Relationship Alive!

Neil Sattin interviews John Gottman, Sue Johnson, Harville Hendrix, Peter Levine, Stan Tatkin, Dick Schwartz, Katherine Woodward Thomas, Diana Richardson, Terry Real, Wendy Maltz - and many others - 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. You can find out more about Neil Sattin and the Relationship Alive podcast at
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Now displaying: September, 2018
Sep 26, 2018

How do you apply ancient Buddhist wisdom to your relationship in a way that helps you connect with your partner? How do you build the intimacy even if you're not feeling the love? One day, as Susan Piver was experiencing what felt like an unsolvable problem in her relationship, she heard a voice say “Begin at the beginning - the four noble truths”. And much like the four noble truths of the Buddha, which identify the cause of suffering (and the cure), Susan Piver’s new book The Four Noble Truths of Love: Buddhist Wisdom for Modern Relationships can help you identify not only why relationships can be challenging - but also what to do about it. Along the way, you’ll also learn some powerful strategies for getting centered, finding your own sense of balance, and building the strength and resilience of your relationship - despite all the complexities.

Also, please check out our first episode with Susan Piver: Episode 8 - How to Tackle the Hard Questions

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 has a cool new sponsor with a special offer 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.


Check out Susan Piver’s website

Read Susan Piver’s new book, The Four Noble Truths of Love

(or check out her bestselling book to foster conversation with your partner, The Hard Questions)

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 Susan Piver.

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 are focused time and time again about how to have amazing relationships. And this begs the question, "What makes for an amazing relationship?" And of course, part of that, in fact a big part of that, is the intention that you set. I'm not saying that you rigidly hold to an agenda of what you think your relationship should be, but more that you create a vision with your partner for what you want. And at the same time, if that vision doesn't include some flexibility, some resilience, the ability to work with whatever your relationship brings to you, then you might be in for a really hard time.

Neil Sattin: And some aspect of that hard time is probably part of the game. And that is all what we are going to talk about today. We are having a return visit from one of the guests who was here at the very beginning of the Relationship Alive podcast, when it was just a vision more or less that I had. Her name is Susan Piver. And you may recall her from Episode Eight, talking about how to tackle the hard questions. And that's referring to her New York Times bestselling book, "The Hard Questions: 100 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Say I Do". And as you might recall from that, I love questions, they're at the heart of curiosity and which is such an important element in having a successful relationship. But there's more. And thankfully, Susan Piver has been writing about it. In fact, she also is an accomplished and practising Buddhist meditator and mindfulness practitioner and mindfulness teacher and instructor.

Neil Sattin: And her latest book, 'The Four Noble Truths of Love', is all about Buddhist wisdom for your relationship. And it contains some unconventional truths that will actually probably be really enlightening for you and for many of you, perhaps even very reassuring in terms of your own experience of relationship. And once you shine your vision and your light on the truth of what is happening, then it gives you a lot of power to work with it. And that's what Susan Piver's latest book is all about. So if you're interested in hearing the first episode that I mentioned, you can visit She was the first Susan that we spoke to, so she got to lay claim to the name "Susan" forever for the Relationship Alive podcast. And if you want to download a transcript of this episode, you can visit, the number "2," or you can text the word "passion" to the number 3-3-4-4-4 and follow the instructions. So I think that's it. Without further ado, Susan Piver, thank you so much for being here with us today on Relationship Alive.

Susan Piver: I am so glad to be here, Neil. Thank you so much for asking me.

Neil Sattin: You're most welcome. Yeah, it's great to have you here. And I particularly love your take on relationship, and I have to admit that when I first heard the title of your latest book, 'The Four Noble Truths of Love', I was prepared for something that was a little high-minded or philosophical, and I wasn't prepared for it to be so gritty, the way the book actually is. And so I really appreciate that, your ability to bring some philosophical concepts in a way that's really grounded in what our experience in love can be.

Susan Piver: Yeah, I appreciate that. I'm glad. Thank you.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. I would say what inspired you, but... And maybe you could talk a little bit about that for people who don't know much about Buddhism and why did you write these 'Four Noble Truths of Love'? What led you to distill it that way?

Susan Piver: Yeah, sure, I'm happy to. Well, I was in a place in my marriage... This was, I don't know, some time ago, where I could not get along with my husband. As you know, you're married.

Neil Sattin: Yep.

Susan Piver: The relationships go through these crazy phases where you feel close and you feel passionate and you feel connected and held, and then one day something happens and you feel distant and unhappy. And we were in a particular cycle that was very unpleasant. We weren't screaming at each other, we weren't furious, nobody had done anything "wrong", we just could not get along. Everything one person said or did hurt the other person or made them angry. And it was bizarre. Even the most simplest questions like, "What do you wanna have for dinner?", could make us have an argument. It felt insane and we didn't know why, and it went on for weeks, and months.

