not for some time, had his telephone number.

Julie Henderson: So, I was saying to myself, "Well, let's see. Who... Cornelia doesn't have his telephone number, but Philip has his telephone number. I will ask Cornelia if I can have Philip's telephone number, so that I can call Philip and ask him if he would give me access to Drukchen's telephone number just long enough for me to ask him this question, and then I would erase it from my mind." And so, as I was formulating that plan in my mind, this Tibetan placed himself in my mind, and it's very straightforward that it actually feels like a physical happening.

Julie Henderson: So, I told him, "I was trying to get your phone number to ask you if you'd like to have access to this place as a refuge when I have died." And he said, "No," very straightforwardly, "No, because I want what you do to have its own lineage. I don't want it to be attached to me. I want it to be what you do and for people to learn from what you do, and not think it's about me." So, I said, "Okay," and that's the plan. I still don't know what I'm going to do with my property, but probably I will live another 10 years, and then, maybe, I will know.

Neil Sattin: Perhaps that will...

Julie Henderson: Is that making any sense?

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And perhaps the answer of what you will do, perhaps that will come to you similarly.

Julie Henderson: Oh, yeah. I just know that it's not going to be from him. It might be his son. I mean, his father, who as I say is being great space, I would say. He's being great space. So, maybe it might come out of great space. That's quite possible.

Neil Sattin: And there's something about the Tibetan lineage or your teachers that you mention in your books, that their method of instruction is very experiential.

Julie Henderson: With me, certainly it is. There are... In the Tibetan culture, there are at least several ways of approaching what they teach that are different parts of adjunct lineages. And this one, the ones that they hooked me with, my ones, is very... It's not about something in a book, it's about the direct experience of how they are, and being influenced by how they are.

Neil Sattin: So...

Julie Henderson: They don't teach everybody that way.

Neil Sattin: I see, I see. From my perspective, it feels really important given all the things that we've talked about over this past hour because so many of them sound so simple as a concept and yet you don't really get to experience it until you experience it, until you try and see what it actually does for you, with you.

Julie Henderson: Yeah, that is very true.

Neil Sattin: And the name of your work, you've called Zapchen, and we haven't talked about that at all, this entire time. What does Zapchen mean? Why that word?

Julie Henderson: Well, it is a Tibetan word and it has a number of meanings. It is often a word that is associated with children in Tibetan. So sometimes it means that they're being playful, sometimes it means that they're being naughty, and when it applies to grownups... Let's see, at one time I asked one of my secondary Tibetan teachers, "What's Zapchen? What does it mean really? What does it mean in Tibetan?" And he looked a little startled because actually it turns out it's a naughty word.


Julie Henderson: You wouldn't just go out and say Zapchen, Zapchen because most Tibetans would not use that word, especially proper women. One time I was having a... My teacher and his wife and his son were in San Francisco and spending some time and they were going to be teaching in San Francisco and in Berkeley so that was very nice, and we were having lunch and they were speaking Tibetan. And I don't know squat all, really about Tibetan, it's a very difficult language, but in the middle of the conversation, Drukchen, the son was talking to his mama, and used the word Zapchen and she giggled and he smiled naughtily himself and that was the closest I came until I had the opportunity to talk to this Tibetan monk when I was in Nepal and I said, "If it would be okay, would you tell me what Zapchen means?"

Julie Henderson: And he smiled and looked a little sheepish, and then he said, "Well, if I were a married man and I had to go on a trip away so that my wife was at home, and she went to the... To the... What? To the... To the... " I don't even know... My brain is draining. "To the place where you buy beer and spent time with another man, that would be Zapchen." So that's the only understanding, it's a complicated word.

Neil Sattin: So then I gotta ask, "Why did you... "

Julie Henderson: Ask us.

Neil Sattin: Yes. Why did you choose it for your work?

Julie Henderson: Well, long before the story that I just told you, when I was still living in Australia, I spent time teaching out in the country, and there were some Tibetan monks, but there also was very high, a high Lama who were there and they found out that the name of what I was doing there was Zapchen and they laughed about it and I said, "Well, what is it about it that's funny?" And I still don't know quite the answer to that question but it was clear that it was a naughty word and... I'm trying to think. The very, very, very first time that I decided to use it I really don't know why. I mean, but of course it had to do with my Tibetan teachers but why did I choose that? No, I don't know. I guess I just liked it.

Neil Sattin: It's another part of the mystery, I guess.

Julie Henderson: I guess.


Neil Sattin: Well, Julie, I so appreciate your time and your wisdom and your offerings today, and your work, as I mentioned, is so fascinating and I think so deceptively simple, at least in terms of what we've talked about, I know it gets deeper and more complex and you've been doing what you do for decades and so it would be ludicrous to think that we could distill all of that into an hour long conversation but I so appreciate that you've been willing to show up here and give us a starting point for Zapchen...

Julie Henderson: My pleasure.

Neil Sattin: In your practices. What is the best way for people to find out more about your work, if they are interested in finding out more?

Julie Henderson: Well, they can call me.


Julie Henderson: It depends really on what they want to know. They can read the books. The books are pretty good.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, the books are great.

Julie Henderson: They can find people like your way. There's a woman in Vermont who teaches not just what she has learned from me but from part of that she teaches. There are people in Chicago. There are people in Arizona. And lots of people in Germany and Austria and Australia. I don't know actually what is inherent in your question. You mean, if they would like to learn more or...

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, and I think what we can do is we can have some links on, in the transcript for this conversation, we can make sure that we have links to your website. And I think that's probably a good starting point for a lot of people, and then I know that if you...

Julie Henderson: There are people in Germany who would like to be able to get a copy of the script.

Neil Sattin: Yes, we will ensure that that happens. And for those of you who are listening right now, you can download a copy if you visit, J-U-L-I-E, or you can always text the word Passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions, and that way you can download the transcript to this episode. And, Julie, I'm wondering if, since probably we have a mix of people who are listening to this, we have people who are just being introduced to you, and I know that your students are going to be excited to hear your voice, and I'm wondering if there's just anything that comes up for you, as sort of a final encouragement or offering for everyone who's listening and has been tuning in.

Julie Henderson: I would say it's a very good grounding. It's a very good starting place and the people who have worked with me, let's say 10 years or more become very good teachers and frequently tell me how much they appreciate what they've learned from me and that they can share it with other people in a way that's accessible and helpful. It's just nice to hear.

Neil Sattin: That's great, yeah. And I was speaking earlier with one of your long-time colleagues and students, Laura.

Julie Henderson: Laura.

Neil Sattin: Laura Lund and she mentioned that there are at least probably 500 practitioners worldwide of Zapchen and then if you include the people that they've taught probably thousands of people who have been impacted by your work.

Julie Henderson: That would be nice, that would be nice.

Neil Sattin: Well, I so appreciate your time again today and thank you so much for joining us and maybe we can have you back on one of these days to talk about some more of the finer points, but this definitely feels like an excellent starting place for us in embodying well-being.

Julie Henderson: Right, I think so, I think it is. And if people are interested enough to try it out, I think they would probably then discover that they have questions that they'd like to pursue. And the books are good for that or if they become very interested they could be in touch with me.

Neil Sattin: Great, thank you. We will ensure that they have your information through your website in the show guide.

Julie Henderson: I don't know that anybody goes to that website anymore.

Neil Sattin: I went. [chuckle]

Julie Henderson: Okay. Well, go then do it.

Neil Sattin: But if there's a...

Julie Henderson: It worked for you.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, somehow, somehow it did.


169: Choose Intimacy Over Fear – Core Relationship Principles #4 – with Chloe Urban and Neil Sattin

Nov 27, 2018 55:08


How do you prevent fear from getting in the way of your connection? Sometimes your fears are obvious - other times they’re more subtle - but no matter what they can potentially drive a wedge between you and your partner. In the fourth episode of our “Core Relationship Principles” series, Chloe Urban and I show you exactly how to choose intimacy over fear, how to deal with the natural fears that arise, and how to identify your patterns so you can be aware enough to determine whether you’re choosing intimacy or fear in your relationship. After listening to this episode, you’ll have some solid strategies for moving past fear and embracing intimacy in your relationship even when it’s scary. And you’ll also get to hear us navigate a triggered moment during the episode itself! Can you find where it is?

If you haven’t listened to the first 3 episodes in our “Core Relationship Principles” series you can do that here:

Episode 126: Core Relationship Principles #1: Mutual Support without Codependence – with Chloe Urban and Neil Sattin

Episode 132: Core Relationship Principles #2 – Finding Play, Humor, Fun, and Lightness – with Chloe Urban and Neil Sattin

Episode 145: Core Relationship Principles #3 – Fostering Curiosity and Dismantling Limiting Stories – with Chloe Urban and Neil Sattin

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


Along with our amazing listener supporters (you know who you are – thank you!), this week’s episode is being sponsored by two amazing companies with special offers for you. is the world’s best-selling language learning app makes it easy for you to learn French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Danish – and many more languages. Is there a language you’ve always wanted to learn? Try Babbel for FREE at and use the offer code “ALIVE” to get 50% off your first 3 months.

This week’s second sponsor is James Avery Artisan Jewelry. Gifts from James Avery help tell your story – one that you and your loved one will remember for years to come. James Avery also sources their gemstones responsibly – something that’s especially important to Chloe and me as we make choices about jewelry. You can find James Avery Artisan Jewelry in their shops, in many Dillard’s stores and online at



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Amazing intro and outro music provided courtesy of The Railsplitters


Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome...

Chloe Urban: To another episode of Relationship Alive.

Neil Sattin: We are your hosts...

Chloe Urban: Chloe...

Neil Sattin: And Neil. [chuckle] And I'm being joined today by my lovely wife Chloe Urban, whom you've heard me talk about quite a bit, and we are here to continue our series on core relationship principles. And basically, what we're using is the vows that we made to each other when we got married as a framework for the core principles that are important when you are in a relationship with someone. And we were very intentional about the vows that we made to each other, and they were based on our work with each other and the course that we created, Thriving Intimacy, as we were really trying to get at the heart of how to help couples succeed. And of course, we want you to succeed, we also want ourselves to succeed as well. If you're interested in listening to the first three episodes in the series, they are episodes number 126, 132, and 145. So that's where you will find the first three principles, and we are here in episode number 169.

Chloe Urban: Wow. That's a lot of episodes.

Neil Sattin: It is a lot.

Chloe Urban: Very exciting.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, as I was typing that number, I was thinking, "Holy mackerel, [chuckle] that's a lot of episodes." [chuckle]

Chloe Urban: So that brings us to our fourth principle...

Neil Sattin: Yes.

Chloe Urban: Which is also our fourth vow that we made to each other on that glorious, beautiful wedding day that we had. And the vow/principle is that we vow to choose intimacy over fear. So Neil, what does that mean to you to choose intimacy over fear? I have a lot to say about it, but I'm curious.

Neil Sattin: I'm sure you do have a lot of say about that.

Chloe Urban: [chuckle] What comes up for you?

Neil Sattin: Well, when I was thinking about this vow in preparation for our conversation today, the first thing that jumped out at me was how easy it usually is to find yourself in a relationship with someone.

Chloe Urban: [chuckle] That is very true.

Neil Sattin: Now that doesn't always mean that it's easy to find someone to be in a relationship with, but once you find someone in that whatever that special sauce, that little magical click happens, [chuckle] and you're in the circuit with each other, then you're in it. That's, I think, one of the things that characterizes, most of the time, not all the time, but most of the time, the very beginning of a relationship, is that it just unfolds naturally. The process, though, of deepening your relationship and staying together and staying connected over time where you don't get stuck, where you don't get stuck in staleness or in problems, where you're able to go deeper and deeper and transform, that is what, to me, is intimacy. Intimacy is a process, an ever-deepening process, of knowing each other more deeply, knowing each other's truth more deeply, and that deepening intimacy is what allows us to also deepen our trust in each other, to uncover the things that are obstacles to a deeper connection with each other, and to get through those obstacles and experience greater joy and connection. And I think we've experienced that a bunch, right, where things have been going great and then they start to not go great [chuckle] or get tense or contracted.

Chloe Urban: We never have that. [chuckle] We... I don't know what you're talking about.

Neil Sattin: Well, I do appreciate the universe that you're living in right now. [chuckle] But of course we want to give everyone the sense that this... That there's reality on this.

Chloe Urban: I'm completely joking, by the way. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Right, there's reality here, which is things can be awesome and then things can kinda suck at times.

Chloe Urban: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: And so, what we've learned is not to take the suckiness as a sign that everything is horrible and that we're doomed, but as a sign that it's time to move through something or to take something on that helps us get even more connected to each other, to build the intimacy. So I know I'm talking about intimacy as a noun like it's a thing, and like it's a process, a verb, and hopefully, I'm not confusing you, hopefully, you're getting a sense that it is kind of a multi-dimensional word that's really important to succeeding in a relationship.

Neil Sattin: And then when it comes to this vow of choosing intimacy over fear. The truth is that I think most of the time when we get stuck in a relationship. It's typically because there's something about our fear or our partner's fear that's getting in the way of being in the moment with each other. There's a risk involved, there's a risk that's required to be taken when you find yourself in a place where you're stuck because the stuck-ness usually happens because you're repeating something over and over again. And so in order to stop repeating it, you have to be willing to do something different. And even that doing something different in any of us can cause fear. Because we're breaking from the norm. And you don't... When you do something different, you don't necessarily know what's going to happen.

Neil Sattin: And I think that's the biggest irony is that a lot of people choose what they know. They'd rather choose to do the same thing over and over again or to just try harder at the same thing, but knowing that the results are somewhat predictable. You have to take a risk if you want a different result. And I'm talking about stuck places, but this is I think also true, where you want to really thrive, where you're not even necessarily stuck, but to accelerate or to amplify a joyous moment that also sometimes require risk, requires facing fear. And so for me personally. And Chloe, I hope you're... You got something really profound to say after this...

Chloe Urban: Oh I'm ready.

Neil Sattin: [chuckle] Okay, good, but for me personally, this vow and this principle of choosing intimacy over fear is all about a commitment that I have to recognize when my fear is standing in the way of deepening our connection. Whether it's my fear of being vulnerable, my fear of being in my truth my fear of hearing your truth. My fear of being in the soup together and not necessarily knowing what's going to happen and being willing to be in that unpredictable space to say, "You know what, even though I feel that fear I'm going to move through it because the intimacy that we get to create on the other side of it is worth facing the fear, it requires courage.

Chloe Urban: It does require a courage. Lots of it actually. And I really love what you were saying and it's so interesting because there are so many different places to take this. I think For both of us, we value so much intimacy and even though that can be really terrifying as you were just speaking about. To me, intimacy is something that's really required to actually have a deeply fulfilling and thriving relationship, and I think actually a lot of people don't have deep intimacy in their relationships, even if they've been together 30 years who... Who really takes the time and who has the courage to fully share all of their... Their truths, even if they're terrifying to share.

Chloe Urban: I think that's one of the pieces here around really being willing to be seen. To share, to see the other person you might be terrified to share because you're actually terrified of what might come back at you, you know, you were saying that the fear of sharing yourself, but also the fear of what might actually come out of the other person's mouth, and that you might actually have to be in a dance of like, Whoa, their truth right now is actually really uncomfortable for me and then how to work through it.

Chloe Urban: To me, this vow is just absolutely paramount and so important it, as you were saying, requires really stepping into being vulnerable and it requires us to kind of work with our brains a little bit and to be willing... Like fear it's... Fear really comes from that primal space of protection of working with our... Basically our survival brain. And what that brings up for us and it's so interesting and can be so distorted in a lot of ways, we have these fears around giving and receiving love or around being seen, or seeing others clearly or being abandoned or even being safe with a person.

Chloe Urban: You know what, maybe for me safety has always been a big piece in my life because of my past, and actually places where I actually wasn't safe in relationship or in sexual connections or to really even my parents were amazing and yet every parent [chuckle] has their moments of not being amazing and even if it's just like I gotta go to work and I can't be with you right now. There's a way in which we can internalize and then that trauma shows up in all these different ways. And so for me, this piece here of choosing intimacy over fear, it's really like, How do we overcome our traumas, overcome our survival brain, around, Is it actually safe for me to be me.

Chloe Urban: Is that actually safe in this moment for me to share my deepest heartache? Or my deepest desires? And will they be received? And if they're not, how are we going to work through it and do I have trust and faith that this relationship can hold that and that in the soup pot of intimacy which almost [chuckle] feels like a soup pot, it's like it. It's all of it. The soup pot of vulnerability, the soup pot of like, what it is that I desire, and what it is that you desire. And where they work together and where they actually don't, and then how do we come together and allowing the other to fully see and be in that conversation. That's where it gets juicy and that's where we get to decide together what are we going to do, what are we going to do if we don't match up in this total moment? When I'm sharing my deepest desires or my deepest fears and we're not exactly on the same page, and it... To me, the keystone here is the courage that you were speaking about, what is it to be that courageous. To show up that fully together. To really want to be seen, held, loved, all of it, and then to really want to show up for that in your partner.

Neil Sattin: Right, right, and I really want us to give a practice for you listening. So that you can start to tune in to those places where maybe fear is holding you back or getting in the way. And recognize them so that you can make the conscious choice because so much of the vow that we made, and the principle that we're illustrating here is about taking something that you might just take for granted. Well, of course, I'm in a relationship, I'm choosing intimacy over fear, right. But when it really comes down to it is that true? Are you making that choice in your day-to-day life?

Chloe Urban: Right or are you just sort of on auto-pilot?

Neil Sattin: Right.

Chloe Urban: And I think we go in and out of auto-pilot a lot. And there are moments where it's like, Whoa. Whoa, whoa, we've been on auto-pilot about this thing for months. How did that happen? Because we are...we want consciousness in this relationship and yet, you know. we get busy or these things happen or we actually didn't realize that that fear was running us in that moment. And so it's just, it's so important to continually keep looking.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Chloe Urban: One thing that really comes up around having a practice. For me is, what is it to notice your patterning when you begin to want to hide your vulnerability. Like if that makes sense, does that make sense?

Neil Sattin: Not yet. [chuckle] You know on a deep level it makes sense though.

Chloe Urban: So what are your patterns? What are your patterns? Where are your ways of hiding your vulnerability of hiding from the deeper grief or yearning or desire, or joy or whatever, it is, what is it that shows up in you? For instance, you know this well, this is mine. [chuckle] This is one of my big patterns is getting edgy kind of like agitated. I get like... All of a sudden I start feeling like my heart starts to race a little bit more, and I get a little sharp. I can kind of be...

Neil Sattin: A little critical. [laughter]

Chloe Urban: I can be critical, I can also... It might be self-critical or towards Neil or towards the situation. It can... It just... That's when I know if I were to actually stop and instead of acting on that edge and going there if I stop and I'm like wait a second. What's underneath this? What's actually going on here? And getting curious which of course is what we are always talking about the importance of curiosity, but like, "Oh I'm going to that habit, that pattern, that place where I'm actually hiding the deeper thing here. And sometimes what I've noticed is that when I go under, there's grief sure, there's yearning there's longing there's desire it might be that I'm absolutely terrified of sharing with Neil, what I actually want or I'm actually terrified because I don't know what I want and it's very vulnerable for me to admit that I'm actually scared to know what I want, and actually speak it fully.

Chloe Urban: There are all... It's fascinating when you actually catch yourself in a pattern like that, and go under a little bit, a couple layers under and see. Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa, that is so not what I thought it was or that it so it has nothing to do with you right now. And actually, it has everything to do with my fear or trauma patterns, or habits or actually being really uncomfortable to speak my needs, because somehow I've made it that I'm not allowed to have needs or I'm not allowed to have wants and or desires or that they're not important. And then I'm going against myself. So there's all... There are many, many, many, many things it could be, but really what comes up is like, Okay, find... really start to look at yourself over this week. What is it that makes you go into the patterns? And Neil has something to say here.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I have something vulnerable to share. [chuckle]

Chloe Urban: He has something vulnerable to share.

Neil Sattin: This is vulnerable because you are so clearly on a roll here and I'm so hesitant to interrupt you and yet this is the time in the show when we need to mention our amazing sponsors. [laughter] Who are helping us produce Relationship Alive week after week, so that we can be here with you, week after week. And so, let's just take a moment to talk about our sponsors and then we will continue giving you the process for how to tune in to where you are maybe choosing fear instead of intimacy.

Chloe Urban: And I'm going to breathe right now. [chuckle] Knowing that just because he interrupted me that it's okay and that this is not personal, and that what I have to say is of value. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Okay, we'll be right back.


Neil Sattin: Okay, thank you again to Babbel and James Avery for making this episode possible. And when we left off, Chloe was getting really passionate about this practice for first exploring what your patterns are, can you identify the ways that the things that you launch into? She was saying that for her it's getting kind of edgy maybe critical of herself or of others. For me. It's probably more akin to these are the times when I start to check out or want to just do something else or maybe I shut down, maybe I start to get kind of sleepy. These are some of the things that happen for me because I think when I start to get to my fear edge, I tend to dissociate, a little bit more rather than necessarily leaning in.

Chloe Urban: Right. You almost have the more flight pattern whereas I have the fight pattern.

Neil Sattin: Right.

Chloe Urban: Which is just normal with the brain. Usually, you'd go to one or the other.

Neil Sattin: Right? And it actually hasn't always been that way for us. I think earlier in our relationship you had more of the flight pattern.

Chloe Urban: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: And I was more of the fight pattern.

Chloe Urban: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: And when we're talking about fight or flight, and of course there's also freeze. We're talking about the ways that our biology is programmed to handle the experience of fear.

Chloe Urban: Right.

Neil Sattin: So, when Chloe was talking about your primal brain, the need to feel safe, the need to feel seen, the need to feel like you're not being abandoned the need to feel love, all of those things. If they get triggered because you're not feeling those things, then it's going to send you into a fear pattern. So, this identifying what is it that you do that you keep bumping your head up against that's a sign that in this stuck place, you're resorting to automatic behavior instead of being in choice, being in creativity and if you've been listening to the podcast a while you know that being in choice, and creativity that's the sign that you're in the frontal part of your brain and you can only be in the prefrontal cortex, if you are not in this triggered state.

Neil Sattin: So, Chloe how do we...Once we identify... Oh yeah, this is the thing I do or this is the place where we're stuck this is the loop that we get in then how do you shift that so that you can actually... You have a way of getting unstuck, or even like when I'm imagining it, it's almost like you can see kind of a record in a groove, just for all of you. Hopefully, you know what records are, [chuckle] but it's just spinning and spinning, but it's not actually changing and you almost have to nudge it sometimes to get it to jump into a new track. So what are some ways to shift the pattern within?

Chloe Urban: Yeah, so a couple of things I would say, the first thing is just stopping for a minute actually pausing. And then getting really curious and a question that I might ask myself would be something like, “If this feeling or this contraction isn't what I think it is, then what else could it be?” because then you're really setting the stage for you to get curious in yourself, of like, Whoa, for me if this edginess or anxious tension I'm feeling in my body wasn't what I thought it was. What else would it be? All of a sudden it opens up this whole other realm of possibility. For instance, it might be there's so many actually opportunities [chuckle] just in this last week to talk about, but they're... For instance, it might just be like, "Whoa I'm starting to get edgy or antsy or feeling really agitated what is going on here”.

Chloe Urban: One instance, I'm thinking about was actually I just needed to cry and it actually had nothing to do with what Neil or the kids were saying or doing, and yet it was like, "Oh my gosh, I'm actually my... My friend might be sick, and I need to, I just need to cry for a minute.” Like there's a fear there that there's some grief there's something that has nothing to do with this particular situation, and yet, I'm trying to go on with my life and just pretend like nothing's really under there where there's grief or fear, but fear in a different way like fear that has nothing to do with this situation, and it's actually an unexpressed emotion under there for myself.

Chloe Urban: Another situation might be that, oh whoa, I'm actually really just wanting to connect with you right now. I just want a hug. And instead of just knowing that I can ask for that and trusting myself to know that that's what I want, I'm going to agitation and what if I could just stop and be like, Hey babe I'm actually feeling a little vulnerable, right now and a little disconnected and could we... Could I have a hug or could you hold me? And just being willing to be in that vulnerability. There are so many, so many, so many things it could be, and yet if we're just going to our fight or flight pattern or freeze pattern and not getting underneath what's going on, the pattern won't change. And then you're really robbing yourself of intimacy.

Neil Sattin: So often what we're responding to, isn't even what's really happening in the moment, it's our story about what's happening. [chuckle] And so, as I'm listening to you talk about some instances from the past week. Yeah, I'm thinking about how easy, especially as we start to veer into our... The fear part of our brain, it's really easy to start misinterpreting everything. That's going on and seeing it through the lens of our fear. So what you mentioned Chloe is a perfect example of feeling your agitation and being willing to ask like What else could this be getting at like. Oh, what I really want... What I really want right now is to connect. And then risking the vulnerability of asking for connection and hopefully your lucky husband [chuckle] is there to provide you with that connection.

Chloe Urban: Right? And even there, if it's not the right time or he's actually not... He or she isn't feeling it, or they aren't feeling it. There's a place here, an opportunity of creating real safety with the intimate container there of like, you know, babe actually, I'm not available to fully show up in this hug right now or to hold you right now, but I can... I want to give that to you, but can we do it in 10 minutes? I just need to get in the right frame of mind or I actually need to write this email that's going to be totally taking me away from being present, so that you're honoring the request and you're being... And you're creating safety to receive a request or vice versa. So you're really creating a place where you're not just giving over if it really doesn't feel right to you, in that moment, but you're honoring and showing up for... I'm going to show up for that when I can here. And then you get to play in the soup pot of intimacy, and vulnerability and seeing how you can both work with what's happening there.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I like how that soup pot like we keep mentioning that. I think maybe we're just getting hungry because [chuckle] well, Thanksgiving is happening tomorrow here in the states, so we'll all be enjoying or many of us, hopefully, will be enjoying a nice meal. I was also thinking about a place where this can come up is if you are feeling a little disconnected sexually.

Chloe Urban: Oh yeah.

Neil Sattin: From your partner. And how risky it can feel to... In that situation to make a request, and a great way to handle being stuck in terms of your sexual intimacy is to just put a date on the calendar when you are going to be there with your partner. And of course, that is a huge risk because... It could be that with that date on the calendar like that's all you need, you both show up, you take your clothes off and you're good to go. [chuckle] I don't know that that's true for a lot of people. It's true, in the beginning, a lot of the time, but when you get 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, years into your relationship, you may need more than just showing up and being naked together. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: What you really probably need is to show up, be naked and be really present with each other and be willing to face the fear that if we put this date on the calendar, it may not mean that we are making love with each other, it may just mean that we show up with each other and that we're honoring each other. But being willing to step into that moment and make the commitment to that date happening, whatever actually unfolds is potentially a huge source of fear for you. What if I don't live up to my partner's expectations, I know that they really want to have sex and I'm not sure I will or vice versa? I know that I really want to. And what if they don't want to? And so wherever you or your partner fall in that spectrum, there's vulnerability that things might not work out either the way you want it or the way your partner wants it.

Neil Sattin: Deep down though, if what you're choosing is intimacy, deep down, it's all about the deep connection. You can have a profoundly deep connection being in bed and grieving together, about how messed up your sex life has become, you know. [chuckle]

Chloe Urban: Well, and actually, it brings up for me, not just the active scheduling or having sex or... but what if you're in the act of actually making love and something comes up and all of a sudden you're there and you're like, “Whoa, there's some fear here. I actually have a deep desire to ask for this thing and I'm terrified to ask” or I actually... “Whoa, some trauma circuit just got opened”. And the way you're touching me right now feels really not okay, and I need to be able to actually have the courage to say something about it and that takes deep, deep vulnerability. And it also is a risk in that it might "kill the mood" and then how to just be willing, both of you to be in the vulnerability of whoa here we are, we're in this moment.

Chloe Urban: Wow, it's a little rocky. Oh, there's fear, there's grief, there's something here. Let's do whatever we can do to show up intimately, and be vulnerable here in this moment for each other, so that it doesn't necessarily have to derail the whole experience and yet like Whoa, I actually just needed to cry for a minute. Whoa like... And showing up in both honoring and calling each other forth to be in the intimacy instead of the fear.

Neil Sattin: What I love about what you were just talking about, is that it shows that, very often sex and intimacy are aligned, those are some... Those can be some of our most deeply connected moments. And what you were just talking about shows that even in a moment of physical or sexual intimacy, it's possible that there's a deeper emotional intimacy that's possible, if you show up in the moment in a way that's not necessarily about the sex that's happening, it's about whatever has surfaced for you.

Chloe Urban: Right, and it's not... Again, on auto-pilot, to me, auto-pilot really feel... Fears like a... Feel... [chuckle] I can't even say it, feels like a fear-based kind of situation, where you're just on auto-pilot, you're kind of auto-pilot sex. I think we all know it, it's just...

Neil Sattin: What? [chuckle]

Chloe Urban: You've never gone on auto-pilot having sex?

Neil Sattin: Not with you.

Chloe Urban: Really? I don't know about that. [chuckle] There are ways that you might not even notice that you're going on auto-pilot, for instance. You might be sitting there or being in the moment of sexually connecting and you realize, "Oh I always look away when I have an orgasm. Isn't that interesting? Why do I do that? Why in that moment can't I be present? And what is it that I'm hiding from there?” Maybe it's because it feels so vulnerable, to just give over and surrender. And even the act of doing that if you were to fully be present with your partner might lead to you crying or being in a state of, whoa this is so edgy to be willing to feel pleasure, that kind of surrendered pleasure. Having someone fully witness me and be there.

Chloe Urban: And want to be there and actually want me to feel this or vice versa, or whatever it is, there's... There are just these layers and that those moments to me when we get there, together, it's like the most profound and connecting, it's like we can ride that wave for days. When... When we call each other forth and when we're willing to just go there and not be in auto-pilot mode.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So I think what it comes down to for me in terms of this exercise of examining where we get stuck, where we're on autopilot, where we're in the patterns and being willing to ask ourselves a question, like what else could this be, or what am I really longing for right Now? It all is hopefully allowing you to get a little perspective on your relationship and on your situation and to ask yourself. If I were going to... If I were going to lean in right now. What would that look like? And if I were going to lean in a way that was also, this is a phrase that I use a lot on the show. If I were going to lean in a way that was an invitation to my partner. So it may be that you have a deep desire, a deep longing but if you make it a demand, then [chuckle] typically our partners don't respond to that too Well, occasionally if the timing is just perfect.

Chloe Urban: Would you just hug me already! [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Right, exactly, and... Here. There you go.

Chloe Urban: Aww thanks, baby.

Neil Sattin: You're welcome. So if you can ask yourself, "What would it look like to lean in right now? What would it look like if I weren't afraid in this moment?" It's a variation of the... If I knew, I couldn't fail, what would I do. Right now, what would I ask for? What kind of presence would I request from you? And what risks would I take? These are conversations that hopefully you're having together. So again, you're taking a risk, but not jeopardizing the safety of your relationship, you're always being mindful of how do I take this risk and at the same time in the larger picture, keep myself safe, keep my partner Safe. If I recognize that what I'm asking for is a really big ask from my partner, then how do I do it in such a way that I let them know that it's... That it might be a big deal, or that there may be some more conversation that we have to have in order for this to be possible so that you're always maintaining a sense of openness.

Chloe Urban: Always because we... That's just not possible. But yes. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Wow. That was hard, that was really hard to hear. [laughter]

Chloe Urban: Did I just derail you?

Neil Sattin: A little bit.

Chloe Urban: See you get to see this moment right here.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Chloe Urban: I interrupted him and I'm really sorry and I got sarcastic.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Chloe Urban: And I guess where I was coming from is like...

Neil Sattin: Tell me.

Chloe Urban: I was just thinking, “Wow, this is really setting a stage for people to feel pretty shitty about themselves if they're failing and failing and failing at doing this.”

Neil Sattin: Oh okay.

Chloe Urban: And all I was saying was this really isn't something you're always going to be able to catch yourself on and be gentle with yourself about that too.

Neil Sattin: Right? What I was about to...

Chloe Urban: I'm sorry.

Neil Sattin: Say was just that, that it is a dynamic if we're... I think, for instance, we make a vow in marriage, a commitment to choose intimacy over fear. That doesn't mean that we always do, but we hold the value strong so that we can recognize. Oh, that was a time when I didn't.

Chloe Urban: Right exactly.

Neil Sattin: And what do I do about that or... So what I'm saying in terms of always being open.

Chloe Urban: Yes.

Neil Sattin: Is not that you're a bad person if you're not being open. It's more like if you hold the value of openness, then you can recognize when you are contracting when you are closing and I think intimacy, the most intimate moments are our most open moments with our partners.

Chloe Urban: For sure.

Neil Sattin: So that's really what I'm talking about.

Chloe Urban: Makes total sense.

Neil Sattin: And I'm glad you were letting everyone off the hook because I was just getting a little righteous. In terms of...

Chloe Urban: If we can always be open! I'm like well, okay, [chuckle] yes, and yes and yes, and yes, and... We're going to fail a million times. And Neil and I fail a million times a week at this and it's just about coming... I'm talking micro-moments of like, Whoa, that was where I just like could have gone... That could have gone a really different way if I had leaned in, or if I had been willing to let him see me or vice versa or all the different places. There are so many micro-moments in our lives.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so this is also really important. And then maybe this will be a good place to stop.

Chloe Urban: We'll wrap up.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Which is that part of choosing intimacy over fear is the fear when you recognize that you've gone a little bit off the rails, you've gone maybe more toward the fear than the intimacy and being willing in your partnership to stop. And re-group, and regulate and then say, "Hey like, "Wait a minute, we're going way down the rabbit hole. Can we come back? Can we center ourselves?”

Chloe Urban: Right.

Neil Sattin: Can we figure out what's truly important right now?

Chloe Urban: Right.

Neil Sattin: That's also extremely vulnerable, risky and intimate. To be able to stop something that's [chuckle] spiraling off in the wrong direction.

Chloe Urban: Even if it's like whoa can we take five minutes and breathe and just maybe we don't even need to have this conversation, is this actually really important for us to be talking about this or are we just going to derail totally?

Neil Sattin: Right.

Chloe Urban: One quick little thing, I want to say before we wrap up is, I'm also seeing this piece around helping your partner choose intimacy over fear. You may notice that for instance, I start getting agitated and Neil might be like, whoa I see that she's going into her patterning and she might not be able to catch herself right now, and actually inviting like, wow babe I'm actually seeing you go into that place. What do you need from me right now? Like what could I offer that could shift this, where could I actually support you so that we don't actually have to go into this patterning that we're doing? It could... If you have permission, that's obviously you want to really establish consent with that, of being open to saying, Oh wow, I'm noticing you're doing that. How can I show up for you right now? So we don't have to go into that old place.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, because that, again, is a very vulnerable thing to do. So I do... I hope that you have the ability with your partner to invite that from each other because it's so powerful in the middle of a moment to feel that offering what can I... What can I do for you right now to help you be here with me?

Chloe Urban: It's really an act of kindness and love.

Chloe Urban: When you see your partner go into those old patterns. Know that it really is them hurting in some way, or that they're hiding something or they're feeling vulnerable and their fear is kicking in, to try and hide it. So to actually offer, What do you need. Isn't... Isn't about being self-serving, it's not about like, "Oh now I'm really uncomfortable.” Because, say, they're being critical, it's like, "Oh my goodness, they're being critical. That must mean that they're hurting or that there's something vulnerable underneath. And how can I extend a loving, compassionate, open-hearted message that I'm here for them and that they can actually share what's going on, and I can show up for that and that right there can dismantle a huge long extended fight or tension in the relationship just by dismantling the pattern as it begins instead of going down the road that you know we all know can lead to some really hard... Hard conversations. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Right, right. I think what you're getting at is that in the end, when you meet a stuck place with love and compassion and generosity. Then that will disrupt the pattern because most of the time it's our... It's not our loving patterns that are causing the problem, it's not because we're loving too much, or being too compassionate, maybe with the exception of sometimes when we're just being extremely co-dependent. [chuckle]

Chloe Urban: Right, right, right. Right. But then, that just automatically brings the intimacy back in. It's right there for you to dive into and actually connect on a deeper level and have more understanding of one another and show up.

Neil Sattin: Right. My experience is that it brings the life back into a moment that was starting to become more and more closed. I'm getting back to that open versus [chuckle] closed thing, but... But that's what it feels like for me it's as the conversation starts to go off the rails my whole world starts to shrink really. And that's why it can sometimes feel like such a major effort to reorient in a moment like that. And it's that... In retrospect, it always feels almost kind of funny like, wow, that was just so challenging and hard to do everything that it took to reorient the train back to the pathway we wanted.

Chloe Urban: Oh my Gosh. Sometimes it can... It's like... I actually feel like that is almost the hardest [chuckle] part of a relationship is steering the train back when every part of you just wants to just go down that really hard road and it's like Whoa, it's so humbling and so challenging to just... It's like Steer... Steer that train, that ship whatever you want to call it, back into a place of connection and love and it can just be so hard.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. But...

Chloe Urban: But so rewarding.

Neil Sattin: It's not impossible... Right, it's not impossible.

Chloe Urban: Not Impossible.

Neil Sattin: And that's... It feels impossible in the moment until you just get over the... When you overcome the momentum of going in the wrong direction, then it can feel really easeful and light again. And that's that opening that I'm talking about is it's like, oh typically for us that's when one of us starts laughing or cracks a smile or whatever or where we actually do just touch each other, or hug or one of us cries, or whatever needs to happen in that moment to bring us back together into more of a harmonious place.

Chloe Urban: Right. Yeah, we do our best at least. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: We do. We do. Just like we did today. [chuckle] I love you.

Chloe Urban: I love you too.

Neil Sattin: And I hold so much love for you listening here as well, thank you so much for sharing this time with us this week to go through relationship principle number four.

Chloe Urban: Yay.

Neil Sattin: And we've got, what, five, at least five more that we have to do. We have a mysterious 10th principle that we're still working on. [chuckle]

Chloe Urban: It's coming.

Neil Sattin: It's coming. Well, this came up for us because when... After we celebrated our first anniversary we decided that we wanted one more vow, and we just weren't completely sure what it is. So we're still working on it, but that will, in the end, I guess that means they'll be six more at least.

Chloe Urban: Right. At least.

Neil Sattin: But no rush. There's a lot to take in with each one of these and we look forward to being back here with you to discuss the next core relationship principle at some point in the future and in the meantime, as always feel free to reach out. You can find us in the Facebook group. Like I mentioned at the very beginning of this episode or you can always drop me a line. Neilius. N-E-I-L-I-U-S We cannot respond to most of the emails that come in because we get a lot but we will read what you have to say and if you want to share some insights with us that would be great. And I think, I think that's it from me. How about you Chloe?

Chloe Urban: I just so appreciate being on here and being able to share with you all and it just feels really good. Thank you for having me back on.

Neil Sattin: It's always great to have you here.


168: Practical Skills for Building Your Emotional Intelligence with Jordan Harbinger

Nov 20, 2018 59:40


How does your emotional intelligence help you develop a relationship with someone? Is your emotional intelligence something you can improve? And...what are the kinds of things that you should steer away from because they undermine the ways that you’re relating to the people around you, and the one you love? This week, our guest is Jordan Harbinger. Often referred to as “The Larry King of podcasting,” Jordan is a Wall Street lawyer turned interview talk show host, and communications & social dynamics expert. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, Jordan deconstructs the playbooks of the most successful people on earth and shares their strategies, perspectives, and practical insights with the rest of us. In this episode, you’ll learn what emotional intelligence is and how you can improve it to have a positive impact on your relationships. We’ll also dive into how you can improve your self-awareness which is something that can be a challenge for anyone.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


Along with our amazing listener supporters (you know who you are - thank you!), this week's episode is being sponsored by two amazing companies with special offers for you. is the world’s best-selling language learning app makes it easy for you to learn French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Danish – and many more languages. Is there a language you’ve always wanted to learn? Try Babbel for FREE at and use the offer code “ALIVE” to get 50% off your first 3 months.

This week’s second sponsor is James Avery Artisan Jewelry. Gifts from James Avery help tell your story – one that you and your loved one will remember for years to come. James Avery also sources their gemstones responsibly - something that’s especially important to Chloe and me as we make choices about jewelry. You can find James Avery Artisan Jewelry in their shops, in many Dillard’s stores and online at


Visit Jordan Harbinger’s website to listen to his podcast, The Jordan Harbinger Show.

Get access to level one of Jordan’s High Caliber Networking Relationship Intensive — for free.

FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide - perfect help for handling conflict and shifting the codependent patterns in your relationship

Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner's Needs) in Your Relationship (ALSO FREE)

Visit to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Jordan Harbinger.

Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of: The Railsplitters - Check them Out


Neil Sattin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of "Relationship Alive". This is your host, Neil Sattin. On today's show, we're going to explore the question of how to relate better with your partner, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your whomever with other people in your life and perhaps, also how you relate better to yourself. And when I talk about relating better, I'm going to distinguish it a little bit from the kinds of things that we typically talk about on the show because we're really talking about, more often than not, establishing emotional safety and how to handle problems and those kinds of things. But I wanted to bring in an expert who can really dive into the topic of: What does it even mean to develop a relationship with someone and what are the kinds of conditions that make that easier so that you're actually more efficient in how you communicate, you're more likely to actually like each other? And on the flip side, what are the kinds of things that you might want to steer away from, that would be undermining the ways that you're relating to the people around you and specifically in your partnership?

Neil Sattin: So, today's guest is... This came about in an unusual way. We actually got chatting on LinkedIn, of all places. I'm hardly ever on LinkedIn, but in the process and just talking about our podcasts, deciding that this person would be a great guest for the show to talk about these things that I just mentioned to you. His name is Jordan Harbinger, and he is formerly the host of the Art of Charm Podcast, which you may have heard of. He now has his own show and it's already gotten over a million downloads in its first month alone, and he is focused on how to develop these skills of relatedness and succeed in your life, in your connections. And I'm really excited to have you here with me today, Jordan. So, welcome to Relationship Alive.

Jordan Harbinger: Hey, thanks for having me on, man. It is weird. I'm never on LinkedIn. I go on once a month to kinda go, "Hey, I'm never on LinkedIn stop sending me messages here." And there you were.

Neil Sattin: And yeah, it was kinda like that, I think. Yeah. I think, in fact, your message to me said, "Hey, if we know each other, connect with me on Facebook," or something like that.

Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Yeah. If we know each other, then you probably should know I'm never going to answer this message if you reply. Yeah, that's pretty much what it was.

Neil Sattin: That's so funny. And yet there we were.

Jordan Harbinger: Yep.

Neil Sattin: So, Jordan, here we are, you're on the heels of getting your new show going. Tell me in a nutshell, what do you like to say is your specialty? When you're helping people out in life, what's your elevator pitch in a sense of how you are helping people achieve more success in their lives?

Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. So for now, what I do on the Jordan Harbinger Show is I study the thoughts, the actions, and habits of brilliant people and ask them interesting questions so that the audience can apply that same wisdom for themselves. So, I steal guests' superpowers and deliver them to the listener.

Neil Sattin: Awesome.

Jordan Harbinger: And so, that's what I do on the show. But what we do at "Advanced Human Dynamics", which is my training company where we teach live events, have products and things like that, where we teach networking rapport, relationship development for professional reasons and things like that. Essentially, that slogan is TBD, I guess you would say but really what we do is we teach emotional intelligence in a systematic way that anyone can learn and understand.

Neil Sattin: Perfect. That may be the title of this episode. And let's dive in there. I watched a video of yours prior to this conversation, and I think a great place to start is this concept of ABG, or to "Always Be Giving". And especially in the context of relationship because a lot of the times when people come to me as a coach, they're in this place of scarcity in their relationship. And when I start suggesting that, well, the way to get to the other side and to actually feel good about your relationship is to start showing up even more brightly, more brilliantly and more, in some respect, selflessly in your relationship. People sometimes look at me cross-eyed like, "Wait a minute. Well, I came here to tell you just how much my partner is failing me." So, let's start maybe with a concept of "Always Be Giving" and where that's come from for you and why it's so important.

Jordan Harbinger: Sure. So, the reason that this is important, I'd love to say, I had this great moment in my life where I realized that this had to happen for me. What really happened was I was pretty good in school when I was a kid and then, I got to college and everybody was smart and I couldn't just rely on that so, I had to outwork everyone. I shifted my competitive advantage to outworking everyone from just being smart enough to teach myself Geometry the day of a test, right? And then when I got to Wall Street as an attorney, everyone was smart and everyone was working 20 hours a day, seven days a week or 16 hours or whatever it was.

Jordan Harbinger: And so I didn't have a competitive advantage. And I started to learn how to build relationships, to try to get to the top of the law game, to become a partner to bring in business. And what I'd realized was schmoozing and handing out business cards and all that stuff. It really didn't work trying to take classes from, no offense to the Dale Carnegie organization, they do great stuff, but trying to learn how to win friends and influence people from a guy in a sweater vest at the YMCA just was very limited. You would take those classes and you'd go, great, you've gotta have a firm handshake and you've gotta have good eye contact, and you gotta use these mnemonic devices to remember that someone's kids played tennis. But at the same time, if somebody doesn't like you and they're not giving your law firm business, it's not because, "Well, you broke eye contact a little too early there, let's give the business to the other guys." It's because they don't freaking like you or they don't trust you.

Jordan Harbinger: So I dedicated myself to figuring out what was going on there, and that's where the principle of ABG came from. 'cause if your ABC, Always be closing, you're trying to close business, you're trying to close... You're trying to match people with a service that you provide. So if I meet you, I go, "What do you do?" And you go, "Oh, I'm a relationship coach," and I go, "Ah I don't need that." And I move on to the next person. Your experience of me is kinda like, "That wasn't so great," and I don't really get any social capital from dealing with you. You don't get anything from me. It's a waste of both of our time. I'm searching for needles in haystacks if I'm trying to generate legal referrals, but if I'm ABG, always be generous or always be giving. This is logistically easier because I'm not trying to match a need that you have with a service I provide. I'm just trying to find out who in my network would be a good connection with you. That opens up all kinds of opportunity. "Oh, you're a relationship coach? Oh man. I have a bunch of friends in that industry."

Jordan Harbinger: "Do you know this person, this person, this person? Oh, what are you looking for in your business? Are you looking for clients like that? Oh, then you should go on some of these podcasts that my friends run, they do these relationship things. Maybe you guys could be a fit." So in that respect, ABG shifts the value proposition in sales terms from your skill, if you're a graphic designer or a lawyer, it shifts it to becoming your network itself. Right. So, everybody I meet, I try to plug into somebody else in my network. I meet a CPA. "Great. I know a bunch of cryptocurrency investors that don't know how to plan for taxes. Let me introduce you." "Are you a relationship coach? Great. I know a bunch of people who could probably use your help. Let me plug you into them." I'm not trying to match it to myself. I'm trying to match it to others. I'm not thinking about what I'm going to get in return. I have no attachment to what I'm going to get in return. So it becomes scalable for me to network with anybody and it becomes something that I don't have to think about because I'm not trying to get something for myself. Does that all make sense?