Susan Piver: One day I was sitting at my desk, just crying basically, because I did not know how to fix this problem and we had tried talking to each other and not talking to each other, and going to a marriage counselor, and we tried all sorts of things. And I realized as I was sitting at my desk, "I do not know how to fix this, I don't even know where to begin." And a voice said to me or I had a thought, I don't know what it was, but it said, "Begin at the beginning. At the beginning are four noble truths." So this meant something to me as a long time Buddhist practitioner, because the four noble truths, the first teachings that the Buddha gave upon attaining enlightenment, are like the core of the entire Buddhist path to this day. So I'm like, "Oh, four noble truths. Yes, I know what they are, but how would they apply to my relationship?" The four noble truths of Buddhism are the first truth is, life is suffering. And I know that sounds terrible, I don't think the Buddha meant life sucks. It meant something more like life is unsatisfying. Meaning, you think, "Well, if I have this job or this relationship or this amount of money or this accomplishment, I will be safe, I will be free from suffering, I will be happy."

Susan Piver: And yeah, those things are great and they will make you happy for a time, but they will not exempt you from the suffering of being human, that's a bummer. [chuckle] And the second noble truth is called, the cause of suffering. The cause of suffering is called grasping, which basically means pretending like the first noble truth is not true and trying nonetheless to create stable ground for yourself and trying to hold on to the things you think will make you happy, and push away the things that you think will make you unhappy. While that is a very sensible approach to life, it's still not gonna create the kind of stability that we hope for. And the third noble truth is called the cessation of suffering, which means something like, now that you know the cause, you also know the cure. If the cause is grasping, stop grasping, which obviously is not that simple but there's some insight there. You stop grasping.

Susan Piver: And the fourth noble truth is called the eightfold path, Buddhism is full of numbers, as I'm sure you know. And the eightfold path are the eight steps that you could take that would eliminate grasping, and therefore exempt you from suffering. And the eightfold path are things like right view, and so on. So okay, I thought, "Well, that's cool. What does this have to do with my love life though?" And so I just started noodling around with these four truths which basically, as I say, follow a sequence, there's a statement of the truth, the cause of the truth, the cure for the suffering, and then the steps you can take to put that cure into play. So when it came to love, what I came up with is the first noble truth of love is that relationships never stabilize, they are uncomfortable.

Neil Sattin: Dun dun dun.

Susan Piver: [chuckle] Why didn't anyone ever tell us this? Sorry. It never stabilizes. You can be in a period, like we were talking about earlier, where everything's great, and then that disappears and a different phase arises, they're like weather fronts. And the discomfort of relationships is present at every point in the relationship arc. If you are going on a blind date, you don't even know the person. It's already very uncomfortable 'cause you think, " Oh, what if they don't like me?" or, "What if they do like me?" or, "What if I start recreating all my relationship problems before dessert?", and it's just uncomfortable. And then if you fall in love, of course, it's fantastic. But it's also uncomfortable in its own way, because it's so intense, so fraught. And you think, "What did that look mean? And maybe I shouldn't have worn those pants," or every moment is very heightened, which is heavenly, like I say, but it's also uncomfortable. And then in a longterm relationship, the discomfort morphs into something called irritation. There just is this perpetual, maybe not constant, but this relatively constant irritation of living with another person. No matter how much you like each other and love each other, it gives rise to this kind of, you're rubbing against each other in an uncomfortable way, because for various reasons.

Susan Piver: I don't know what the real reason is, but anyone who's been in a relationship for more than a year will say, "Yeah, I don't like the way they do this and they don't like the way I do that," and there's tiny things, but they cause irritation. So that's the first noble truth. The relationships don't stabilize and they are uncomfortable.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and that was for me, just reading that, I felt this big yes within me. Like of course, and in so much of the grasping on to this idea that a perfect relationship is always smiles, is never suffering, is perfect parenting, is we're always amazing lovers together, that's just a recipe for disappointment over and over again. And also for, I think, a lot of us to feel like, "If that's what you subscribe to, well, wow, I must be doing really horribly."

Susan Piver: [chuckle] Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Or it's what drives people apart, because they think, "Well, we're not having that ideal thing. So there must be some fatal flaw to this particular connection."