Neil Sattin: Yeah, absolutely.

Jordan Harbinger: So this wasn't of some kind of spiritual awakening type of deal that I need, that I found. It was never anything like that. It was always something to do with the practicality of the situation. It was always just, hey, this is working. It wasn't because I'm a great, nice guy and I decided I'm just going to be giving. That I'd like to think is the truth. But when I look back, it was surely a matter of practicality. The reason I kept doing it for 11 years, throughout my business was because I was teaching this as a skill and it was a really nice way to live because people go, Jordan's so nice. He keeps doing these valuable things for me in my business. I really like dealing with him. It paid off very quickly later on, but I certainly started for selfish reasons, and I encourage everybody to just try it. You don't have to be this pushover who gets walked on. Just try this from a purely logistical standpoint, it's still going to be a win for you.

Neil Sattin: And where this also for me, connects into what might happen in a romantic partnership, is if you're always focused on what the other person can do for you, then, as you said, that's not scalable. There's a very limited number of interactions that you can have. And I think the way people in relationships often experience that is a slow deadening of their connection because there are only so many possibilities right for how they're going to interact with each other. But as they learn to not only enjoy each other's company but also to really support each other in being big and bright in the world. So creating those connections to others in life for their partner or supporting their partner in how they do that, then that creates a ton more energy and vibrancy, and it does, I think, feedback into the system, that vibrancy and energy becomes something that strengthens your relationship, as opposed to what people often experience which is, "Oh, that threatens me." Which would, I think, be why like in a business setting, someone might not connect two people because they might be like, "Oh, well that's... Then I'm kind of cutting myself out of the equation” and at the risk of being cliche - It's sort of like the scarcity mindset versus the abundance mindset.

Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I appreciate that for sure. And I also... The reason I say try it from a selfish perspective is because I don't want to... I'm always about the abundance mindset, and I'm always about trying things that are good for other people. I realize that's a hard sell, especially if you're in your 20s or even in your 30s, and you're thinking, "No, no, no, you don't understand. I need to get things for myself because I've been too lax with that." Or, "I know I need to help myself first." That's an easier sell for most people, especially guys, I've found. So I go, "Go ahead and try it from a purely selfish perspective and it'll still work as a tactic." But what you'll quickly find is, "Gee, I really like being nice and helping other people because this is really fun." And, "Holy crap does this work!" But also, I look like a great guy and I feel like a great guy. So I'm going to start being good in my relationships with other people and generous in my relationships with other people, all the time because it seems limitless at that point.

Jordan Harbinger: But if you just tell people, "No, no, no, trust me. Turn the other cheek and forgive people, and ABG." They go, "Okay, whatever. I'm broke. You don't understand." Like, "This, I need this. You don't get it." It becomes a problem and you have to sort of fight. You have to sell it like, "No, no, no, no. This is better for your psyche." And people who go, "I don't care about that. I need to win." So try it, you'll still win. You'll win either way.

Neil Sattin: Since you were mentioning the... Trust has come up a couple of times already, I'm curious for you, What do you think are the key components of developing trust with someone, and maybe this is someone new? And then this also again, comes up a lot in relationships where breakdowns happen and you're in a position where you have to rebuild trust with your partner.

Jordan Harbinger: Sure. This is a huge subject. I'm sure you've done 700 hours on this particular topic. But when you're trying to bring trust into a new relationship, it's probably likely... It's likely a lot of the same stuff that you would do in any relationship. But I think any new relationship really... We're evolved to figure out quickly whether or not someone's trustworthy. And this isn't like, "Look at their eyes and if they're looking upward, they're lying and not trustworthy." We really are as humans, sort of evolved to trust certain people implicitly and not trust other people; the outsiders of the tribe implicitly. So the top things that I think you can do are small gestures that show that you do what you say you were going to do if that makes sense.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Jordan Harbinger: So these small gestures that you would want to do. For example, going back on the ABG subject, if I say, "Neil, man, this is really great. I would love to introduce you to a few people." And you go, "Yeah, I would love those introductions." And then I never do it. You're not like, "Jordan's a jerk. He never introduced me to those people. I hate him." But what you are thinking is, "Yeah, I guess he's just one of those guys who is too busy and he forgot." Or, "He offers to do something, but then it doesn't quite materialize. That's fine, whatever. No, I don't hate him or anything." But you don't trust me. You might still like me but you don't really trust me. So we're not going to end up doing business together because if I... Most likely. Because if I decide to do something and I say, "Hey, you know, you and I should create a product." You're thinking, "Yeah, but you also said that you would introduce me to those people and that never happened, so I'll take it with a grain of salt." On the other hand, these very small gestures of, "Hey, I should make these introductions." If I do those the same day that we met, generally, that signals professionalism in a way that is trustworthy. You go, "Wow, okay. He actually just did that. It didn't take a week. I didn't have to remind him. He didn't forget.

Jordan Harbinger: He wrote it down and he did it." Literally, that's unusual. We find that unusual in today's day and age for someone to actually do what they say they're going to do, which the bar is low, for that basic level of trust. And so I say, create an opportunity for yourself, in that you're going to make an introduction, you're going to send somebody a piece of knowledge, an article, a book, something like that. It really, really easily is attainable. You can really generate some trust right off the bat that's easily attainable, I should say. And so what I mean is, create that opportunity, follow through on that opportunity and you'll end up with a slight amount of trust. Now, this isn't going to be like, "Hey, I made those introductions. Can you lend me 10 grand?" But you build it up over time and it's always these little things that count. It's showing up on time, not flaking the morning of the day before. And I know what people are thinking, "Well, those sound more like habits than ways to build trust." I find that people who are untrustworthy, they're not necessarily bad people. Sure, you should distrust some people because they are bad. They will screw you over. But most people are simply irresponsible. It's more of a negligent lack of trust. Does that make sense?

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. And I'm just... I'm letting that percolate a little bit 'cause I think that's totally true that, in the end, yeah, it's just kind of people's inability... That trust is really the whole sum of what you experience with a person and their consistency. And their consistency has a lot to do with their integrity and their ability to just follow through on basic commitments, is what it comes right down to.

Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. And I know that that sounds like a dumb technique, but the reason that we don't trust people is, it seems like, "Oh, well, this person cheated on me." Great, yeah, distrust them. That makes sense. Usually though, when we have a casual lack of trust, it's not because of a big lapse. It's literally because of, "Well, yeah, they say they're going to be there at 4:00, but... " And you know people like this, "Yeah, Jim said he's going to be here at 4:00." "No, no, no, no. Let's just go to the restaurant. He can meet us there." "Oh, what? Why?" "Yeah, yeah, Jim's not going to be there at 4:00. Let's just go eat. We'll order some appetizers and some drinks and we'll wait for him to show up," and sure enough Jim rolls in at 5:15, and everyone knows that. And that seems like that's just him. But how many people are making plans with him all the time and relying on him to do what he says? We always have to build in a buffer. I have friends like this in my circle. "Oh yeah, she's not going to be ready on time. Let's just go there. She can meet us there. We wait for her, we're going to be two hours late every time." And we all have people like that in our lives. We tend to go, "Lack of trust is this big giant thing. How do we make up for a lack of trust in a relationship and a friendship and an intimate relationship?" Man, that's not it.

Jordan Harbinger: It's not showing up on time. It's not doing what you say you're going to do. It's offering to do something and then failing. It's changing your mind and not having the guts to tell somebody that you changed your mind, so you just hope they forget. So you fail them in that way. That's how lack of trust starts. It's a set of habits that you have regardless of whether or not you're treating everyone like that, that's really the reason people don't like and trust people I shouldn't even say like and trust. It's a reason people don't trust others, and trust is more important for business. It may be different in personal relationships, but I personally have done plenty of business with people that I don't necessarily like that much, but that I trust. It's the most important thing. I know there are people that aren't going to rip me off that are going to show up on time, that are going to deliver when they say they're going to deliver, but I wouldn't necessarily hang out with them. But there are plenty of people that I hang out with all the time where if they said, "Hey, we should do this business together," I would say, "No offense, but hell no."


Jordan Harbinger: I think we all probably could think of people like that if we had to.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and one other thing that occurs to me too, is how helpful it can be. So if you're sitting here and you're listening to all these things and you're like, well, honestly, a little bit like me, or you're like, "Oh shit, I've done that. I see how I've undermined trust left and right". To be willing to actually show that you are noticing that about yourself, so potentially as a way to repair lapses in trust with your friends and your partner, to be able to say, "Hey, " know I made this commitment and I recognize that I didn't do that." Or, "I recognize that I didn't show up on time when I said I was going to." 'Cause I think one of the things that really is detrimental is when there's this unspoken, like, "Does this person even realize what they're doing? Or maybe it's intentional," that's where you get into that question of, "Is it negligence or is it actual malicious intent?" So much can be clarified by actually connecting around that very thing.

Jordan Harbinger: I agree with you. Yeah, I agree with you 100%, and I think it's something we don't normally think about really.

Neil Sattin: I wonder Jordan, for you, when you look at the big picture of being giving, making connections, how do you suggest someone recognize in themselves the ways that they are doing really well and then the ways that they're falling short so that they could do a self-diagnosis on their ability to show up and be trustworthy and make great connections with people?

Jordan Harbinger: Well, that's a cool question. I haven't put a ton of thought into this, but I'll tell you right now, one of the best ways to get this kind of feedback or to get this kind of assessment done would be to get feedback with other people that will tell you the truth. We don't always have friends like this, but I think that we all have a friend or two like this where we can say, "hey, look, do people think that I show up... What is my reputation like?" And they go "oh everyone loves you men what are you talking about?" "no, no like what is my reputation like, do people trust me, etcetera?" And people go, "yeah, of course, they trust you." So if you have an inkling though of what your flaw might be, I would ask specifically about that. So I would say "I did borrow money from you guys for John's birthday, and it took me like a year to pay everyone back. Does anybody talk about that, think about that?". "Do you talk about that think about that". "Honestly, I'm looking for real honest feedback here", and I've done this in my social circle.

Jordan Harbinger: I know other people in our circles evade honest conversations about this. Sometimes invited by the other party and other times foisted upon them for good reason. It's very important because people will say, "Yeah, honestly, I've thought twice about lending money to you and your girlfriend and in recent past, because it did take me a year to get paid back. I had to ask like 10 times and it just got awkward and I felt like it sort of poisoned friendship a little bit, we're still super tight, still love you guys, but I don't want to go through that again 'cause it was kind of a pain." Oh, okay. Maybe you should work on that. Maybe you don't realize how that's been affecting certain people in your circle. Other people who show if you think you show up late and it's fine, you might want to say, "Hey, I realize I'm always the last one here," and don't do this to the whole group during a party. [chuckle] They're not going to want to answer this at that point. This is like, you're hanging out with your friend on a balcony, relaxing having a beer at the end of the night, or you show up and you're the only person there having coffee with a buddy, or you have a phone call and you go, "Hey man look, I just want some honest feedback."

Jordan Harbinger: You have to frame it that you want honest to goodness feedback, ask one person at a time. Because then you're more likely not to get a group going, "Hey it's Tim's birthday, let's talk about this another time." "Oh, you're good bro, don't worry about it, it's fine. Here have a beer. Change the subject." That's not going to get you legit feedback. You really need to find one or two people that you think are going to give you honest feedback and you need to get them alone. And then you need to ask about the specific things 'cause I would say Neil that you kinda know. Right, if you're going, "I don't get why people to trust me," either you have a massive lack of self-awareness, or you've somehow forgotten about an incident, or maybe there's some other devious stuff going on, but probably not. Probably you know that you're always the last one there because it takes you two hours to get ready and you don't plan ahead.

Jordan Harbinger: Probably you know that you've owed people a thousand dollars for two years and you think they forgot, but they didn't. But they're too polite to say anything and you're just kinda dodging it. You know this stuff, you know it. You know? That becomes problematic. When it's more vague is when you go, "Hey, do you find that I complain too much?" "Oh yeah. Actually, I wasn't going to say anything, but yes, you do. You've been very negative since your break up or your divorce, and we understand it 'cause it's rough, but sometimes it does grate on other people." That's harder to get because you might not even notice.

Neil Sattin: Right.

Jordan Harbinger: But for all this other stuff, man, come on, you know? You know.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. The phrase that's coming to me ironically, is from 12 step, the fearless moral inventory, like actually being willing to just sit down and make a list of all those things where you just know.

Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that's great. I like that. And you do, you just know. "Oh, why didn't I get promoted, this is BS. The other guy just brown nosed the boss". "So have you ever failed on a project?" "No." "Well, what time do you show up for work"? "9:30." "What time does everybody else show up for work?" "8:30." "Okay, so you show up an hour later than everyone else." "What time do you leave?" "5:00." "What time does everyone else leave?" "Five, maybe a little later." "Okay, so you show up late and you leave early?" "Well yeah, but I get my work done. I'm really good at it." "Are you? Who's been the project lead on everything?" "Well, the other guy." "Alright, well, what's going on here?" "Alright, fine." "So is it really 'cause he brown nosed the boss? Or you just not really giving it your all?" You have to be honest with yourself about this. You do know, you know, you at least have a clue.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Jordan Harbinger: No one...

Neil Sattin: This does get tricky, right? Because you get into that zone of self-assessment and people... I forget what the effect is, there's some name for it, but where people always assess themselves better than the world might objectively assess them, or that you don't necessarily know what you don't know and you probably run into this in terms of teaching people emotional intelligence skills where they're like, wow, it finally kinda dawns in them, "Wow I didn't realize that by not taking a moment to actually listen to what someone was telling me and let it affect me in some way that they were feeling like I didn't even hear them." That there are probably core skills or awarenesses that people don't have because they haven't been able to experience the world through that filter, through that lens.

Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I think you're probably right, there's going to be some people that don't know what they don't know, and that could be caused by a lot of different things like if you've got a substance abuse problem, then maybe you're not thinking about the fact that you owed someone $500 for two years. You've got other stuff on your plate. So maybe this will come in handy then. But I think for the average moderately more or less healthy person, there's going to be stuff where you kinda think you're getting away with it, and then you're like, "ah, it's fine. She never complains about this. So it's fine." My wife a couple of weeks ago, asked me, she goes, "What percentage of the housework would you say that you do?" And I went, "Oh, I don't know, 5%?" And she goes, "Really?" And I go, "Yeah, I don't know. Maybe even less." And she goes, "No, I would say you do between five and 10 percent." And I said, "Oh, great." And she goes, "I'm really glad to hear you say that." And I said, "Why?" And she goes, "'Cause I thought you were going to say like 50%" and I said, "No, not a chance."

Jordan Harbinger: She was very pleased to hear that. She didn't say, "You gotta get off your ass and do more." But she was very glad to hear that I didn't think that I was doing exactly the same amount of stuff as she was, 'cause I'm not, and I'm very aware of that. But if she went, "You know, it kinda bothers me that you don't do this and this and this and this," I would have known that I had behavior change coming. And I think a lot of people don't necessarily realize this. I think a lot of people go, "Oh yeah, I pull my own weight around here." And the whole team is kinda like shaking their head going, "What are you talking? Are you serious? You really think that you do the same amount of work on our projects as us. We're just waiting until somebody figures out you don't do squat and you get fired. Are you crazy?"

Jordan Harbinger: You know, you should figure that out on your own or with the help of other people in the team before you have a performance review at work. Or before you have a significant other that goes, "You know what, I am so sick and tired of you freeloading and not paying rent, and having me do all the work and you're playing Xbox when I get home. Who the hell do you think you are?" You know that there's a hint there, and if you don't, you can get a hint by asking. Most people are going to give you that hint. And look, if you ask, and the other person goes, "No, it's totally fine." And then when you break up, she's like, "There are 87 things wrong with you," then they're to share for some of that blame. But at the end of the day who's suffering the consequences, you are. So figure it out.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah this makes me think a little bit too of that strategy that a lot of people use when they're single where you say, identify your ideal partner and then you figure out, "Well, who would I have to be in order to have this amazing partner?" There's an element of that in what we're talking about. It's being willing to look at yourself and say, "Okay, who would I have to be to be in an amazing relationship if my relationship is suffering or if my work life is suffering? Who would I have to be... " Being willing to, sure, look out around because there are probably some examples of that in the people who are doing better at it than you. But also, I think it's a great, great kinda counterpoint to be able to say like, "Oh yeah, if I wanted my partner to trust me, then maybe I would have to call home instead of just being AWOL for three hours after work or something along those lines.

Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I think you're probably right, and I think it's tough to ask yourself that second question, "Who would I need to be?" Because what we find is that we go, "Here's my dream partner. Well, who would I need to be to get this person? Are you kidding me? I'm freakin' phenomenal. [chuckle] I'm already there. I'm authentically me. I'm just want to be myself." And I noticed, this is kinda funny too 'cause you see, I noticed men do this a lot. They go, "If she doesn't like me for me, then screw it." And I go, "Okay, well, you're wearing a jersey with a mustard stain on it. You're a little bit overweight, okay, you're a lot overweight. You clearly don't care at work. You're not really trying to get ahead. And what kind of woman are you looking for? Oh, someone that goes to the gym, takes care of herself, looks really good, gets really done up to go out, impresses all your friends, has an education." So, they have to work their butt off, but you get to be authentically you? [chuckle] That seems fair, right?


Jordan Harbinger: And it's like, "Oh, well, if she doesn't like me for me, then fine. Well, good, she doesn't like you for you. You are not good enough. You do not deserve what you want. No one really says that though, right? That's kind of not cool to be that guy in a friendship or the very many relationship coaches are not going to say, "You really don't deserve what you want," because the client goes, "Screw you. I'm going to hire somebody else." I kind of understand that, but that's not very effective coaching wise. I think a lot of guys especially... And I say this among guys, it's really probably equally shared, but I used to coach guys far more than women, and a lot of guys just don't deserve what they want. [laughter] They really don't. They're not putting in any effort at all, and yet they expect the complete polar inverse when they are going for a member of the opposite sex and... Or even the same sex. There are plenty of same-sex relationships [chuckle] where one party goes, "Well, he just has to like me for me, or she just has to like me for me." And they're putting in absolutely no effort, but expect the other party to do so.

Jordan Harbinger: So you have to work on yourself and become who you need to be to get that person involved with you. You have to have a world that is so welcoming that somebody else wants to be a part of it. You can't just take that for granted, especially if you don't really want to be a part of your world. Think about what kind of person that's going to attract.


Neil Sattin: What do you think is the obstacle for people being willing to put in the effort? Because it does require effort to not just coast, to not just leave the mustard stain on your shirts.

Jordan Harbinger: Some of it self-awareness and the other part is a little bit of fear that I think is healthy. Well, there's healthy and unhealthy fear, of course, as you know. The unhealthy fear is, "Well, shoot. If I try and I dress in clothes that fit and I get rid of the mustard stain, what if I don't know what I'm doing? What if I try to grow and I still get rejected, that's going to signal something about who I am as a person instead of just me being able to say, "Oh, these shallow folks, they're not... They don't like me for me." That's a lot easier and a little bit nicer. The other side of that fear is, "Holy crap. I'm not even sure that I know how to get out of this." So it's easier to rationalize that you don't have to. Does that make sense?

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Jordan Harbinger: The side of the fear is, "I don't really know what I'm doing, so I'm just going to say, I should be good enough as I am because I heard that somewhere. Then the other side of that coin is, "What if I do know what to do and I bust my butt and I get coaching from Neil, and I go to the workshops that Jordan has and I create a great network around me and I get a good career, and I still can't get the people in my life that I want, that then signals that I'm inherently not good enough and that's my worst nightmare. It's not a conscious level of thought. Does that make sense?

Neil Sattin: Right. Yeah, yeah, it makes a lot of sense. And yeah, I'm just thinking about someone being in that position and what it would take 'cause at that point, yeah, it does take a lot of willingness and courage to even maybe see that that's what's going on with you. Then, yeah, what do you find can help incentivize someone to take that other step? In other words...

Jordan Harbinger: So...

Neil Sattin: I'm imagining too, there could be a lot of people listening to this episode and who are thinking, "Holy shit, I wish I could just get my partner to take that kind of level of responsibility for themselves." To see that, "Oh yeah. If they started to show up with a little bit more ferocity with their lives, how much better our lives together would be." But they need something that's maybe better than a kick in the ass, although maybe that's what it takes sometimes.

Jordan Harbinger: It does take that sometimes. It really does take... It takes a compassionate kick in the ass if it's a friend or if somebody else in your relationship. So here's how... Here's an example of how not to do this. So I had somebody write me recently and go, "I just got married and my wife is not interested in me anymore". I said, "Wow, that's highly unusual. You're a month after your wedding". What happened was they were both really overweight, and the wife lost 110 pounds for the wedding. Then she started saying, "I'm not interested in you anymore because you're still overweight, and you didn't lose any weight." I'm thinking, "I don't think that that's true. Maybe she's really, really self-centered, and she's really not interested in you and she really thinks that she's outgrown you, but that seems unlikely because you did just get married." So my hunch was she's trying to motivate him by saying, "I'm basically not going to sleep with you until you start getting yourself together because I did it. I know it's possible." I'd like to think that that's her positive intent, but I think it's a really negative way to do that by making your partner feel like crap and undesirable doesn't exactly get them to want to go, "You know what? I'm going to get desirable again by watching what I eat and going to work out all the time.

Jordan Harbinger: Thanks, babe." This is probably how she was raised, and how she was motivated by her parents, which backfired, and caused unhealthy habits on her part, which is probably why she was obese in the first place. Potentially, why she was obese in the first place, so there's this unhealthy negative motivation. I think they both need to work on that. That's how you don't do it, right? The way to do it would be to do it together or if you don't need to lose weight if you're fit, and your partner's not, and you really want to motivate them, to make it easy for them and say, "Look, I want you to be around for a long time. I want to be able to enjoy things with you that are going to take physical prowess, and I want to be able to go hiking on the Great Wall of China. And I want to be able to be around for our grandkids. And I'm going to start making healthy food, and I'm going to make stuff that you like that's healthy. And I want you to go to the gym with me. And I want you to follow this program with me because I care about you." You have to motivate people that way.

Jordan Harbinger: And if they don't want to do it for themselves, they'll probably do it for you as their partner. It's different though when it's a friend. When it's a friend, sometimes all you can do is have the harsh truth because you're not going to say, "Look, I don't want to be friends with you 'cause you're overweight." That's ridiculous. But what you might say is, "Hey, you're not allowed to complain about relationship stuff anymore because the reason you're not attracting the women that you want and the men that you want is because you are not in good shape. And you only go after people that are. They're not going to be interested in you. I'm happy to go to the gym with you. I'm happy to get you on a fitness plan. I'm happy to be your accountability buddy. Text me in the morning. I'll text you in the morning, and make sure that you're eating right, make sure that you're going to the gym," things like that. That's fine. But the reason you're not getting what you want is because you aren't doing what you need to do to become who you need to be to get what you want.