Susan Piver: Yep, and to add to that confusion is sometimes there is a fatal flaw. And it's not always easy to tell the difference, but for the lion's share of what we experience in what I would call ordinary relationship problems, which can range from anything from, "You're always late, and that really makes me mad," to, "Oh, you didn't tell me that you were contemplating gender reassignment surgery." That's a big deal, big, big deal. But none of those things are indications of harm, I would say, although they may be painful. Intentional harm. So I just wanna make clear that I exempt from this whole view, relationship problems that are rooted in abuse of any kind or addiction. Those are different kinds of problems, a different arena, and these things don't apply. But otherwise, yeah, we think... When most of us say we're looking for love, we don't really mean that. It's something that I've noticed in myself and others. We're not looking for love, we're looking for safety, we're looking for someone who will help us make a cocoon where we can retreat when it's a little dramatic, or overly traumatized. But we're looking for someone who will help us escape sorrow and make us feel whole, and healed, and hopefully the person you're in love with will do those things for you.

Susan Piver: But it's not that simple. So there's actually nothing less safe than love. And when we try to make it safe, it becomes something else. Not love exactly, but yeah. So I felt relief too when I realized that, by the way, like, "Oh yeah, there are things that are wrong in this relationship, but we're not doing anything wrong in the sense that this is, this was a bad choice.

Neil Sattin: Right right. And I really like that you make that distinction, that in a relationship where you're experiencing abuse or one or both of you is plagued by addiction, that changes the rules a bit, in terms of what one should do, I think to get help and what's acceptable in a relationship.

Susan Piver: I agree.

Neil Sattin: And this question around safety, this was actually... I'm so glad that you brought this up right now, because this was actually one of the things that I felt myself... That was a little edgy for me. And the reason why being, not because I think that relationships are safe, in fact I think that the act of being so vulnerable automatically exposes you to being the potential to be harmed by your partner. And so much of what we have to do is learn how to embrace that vulnerability without succumbing to the fear that your partner is actually out to get you, which is what that kind of vigilance can feel like, right?

Susan Piver: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: But on the flip side, there's so much important material and juice there in relationship for couples who are paying attention to the safety, the safety of their, the container of their relationship, actually helping each other stay out of a primal brain-triggered state as much as possible, not that you'll never get there. This is my own personal view. So, I'm curious for you, how do you reconcile that between... Well, there is some safety to the container that we want to be conscious of and actually contributing to, and then there's this statement of yours that lands right in that, which is that love isn't safe.

Susan Piver: Well that's a great question. It's a really good question. And I would say the answer has something to do with trust. Obviously the opposite of safe is untrustworthy, unsafe. So I'm just gonna share with you a little anecdote from my own life. When my husband, my now husband and I first got involved, he was going through a very difficult divorce, and I didn't know how it was gonna work out for us. It really could just as easily have gone in any direction because it was just a very, very tumultuous time in his life. And friends would say to me, "This is a danger side, or this is a red flag or whatever." Yeah, but at no point to this very day, have I ever doubted how he felt about me, or what his intentions were toward me.

Susan Piver: So even though it could have just as easily have gone completely off the rails, and it was very unsafe, I did not distrust him. And to this day, I can't explain why, but there was just this instinct. This guy is on my side, and neither of us knows how it's gonna play out. But I don't doubt, I don't doubt who he is and what he feels. So that... Without that, almost nothing could have happened. Without that, it's very, very hard to allow for even the slightest vulnerability, and I would say, nor should you allow for it, because that foundational trust, which feels different to different people and is based on different things, it can't be described or there's no... It's not formulaic. But without that, for me, I would have, it would have been a very bad, very bad experience. So does that make sense?

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and I appreciate that you're making the distinction that it had what you needed to feel, at a foundational level, you could trust this person.

Susan Piver: I knew he loved me.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah. And yet you also go on to describe, in your book, times where you're convinced that you hate him and he hates you and that's part of the cycle, right? That we can experience?

Susan Piver: Yes it is.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. I think that at the beginning of a relationship, part of... Whether it's the divine purpose or the genetic purpose of all those neurochemicals that go through our bodies, is to make us trust the other person before we really should on some level, you know?

Susan Piver: Interesting.

Neil Sattin: That it puts us in a state where we're willing to be a little bit more vulnerable. So it gets us, and I'm just thinking off the top of my head now, but maybe it gets us into proximity in a way that allows for true intimacy. Now we're getting in maybe into the spiritual component of why this all might happen, but it's that proximity that allows the true intimacy to blossom.

Susan Piver: Interesting. That's very interesting.

Neil Sattin: Well, we heard it here first.


Susan Piver: Yes we did.

Neil Sattin: So there's... So if relationships are never stable, then let's go to the second truth that you wrote about in your book.