Jordan Harbinger: And sometimes, that's the best thing you can do as a friend because really, you can't punish people more than a certain degree as a friend. Because what are you going to do? Cut them off? "You're not allowed to come over anymore because you're fat." That's completely ridiculous. So you have to do it with love as cheesy as that might sound. But some people will not respond to that. But then you have to say, look, you are not allowed to complain about being unhappy because you're single while you're eating a bag of chicharrones for dinner every night. You're just not allowed. I'm not going to hear it. We have a solution. You don't want the solution. So I'm not going to suffer through this anymore. And I know that that sounds harsh, but a lot of times, that social isolation is all you can do as a friend. But you can't isolate them so much that they don't have you in their life anymore or you won't be able to influence them.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, interesting. 'cause I am. I'm struck by the difference in the different kinds of relationships that exist. And how yeah, a friend like for some people, friend groups come and go. It seems a lot more common for someone to feel like somehow they got stuck for instance in this relationship like, "I'm with this person." Maybe we have two kids together, so now I'm really with this person. And what do I do like “They don't want to change?” I'm changing. I'm trying to grow. I'm trying to do everything that I can to have a great life and to make this great. But they're not motivated at all. And what do I do? And I think with that comes, "I like the feeling of accountability." This is actually something we were just talking about on the show with Cheryl Richardson. She talks a lot about self-care and boundaries. But that question of like, "Look, I don't want to dwell any more on the, 'What's going wrong with us?'" Like, "There are things that we could actually do about this."

Neil Sattin: So either you're willing to do them or some of the harsh reality is maybe we do "isolate ourselves from each other." Maybe we do break up. If we can actually steer this in a good direction or if you have a friend who's consistently complaining, and even with getting that tough love from you, they still don't want to shift. Well, you're probably naturally going to evolve apart anyway, would be my guess.

Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I would agree with that. Yeah, I would agree with that.

Neil Sattin: So I'm wondering for you when you are helping someone come up the curve in terms of their emotional intelligence, do you have a checklist in the back of your head that's like, "Okay, I want to make sure someone has the ability to stay present when they're actually having a conversation with someone. I want to make sure they have the ability to connect with other people and be giving. I want to make sure that they know how to make little commitments and actually follow through on them"? Are there other things along those lines that you think are really the core aspects of what I think we've been talking about this whole time, which is encouraging people to sort of show the fuck up in their lives and to not coast and to really be engaged with the people and the opportunities that are around them?

Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I do have a rough checklist, but I'll tell you that the way that we run things at our Advanced Human Dynamics events are usually... The first few events or first few sessions are kind of about eliciting that checklist, 'cause it does differ from person to person. So some of the things that we do, for example, would be, I might videotape an interaction, with your permission of course. But I might videotape an interaction. It's like, "Oh, okay, you are not present because you're thinking about what to say next 'cause you often you're trying to figure out how to be clever. Alright, we have to fix that because being clever is not as important as being present." Or, "Oh, okay, interesting. You're invading psychological space. That's something that's probably going to cause other people to play defense, which is going to inhibit your ability to connect with them." Or, "Wow, you got really vulnerable really fast in a way that was a little bit uncalibrated for a professional situation that's probably blowing up in your face and causing people to put walls up because they don't want to reciprocate in such a vulnerable fashion."

Jordan Harbinger: And the example here is we had a guy that was saying... Actually a better example... We had a woman that was saying something like, within the first few minutes of meeting people, "I was in an abusive relationship for 10 years, and we have a kid together." And I was like, "Whoa! Hang on, man. That's a good share for something later on. You don't know these people." So it can be problematic. You could be triggering someone else's stuff, you could be coming across as a victim, big time. It's problematic. You're going to run into people's filters and you're going to end up getting screened out. And they go, "Oh, I thought I was just being vulnerable, I thought this was helpful. I just went to some self-help seminar, where they told me to dah dah dah." I'm like, "Okay, that's just not appropriate for every situation."

Jordan Harbinger: And most people know, things like that so I'm giving you extreme examples. However, it's not uncommon for somebody to be a close-talker and invade psychological space. It's not uncommon for someone to be a little bit too touchy-feely. Maybe they even come from a different culture, where that's okay, but it doesn't make sense in a professional American context. Or maybe someone isn't showcasing any vulnerability, maybe they're doing this thing where they're trying to take up a lot of space because they read on some message board that alpha men take up space, so they're spreading out and other people are like, how rude is this guy? He's taking up three seats and I'm standing. But he's thinking, I'm alpha right now!

Jordan Harbinger: So I have these checklists that say things like, are you trying to broadcast a specific image? If so, is that image appropriate for the context? And if not, can we try to do this in another way by consciously or forming new habits? And sometimes it's a matter of going, hey, you don't have to be "alpha", you just look like a douche. And they go, oh, thank God I took a coaching class last year and I've been struggling with this forever because I feel like such a turd. And you go, yeah you shouldn't do this, it's not helping you and they go, oh, thank God. 'Cause their other coach or their other boot camp or their other whatchamacallit is some book they read, told them they have to do this or they're going to get walked on.

Jordan Harbinger: And you've probably seen guys like this and we see them on the internet, where they... The catchphrase of some of these guys is like, I don't give a fuck. And it's like, no, no, no. You give so many fucks that you don't even know who you are anymore, that's... I don't give a fuck, I'll do whatever I want. No, no, no. You're doing what this other group of guys tells you that you should want because you're giving all of the fucks. You have no fucks left.


Jordan Harbinger: You're being programmed by other people and it's still not working, and people still don't like you. So you're trying to reject them, but really, you've already been rejected, so it's not helping. How do you feel? And then a lot of times those guys go, "Lonely!" It's like, "Well, yeah, of course, because your only friends are weirdos on Reddit, that tell you to take up space and to not care about other people. How do you think they're working out in life?" So I try to elicit those checklists from men and women that come through the program because people really have their own individual hang-ups and they really wear... We really wear them on our sleeve as humans.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, there's something in what you're saying that where I find myself getting even kind of sad thinking about all of the, well for lack of a better word, propaganda that's out there about games to play, ways to get other people interested in you. And I feel like there's a pretty big distinction between what we've been talking about, which is really more about being in your integrity and in your authenticity, versus let's say having the checklist of, "Okay, I got a... " For the typical advice for a guy, "I gotta take up space, be the alpha guy, show them that I know how to lead, etcetera, etcetera," where they get lost in... And it's the same, especially the gendered stuff. If you want to be a woman who gets a guy, all that stuff. I think it robs people a lot of the magic that really happens when they're willing to just show up and be who they are and notice, like, "Oh, even though I think this person is really attractive, there's actually nothing there between us, so why would I want to like somehow game them into being interested in me because in the end, we don't really have anything. Whereas by being present, I get to sense, 'Oh, but there are all these other people that I really do relate to and we actually create magic when we're interacting with each other.'"

Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I think that getting help in this space is tough because it requires a certain level of self-awareness, and it requires a desire to generate even more self-awareness, which can be really scary, especially if we perceive that we might be lacking in some area. It's really uncomfortable. And then I mean this in a bad way, it's uncomfortable to go, "Oh my gosh, I know there are problems and I'm going to ask someone else, possibly pay them to toss... Just rip the blanket off and look at what's underneath," and that's really scary. So I think that we, especially guys, but men and women both, have a problem moving forward in this area. So I just want to close with the idea that this is in many ways about momentum. Once you find a weakness and you're able to correct or fix or start working on it, in my opinion, Neil, it really becomes almost addictive because you go, "Holy crap, that wasn't as hard as I thought. It didn't feel terrible and it feels really good to have this under wraps, and now I can finally attack all these other little things." And it becomes really fun to become who you need to be. So I don't want to scare people away from it because I honestly really do feel like it becomes healthy and it becomes addictive in a good way to work on yourself. It's just scary beforehand. Almost exclusively, it's just scary beforehand.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, those are great. Great piece of advice there. Jordan, I really appreciate your time today and I'm wondering, do you have a moment for one more question?

Jordan Harbinger: I do.

Neil Sattin: Great. Before we got on the call, we were talking about some of the upheaval that's been going on in your life, for lack of a better word. And if it's okay for me to ask you a personal question, I'm curious to know, 'cause you're married and in a time that's created... Where there's been a lot of stress, and those can sometimes be when we're at our worst in our partnerships, I'm wondering what's been helpful for you and your wife to stay connected with everything changing around you?

Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, you know what's funny? I work with my wife, so this might be unique to our situation, but all of this turmoil of relaunching the Jordan Harbinger show and Advanced Team and Dynamics and everything, all of a sudden after leaving The Art of Charm suddenly has actually brought us closer together. And I think one of the keys is being really aware when I'm negative because I tend to, when I get negative, get a little bit bummed out and/or take it out on whoever's near me. That's a very human thing to do. But I have to be really careful about that because I'm not doing this in the office during a stressful time, and then coming home and keeping it separate from the family. I work with my wife, so I gotta be really careful not to be like, I'm going to explode about this thing and then go, oh, I feel better, but meanwhile, everybody else is like, I don't. So, I've had to become really conscious of that. I've had to do, I guess you would say, I've really actually almost ironically had to focus on self care because when I'm going to the gym, when I'm getting sun, when I'm walking outside, when I'm connecting with friends, I don't have to just rely on my wife for emotional support, which can be exhausting for her and I'm actually able to support her too. Does that make sense?

Neil Sattin: Yeah, absolutely.

Jordan Harbinger: So a lot of people go, oh, I gotta make sure I'm taking care of my family and I agree that you do. But one of the best ways to do that is making sure that you have the capacity for it and the way that you do that is through self-care. And a lot of people, when they hit hard times myself included, we don't do self-care, we stop going to the gym, we start eating a bunch of crap, we drink more or whatever it is because it's an emergency. We're in emergency mode. Fight or flight, anxiety, not sleeping. That stuff diminishes your capacity to take care of those around you as well as yourself. And that's when things start to break down. It's like, "I'm doing everything I can for this other person." It's like, "Well, you are, but what you can do is 10% of what you should be doing because you're a freaking mess."

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah.

Jordan Harbinger: So that's what I've been working on.

Neil Sattin: Makes perfect sense. And I think that's another place where it can be so challenging for people to be willing to prioritize that and to maybe do it in a way so that the people around them understand what's going on. If you were completely absent and your wife was like, "Where are you going? Why aren't you here?" Then that might be a different story. "Oh, I was just taking care of myself. I went to the movies, got myself a smoothie. Did you want one too?" You know, might be different.

Jordan Harbinger: It's been really fun man. I appreciate the opportunity.

Neil Sattin: Yeah Jordan, thank you so much for being here with us on Relationship Alive and for me, it's been a bit of a stretch having you here only because typically I've got people on like John Gottman and Sue Johnson who are writing books about relationships, and that's what frames our conversations. And so I appreciate your willingness to get on and just go for it and see what we could come up with your vast expertise in those relational dynamics and to see what we could make practical for our listeners here. So thank you so much.

Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, thank you, man. I appreciate the opportunity.

Neil Sattin: And if you are interested in finding out more about Jordan Harbinger, you can visit You can check out the Jordan Harbinger show, and his company, Advanced Human Dynamics, is developing online courses and events that you can visit, right?

Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, we actually have a course up now. It's free, and it's about networking and relationship development. It's very systematic. It's all about not feeling like a smarmy business card slinger, and generating professional and personal relationships in a way that's scalable, fun doesn't take three hours a day, doesn't involve you being a fake weirdo on the internet, etcetera. And that's all at Advanced Human Dynamics. You just click level one in the corner, and I'll teach you all the secrets.

Neil Sattin: Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Jordan. Great to have you here.

Jordan Harbinger: Thanks, Neil.

167: How to Keep Assumptions from Eroding Your Relationship

Nov 13, 2018 38:47


Have you ever found yourself making assumptions about how your partner will take care of you or show up for you? Do you assume they’ll do certain things that make your life easier even though they haven’t actually agreed to do that? Have you ever felt resentful toward your partner for not following through on what you assumed they would do for you? If so, you’re not alone! In today’s episode, we’ll discover how these assumptions can lead to resentment and learned helplessness. We’re going to dive into some specific actions you can take to prevent this from happening in your relationship.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


Along with our amazing listener supporters (you know who you are – thank you!), this week’s episode is being sponsored by two amazing companies with special offers for you. is a USDA certified organic company, with a wide variety of meal plans to make having healthier food easy and convenient for you. And they’re offering you $50 off your first box to give them a try! Just visit and use the coupon code “ALIVE” at checkout for $50 off, and enjoy the delicious recipes and fresh ingredients that GreenChef sends your way. is the world’s best-selling language learning app makes it easy for you to learn French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Danish – and many more languages. Is there’s a language you’ve always wanted to learn? Try Babbel for FREE at and use the offer code “ALIVE” to get 50% off your first 3 months.



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Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive - this is your host Neil Sattin. When you make assumptions about how you and your partner will show up for each other in your relationship, that can ultimately erode the goodwill and generosity in your relationship. And, on top of that, it can undermine your own ability to feel safe in your own skin. So this week we’re going to talk about how to make the implicit explicit - so that the way that you and your partner collaborate in each other’s lives actually adds energy to both of you - instead of ultimately stealing your fire. It’s an important topic so get ready to dive deep.

But first - are you finding Relationship Alive to be helpful in your life? If so, please consider a donation to help support what we do. To choose something that feels right for you, please visit or text the word SUPPORT to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. And this week, I want to offer sincere gratitude to Danielle, Denise, Kelee, Kent, Abe, Sarah, Renee, Micheila, Ruthana - thank you all so much for your generous contributions to help us keep the lights on here at Relationship Alive headquarters.

This episode is also brought to you by Green Chef. For 50 dollars off your first box of Green Chef go to And I’ll tell you a little bit more about them later in the show.

So let’s move on. When you first get into a relationship, it can feel almost magical the way that everything lines up. Those falling in love feelings often also lead to incredible generosity - we’re inspired to show up for our beloveds for so many reasons, not the least of which is how good it feels to offer them something and see the happiness that comes as a result. Back in episode 102, Jeff Zeig talked about the phenomenon called “TOPIAH” - taking pleasure in another’s happiness - which is central to that falling in love state of being.

And when this is happening it can feel like you have been brought together in order to complement each other, make each other’s lives easier, etc. What’s the point of being in a relationship, if not to share joy, and make each other’s life easier? Otherwise, why would we tolerate all the challenges of relationship?

So I’m not going to get down on the way that happens. On the other hand, what tends to happen is that the overwhelming generosity that can mark the beginning of a relationship leads to ways that we take each other for granted. And this is a huge double-edged sword that can slice right into your happiness together and take you down if you’re not careful. Let me explain…

Why is it a double-edged sword? Because on the one side of the blade are the assumptions that we start making about our partner. Assumptions about how they will take care of us, show up for us, make life happier and easier, etc. The problem isn’t that they’re doing all those things - the problem is the assumption, the expectations, that can then lead to resentment. In the ways where you once showed up willingly, out of generosity, you might now find yourself feeling taken for granted and wondering if your partner gets how much you do for them.

Don’t worry, in a moment I’m going to give you a way to steer clear of that problem - but you might remember that I said it was a double-edged sword - so what’s the other problem?

The other side of the blade is the ways in which we learn to rely on our partner and how that can sometimes get in the way of our realizing our own capabilities. It’s a form of learned helplessness - not the kind that’s linked to trauma or recurring pain - though of course, that can *also* happen in relationships - I’m talking about how we come to rely on our partners and then when they for some reason can’t show up in the way that we’ve come to rely on them, it actually triggers our fear - instead of inspiring us to be capable.

Here’s an example. These are the kinds of things that you come to see more clearly when you have to be apart from your partner for any length of time - as you start to realize all the ways that they contribute to your life, or the household, or your wellbeing. Like imagine that your partner leaves for a week, and you suddenly realize that there are no groceries in the fridge, or gas in the car, or dinner on the table when you get home from work. Sometimes when that happens, instead of diving into our own capability - like going to the grocery store, gassing up the car, and cooking a nice dinner - and doing all of those things OURSELVES - we go into a fear response from NOT being taken care of in the ways that we’re used to. So there we are in our trigger - not only not getting our needs met, but feeling fight/flight/freeze in reaction to a partner who simply went out of town on business (or for whatever reason).

And that can ALSO lead to resentment. We can resent our partners for leaving us to fend for ourselves, or we can resent them for making us confront our own little ways of being helpless, or we can actually resent ourselves for having given so much power away to our partners in the first place. It’s a habit that we’ve acquired - letting our partner do things for us, and coming to rely on them for that.

Quick side note on that - often when you move through the triggered place, you can find an enormous blessing in HAVING that space, so that you can feel what you’re truly capable of.

And what’s ironic about this situation? It’s usually true for BOTH partners. In other words, it’s rare that one of you is doing all the assuming, and the other one of you is doing all the work. The reality is usually that both of you give in your own ways, and both of you can feel taken for granted. This is a dynamic that we actually talked about back in our episode with Betty Martin, in episode 162, talking about the Wheel of Consent. Now in that episode, we talked about how it impacts the way that we touch or receive touch from our partners, but the underlying premise is the same as you come to understand the dynamics of giving and receiving.

But I’ll let you listen to that episode to get that part of what I’m talking about. What we’re focused on here is the danger that making assumptions brings to your relationship. And I’m going to show you what to do about it. We’ll solve all your assumption problems with a simple exercise or two - in just a moment.

However, this is the time in the show when I get to tell you about this week’s sponsors. And they both have cool deals for you, so you can try them out - at a discount - and experience what they’re cooking up for you.

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Now let’s get back into the conversation about how to keep your assumptions from eroding your relationship.

As I hinted at the very beginning, the antidote to the toxic effect of assuming on your relationship is to make the implicit explicit - in other words, to get really clear on the dynamic that’s happening in your relationship and to turn assumptions into agreements.

You may have heard me talk about agreements before on Relationship Alive, as they are a key part of creating the container of your relationship. So far we’ve talked about them in broad strokes, though - they represent the things that you and your partner agree NOT to do - you know, things like spending large sums of money without talking to each other about it first, or your agreements around monogamy - these are important things to be really clear about with your partner. We’ve also talked about the things that you agree TO do - things like commitment to supporting each other’s growth or sharing appreciations with each other each night. These are just a couple of small examples.

The problem with assumptions is that they represent agreements that you haven’t actually agreed to. They often have the same degree of expectations that come with an actual agreement - but the problem is that you and your partner don’t actually know exactly that the agreement exists. Let’s take something simple as an example.

Let’s say that every night your beloved gets home from work 30 minutes earlier than you do. And every night they get home, take the dog out, and then start cooking dinner. So you walk in the door, and the dog comes over to you, tail wagging, and you fall on the floor to give your dog a tummy rub, while your partner is there, standing over the stove, whipping up something tasty. Only instead of being really happy to see you, for some reason your partner is standing there looking really serious as they saute the onions, and you already have that sinking feeling that there’s something going on that you’re going to have to talk about later.

Now, let’s just state the obvious - you should always greet your partner before you start rubbing the dog’s belly. If your dog is getting more affection and attention than your partner is, then you’re in trouble. Trust me. In fact, maybe I’ll devote an episode to just that. Moving right along…

And, now let’s even take this situation a step further. Let’s imagine that it’s this way night after night. Except for one night you get home, and your partner is in the living room, kicking back and reading a book. And as you walk in the door and the dog rushes over to greet you they say “great, can you take the dog out?” - and then you realize that they have already cooked and eaten an early dinner - without you. In that moment are you feeling, maybe, just a little bit...resentful?

I’m pretty sure that the answer here would be “yes”. And why is that? Why was your partner stewing over something when you came home to their cooking, and why are you now stewing because it’s suddenly on you to take the dog out and figure out dinner?

In this hypothetical situation that I know none of you has experienced...did you and your partner ever create an agreement about who was going to take the dog out and start dinner?

Now, of course, it’s possible that you might have a stale agreement, something that you made long ago and which no longer is working for one, or both, of you. It’s worth revisiting your agreements every so often. But in order to do that, you’re going to have to know what your agreements are.

So, let’s get there - together. As you may be guessing right now, you are going to actually have to communicate with your partner to figure this out. But before you take that step, let’s get more clear on what your assumptions are.

The best way to do this is to keep track. Have you ever used a time-tracking app to figure out how you spend your time when you’re on your computer? That can be really useful data to have, so that after a week or two you get to see when and how you’re the most productive (and, correspondingly, when and how you waste time). It’s useful - and occasionally scary.

So for the next week what I’d like you to do is to keep track of all of the ways in which you are relying on your partner. The challenge is going to be remembering to do this throughout your way to approach it is to have a little pocket notebook that you carry with you so that you can note things down as they happen. Or you can, of course, keep track in your smartphone. The key here is, first, to remember to be paying attention throughout your day - and then to actually write it down or note it.

It’s tempting here to think “OK, I’m going to just notice it as it happens” - and to take the shortcut and NOT write anything down, or actually keep track of anything. Unless you have a superhuman memory, do NOT do this. Write it down, or record it somehow. This is important, first so that you don’t miss anything! And second, so that as you review your notes at the end of the week, you’ll have a sense of just how vast the number of assumptions is.

Now there may be some things that jump out at you right away as you hear me talking about this. You can go ahead and write those things down. Maybe it’s the “who makes the meals” scenario? Maybe it’s the who does the laundry or the grocery shopping? Maybe it’s that you trust your partner to text you back within 5 minutes when you’ve texted them, and if any more time goes by you start to get anxious?

The big question here is: what are all the ways that I rely on my partner? And what are all the ways that they’re relying on me?

And...after a week of that goes get to look over your findings. There will probably be some things on your list that you already knew about - and hopefully, there will also be some surprises on your list. See if you can get a sense of what led to a particular thing becoming just a way of being - how did it work its way onto your assumption list? That’s helpful to know - at a 1000 foot view you can often see the ways that these patterns start - which is a great way of seeing your own part in things.

Now the next step is going to be to communicate with your partner about what you discovered. I’ll give you a framework for that in a moment. As you might expect, the WAY that you talk about it will have a huge impact. For some important pointers, make sure that you check out my free Relationship Communication guide. If you’ve already downloaded it, then you might want to revisit it just for a reminder - and if you haven’t gotten it yet, you can grab it at - or by texting the word RELATE to the number 33444 and following the instructions.

So let’s talk about how to approach this conversation with your partner. Maybe you’re lucky and you’re already listening to Relationship Alive together - and doing this research together. So if that’s the case then you simply want to schedule a time to talk about what you discovered. If you’re doing this on your own, then the first step is to ask your beloved if there’s a time when you can sit down to talk about some important things you’ve been noticing. Don’t just spring this on your partner!

And even if you have a long list of ways that your partner is making assumptions about you, I wouldn’t bring that up just yet - if your partner asks you what you want to talk about, just say that you’ve been noticing some ways that you take them for granted, and you were hoping to be able to sit down, chat with them, and get some clarity about it. Maybe even express your gratitude - you know, that kind of thing.

When the appointed time arrives, then, yes - you want to set the stage by talking about how you have noticed all these ways in which you’ve been taking your partner for granted or making assumptions that things are a certain way. If you have lots of examples to choose from in your observations, you might choose the one that seems the least triggering to your partner - in other words, start with something easy. Not necessarily a hot-button issue right away.

Then you might say something like…”I’ve been operating as if this is an agreement that we have made, to do things this way. But we never really did, did we? Or maybe we did, but that was a long time ago, and I’m not sure that it necessarily makes sense anymore.”

Each step along the way you want to check in with your partner to see if what you’re saying is making sense to them. Do they get it, what you’re saying? Do they agree? Can they lend any insight into what you’ve already noticed?

If you’re starting with ways that you’ve been taking them for granted, then it will be easier to inspire their collaboration in the conversation. One thing to pay attention to here is your own level of activation, of being triggered. If your partner is TOO eager to point out the assumptions that you’ve been making, then you could find yourself feeling like you’re being attacked. Do your best here to find your balance on your own, to take responsibility for your own emotional state. As much as possible you want to keep operating from your prefrontal cortex - in other words, the non-triggered part of your brain that knows how to problem-solve, stay curious, and be creative.

So - what’s the ultimate goal here? The goal is to bring up the assumptions that you’ve been making  and then to ask your partner if there’s an agreement that you can actually make, together, about each particular thing. It’s as simple as that. Some possible ways to frame that include: “In this situation, would you like to ”. Or “What would make that ok for you? What would make that feel like something you actually want to do?” or “how can I help you so that you’re not doing it on your own?” or “What would be a meaningful way - to you - that I could show my appreciation?” Or “Is there some way that I could contribute that would make a difference to you?”

You may also discover that some of these ways that you’ve come to rely on your partner actually are obstacles to your own feeling fulfilled, actualized, and capable in your own life. So rather than your go-to being trying to get your partner’s buy-in to just keep doing things that way - but with an agreement - I invite you to first consider how you can show up to at least be an equal partner in what’s happening. Or perhaps you want to take full responsibility for making this thing happen for you - rather than relying on your partner at all. This could be about your reclaiming that part of yourself, or it could also be about ways to give even more to the relationship.

I leave it to you to feel through the situation for what feels best to you and your partner. But definitely, spend time entertaining the different possibilities - instead of immediately rushing to the first solution that jumps out at you.

Bear in mind too that even if your partner says that they are more than happy to do whatever it is that they’ve been doing, by at least getting it out in the open you can ensure that you’re both completely in integrity about it. And you can also discuss how to safely bring it up if the agreement STOPS being ok with either one of you. Having a way to bring the topic up without anyone getting triggered or resentful - in other words, revisiting your agreements on a regular basis and having that be just built into the structure of your relationship will help you keep things healthy and minimize resentment in the time ahead of you.

Oh, by the way, in case you were wondering about how to address all those ways that you feel like your partner might be taking you for granted...again remember that it’s best to start with an offering - which in this case is you taking responsibility for all the assumptions that you’ve been making.

Next you might ask your partner something like this: “Would you be willing to talk about some other places where I think we could use a more explicit agreement between us?” And if the answer is “Yes” - then you’re on the right track. Instead of framing this part of the conversation as ways that you’re being “taken for granted” - you might instead say something like “Here is a place where our agreement isn’t quite clear…” And rather than focusing on the assumption - in other words, rather than saying something like “it seems like you assume I’m going to make dinner every night” you might say something like “I find that most nights I’m making dinner. And I’m doing it by myself. And while I do enjoy making dinner, what I really miss is the opportunity for us to work together to make choices about what we’re going to eat. So I find that lately I’ve been getting lonely and maybe even a little sad, instead of feeling inspired to cook for both of us. Would you be willing to talk about ways that we could change that up a bit?”

You might be surprised to find that your partner will actually show up with some creative solutions - especially if they’re not being blamed.

OK - I think that’s enough to get you going in the right direction. If you’re on Facebook and haven’t joined us in the Relationship Alive Community yet, please come find us there. You can get support from the more than 2300 Relationship Alive listeners who are creating a safe space to talk about relationships. And in the meantime, if you know someone who could benefit from hearing this episode, please feel free to send the link along - it’s I look forward to being with you next week - take care until then!



166: Are You Addicted to Love and Relationships? - with Sherry Gaba

Nov 6, 2018 57:34


Have you ever felt compelled to jump into a new relationship a little too quickly? Is it possible that you’re actually addicted to love and relationships? How would you know? This week, our guest is Sherry Gaba, best-selling author of The Marriage and Relationship Junkie and The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery. Sherry is a Psychotherapist, Life Coach, and Certified Recovery Coach specializing in individual, couples, family, and group psychotherapy - and she is also the editor of Recovery Today magazine. In this episode, you’ll learn what it means to be addicted to love and relationships and where it comes from. We’ll also dive into how you can tell if you’re addicted to love and relationships and what you can do to start on your path toward healthier relationships and connection.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


Along with our amazing listener supporters (you know who you are - thank you!), this week's episode is being sponsored by two amazing companies with special offers for you.

First are the folks at Through a unique online quiz, they help you figure out exactly what vitamins and herbal supplements you need to achieve your optimal health. They use high-quality ingredients and can save you as much as 20% over comparable store-bought brands. On top of all that, they are offering you 25% OFF your first month if you visit and use the coupon code “ALIVE” at checkout. makes a whole food protein bar that’s super-tasty – Chloe and I almost always have these with us to help us stay nourished on the go. They’re healthy, easy to digest, and have simple ingredients with no added sugar – plus they’re gluten/dairy/soy-free. You can get 25% OFF your first order by visiting and using the coupon code “ALIVE” at checkout. Valid in the US only.



Visit the website for Sherry Gaba’s book, The Marriage and Relationship Junkie, to learn more about how to break the cycle of marriage and relationship addiction and live fabulously on your own or with a partner.

Visit Sherry Gaba’s main website

FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide - perfect help for handling conflict and shifting the codependent patterns in your relationship

Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner's Needs) in Your Relationship (ALSO FREE) Visit to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Sherry Gaba.

Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of: The Railsplitters - Check them Out



Neil Sattin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. We're here to talk about relationships and yet what brings us into a relationship? Why are we there in the first place? So many of us enter relationships for awesome reasons, sometimes it's less than awesome reasons, and sometimes it's a combination of the two. You feel some magnetic spark with a person, but at the same time, maybe they support you in ways that aren't necessarily healthy for you, or you get trapped in some dynamic that doesn't really make for the best relationship possible. And then you might feel like, "Oh, okay, this relationship ended," and you're ready to go into another relationship, maybe even a little too quickly. And it wouldn't be that uncommon for you to wonder, "Is there something about this? Am I actually addicted to being in relationships? Am I addicted to love? Is there something... What is it that's compelling me to do this?" And I think it's interesting to tease apart what it is that might compel us in an unhealthy way, to enter into a relationship with others, and what's healthy about it? 'Cause when we're talking about addiction, there are positive addictions, as well as negative addictions. So how do you find the balance, and how do you figure out you where you land in terms of your approach to the relationship?

Neil Sattin: So we're going to tackle this question about whether or not you might possibly be addicted to love and relationship, how to know and what to do about it. And in order to have that conversation, I have with me today, yet another esteemed guest, her name is Sherry Gaba, and she's a therapist who is also the author of "The Marriage and Relationship Junkie." A book that is available on Amazon, and talks all about this question of how do you find your own path to health in terms of how you relate to others? And of course, that's a conversation we're having all the time here on Relationship Alive because hey, I'm just... I recognize that just like you, there's work to be done. And so, we're going to dive deep into this question around addiction and obsession around love and see if we can come out the other side with some answers. As always, we will have a detailed transcript of today's episode and to download that, all you have to do is visit, and you spell that, G-A-B-A, as in Sherry Gaba, our guest for today. Or you can always text the word, "passion" to the number 33444, follow the instructions and I will send you a link where you can download the transcript for this episode. Alright, I think that's all I have to cover today at this moment. Let's dive in. Sherry Gaba, so great to have you here with us on Relationship Alive.

Sherry Gaba: What a fantastic introduction, thank you, Neil, that was amazing, and I love what you're doing in the world and loving just getting to know you, I love your energy and I'm just grateful to have this platform today to talk about this really important subject.

Neil Sattin: Great, well we're off to a good start then.

Sherry Gaba: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: So it is a complicated question whether we're drawn into relating with another person for the right reasons or the wrong reasons. Maybe you can help us start to tease that apart, how do we know if the reason that we're seeking out someone else is something that ultimately is going to support our health and growth, and thriving in the world?

Sherry Gaba: Well, let's look at addiction in general, if you look at the broader sense of addiction, and love addiction and relationship romance addiction is our subject today. If you look at the broader definition of addiction is when your life is out of control and it's becoming unmanageable and underneath that, you're making choices based on emptiness a feeling of lack, a feeling of not wanting to be alone, that would be a love addiction, feeling like the world is just a really scary place almost terror that, "If I'm not in a relationship, if I'm not connected or hooked up to somebody, then I'm going to "dies," literally. And so, love addiction is really under the umbrella of addiction.

Sherry Gaba: It's a process addiction, it's a lifestyle addiction, so think about binge eating, or sex addiction, or being addicted to exercise or internet addiction or gaming, or shopping or spending, those are all lifestyle addictions. So, you're becoming addicted to a mood-altering activity, in other words, your brain really lights up when you're hooking up with whatever it is that you're needing to hook up with, whether it's the food or the love, or the sex or whatever your addiction is. So the relationship for a love addict is the only person's identity. And then if a breakup occurs, the addictive lover is longing for the attachment and the pleasurable feelings of that lost relationship. So just like the drug addict may be withdrawing from his or her drug needing that "fix," the love addict is needing that fix of attachment.

Sherry Gaba: And underneath all of us, all of us as human beings we all want to attach, we all want to bond, we all want to connect. But when it becomes unhealthy, and we start making really bad choices around that, then we're stepping into love addiction. For instance, you step into a relationship 'cause you're afraid of being alone like I mentioned earlier, or you're afraid of the unknown, or you get into a relationship where you're trying to change them or fix them and not accepting them for who they are. Needing someone to make you feel whole, because like I mentioned earlier, you feel empty if you're not in a relationship. Looking for others for affirmation and self-worth and for validation rather than already having that within yourself. Being terrorized of abandonment, having those withdrawal symptoms that I mentioned earlier that if a relationship ends, you are in complete withdrawal. And then really giving up who we are out of the fear that we might lose someone or someone may not approve of us. So, if any of those things sound familiar, you may be dealing with love addiction.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and I'm reminded of when Helen Fisher was on the show, she has this viewpoint that in some respects, all love is addiction and that's why when we break up, we go through symptoms and pain that's very similar to what any addict would go through when they are in withdrawal from their partner. But I like the distinction that you're making around how... And this is I think, why love can be a positive or a negative addiction, because you could be addicted to love with someone who's really good for you, and where you actually really support each other and there's a lot that's beneficial going on, or you can be addicted to love with someone where you're just fueling the dopamine rush.

Sherry Gaba: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: And I think that is... Go ahead.

Sherry Gaba: Well, if you're feeling the dopamine rush, it probably isn't you're addicted to a healthy relationship. Because yes, in the beginning, there's that fantasy, there's that attachment, there's that goo-goo ga-ga feeling. Sure, that can happen, but healthy relationships really move into a more mature growing state of being. I'm not saying you can't have that goo-goo ga-ga come up at times, but I think if you're constantly in that state, I think then it becomes more obsessive and then it becomes more unhealthy. I can't speak to all relationships, but I think healthier relationships change, they morph into other things, they morph into healthier love, they morph into other things like respect and nurturing, and it isn't just fueled by that, "Oh my god," goo-goo ga-ga feeling, you know what I'm saying?

Neil Sattin: Yeah, if we look at the addiction cycle, and we had Alex Katehakis on the show to talk a little bit also about sex addiction. That what we're really doing, the reason we show up predictive behaviors, and you mentioned this a moment ago, is to help us with our own feelings of dysregulation and discomfort, we turn to the thing that gives us that pleasurable sensation for comfort. And I think you're right, all relationships are going to do that at first to some extent. And as I was preparing for our conversations today, it just occurred to me like, Oh, right, so if you're in a relationship, like most relationships where after a certain period of time, the dopamine energy starts to fade a little bit, and you haven't necessarily figured out how to build health into your relationship, and those healthy bonding behaviors foster lots of oxytocin which is another, a pair bonding hormone, then you're going to be missing the effects of the dopamine, not because there's something wrong with your partnership necessarily, but because you tune back into what's wrong with you, and those feelings of discomfort. And so then you have to chase the dopamine whether it's escalating the drama or ditching someone for someone new so that you can get that because you're not equipped at that moment to actually deal with your own dysregulation and discomfort.

Sherry Gaba: Right. Well, you're addicted to the high, so to speak. You're addicted to the romance, you're addicted to the newness factor. I am a love addict, the best time for me is that first falling in love, that's the part where I'm just... That's where I'm most comfortable, that's my go-to. The problem with that is, you're picking from a place of need versus a place of healthful being. In other words, you're picking from a place of emptiness, you're picking a place of, "This person's going to fill up this need that I have, that I don't feel whole already, that I need somebody else to fill me up to feel good about myself." And hopefully, we can lead into a conversation about early trauma because that is a huge piece to this subject.

Sherry Gaba: And often I'll share my own story because I think people underestimate what early trauma does and why that is a huge piece in the love addict behavior or the need for that high, that initial high. We're always chasing that early high, we often say with addicts, they're chasing that first high, that first crack experience or that first alcoholic experience, whatever, heroin experience. Well, the love addict is chasing that first high of falling in love, that's where everything... That is it, this is utopia, this is where it all is, and unfortunately, it isn't sustaining and when it does change, hopefully, it'll change into something healthy, but for the love addict, it generally does not turn into that something healthy. And usually, what they... The love addict picks people that aren't healthy for them. That's another piece to this, is that love addicts tend to be attracted to love avoidance, they're attracted to people that are unavailable, they might be attracted to people that are abusive and they don't care because they want that high no matter what, and they're picking what they know rather than what's good for them.

Neil Sattin: Right. Right, so if you're in a relationship, what are some of the signs that you might see happening in your relationship if you've veered into addictive territory?

Sherry Gaba: Well, I think if you're putting up with abuse, of course, you may be with a narcissist. I think we talked about this a little bit earlier, but over-adapting to what others want, losing yourself in the process, having no boundaries, always saying yes when really, “no” is not even in your vocabulary. This terror, this fear of letting go, fear of the unknown, so you stay because it's better than what might be out there. At least you know what you're getting here, even if it's unhealthy. You're always trying to fix and change your partner. That person is what makes you feel whole and complete, you're absolutely empty, you're in the ethers of emptiness without that person or in relationship, and then that person is all that you are in terms of, you're seeking their affirmation, their validation, their acknowledgment, all your self-worth is based on being with that person. You're petrified of abandonment. You might have some of those withdrawal symptoms when they're not around, you only are comfortable when they're in your space, but if they're off to work or off with other... Doing other things, you feel completely lost, and you give up who you are out of fear that they may not want you. You give up who you are, you lose parts of yourself to be with this person.

Neil Sattin: Got it. So I'm feeling a pretty... I'm doing the diagnosis here on myself even and thinking about how even relationships in the past that have started out healthy, they can veer into this territory if you're not careful.

Sherry Gaba: Sure. And then we're talking maybe more about a codependent relationship. And I hate throwing out words like codependent or even a love addiction word, because people... It becomes very cliche, because what you said earlier in the call, and I really picked up on that was that some of these things you have with your relationship but they're healthy. And in other words, you love that person, you respect that person, and sure, that person on some level maybe completes you on some level. But the question is if that relationship wasn't there would you be okay? Sure, you might be sad and you would grieve, and you would miss that person terribly, but would you be completely lost? I think of my own mother, my father passed away and they had a 60-year romance. And when my father died, and again, this is part of grief as well, but it was a little more pathological than that. My mother picked up the first man that looked at her. And he's a very bad man. She picked somebody that really is a predator per se, and he knew exactly what he was doing. And she's in a relationship with... In a very unhealthy relationship with someone that's completely taking advantage of her, because she is petrified of being without somebody. She just can't even function. And so that's when we're really getting into territory that's dangerous.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Sherry Gaba: Because you're actually being taken advantage of. And that's a whole other conversation, there is a whole world out there, there's... Just in LA alone, there are probably 10,000 predators out there picking women that just will believe anything that they hear, just so they can couple up and partner up and bond with somebody.

Neil Sattin: Let's...

Sherry Gaba: I use that example because you never know, you could have a listener right now, a call that's in a situation like that.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, I'm glad that you brought it up. And yeah, what it makes me curious about, I picked up on the sense of not being okay if you were to be alone. And because I think that it's so important to have that sense of okay-ness, that brings with it so much freedom to really see your relationship clearly, to see your part in the relationship clearly. So if we were to take a listener on a step or two down the road, toward... Like, if they're looking at themselves right now and saying, "Wow, yeah, I'm not sure I would be okay if this fell apart." There may be some practical considerations to that, maybe their livelihood is dependent on their partner or something like that. But I think you're talking about, even more, the existential sense of like, "No, my life might fall apart if I weren't with this person or... " How does someone go about starting to restore that sense of inner safety, so that they can bring that to the relationship?

Sherry Gaba: Well, maybe that... This is a good time to talk about early trauma because if we grew up in a situation where our parents were really unavailable, maybe they were addicts, alcoholics themselves, maybe there was a divorce, maybe were raised by a single parent and they were busy working and you felt invisible because your needs weren't being met, maybe you were in a situation where you were almost parenting your parent. Maybe you were abandoned by a parent. There's this panic that sets in. And then what happens is, you're looking for anything outside yourself to fill up that pain and that panic, and you'll cling to anything and anyone. You're craving for something else to make you feel whole. So the question is, if you're already in a relationship, what draws you to this person? Is it because this person adds to your life? You feel like it brings joy to the joy that you already are as a person? Did you already feel whole as a person? Were you ever successfully single and just loving life as a single person? Or your whole basis was, "I need to attach to someone because without attaching to someone, I am lost. I'm like that child that didn't have a parent that was available to me."

Sherry Gaba: Do you feel like you're not enough without that relationship? Do you feel enough anyway? Yeah, do you feel good enough even without a relationship? Are you unconsciously attempting to satisfy that developmental hungry, so that hungry ghost that people talk about, Buddhists talk about, are you trying to satisfy that? Or does that person, again, add to your sense of being, and sense of self, or are they just completing what you are not?

Sherry Gaba: And are you always looking outside yourself to fix yourself, your fear, your pain, your discomfort? Or do you have that safety within yourself to... That's a great word, are you able to self-regulate yourself? Are you able to be alone at any time? I don't know if that answers your question, Neil, I think it's so great that we're diving into the fact that if you're already in a relationship, do you have these things? And I don't want people to freak out and think, "Oh my God, I'm a love addict, and I'm in a relationship, I better get out because I gotta find myself." No, no, no, no, it's not about that. But I think there are ways to start creating... And see, do you have early trauma? Were you abandoned? And then if you were, how to start healing from that. For me, my trauma was so early, it's unbelievable, I was in an incubator for two and a half months. So I started out in the world unregulated. I started out not having that early bonding with my mother, she didn't hold me for two and a half months, and then even when I came home, she went to work right away, so she was unavailable. And I didn't get what I needed, and so I was always looking for something outside of me to fill me up. I was always looking for that "breast," so to speak.

Sherry Gaba: That's kind of a metaphor, but it's... I was always looking for something else to completely... 'Cause I felt complete, I didn't get that mirroring, I didn't get that bonding, I didn't get that security, that safety. So those are some things to think about, what was your early childhood like? Did you go through any of the things that I mentioned earlier? And if you did, how do you work on those issues? For me, I got into therapy with someone that does what's called somatic experiencing, and now, I'm a practitioner of that, and it's getting back into your body and being able to be okay within yourself, instead of always running away from yourself. Always thinking something else can complete you when everything you have is right there within you.

Neil Sattin: Great, and yes, we've had Peter Levine on the show actually, to talk about somatic experiencing.

Sherry Gaba: Oh fast, you've had some amazing guest.

Neil Sattin: Fortunately yeah, I'm so happy that he was willing to chat and I do believe that that, in particular, is such a powerful modality for healing early traumas. And what I love about it because it's based on your sensation, you don't necessarily have to know what it was. It goes by this theory that the trauma is just stored in there and so you're giving your body a chance to process things that are stuck, that it should have processed through whenever the trauma, and it could be a "big-T" trauma or "little-T" trauma, whenever that occurred. So there's nothing abnormal about you or anyone with having something that might be stuck within you that just needs to be healed.

Sherry Gaba: I love that. I want people to know that there is nothing wrong with you. There might have been something that happened to you as you said, a big trauma, or little trauma, and let's discharge that energy that's been built up so that we can get unblocked so that we can bring in health and wholeness. So that you can feel complete just within yourself, so you don't have to seek outside yourself to feel good. The truth of the matter is just being on this call right now, is the first step because people are going to become aware like, "Oh, this is interesting, let's get curious about this." And then from there, make a decision to change, learning to stop looking for external solutions for problems that can be solved within.

Sherry Gaba: Really explore their personal fears, and really get out of the denial, that's a huge piece with addiction. Addiction is the only disease that says, "I don't have a problem." So really, open yourself up to, "Yeah, there might be something here." And really examine those early suppressed traumas that might have occurred early on in life that we just talked about. Maybe go ahead and listen to your Peter Levine interview, so you can understand trauma a little bit better. Start self-parenting yourself. Really look... I sometimes suggest to people, "Find a photo of you when you were a child and stick that photo right next to your bed, and just start loving that inner child that maybe didn't get what they needed." Become really a loving, forgiving and compassionate person to yourself.

Sherry Gaba: You didn't just wake up one day and go, "Oh, I want to be a love addict. I want to feel pain all the time. I want to feel like I have to be... " You have to completely or I feel like nothing. No, that isn't what you... You didn't cause anything, it's just from your experiences in your history, this is what happened, that energy never got completed, as you said. And just use the pain to grow and prepare for a healthy relationship or the relationship that you're already in, and just really begin to trust in yourself and to let go of what no longer is serving you and find a really great therapist, find a really great coach but somebody that really understands perhaps, trauma work. I don't know if coaches really do trauma work, some may, but you want to make sure they understand the trauma piece. Maybe, find a sex and love addicts anonymous meeting. There's so much support out there to begin working on these issues.

Neil Sattin: Right. And in your book, "The Marriage and Relationship Junkie" you do offer some great tools for people who are looking to rebuild, and you don't have to be alone in order to go through them. So I'm glad that you qualified that earlier on, where you said, "If you're in a relationship, you don't have to panic and abandon just to find yourself."

Sherry Gaba: Right.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Sherry Gaba: Exactly. And you know what you said too earlier, it's such a great feeling, and I think you said it, I think you used the word, extreme. I divorced my... I've had multiple marriages, multi-relationships, I divorced my ex-husband, he was an alcoholic and he couldn't get sober, and I really gave it my best. And I was lost when that relationship ended because it was a very codependent, obsessive relationship, but once I healed and I started doing things for myself, I joined a great 12-Step Program, I took up canoeing. I started really finding myself, I was able to then hopefully pick somebody else that was much better for me because I knew that no matter what, I could be on my own. And I have to be honest, I never felt that way before. I had never been able to really be alone successfully and be happy, and I truly was happy and single. And that brings me to another topic which would be as changing your verbiage around it, instead of saying to yourself, "Oh, I can't be alone. Oh my God, I can't be alone." It's like, "I can be single." Doesn't that sound a lot better? "I can be single" rather than, "I can't be alone"?

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so much better and it just makes me think of how very few of us truly are alone, ever. I suppose that is true for some people but if you're listening to this podcast, you're here with me, at this moment. And odds are that there are other people in your life who care about you and who want to support you, and not see you in pain and not see you suffering.

Sherry Gaba: Right, exactly. We all want to bond, we all want to connect. The opposite of addiction is connection, but the point of this call is really healthy connection. That's the point of your podcast, healthy relationships. And so that's... But it's not about stigmatizing you if you are in a codependent relationship. How great that you're on this call and now you can start changing things up a little bit and loosen up that codependent relationship, find other things in your life that help you feel good about yourself. And if you have that trauma, really start working on that trauma 'cause that's really where it all begins. I do some coaching, I'm a psychotherapist, but I can't tell you how many times I'll have a coaching client and they're just stuck. And that stuck-ness... They paid for every class, they listened to all of the podcasts, they bought all the books, but there's something inside of them that's stuck. And so to me, it really begins with moving that trauma out of your body, so that you can have a purposeful life and a meaningful relationship.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So a couple of things, first, let's just regroup, and I want to mention to you listening, I've mentioned a couple of other episodes, if you want to check out the Peter Levine episode, he's been on a couple times, but you definitely want to hear episode 29, which was the first one that he was on, to talk specifically about trauma and healing trauma. The other episode he was on, he was talking more about building resilience which is also important, but not as relevant to what we're talking about here. Also, the episode with Alex Katehakis, talking about addiction and what's involved in our neurobiology of addiction and how to heal that. That is episode 116. So I just wanted you to have those so you can listen to them later. And Sherry, I'm really curious because so many of the tools that you offer in "The Marriage and Relationship Junkie" are very practical, and I hear you as a strong voice of support for someone getting help, and I'm always talking about that here on the show. That there are some things where it's just easier if you're not trying to do it by yourself or trying to wing it, or reading a book and trying to put it into practice. That being said, I would love to offer our listeners something really powerful here that they could do or they could try on their own, that would give them a taste of the kind of healing that we're talking about, a taste of the personal empowerment and freedom that we're talking about.

Neil Sattin: And so I'm wondering if just speaking those words, if there's anything that comes to mind for you that we could offer our listeners as a way to get started, to jump-start the process, whether they're single or in relationship or if you have a different idea for both, then that's good too 'cause there are plenty of single people who are also listening to the show. I hear from you, but all the time to learn so that when you're in your next relationship, you're prepared, and I so appreciate that. I wish I had had a show like this, honestly to listen to way back when...

Sherry Gaba: Well, I think in the beginning, is just to see if you have this issue, is to maybe take my quiz, if you go to, I have a love addiction quiz. And that's just a first step in seeing if you are a love addict. I also have a quiz at on whether or not you're codependent. Because you can be codependent and not be a love addict. A codependent may be someone who's always trying to fix, control everything outside themselves, addicted to controlling people, places, and things. But a love addict is a little bit more specific, and that is that you are addicted to love, relationship, romance and feel empty if you're not in a relationship or with somebody. So that's a great place to start, is to take those quizzes, and see if it applies. I have some free ebooks that go along with those quizzes. My book is almost like a workbook, every chapter has questions for you to answer, to journal on. It's really... It's years and years of personal and professional experience in a book.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I found that it was really a great synthesis of lots of different modalities, and you talk about inner child work which you mentioned a few moments ago, you talk about healing trauma, you talk about taking proactive steps in your own life so that you're building your own strength and presence in the world.

Sherry Gaba: And even talking about the law of attraction, on how to attract somebody in a healthy way. Because energetically, we attract what we are. I'm sure you've had conversations with people related to positive psychology or law of attraction, and the truth of the matter is energetically, we're going to attract exactly where we are in our life. When you're in a healthy place, you're going to attract healthy, when you're not, you're going to attract not healthy.

Neil Sattin: Right. I would love it, and I'm putting you on the spot here, so I'm admitting, freely admitting that there's maybe a little bit of pressure here, but I'm curious, yeah, if I've listened to this conversation and thought, "Yep, that's me. Like I don't need to take the quiz, I know it's me, and oh my God, with what Sherry just said about attracting what is within, is what we attract without, now I'm really screwed." What can we do to help someone experience a shift even around that? How do you experience that shift in who you are, let's say... What's coming to me is like who you are energetically and what you want to be in the world, in such a way that you can feel what it's like to see the world with different glasses on?

Sherry Gaba: That's a very broad question. I don't even know how to answer that because I think it's a process, I don't think there's an instant fix.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, of course not.

Sherry Gaba: I think the only thing I can say is the fact that they're on this call and they're hearing things that feel like that could be me when they're actually moving out of denial and that's the first step. I suppose, what I would say is, the first step is waking up to the truth. Waking up to the truth and "Oh my God, this... I realize that I am not complete unless I'm coupled up." And just knowing that is the first step. And then the next step is to... As you said, you can read a book that doesn't always do the magic. I'd love for people to pick up my book and dive deeper into even my story to see if they can relate and all the exercises. But hiring somebody like yourself who does relationship coaching or maybe working with someone like me who dives more into love addiction piece, I'm not sure exactly what you're asking. You definitely put me on the spot.

Neil Sattin: Okay. Well, I feel like this will take form, this will take shape, so I'm not worried.

Sherry Gaba: Yeah, one thing I could do with everybody right now, which might be a way to metaphorically move to the other side in the moment, is I can do some positive affirmations right now on the call. And then, we know that positive affirmations change the wiring within your brain, and if you keep doing it it's going to keep changing the wiring in your brain of how you see things from negative to positive. So I'm going to say some affirmations maybe Neil you can repeat after me and everybody listening, and this might answer your question of, what would that feel like if we were in the middle of that transition from emptiness to wholeness? Does that... What do you think? Okay. Okay. So repeat after me, I'm a lovable and valuable person.

Neil Sattin: I am a lovable and valuable person.

Sherry Gaba: I am deserving of a healthy partner.

Neil Sattin: I am deserving of a healthy partner.

Sherry Gaba: Who is capable of loving, respecting and honoring me as a person.

Neil Sattin: A healthy partner who is capable of loving, honoring and respecting me as a person.

Sherry Gaba: Withdrawal will not last forever.

Neil Sattin: Withdrawal will not last forever.

Sherry Gaba: My needs and wants are important.

Neil Sattin: My needs and wants are important.

Sherry Gaba: All my experiences contribute to my growth.

Neil Sattin: All my experiences contribute to my growth.

Sherry Gaba: I am learning to let go of dependencies on others.

Neil Sattin: I'm learning to let go of dependencies on others.

Sherry Gaba: And relying on myself for happiness.

Neil Sattin: And relying on myself for happiness.

Sherry Gaba: I walk away from toxic people.

Neil Sattin: I walk away from toxic People.

Sherry Gaba: I create my own truth in love.

Neil Sattin: I create my own truth in love.

Sherry Gaba: And that's that. And so maybe there is a little energetic shift that people might be experiencing right now. Again, I'm not about instant fixes but this is a beginning point, this is a starting point, and that's really all we have is a starting point and then we transit, we grow from there.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, one thing that I really love about that exercise and the practice of positive affirmation, yes, there's the way that it reinforces a different neuro pathway within us and a different energetic pathway in terms of what we project into the world around us.

Sherry Gaba: Yes.

Neil Sattin: On top of that, I feel like I got to recognize, "Oh these are the places where there's a little bit of dissonance within me, like when I say it, I can't say it with 100% conviction. And so if that's true, that I'm not able to say it with 100% conviction, then to me that indicates a place where there's some work to be done.

Sherry Gaba: Yeah, that's so true, because for the law of attraction to work or to attract what it is that you desire, you have to be congruent with what you're saying and believing and what you're actually doing on the outside. So, that's exactly true. There is a dissonance, if you're feeling any kind of like, "Oh, that's not completely true," then there's a really good chance that how you're acting in the world, how you're behaving in the world or being in the world is not a match to how you really feel. You need to work on that a little bit because the congruency is what allows you to attract either the healthy relationship that you desire or the one that you're in.

Neil Sattin: Right. This reminds me a little bit of what might be the next step in this process. It's not the next step necessarily, but a lot of times with my clients, there can be this moment where you realize like, "Oh." For instance let's say, this wasn't true for me in this moment, but it has been true in the past, where I might say, "Oh, I'm worthy of being loved and I'm lovable." And I think I've even shared with my audience in a past episode, a time when that actually didn't really feel true for me. And so when that's not entirely true for you, the choices that you make are totally different than if you are to... If you recognize, "Oh, there was a little bit of a hitch when I said that statement out loud," or it could have been one of the other things that Sherry just offered you, then you can ask yourself, "Well, if I did think that I was lovable and worthy of love, how does that act? How would I act in the world from that perspective?" You get to try on that lens...

Sherry Gaba: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Once you've identified where it's missing, You can be like, "Well, if I were that what would the world look like?"

Sherry Gaba: And even more important is to make friends with that intuition that you know to be true. In other words, don't run away from what you know to be true, because then you're stepping into that denial lens again, is where, "Oh, I feel this, and I know it's not right but I don't care, I'm just going to close my eyes." And my whole mission in life is to keep people awake to their truth. So not to be afraid of the truth, the truth doesn't mean you have to break up with your partner this minute, it doesn't mean that you have to spend the rest of your life soul searching, it doesn't mean that you have to go get a divorce, it doesn't mean that you have to get off that dating app, it just means you need to just become aware and to stay in truth. And as long as you do that, the transformation is possible.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I take a really strong stand for the process that we go through as individuals and the effect that that can have on our partnerships. So lest do you think that if you're in a dysfunctional relationship, the whole point of this show isn't that it's perfect, the point is, it probably isn't perfect. And so you get to take steps that help you transform you and thus transform the whole dynamic.

Sherry Gaba: Yeah, and not be afraid, let go of that fear, just welcome up the chance to transform. Welcome up that the exactly that life is messy and as long as you stay away and you're willing to grow... We're all growing, we're all changing, we're all making better choices, hopefully, learning from our mistakes but it's not about beating ourselves up, it's about having the great compassion of humanity that we are, that we're just humans doing the best that we can. That was one of the points of writing the book, "The marriage and Relationship Junkie" was that I really wanted to eradicate the stigma around someone like myself who's been married multiple times, who's had multiple relationships instead of walking around thinking "I'm a failure," or those that read my book think that they're a failure because they just couldn't get it right, is to just have an understanding of where that began and how can I change that the trajectory of the future?

Sherry Gaba: So that I, maybe, do things in a different way and make different choices, 'cause life is filled with choices. And to own up to those choices, not to beat yourself up because of those choices, because there was a reason you made those choices. My choices were already paved for me when I was born two and a half months early, there was nothing I was going to be able to do about that. I had separation anxiety, I had abandonment issues, and that was going to be... Those feelings were going to be based on the decisions that I made in relationships.

Neil Sattin: Right, and they were nobody's fault.

Sherry Gaba: Nobody's fault. So we're not victims, we're just people that come from different histories, different experiences, and there's a reason why we are. I did one podcast with a woman who's been married six times, she had no idea, she started hysterically crying on the call. She was the host, because she goes, "Oh my God, you have labeled what I've always known, but didn't know what to call it, that's me." And it's like, "Okay, that's me? Okay great. So let's get curious about that." Doesn't mean we have to divorce our sixth husband, it just means, "Am I in a healthy relationship? Did I make a good choice and what can I do to heal all of that that brought me here today?"

Neil Sattin: Right. They say the sixth time is a charm for a reason, right?

Sherry Gaba: I think it's the third one.


Neil Sattin: I'm just kidding.

Sherry Gaba: Oh, okay. [laughter] My attitude is, do until you do it right, I don't think I ever... I won't say never, I'm not really interested at this point in my life, getting married again, but I certainly... I'm enjoying a healthy relationship, and I think that anything's possible. Anything's possible.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so one important thing that I'd like to chat about before we go, because I think one of the hesitations that people have around labeling and use that word a moment ago, labeling themselves as an addict, is the stigma that comes with it, the sense of, "Oh, this is inescapable, if I admit that I'm an addict then... " You hear the talk about a cliche like, "Once an addict, always an addict." And I'm curious for you, what's the truth in that versus that there is a true path for healing and... 'Cause I like that sense that the truth will set you free. If you're willing to look at your patterns, then that gives you a whole lot of power to make different kinds of choices for yourself and to heal the dysfunctional ways that you're looking for connection and regulation in your life and create positive ways of doing that.

Sherry Gaba: Well, I think if you are a love addict per se, let's say, I'm not going to address substance abuse 'cause that might be a different... That goes a different way. That's a whole other topic, but if you feel that you might be a love addict, and you feel like you've had early trauma, I highly, highly recommend getting the support you need around that finding a really great somatic experiencing practitioner, reading up on Peter Levine's work, maybe even getting EMDR, that's another modality. I think that really healing that early trauma is important because, without that, I don't think you can make choices that are going to be in your best interest 'cause you haven't healed what is already inside of you that needs to be discharged in order to bring positivity back into your life. That work was the greatest work that I ever did in my life, join a sex and love addicts anonymous meeting, do that work, so you can bring healthy love into your life. I can't emphasize that enough because once I did that work, my whole life changed. Am I still a love addict? I guess is what you're asking, yes, I have to always be mindful for the rest of my life about love addict codependent behaviors. If I start getting obsessive, if I start just focusing on the person I'm with, start giving up my friendships, there's a...

Sherry Gaba: I have to be continually vigilant at those things. And what I'm here to say is, once you do that work of trauma and self-regulation, you're less apt to become codependent again or making someone else your whole life, because you don't need to do that anymore because everything that you know and feel is within you, you feel whole already, so there's no need to be attached to just that one person, but I still have to be vigilant about it. Does that make sense?

Neil Sattin: Absolutely, and the question, it's kind of a rhetorical question that comes up, is like, "Why wouldn't you want to be vigilant about those things?" I would want to know, first thing, if I'm starting to sacrifice my friendships and disappear into my relationship, I would want to know that, at any point in time, addict or not.

Sherry Gaba: A few are an example of raw and real. You actually have a boyfriend and he's going to be going away for a couple of weeks, and that early piece of trauma comes up and goes. "This feels a little bit scary," like, "Oh, am I being abandoned?" And then I just... But because I've done the work, I can sit with that and I can be with it, and notice it and feel it and discharge it instead of becoming needy and obsessive and go into fear, "He's going to leave me," all of those things that I would have done in the past. Instead, I can just be the curious observer of the feelings and the thoughts and I can let it go. And that's a real example.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Sherry Gaba: That I'm still that baby that was born two and a half months early, but I have tools and ways to deal with those feelings that might come up rather than act out on them.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, that's great, that's great. And I'm reminded too that it clicked into place for me actually, when you were describing that, which is that I think probably, part of that, the dopamine rush that we were talking about earlier and that pleasure, it actually is creating the illusion of safety. And I think it's been theorized, maybe John Gorman was even talking about this, that if we didn't feel that temporary love blindness at the beginning, we might never get into a relationship anyway. You almost need that to jump-start you into connection. But that being said, there are so much healthier ways of developing safety, and you were just talking about that inner safety and then there are also, of course, the healthy ways of developing safety in your relationship so that when your partner goes away for two weeks, there's true safety there. So you can counterbalance your inner safety with, "And we've created a container that actually I can rely on and I trust."

Sherry Gaba: Exactly, a container within and maybe a container in the relationship. But certainly, that container within is vital, or you're going to do behaviors that... You're going to start doing all those obsessive behaviors, those needy behaviors that are not going to help the relationship.

Neil Sattin: Right, they're crucial, crucial stuff. Well, Sherry Gaba, thank you so much for being here with us today, what a far-ranging conversation we've had. And of course, I feel like we could talk longer, but I want to respect your time. Your book, "The Marriage and Relationship Junkie" is a great read full of very practical stuff for you if you're thinking that this is something you identify with on some level and there's a path towards recovery in the book, so I highly recommend that. Sherry, you mentioned your website, and it's S-H-E-R-R-Y. I guess we should clarify that. We'll have links to all of this in the transcript for the show, which as a reminder, you can get if you visit, G-A-B-A, or text the word "passion" to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. Sherry, I really appreciate your time today.

Sherry Gaba: Oh my God, I love... This is probably one of the best interviews I've had. You truly know your subject, and you've obviously done a lot of homework and work on yourself and your relationship and I'm really grateful for your platform and for giving me this opportunity today, thank you so, so much.

Neil Sattin: You are so welcome.


165: Should You Start Over with Someone New?

Oct 31, 2018 32:52


When is it time to start over with someone new? Isn't your next relationship going to be better, simply because you've learned what to look for in a new partner? If you're considering ending your current relationship, how do you know you're making the right decision? Do you think you've tried it all to make things work? How do you know if you've truly "tried everything"? In today's episode, we'll explore how to make these important decisions, so that whatever you choose you can do it confidently. And like you might expect, the answer to those questions isn't quite as obvious as you might think.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


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Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. And thank you for joining me here, today, on episode 165. I hope that you took some time to listen to last week’s episode, with Guy Finley, on how you can dissolve conflict in your relationship, and learn the lessons that you’re meant to learn. Of course it’s all important or it wouldn’t be here on the show - but you’ll see why, in a moment, last week’s episode is particularly relevant.

So - I got a great question recently. It went something like this:

Dear Neil - I’m confused. Every time I hear of someone in a happier, better, more fulfilling relationship - it’s always their SECOND marriage. Are first marriages that aren’t working out just doomed to failure? Is the only way to get an exceptional relationship, where you’re thriving, to ditch the first person and find someone new? What’s missing in first relationships that people are getting in second relationships?

Like I said, a great question. I mean, here I am - right? Divorced. Happy in my second marriage. And I think that’s the danger, right? Of thinking that second marriages are amazing - they allow us to undo all of the mistakes that we made in marriage #1. Or if you’re not married, but in a relationship, when you’re having a tough time, or thinking that you’re going to just have to suffer in an unfulfilling situation, the allure of finding another person that will be better is right there, staring you in the face.

It’s an interesting twist on the age-old question of “Should I stay or should I go?” If people are so much happier during the next go-around, then what’s the point of sticking it out with this person?

So, I want to shine a little perspective on this - and give you some ways to think about your situation, and what the right thing to do is.

My first instinct here was to just bring up the statistic that while 50% or so of first marriages end in divorce - the number of second marriages that end in divorce is actually 60% - and 70% for third marriages! So while it’s tempting to see someone a year or two or three into a new relationship and think about how lucky they are - bear in mind that the chances are even worse for them that they’ll stay together. It’s possible that you’re seeing them early enough in their relationship that everything SEEMS to be better. All the nuisances of their old relationship aren’t here, because they managed to pick someone who didn’t have any of the dissatisfying traits that caused them to break up. But often it just takes a little time, and then the cracks in the perfection start to appear.

And when that happens you get to find out if this “second marriage” - or newer, better relationship, is truly going to stand the test of time.  Actually, it’s often not right when that happens, but much later - because often we’ll wait months and months - years, even - before we decide that things have gotten bad enough that it’s time to leave. John Gottman’s statistic comes to mind, that it takes the average couple 6 years PAST when they should have gotten help to actually get help. Now I’m not sure if the Gottmans know exactly why that is - but at least part of that could be not wanting to believe that yet again another relationship is on its way towards destruction. Not being willing to see it until it’s too late. Or nearly so.

One place where you can potentially benefit from a new partner has to do with the selection process. There is that element, right?, of being on the lookout for specific traits in a new partner - top of the list that comes to mind for me is that a new partner with a growth mindset, and the ability to commit, might help improve your odds in relationship #2. This is of course if you also have a growth mindset and the ability to commit! In a moment, we’ll explore how you can dive a little deeper around this in your current relationship, before you decide that the grass is truly greener.

I will say that this whole journey has been REALLY interesting for me. There have actually been many times when I’ve wondered if I knew then what I know now, if my first marriage would have ended the way that it did. It’s tough to say - and because I respect the privacy of my ex, I’m not going to spend much time speculating about that right now. And, if we’re going to be completely honest here, my journey with Chloe has been part of what’s helped me learn all that I’ve learned. And, of course, it helps to be doing all the research for Relationship Alive, and having the conversations that I’m having, and working with clients from all over the world. It all fits together for me in a way that has helped me have a very different outlook on what’s possible.

Now am I saying that you need to start a podcast in order to get this all figured out? No. Am I saying that you need to get into a new relationship in order to figure out how to make it work with your current partner? No. I’m just trying to give you some perspective on where I’m coming from - but remember that my whole goal here is for you to be able to leverage my learning - so that you can leapfrog ahead in terms of what’s possible for you in your life, and in relationship. There’s enough heavy lifting for you to do in simply learning how to truly show up, and be courageous, and be vulnerable - all of that.

OK - let’s dive back in. We were talking about whether or not you should quit your current relationship to start up again with someone new. And I was trying to inspire, within you, a sense of what else might be possible. What I’d like to do, in this moment, is to give you hope. I realize that might not be the best thing. If you’re convinced that your current relationship is horrible, and that your current partner is NOT the right one for you, then hope might be the last thing you want or need.

You may not know this, but one of my first big hits, back when I was doing more blogging, was an article that I wrote about how to know when to leave a relationship. That article still gets a lot of traffic - at the time, I ended up doing a lot of coaching sessions with people who were commenting on it, or writing to me after reading it. And many times it would seem like the person really just was having trouble making the choice to leave - but they really wanted to leave - and so when I would hear about their situation, and, in the end, give them some ideas - what I thought were “empowering” ideas - to make things better, they would just come back around to the leaving. The escape from pain is a powerful thing.

This is perhaps the moment for the obligatory warning - if you are in a truly abusive relationship, then get out and get help. If you’re not sure if your relationship is abusive, then seek counseling, call a hotline, do something to try and get an objective opinion. And if you’ve determined that it is - get some space and safety for yourself and any children that might be involved. And from that place of having some space - and hopefully some sanity along with it - you can figure out if there’s any safe path to re-entry, after you’ve given some thought to whether or not there’s any reason to re-enter.

That all being said - when you’re in a relationship that has been going downhill for awhile, whether it’s been a long, slow decline - or a rapid descent - things can be pretty bad. You can be at each other all the time. Everything can feel like you’re on the verge of a fight. You can say mean things to each other. Without the skills to change the dynamics in a relationship that’s reached this point, there’s not a lot of hope. However, with some skills, and changing some communication patterns, it’s possible that you can actually make a big shift in the dynamic.

What it comes down to, here, are a few important questions:

How important is it to you to try to see things through to a place of renewed connection, and growth? In order to shift things, it’s going to take some effort. And you might have to do things that make you uncomfortable. You might have to learn to quiet the parts within you that are just saying “run” - or saying “fight back”. This kind of effort requires your determination - so if you only kinda maybe sorta want it, that might make it challenging. Especially when you have to face your own shit. I know, I know - you feel like you’ve tried everything. Everyone always feels like they’ve tried everything. And everything may or may not be true. The question is, how much have you tried that’s actually different? A stretch from what you normally do? We get where we are because of what we normally do - generally our lives are simply the result of our habits of being. So truly trying “everything” would mean being able to look back and see exactly which habits of yours you’ve taken responsibility for - in other words, the way that you’ve contributed to the dynamic in your relationship - and you would also see the ways that you’ve directly changed those habits into something else. And you’ve measured the results. Are you willing to see the world through your partner’s eyes? What is their experience of you truly like? Can you see how the way that they act actually makes sense when you see and experience the world the way that they do? What does that change about how you approach them and interact with them?

Typically, it is helpful to choose a period of time during which you take the question of leaving off the table for yourself. This will definitely provoke the parts of you who want to leave (or who have already checked themselves out of the relationship) and you’ll probably have your hands at least partly full with trying to help those parts of you chill out about your renewed commitment to the relationship. But the only way that you’re going to truly find out what’s possible is to stop your threats of leaving and escape from jeopardizing either the safety of the relationship for your partner, or your willingness to make different, sometimes difficult, choices to act differently. Act differently, get different results.

At some point you might need to ask yourself the question to assess whether or not your partner is willing to change. If things have really come to a head, then this might also be the time to demand - ok, politely insist - that your partner get some help with you - either coaching, or a counselor, or a retreat, or a course - you get the picture. It’s best if you can involve them, somehow, in the process of actually seeing the dynamic of your relationship for what it is - ie. something that’s not quite working right - and to see the benefit of owning their own part in it - just like YOU’RE doing, right?

If you can get your partner to come to the table, then that will help you shift course more quickly. Because you can find ways to collaborate - after all, in most situations it’s in BOTH of your best interests to be working together on the project of improving your relationship. More joy and connection for everyone that way! But if they don’t come to the table right away, don’t despair - as you’ve heard many times on this show, there are all kinds of ways that you can create change and shifts within yourself and in the way that you show up in your relationship. And this, will in turn, create change in your relationship.

When you’ve been with someone, then you’re actually in some ways at an advantage. Do you know them well enough to know what motivates them? What would motivate your partner to want to come to the table? What would be their biggest complaint about you? What is their biggest desire? How can you show your partner that they matter to you in a way that will make a difference to them? Are there ways that you have been ignoring problems that they’ve been trying to bring up with you? Are there ways that you could show them the connection between what they want in your relationship and what you want?

What are some other questions that would help you access what you’ve learned in all of your time with this person? Do you like how I did that? I asked you a question to help you generate more questions!

Finally, let’s revisit the question of a timeline. As you might recall, I was mentioned taking “leaving” off the table. By the way, this is true whether or not you’re the one who’s thinking about leaving. If your partner is thinking about leaving, you can still make the decision one way or another that YOU will be committed to the relationship, to seeing what changes you can effect on your own or in collaboration. It can sometimes be surprising to see just how many ways that we are not fully embodying our commitment to the relationship - even when we think that we’re a solid “yes” we could still have exits and escape routes all over the place. Especially when there’s pain going on your relationship - those are the times that’s most challenging to stay present. And, again, it’s the ability to stay present during those times that will help you face whatever is truly happening, and be in a position to do something about it.

When you get to the end of the time limit that you’ve set for yourself, it’s time to reassess. How are things going? Have they gotten better? Are there cracks of light showing in the darkness? And what steps have you taken during that time? Did you make definite changes in your behavior? In your outlook? Did you get help? What worked, and what didn’t? It’s just as important to keep track of the attempts that went nowhere as it is to keep track of your successes and build on them.

In an ideal world, if you truly decide that it’s time to part ways, then my sincere hope is that you and your partner can come to that decision together, and figure out ways to part that allow you to stay kind to each other. It’s not always possible, but it certainly makes parting a whole lot easier - not only on the two of you, but also to the others impacted by your decisions. The rest of your family, your extended family, friends, and community. But as you’ll see, there’s actually plenty of time for you to experiment before you get to that point. And along the way you’ll learn a lot, grow a lot, and - if you decide to try again with someone else - you’ll truly have new ground to cover, vs. having to learn the lessons that you SHOULD have learned in this relationship. See - it’s a win-win.

164: How Love Can Dissolve Conflict - Relationship Magic with Guy Finley

Oct 26, 2018 01:17:19


They say that love can conquer all - but how do you really tap into “the power of love” to resolve conflicts in your relationship? On top of that, how do you learn what you need to learn so that you don’t keep repeating the same fights over and over again in your relationship? This week, our guest is Guy Finley, author of the new book Relationship Magic: Waking Up Together and the international bestseller The Secret of Letting Go. Along with getting juicy tidbits of Guy’s wisdom in a deep dive, we’re also going to walk through the process of transformation, so you can experience for yourself how to make the shift from conflict to love as you listen.  

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


Along with our amazing listener supporters (you know who you are - thank you!), this week's episode is being sponsored by two amazing companies, with special offers for you. offers feminine hygiene products that are made with 100% natural and organic ingredients - so you don’t have to wonder what’s going into them (! They are offering you 40% off any subscription if you visit and use the code “ALIVE” at checkout. is the world's best-selling language learning app - making it easy for you to learn French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Danish - and many more languages. Is there a language you've always wanted to learn? Try Babbel for FREE at and discover how easy it can be.


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FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide - perfect help for handling conflict…

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Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of: The Railsplitters - Check them Out


Neil Sattin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. On this show, we've talked a lot about what happens when you get triggered and what to do and what not to do, and we've talked about it from this perspective of like, a neurobiological perspective, and we've touched a little bit on the perspective of trying to find love in those moments. What would love do when you're in the middle of, let's say, a conflict with your partner? But what if the power of love allowed you to dissolve conflict with your partner? And what if it not only allowed you to dissolve conflict, but it allowed you to truly learn the lessons that are there for you to learn so that you can get past the kind of pattern of arguing, and tension, and resentment that's so easy to foster in a relationship? And that's the strangest thing, right? Because it's love that brings us together and yet somehow we find ourselves there with this person who's the apple of our eye, when they are just annoying us to no end. Sometimes it's the very things that drew us to that person that then drive us crazy.

Neil Sattin: So, there's some purpose behind all of that. And today's guest is going to help not only reveal the purpose behind all of that, but help us work a little magic in order to transform it. His name is Guy Finley, and you may be familiar with him, he's the author of The Secret of Letting Go and his new book, Relationship Magic: Waking Up Together is all about what I've just been talking about, how to wake up and dissolve the conflict, the resentments, the things that seem to keep you connected and yet painfully separate from your partner. The book is new and if you want to find out about Relationship Magic, the book itself, you should visit We're going to dive in and we're going to talk about all of that. And of course, there will always be links available to you in the detailed transcript of today's episode, which you can download if you visit as in Relationship Magic. Or you can always text the word Passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. I think that's enough from me right now. So, Guy Finley, thank you so much for joining us today on Relationship Alive.

Guy Finley: Thanks Neil, I'm glad to be with you.

Neil Sattin: Well, it's such a treat. And one of the funny things that I was thinking as I was reading Relationship Magic was how much I wished that I had had like say two more weeks to just sit there after reading the book, and really let it all digest and percolate. So a lot of the questions that you're probably going to get from me are really raw from my experience of having been in the book and I'm still waiting for some of that magic to occur, but I feel like I'm on the cusp of its potential, and so I'm really excited to have you here to chat about your book and this idea that love and pain are these forces that can't coexist really, and yet so often we find ourselves stuck in pain with our partner. Why do you think that's so?

Guy Finley: First, your reaction to the book is perfect in a way in that if you ever go to a concert or if you are a seeker of some kind and read something about love or principles, and the moment you hear that music or feel that idea you're like, My favorite image. We had a Rottweiler, and every once in a while I would say something to her to try to communicate something and she would start tilting her head left and right, knowing that she was hearing something that she didn't understand, but that she wanted to which indicates that there's a corresponding part, in this instance, in all of us when we read or hear something that resonates in such a way that indicates, "Boy, there's something much deeper here that I'm getting immediately and I want to know what it is." And then that waiting period or the re-reading period, a time of contemplation is the way in which we communicate, actually commune with that higher part of us that already understands what we are now wanting to know.

Guy Finley: And so, I just wanted to corroborate that, Neil, so that everyone can understand those moments, not just in hopefully reading this book with the principles that it presents, so that we have a little way to realize that something in us is listening and if we learn to listen even a little more carefully, we can start to understand what that part of us that's pulled to that moment wants to understand. Now to tie that in with the last part of the question, it isn't that pain and love can't coexist, it's that they have a relationship that we don't understand and until we can begin to realize within ourselves why it is that someone we love can be so incredibly exasperating will blame them for the pain instead of understanding why that moment has appeared the way it has in our relationship. And that's principally what my book is about.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. You're speaking right to me and I'm remembering the part in the book where you talk about how the principle is there, let's call it the love principle, it's already there illuminating your experience, that that points to its existence as if you were... You need the sun in order to see your shadow and it's like, "Well, the sun is shining right there behind you." So you know it's there.

Guy Finley: I love that you have pulled out of the, at least, in part out of the book. One of my favorite sections that I thought might be difficult to grasp, but I had to put it in there. Listen, yes, as hard as it is to understand, and we can continue with a metaphor, we sit here, I'm sitting here in southern Oregon, you're in Portland and it's a beautiful sunny day, it's about 70 degrees outside and we look out and see the trees or the wildlife that I'm looking at and we see the objects, but we don't see the light that actually reveals them. We don't see the light that actually reveals them, we don't actually see light other than those moments where we might look at a sunset but even then, we don't see light, and we don't see the fact that light isn't the static affair, that light is a steady stream of waves and particles from that glorious orb that we are sustained by, and it never stops raining down on us; in one sense, making everything that's visible, visible and at the same time giving life to everything that's revealed by it. See, I think love is like that.

Guy Finley: I think we stand in it, we're related to everything through it, we're connected because of it, and yet we don't know anything about it other than to say, "I love you," when somebody does what we like, or pleases us, or we have that moment of sentimentality, which isn't too different from sometimes saying, "I love milk shakes," or "I love pizza." I know, and it is, it's humorous in a way. Actually, if one has a proper detachment to our present level of consciousness, it's all pretty funny. But it's sad in a way because with the same ease that we can say, "God, I love you. My love, you are my heart, thank you for being you." And then two minutes later because he or she looks at us askew, there's no remembrance at all, that the moment before we were joined by something that now seems to have disappeared, obliterated by a flash of a negative reaction, and we don't understand the negative reaction and because we don't and take the feeling of it as being viable and real, meaning that it confirms that something's wrong with our partner, we lose touch with the fact that love never separates, love never alienates, and certainly love never has an enemy.

Guy Finley: So these are the things that we want to examine but not just intellectually, moment to moment, heartbeat by heartbeat, in the throes of those moments as you said at the start, where the reaction is ruling us and ruining everything and all we can do later is say, "I'm sorry, this book is for people who want to get past saying I'm sorry."

Neil Sattin: Right, right. And I'm thinking of this thing that happened the other night, that was such a clear example of the difference between how love acts, let's say through me and when I'm in a negative place, and when that negative energy comes through me. So my wife Chloe and I, we'd had a great day, a fantastic day, and we were wrapping up and in fact, we had put a little bit of energy into resetting our kitchen which is something we've wanted to do nightly for years now. And finally, we're on it, so every night, even if we're exhausted, we're in there just making sure the dishes are clean, counters clean, like it's all good. So we went through that whole thing this one night, a few nights ago, and then maybe I took the dog out. I'm not sure I'm remembering the exact sequence of events, but it's not important. What is important is that I came in and Chloe picked up this little corner of a wrapper that had been left on the table and she asked me where does this go? And I looked at her and what I could have done is just said, "Oops, I guess I missed something." 'Cause we're on the same team in trying to reset the kitchen, and honestly, just those little corners of wrappers, if they're not thrown in the trash, they do add up, you start finding 'em all over the place, especially when you had a couple kids to the mix. They seemed to have a knack for leaving corners of wrappers everywhere.

Neil Sattin: So anyway, I took it from her and I had to laugh at myself after reading your book because the very next thing I did wasn't just throw that away and give her a big hug and laugh about it. What I do was, I saw that there was a wrapper from a stick of butter that had been left on the counter.

Guy Finley: Oh, god.

Neil Sattin: And that wasn't my doing, of course. That was Chloe's doing and so what did I do but I grabbed the wrapper on my way to the trash and I said, "I guess I'll throw this in the trash too."

Guy Finley: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: And for us, we live this stuff so we're typically very tuned into when we're triggered, and calling a stop to things, and getting back into balance, and at the same time there we were. And it's something that we've actually been talking a lot lately is feeling like there's something new for us to discover here around the ways that those little resentments have found their way into the nooks and crannies of our coexistence to drive us crazy.

Guy Finley: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: And so I read in your book about this tendency of a negative when one of you is in a negative space to meet it with negative energy and just how ridiculous it is to think that that's going to actually lead to anything positive. And I just laughed at myself thinking about that incident and that didn't end up being a big blowup between me and Chloe. I think we're long past the big blowup stage of anything like that, but at the same time I was like, "Oh, yeah, there's something else here for me to learn."

Guy Finley: This is such a perfect story 'cause you'd have to be physically dead not to relate and understand the example, the way in which couples partners or the way in which the standing in line at the supermarket, and somebody makes a comment, or the cashier's going at the speed of molasses. And something slips out of the mouth that seems to be justified because the individual has said or is doing something that has produced pain in us. So let's go through this. I don't know if you got to the section of the book, Neil.

Neil Sattin: Oh, yeah, I read the whole thing.

Guy Finley: There's actually a story in the book that is the long hand explanation of what happened and we'll look at it together. So first, when... And everybody look, everybody, we have to understand, we are in no way or means judging ourselves or others, there's far too much of that. You can't judge and learn, it's impossible. In this life, whether we realize it or not, is a school for our higher education particularly that love provides, if we're willing to take the curriculum, which this book is about and what Neil and I are speaking about. So Neil, if and when out of your mouth comes the, we'll call it the initial contact. Your wife made the first contact that evening bringing up a wrapper that was out of place. Pretty small thing. But if and when we do that, and point something out to our partner about where they miss the mark in some way, is it because we're happy and content in that moment? Or is there some kind of pain in us that prompts us to point a finger so that there's something to blame for our pain?

Neil Sattin: Right. Where we are pointing the finger so that we can blame for the pain.

Guy Finley: That's right because something has suddenly stirred in us a certain kind of resistance or pain that we did not know was in us the moment before. For instance, I'm just going to walk through it when Chloe points out the wrapper, she wasn't initially negative about the wrapper, but when the wrapper appeared, meaning she saw it, something in her in pain wanted to find a way to reconcile itself because in essence, the wrapper became the reason for the pain. Following me?

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Guy Finley: But the wrapper isn't the reason for the pain in Chloe, the pain is brought in to the present moment in Chloe and in all of us in an unconscious nature, a body of experience whose residue never reconciled or healed sits there like strange objects in a closet until something bumps one of them and then out comes this comment or this action. Now, she didn't know. And then that pain looks at you and finds an object to blame, she points the finger at you and throws the grenade, passive-aggressive comment meant to point to you, look what you've done, you've missed the mark. And then what happens when Chloe's pain pushes on Neil? Was Neil in pain the moment before that? No, I had a good night, we were doing pretty good. But all of a sudden, I'm nuclear, but I don't want to go nuclear. I know that's not right. So, my mind, now in pain, blaming the pain on Chloe looks around and finds the butter and then it throws the bomb back. The point being that the moment of pain is not Chloe's pain and not your pain, it is our pain, it is a pain that goes into the moment before us that we don't know is there and that becomes this continuation of a string of conflict and resentments that feed each other in a pattern that never goes away, because the unseen instigator, the real cause of that conflict lies unseen in our consciousness.

Guy Finley: Now if we can understand that much and let me stop and ask you, are we on the same page? Can we see this together?

Neil Sattin: We're definitely on the same page and where my mind is going with this is to that concept of the debt that we owe each other and how we carry that with us as part of the burden of that pain.

Guy Finley: Yes, yes, it's intimately connected to that without our knowing it, which is the point of our existence in one respect 'cause when we started we said, "Well, how can pain and love be in an actual relationship?" Without our knowing it, living concealed in all of us, not just as a result of growing up with the parents we had, our experiences in high school and college, not the relationships that gave us a broken heart, not those individual instances, but sort of a composite conditioned consciousness. We live, Neil, with a kind of unseen expectation. It's built into our present level where, again, as example, I'll speak about my wife, I know you would say the same of Chloe. I've been with my wife for nearly 40 years. I remember when we first met, it was all roses. We couldn't talk enough about stuff, we had those conversations that go for hours on the phone.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Guy Finley: The sex was divine and intimate, the time together was precious, everything that was quirky about her was my greatest delight, everything that I did somehow had no problems in it at all. My idiosyncrasies were fascinating. This is the beginning of love because we're drawn to each other as the result of, she revealing in me things I don't know about myself that are delightful. I love the way I feel when I'm busy loving what my wife reveals to me about myself. She loves what I reveal in her to her about herself and there is a magnetic power. Everybody understands that, but part of that relationship and part of that magnetics includes the fact that gradually, the things that we were so enamored with, for what she could show me about myself starts to change. The thrill is gone, BB King used to say. And now the little things that were never a problem start to have a little edge to them. And here is the point: Why do I love the things my wife shows me about my nature that I feel are positive and good and accept as being a part of myself and on the other hand when she shows me things about myself, I don't see it as being about myself, I see as being about her?

Guy Finley: When we can answer that question with honesty and responsibility, we begin to recognize that, yes, when it comes to love our partner is a mirror that shows us the most positive, empowering, and beautiful things that the human heart can hold. Love makes that possible, but it is also a fact that love makes it possible for that same human being and their same idiosyncrasies to show us what is concealed in us that is limiting our love, so that until we are present to what has been concealed in us by the actions of our partner and accept the revelation of that moment as an invitation to let go of and die to those parts of ourselves we will continue to have the fights, blaming, later resenting without ever realizing we are caught in a loop that is actually a kind of system that this present nature with all of this residue that's been carried over insists on repeating it, literally reincarnates itself at the cost of a new and higher kind of love.

Neil Sattin: Okay, so there's so much there in everything that you just said. What's that?

Guy Finley: I say let's take it apart.

Neil Sattin: Let's do it. And maybe a vehicle for that would be the wrapper.

Guy Finley: Sure.

Neil Sattin: So for one thing, what I'm hearing from you is that the love and the mirror of relationship makes it possible for me to see all these things reflected back at me that I think are glorious.

Guy Finley: Right.

Neil Sattin: And however it also allows me to have reflected back at me the ways that I fall short.

Guy Finley: Not reflected back at me, reflected as being an unknown part of me. I don't know that I have pain when I'm holding my wife's hand and we're having a glass of wine, but if she said, "You've had two glasses, that's enough." What happens?

Neil Sattin: Right. The collapse.

Guy Finley: Boom!

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Guy Finley: She didn't produce the conflict, she revealed within me is this sensitivity about too many wines. Don't eat that piece of bread. You're really going to have more butter? Why are you driving that way? Do you know where you are. I mean, all of these little questions that you call triggers are actually revelations that we have within us parts of us that we don't know. And to the point here, does love... Let's see, how shall I start this? When I want to lash back and we don't have to Pollyanna it, in fact, she said something that hurt me, I'm throwing the grenade back. Would love throw a grenade?

Neil Sattin: No.

Guy Finley: This is so important, listeners, please. And we're not idealizing love, I'm not making it some religious or iconic image. I'm just saying that you and I, if we're a human being know that there is a love that cannot hurt anything, that would not harm anything, that love is the love that we and each and every one of us live in and through and buy at all times without knowing it. These moments in passing time with our partner allow us to see and then begin to use consciously the very thing that ordinarily we mechanically do I.e. Neil throws back the butter comment. Now, if love would not harm anyone, and I know that love would not do that, is it really I, is it my truest nature that launches the attack back? Or is pain responding to pain? And this is important, is the pain of something in me, maybe when I was a kid I was teased, maybe my parents called me on the rug for things that they were in pain over and didn't know what to do with and abused me psychologically so that the smallest question of my character by anyone else produces instantaneous conflict? You're not going to disrespect me.

Guy Finley: Now, we all know these parts live in us, and if they are there and they are acting in our stead, we have to recognize that something has been stirred and has stepped up and out of our mouth that feels like us because it's part of our past but that cannot be who we are in reality or at least who we know we ought to be, and therefore, we have to do something that this book is all about. We have to recognize that love would not make anyone suffer. Another way of putting it. Why is my suffering in that moment more important than your suffering? Why is what I am suffering over if I love you, why would I want to add 1 ounce of more suffering to your life?

Neil Sattin: Right. Yeah, this is something that I found really profound in, if you can recognize that... And this was what you wrote about, that if you can recognize that the pain in your partner is what probably produced that comment in the first place, like if you saw a defenseless creature in pain you would show up to try and help that defenseless creature, you wouldn't kick it in the head, right?

Guy Finley: And you wouldn't even know if it tries to bite you, that it couldn't do anything else.

Neil Sattin: Right.

Guy Finley: You would know it. And knowing that, which is, see, look, my new book is the culmination of 40 years of writing and speaking. It brings about a very simple point that if we're willing to receive it, it makes change possible in the moment, not as an intellectual exercise by which we hope going into appointed moment we won't punish somebody. And certainly not afterwards as a retrospective event where I blame myself or think I could have done better, what I call a reflective event. I understand that in me is a pain I didn't know was in me. It was concealed until you said what you did. Now I'm going to pick up the tab, I'm going to do the one thing I've never done in my whole life with someone who has said the cruel comment or done something that upsets me, I'm going to live with my own pain. I'm not going to blame you for it, I'm not going to point it out to you, I'm going to in effect go quiet inwardly in that moment so that rather than listening to voices that then become my mouth speaking what causes others to suffer, I'm going to listen to my own voices, how they want to leap out, how they want to have an enemy, someone to make feel bad for the bad way they made me feel. And in that patience, which is a keyword. You know the original, the ancient meaning of the word patience, Neil?

Neil Sattin: No.

Guy Finley: To suffer myself.

Neil Sattin: Yes.

Guy Finley: I think that's the most beautiful thing in the world, because you see, if I can in the moment, my wife throws the... Did that wrapper, did that just manifest itself on the counter? And we can all hear the tone, we know what sarcasm is. Right?

Neil Sattin: Right.

Guy Finley: It's instantaneous and bang! Like that, comes up, this pain I didn't know was there.

Neil Sattin: And to be fair to Chloe, she actually was very light and almost joking about it, like it wasn't even sarcastic, it was light and yet it did hit me that strongly.

Guy Finley: Yeah, but see, if there wasn't pain behind it, would she call it out or just pick it up?

Neil Sattin: Right. She would have just picked it up.

Guy Finley: I mean obviously, and I'm not, again, there's no condemnation in this. All of humanity, all of us live in this level of consciousness that doesn't know what to do with its pain. So to the point, here I am, and in that split second if I can bear myself, meaning bear what has been revealed in me by the comment, the sarcastic, intended or not, comment in that split second something had happened that is the true magic. And here it is, I don't return unkindness for unkindness. And when I don't return unkindness for unkindness, my wife, Chloe, whoever it may be, is left holding the bomb they threw. In fact, they're shocked because the part of them that pronounced that cruel or otherwise sarcastic comment suddenly has nothing to validate its pain because now, Neil, Guy is not returning pain for pain, and the pattern has a chance to collapse on the spot so that the whole thing is revealed in that heartbeat when one of us as a partner agrees to bear the responsibility of the pain that's been driving the pattern.

Guy Finley: Boy, we're talking about hard work and lots of missteps but man, can I tell you after 40 years the beauty of this because now my wife, my husband, my partner has space to see themselves as they are, instead of mechanically blaming me for their pain because of what they say I am. They get to meet their own limitation, which is this unconscious negative reaction instead of it being validated by my unconscious reaction to their commentary. It's a game changer in the truest sense of what love has always intended for us to do and be with each other, which is to work as polishing stones so that what comes out of the moment is shinier, truer, better, a more pure reflection of what love intends for us and by the way why it brought us together to that end.

Neil Sattin: Okay, so there are two things jumping out at me right now.

Guy Finley: Yes.

Neil Sattin: One of them is, I would love to distinguish what we're talking about from maybe the flip side pattern that can happen in a relationship where there's never conflict, and yet it's not a system that's fostering love. In fact, it fosters resentment because things aren't being surfaced. So that's the first part. And then...

Guy Finley: They're being surfaced, Neil.

Neil Sattin: Go ahead.

Neil Sattin: They're just being ignored.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, great.

Guy Finley: Yeah, that's a very important distinction because what you just said is the slow motion death, not of love, the slow motion death of the possibility of two people awakening through and with each other, to a higher order of their own being that love makes possible. So, example...

Neil Sattin: Now, I wish I had read the book before the wrapper moment happened because I'm hoping that we can also paint a picture and maybe that's what you're about to do with this example of how that unfolding might take place. You used strong language earlier, which was like, we want those parts to die, the parts of us. And I'm curious to know what that actually... What that looks like, what that experience is like, and what that might have been like in the kitchen that night with me and Chloe.

Guy Finley: Alright, so here I am, I'll play Neil, okay.

Neil Sattin: Okay.

Guy Finley: And everybody can play Neil, at least as far as we're able to follow this. My wife drops the bomb. Doesn't look like a bomb, and in fact, she's trying to make it not look like a bomb, but it's a bomb, and suddenly I have a reaction. Now for the longest time I can't begin to encourage the listeners to understand this. We don't know that we're combustible. Were you thinking Neil, prior to that? You're in this contented state, you're working together, getting the kitchen set, having a nice dialogue, working together as men and women should, as partner should. Does Neil know there's something combustible in him?

Neil Sattin: No, and in fact this is why I love the shift that I feel like your book is creating in me. Because not only did I not know it was there but because I combusted and immediately my thought was, I want to blame her. If she knew how to act in a situation like this, then that... Exactly. So that's the pattern that I personally want to see end in myself.

Guy Finley: Yes, exactly. So you said you have children.

Neil Sattin: I do. Yeah.

Guy Finley: How old are they?

Neil Sattin: They are nine and eleven.

Guy Finley: That's perfect. Okay, so let's say just for grins I don't know what it would be, maybe you're out with one of them and maybe it's... You hand them a fishing rod, and say, "This is how you cast the lure, you throw them a football and they can't catch it 'cause their hands aren't big enough. Would you get angry at your child for not being able to catch a football that you throw at them?

Neil Sattin: No, of course not.

Guy Finley: No that would be ludicrous, why? Because the child has limitations. I'm not going to blame my child, for the fact that it can't hold on to a football yet or thumb the reel when it cast the lure.

Neil Sattin: Right.

Guy Finley: It doesn't have the capacity to do it yet. But when we blame our partner for producing this discontentment in us, for being the seed of this conflict, are we not in essence saying, You know what, you have this limitation, Chloe. You could have been like this, and if you've been like that then you would fulfill my expectation, and it would be no more pain. Yes?

Neil Sattin: Right, yeah, exactly.

Guy Finley: So we see the person who is producing in a sense, this moment of disturbance. We see the problem as being their limitation. They're not meeting our expectation, we don't know that we walk around expecting that our husband or wife, or partner be at all times, everything that we have written a list for them to be. What would happen if, this won't happen directly, but one day you'll see it, everyone will who will work with these ideas. My partner says something to me, the little offhanded comment, and then instead of, as I usually do, responding with resistance mechanically, a tit for tat. I was able to, have literally appear in my hand this list that says, "The 444 things that no one is ever supposed to say to me." Well, we laugh at it 'cause it sounds silly, yet with God as my witness, that's what we have living in our nature.

Neil Sattin: Right, right, yeah.

Guy Finley: So then I start to realize, hold on a second, the limitation isn't my wife's it's mine. 'Cause I only know how to respond by letting this list tell me how people are supposed to be and this isn't even my list, it got made over time. It was produced by a host of painful circumstances that I never was able to figure out. So all I could do was think about them, in other words, now formulate them, get them into something I could live with and then I think that gets buried and goes away, but those moments don't go away. They live as objects of thought, literally formations in our psychology that when the proper circumstances appear, much as a seed sprouts when the nourishment it needs happens, up comes this list and the item on it and then by God, I know I'm right and you're wrong.

Guy Finley: We're saying, "Can we understand now that within us lives this lower unconscious unloving nature, and that when stimulated by circumstance, it's going to do the only thing it knows to do 'cause if we can know that this is what Christ called Metanoia, this new knowledge, a new understanding that allows us, literally the translation of the word repent, to turn around in the moment and see what we're actually looking at instead of what something in us wants to point to for our pain. "Cause if we can do that, Neil, then we can begin to understand our tendency, and then we take our awareness of that tendency into that moment with us and then we begin to wake up. We begin to let the moments that beat us up, become the moments that make us better, because we're agreeing to see our own limitations, what Love is showing us is keeping us from being truly loving.

Neil Sattin: So when I notice that I am in a moment and experiencing pain and in fairness to Chloe, it could have just as easily been me saying... Having something to complain about...

Guy Finley: Of course, of course.

Neil Sattin: To start it all off. So when I notice, okay, I'm experiencing pain and I want to fix something right now, what... what do I do... I'm right there in that moment.

Guy Finley: I know, I can hear you, man. Look, you said the... Exactly the... "And I want to fix something." I'm going to fix Chloe. Chloe is going to fix me. And nothing gets fixed other than a growing body of resentment from conditions never resolved consciously through love. So here's how it gets fixed. I stop trying to fix my partner and I stop trying to fix myself. Instead, and this is an exercise 'cause we're getting to that point where we need something where we can get our hands on a practical set of actions. You might want to write it down, listeners. I call it stop, drop and endure. Neil's ahead of me. Stop, drop and endure. All right, I know my proclivity, all my wife has to do is say, "You know that shirt's a little tight on you. Really, you're having another helping? Why don't we drive out to the winery in Jacksonville instead of go to the place locally?

Guy Finley: Any one of a thousand things can be innocent as the day is long and maybe not even intended as you indicated to be a cutting remark because she may be just asleep psychologically, just saying what comes to her mind. But it's already interwoven. So here's the reaction, bang. So what's the first thing, Neil? Bang, come to a stop. What does it mean come to a stop? It means I know because I have been interested enough to think about it, to contemplate it, then my tendency when my wife or partner says whatever they do, is that I have a thousand tender spots. Let's use this another way, I have a dozen places in me that have never healed. They never healed. The way that my former girlfriend, husband, wife let me know that she's leaving me, it never healed. All I could do was hate my partner, regret my situation, despise myself for not being good enough to keep or to hold in place whatever it was.

Guy Finley: These places have never healed. And all of this unhealed, psychologically divided mind and heart goes forward in time with me. Then I have a new partner. She says, whatever it is, and the sore spot is stimulated. Come to a stop. I know it's there, and I'm going to absolutely stop. Now, what does it mean, stop? That's the next word, drop. When I come to a stop, the intention is to see everything in me that wants to keep moving. I want to see and hear these thoughts and feelings without being mechanically identified with them and what they are trying to do as they want to fix the moment. I'm not going to fix the moment. Physician heal thyself. Instead, I'm going to drop every last one of those thoughts that come in and that want to point to my wife, my partner that moment as being the source of my pain. And if I can come to a stop and sit there and drop all of these thoughts and feelings, I'll begin to notice something extraordinary.

Guy Finley: They won't let me drop them. My intention is to be the observer, the conscious witness of what love is inviting me to see, that's been concealed in me. And something doesn't want me to see anything other than who's to blame for the pain. Hold on a moment, what is that about? I say I want to heal. I say I want to be a loving partner, but now I realize there is a flood loosed in me that wants to free itself, by putting someone else into a cage. Stop, drop. Now you tell me what endure means, Neil. It means I'm going to suffer myself.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. I'm feeling the waiting, basically.

Guy Finley: Yes, yes. For as long... Listen to this, 'cause it answers an earlier question of yours. I'm going to suffer myself, meaning I'm going to sit and observe these thoughts and feelings instead of identify with them. I'm going to suffer myself patiently for as long as it takes for me to finally see what love has brought this moment about for, and what is it brought it about for? For me to see that there's no love in that nature. That is not who I am, and that is not who I am going to manifest. I will not incarnate what has passed and its pain and its false plans to fix things, instead I'm going to incarnate what love is asking me to incarnate in that moment, which is the revelation that the me that came into this moment, that has been revealed by it, is no longer necessary. And that Neil, is what it really means to die to ourselves because love makes it possible.

Neil Sattin: Don't hate me.

Guy Finley: Oh no.

Neil Sattin: What happens next? 'Cause I'm imagining this, and in fact, the sense that I feel is actually a whole lot of grief. That's the first thing that comes up for me, is like seeing all of that, all of that pain and all of the ways that I would want to lash out and recognizing that that's not love, and...

Guy Finley: Yeah, isn't that extraordinary? And by the way, that's... At a certain level of development, which I'm glad to speak with you as you're experiencing this. Isn't it phenomenal that when I hear about what it means to love my neighbor as myself, that no greater love does a husband have than laying down his life for his wife, or vice versa, whoever the partner may be. And that my response to that part of me that can hear that, but doesn't... Is grief. What would grieve for the loss of something that only wants to produce the continuation of pattern? Yeah, isn't that beautiful, Neil? Man, this is what... Whether it not... Anybody here with us listening, it doesn't matter to me. I'm... Obviously, I want everybody to hear this, but what a marvelous point of connection for you and I, to unfold something so that I can actually suspect for the first time, maybe good God, there is something in me that's grieving over not having a good reason to be mad.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and as I'm really tuning in, I think some of it also is a sense of shame that...

Guy Finley: I get it. Yes.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Shame that that's what I've done or where I would want to go, or... Yeah.

Guy Finley: Yes, yes. I'm greatly enjoying the conversation. Look, everybody write this down, please. There is no such thing as a bad fact about yourself, there is no such thing as a bad fact about yourself. Facts are friends, but we have a nature conditioned over time, that's more interested in appearance than it is in being. Being is the moment-to-moment expression. Love is the moment-to-moment relationship between facts. So as we grow to understand these things and begin to have some of these wonderful exchanges and experiences, whether it's just first with our minds, and then with our hearts, it doesn't matter 'cause we can start to understand. We are the last section for the book, we are in training. You don't punish someone who's in training unless you don't know you're in training. So when we get this and start realizing, God I can see... You know what, I can feel it in the deepest part of myself.

Guy Finley: Not only have I missed the mark, I didn't even know what it was. Then everything's explained in that moment, because... And now to answer your question again, what happens next? This is my favorite part. Can a pattern go on if any part of the pattern is changed in the truest sense of it?

Neil Sattin: It seems that it would be different from that point forward.

Guy Finley: It cannot go on. It's even... Physics states it this way, "Change the observer and the observed changes." That's some theory or another that the observer changes what is observed by him, or her. So here I am, and let's just say for the sake of argument that I catch what we've been talking about in the middle of that moment. Maybe I'm on the freeway and here comes somebody barreling up behind me or someone cuts me off or someone passes me in the fast lane, and then drives slow to punish me. In that moment, can I see that the condition has not created the pain, but it's revealing a part of me that is sure that it has expectation and a list that this isn't supposed to be this way and therefore wants to respond with unkindness. If I can just see that much and even think... Wait a minute... This is the moment I've been waiting for. In that split second I am no longer the man or the woman I was, leading up to that moment. Because something... A bit of light, bit of love has come in to interrupt the pattern.

Guy Finley: Maybe I go on and lose my temper. Maybe I say the passive aggressive remark. Maybe I stew, but the fact is, now I'm more aware of what has happened after the event than I was before. Because I realize the repercussion is actually the continuation of this unconscious nature that I was unable to not express in that moment. And here is the final word, at least as far as this question. If I change, my partner has to change. If I'm not the same, they have to see where they're being the same and have a chance to step out of that space. As I change, I give my partner the space they need to change. So in those relationships where nothing is said and all is this sort of horrible compromise building into a ball of resentment that ultimately boils over. One little change produces the possibility of a greater change. It's the most wonderful thing in the world that love makes possible. But it always begins with us, not with our partner, not with what we act out toward them, but what we see in ourselves and then accept as our responsibility to be present enough to to witness that a change can take place in us first.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I'm glad you mentioned that because I think that would probably be the natural question that many of you listening would have, which is like, "Well, something like how much of being treated this way am I supposed to tolerate? How much stopping, dropping, and enduring am I supposed to do in this situation?

Guy Finley: Exactly. And there's, again, there's a whole section in the book about that too. You're not on this planet to let anybody abuse you. In fact, any abusive relationship that we stay in is because we're enabling it, we have a part of ourself that would actually rather live with someone to resent than to be on our own and not know who we are through that resentment. The only thing that troubles us about other people, Neil, in the end is what we want from them. And when we start to understand that most of what we want from others is a way in which we can keep these debts running, then we want to pay the tab. And if someone continues to abuse us, and I mean if anybody abuses you physically and you say, "That's that. Don't do that again or I'm gone," and then you're not gone, it's your fault. "I know, well, I have kids and I've gotta know what'll happen to me." Do not stay with people who abuse you, period. They will never change until you change. It's the only hope that abusive person has 'cause they don't know, good God, do you think a parent would deliberately abuse a child if the parent knew for a split second the child wasn't responsible for the pain they're in, that's producing that horrid outcome?

Guy Finley: We are complicit in relationships where pain keeps itself alive because we use it to prove the other person's responsible. So, no abuse of relationship continually. No. But neither do we sit and live with a mind that says, "You know, she keeps bringing up that I shouldn't have that second glass of wine, she's abusing me." No, she may have a point. Then it's up to you to discover that, use those moments and become a different kind of person, which might include by the way, not wanting the intoxicating cup.

Neil Sattin: Right. While I'm stopping, dropping, and enduring what might I communicate to my partner? Is there anything that you think is helpful?

Guy Finley: I'm glad you asked that. Yes, you do not say, "Listen, I'm enduring you

Guy Finley: This is not meant religiously, but it's all part of this beautiful golden thread that winds through our life and relationships. Christ said, when you go in the closet, when you pray go in the closet, do not let anybody know you're praying. Same thing, Buddha, all the great saints, prophets, all spoke of the same thing. If I'm going to change, I can't announce it because the change hasn't taken place yet, I'm agreeing to go through it and if I point out to my wife or partner, "Look, I'm going through this change because of you," I've just thrown the passive-aggressive comment out, haven't I? So I have to learn what it means to be silent and I might just say, "You know what, let me if you want, if we have to have a way to deal with it, look, I'm just not going to take part in an argument, I'm just not going to do it. And you may not think that what you said was hurtful, but it hurt me but I don't want to hurt you back. So for now, I'm just going to put this down. You do with it what you want to do, but I'm done with the fight." And if you really mean it, not because you have an image of yourself as someone who wants to be like that, but who agrees to put down the fighting nature, you will see in yourself and you'll be shocked at what happens to your partner if you actually say to them, "Do you want to go on with this, that's your business. I'm done with it."

Guy Finley: And listen to this, Neil, 'cause you even said it, when you said suddenly I feel grief while hearing these ideas, your partner when you say to them, "I'm not going to continue this negativity," they're going to say, "What's wrong? You don't love me?" And you're actually doing what you're doing for the sake of love, and you know it, but they can't see it yet. Can you sense some of that, Neil?

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Well, one thing that I think is the gift here is, in some respects it takes that pain and it depersonalizes it so that I could see in a moment like that, and hopefully before those moments happen, being able to talk to your partner and say, "Wow, you know, I just read this book by Guy Finley," or, "I just heard this podcast episode and I'm seeing how like pain exists in me, in us waiting for an opportunity to like spring."

Guy Finley: I love it, Neil. I love it.

Neil Sattin: So in a moment like that, being able to say, "Whoa! The pain in me just reared its head," and almost like, "This isn't about you. I just need to step back from this for a moment." And there's something in me, Guy, that wants more around the enduring like, I'm going to stay here, I'm going to endure, I don't know what happens at that point.

Guy Finley: Yeah. You know what? You can't know. You can only be.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Guy Finley: See, I want to know 'cause I want to be safe, I want to feel secure, spiritual, intelligent, loving on top of it. That's where all the pain has come from, that nature that wants to know going in how things should be, or that already knows how things should be going in. That's where the conflict is. See, here this will help maybe, Neil.

Neil Sattin: Great.

Guy Finley: 'Cause this book actually, I swear to God, this book came out of an experience that I had when I first fell in love, which I'm almost 70. So what was that? Fifty-three years ago, I fell in love and I already, I'd been on the path. My spiritual life started around the age of 6, that's another story. But I didn't understand much of it, but I was with my partner and I said to her, "You know what?" I said, "Let's agree, you and I, that love is more important than any of the personal issues that want to pull us apart." I'm not even sure what I'm saying. I said these words, and yet I know that we'll have disagreements. "Let's agree that when we have a disagreement, love is going to be more important than what wants to pull us apart. Can we do that?" And of course she said yes and I said yes, but we weren't mature enough to even understand. I didn't understand what I was talking about, 53 years later I understand.

Guy Finley: That you can say to Chloe, listen, I'm having some revelations, I'm seeing new stuff and I never want to hurt you as long as I live, I never want to hurt you, and I know you love me and I know you never want to hurt me. So let's agree right now that we're never going to hurt each other. And then because I also know, as I'm sure you do, that while our aim is lofty, we live from a nature that isn't going to be able to live up yet to what love is prescribing as our partnership and the way it grows. So instead of them blaming each other when we can't live out our agreement, we will step back both of us and see the parts of ourselves unable to keep the contract we have with love, then we're not going to blame each other and we're not even going to blame ourselves. We're going to be different people because we see on one hand, where we're compromised and because of the revelation of the compromise itself will know what we can and can't do next time. Yes?

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I'm soaking all that in. You can't see my head nodding but I'm just reveling in those words, yeah.

Guy Finley: This is so important, God help us. Look, anything that's right, bright and true in this world, no human being is the sponsor of. We are the instruments of what is right, bright and true including love. When we understand that an instrument can be played by something that serves its own interests and that its interests don't serve love, then we stand in a place where we can start to recognize this is an ill wind that's starting to blow through me and by God, I'm not going to share it with my partner, I'm going to let it buffet me so I can die to it. And then we have something real to work with.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I think we might have to... So for those of you at home who are listening to this, my wish for you is that you're able to experiment with what we're talking about. And of course, there are more nuances that Guy writes about in the book, Relationship Magic. And please send us your feedback, Or, there's a Relationship Alive community on Facebook, tell us about your experiences. I could envision a follow up at some point, Guy, where we talk about what happened after. What happened after we endured?

Guy Finley: Yeah, you know what, ordinarily I do so many interviews, but I would... If you want to follow up, it's done.

Neil Sattin: Great. Great, well, we will keep in touch about that.

Guy Finley: Alright.

Neil Sattin: In the meantime, it is such a pleasure to have you here and an honor to be able to talk with you about this book that's the hot off the presses, and yet the culmination of 40 years or more, 53 years of experience, Relationship Magic: Waking Up Together. You can visit, and if you order the book, you can go there and you can instantly get an audio version of the book. Are you reading that, Guy?

Guy Finley: I'm sorry, say that again.

Neil Sattin: Are you the person who's reading the audio book that people will get?

Guy Finley: Yes, yes. Yes, I've... It is I.

Neil Sattin: Great. So you can get the audio book and I saw that there are a bunch of other bonuses that you can get. So a lot of special gifts for purchasing the Relationship Magic book, and you can also visit where you can read more about Guy and his work. What's the name of your center again, Guy?

Guy Finley: I live in southern Oregon, and I teach at Life of Learning Foundation three times, four times a week, open to everyone. People come from all around the world, and there's a body of 50 or a hundred students who actually live in the area now, and a $3 donation at the door, no one's turned away, nothing to join. Just a group of men and women just like Neil and myself who want to understand a little bit more about how love works.

Neil Sattin: Well, I appreciate you illuminating a little bit more of the journey for me and for us here on Relationship Alive today, so thank you so much, Guy. And just as a reminder, if you want to download the transcript, you can visit We'll also have all the links that I mentioned or you can text the word Passion to the number 33444, and follow the instructions. Such a pleasure to have you with us here today, Guy.

Guy Finley: Thanks, Neil. It was just a really good conversation.

163: A Surprising Way to Create More Generosity in Your Relationship - with Neil Sattin

Oct 18, 2018 18:48


One of the hallmarks of a healthy relationship is the level of generosity that’s taking place in it. Today we’re going to uncover one of the biggest obstacles to fostering generosity in your relationships -’s probably not what you think! After today's episode, you'll have new ways to amplify the love and generosity - not only in your primary relationship, but in ALL your relationships. Are there places where you're holding back? Not after today's episode!

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


Along with our amazing listener supporters (you know who you are - thank you!), this week's episode is being sponsored by

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Check out Episode 101 - Creating a User Manual for You

I want to know you better! Take the quick, anonymous, Relationship Alive survey

FREE Guide to Neil's Top 3 Relationship Communication Secrets

Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner's Needs) in Relationship (ALSO FREE)

Support the podcast (or text "SUPPORT" to 33444)

Amazing intro and outtro music provided courtesy of The Railsplitters 

162: Pleasure, Touch, and The Wheel of Consent - with Betty Martin

Oct 12, 2018 01:17:59


Would you like to open up your ability to experience pleasure? And to not only increase your capacity for pleasure, but to also ensure that everything you do is consensual? In today’s episode, Betty Martin, the creator of the Wheel of Consent, explains the four different dimensions of touching (and being touched) - and how to expand erotic energy in a consent-based context. You’ll learn how to experience these flavors of touch in new ways, and how to ask for consent in ways that still keep things deeply connected, and passionate. While getting consent is important in all of your relationships - you’ll discover how to foster consent with your partner in ways that help you uncover exactly what each of you wants in any given moment - and unlock the keys to pleasure no matter what kind of touch you’re experiencing.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


Along with our amazing listener supporters (you know who you are - thank you!), this week's episode is being sponsored by is a super-convenient way to keep yourself stocked with contact lenses. They offer all major brands, and an easy way to renew your contact lens prescription. And they’re offering you $20 off your first order to give them a try! Just visit and use the coupon code “ALIVE20” at checkout for $20 off, and enjoy the easy way to replenish your supply of contact lenses.


Check out Betty Martin's website

FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide - perfect help for handling conflict…

Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner's Needs) in Relationship (ALSO FREE) Visit to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Betty Martin. We’ll let you know when her book about the Wheel of Consent is released as well!

Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of: The Railsplitters - Check them Out


Neil Sattin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. In today's culture, we're talking a lot about how to truly get consent, and it's an interesting conversation because generally, I don't know about you, but I want to ensure that when I'm getting involved with someone and particularly with my partner, that when we are doing anything but particularly when we're intimate with each other, that we're doing things that we both want to be doing, that consent is there, and yet the way that we've learned culturally, how to engage in being intimate with other people, isn't really about consent. It's kind of about trying to go as far as you can and then letting someone's boundary or lack thereof stop you and it doesn't work so well as we've seen, especially recently with all of the "Me Too" revelations about just how many people are abusing their power and discovering that they've abused their powers.

Neil Sattin: Some people know this consciously and other people, it's a revelation. So, I want to create a context for you where you don't have to wonder, where you know that when you're there with someone, they're right there with you. And at the same time, we want to build consent in a way that actually enhances erotic energy and polarity and passion where it's not something that kills the spark in the energy between you and your partner. So, that's what we're going to talk about today and I'm really excited for today's guest. Her name is Betty Martin and I found out about her when a friend of mine sent her videos on "the Wheel of Consent" my way and I watched them and they were a revelation.

Neil Sattin: So, I'm bringing the revelation here to you today with Betty Martin, who