Susan Piver: Okay. The second truth is the cause of the problem which, oversimplified, is thinking that they should be stable and comfortable actually makes them unstable and uncomfortable. So imagine if you just sort of gave up the idea that it's gonna be comfortable, it's going to be... Someday we're gonna hit the relationship lotto number and we're gonna fix this problem, we're gonna solve this issue, or we're gonna create this thing that we don't have that we need, and once we get all these things in a row, we're gonna go into some relationship evenness that will not change. And aiming toward that, driving toward that vision of what this relationship should be, I, in my own relationship, actually is a cause of a lot of discomfort.

Susan Piver: I'm not saying that we shouldn't try to solve our problems. We have lots of problems and we're trying to solve them all the time and constantly adjusting, and tweaking, and reviewing, and working, and losing the thread and regaining the thread with the issues that are in our relationship. So I'm not saying that you just should stop doing that, but if you think, "Well, we're gonna tweak this thing and then it's gonna be perfect, and I'm gonna get everything I need and so will the other person. And unless that happens, it's not good." A lot of pain between two people. So the second noble truth is, "Thinking it should be stable adds to the instability."

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I've read that and I was like, "Wow, that is so brilliant." That it's that expectation that really adds all this, like an extra layer of anxiety and fuel to the fire of whatever... Whatever is happening in that moment. So if what's... If something comes up that makes you really uncomfortable and rather than being able to be present for it, you have all this, "It shouldn't be this way. Oh no, something is wrong." If those are the kinds of things that are coming up, then it actually removes you, it removes you from being able to respond and then, at the same time, it adds all this intensity to whatever is come up.

Susan Piver: Agreed. Agreed. And the brilliance is in the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, in this sense, because the first noble truth, as you remember, is, "Life the suffering." Second noble truth is, "The cause of suffering is grasping." So it's very interesting. It doesn't say, "The suffering is the suffering."


Neil Sattin: Right.

Susan Piver: It says, "Grasping is the suffering." So in other words, suffering is part of the deal. We're all gonna have losses, we're all gonna have problems, we're all gonna gain things, and lose things and that is unavoidable. But in the Buddhist view, that is not considered the real suffering. Although of course it is, but the real suffering is what we add on top of it, which, in this case, is called grasping. So mapped over to relationships, yes, there are going to be problems. You're going to like each other, you're not going to like each other, there's going to be desires, there's gonna be disconnection. That's gonna happen, that's what we saw... That's part of the relationship mandala. But thinking it shouldn't be that way, actually causes more pain than the pain points themselves.

Neil Sattin: I'm just laughing on some level, because while we're having this conversation, I'm noticing that we've had a little bit of Internet difficulty, and I don't think it's bad enough that... I think everyone listening is getting everything you're saying, and I'm glad, because it's really important. And I'm noticing that I think the local airport changed the flight patterns, so there are airplanes flying overhead now. The next door neighbor's dog is barking, and within me is the potential for all this grasping, like, "Oh, it shouldn't, it shouldn't be this way. I should be in a soundproofed hermetic chamber with a big fibre optic tube connecting you and me directly so that there are no hitches."


Neil Sattin: So while we're talking, I myself am embracing this practice of like, "Okay, this is what is, this is what's happening right now." Here in...

Susan Piver: Wow.

Neil Sattin: In the podcast.

Susan Piver: That's interesting, that's very interesting. That's a perfect illustration. It's a perfect illustration. And sometimes in Buddhism that's called the suffering of suffering, the suffering of succotash.


Susan Piver: There's suffering and then there's the suffering of suffering. So in relationships, there's the discomfort and then, which is natural, and then there's the discomfort of the discomfort, which is optional.

Neil Sattin: Right, right, yeah, and when you're talking about that too, I think you talk a lot in your book about projections and this has come up on the show before, this notion of what's within you that you wish were happening or that you think is happening, versus what actually is happening and how much those projections are getting in the way of the is-ness of what is actually happening right there in front of you.

Susan Piver: Yeah, it's very hard to see. It's very hard to see. We're all looking through a particular lens.

Neil Sattin: So like the Buddhist noble truths lay out this very logical argument about why life is so hard and how to deal with it. I know, I totally oversimplified that.


Susan Piver: No, that was good, I think that was accurate.


Neil Sattin: But here we are, we are on this path through the relationship Noble Truths, and we've got, relationships are never gonna be stable. Trying to make them stable is why you're having such a hard time. And then this is where it really gets beautiful is, I think, I mean it's been beautiful all along, Susan, but with the third Truth, which is what we bring... So take it away, Susan.


Susan Piver: Yeah, and I appreciate that and I agree, this is where... 'Cause I think the first two sound like, "Okay, it's a problem, deal with it." The third one is... Actually can be quite beautiful. So the third noble truth of love is that meeting the instability together is love or loving. So, in other words, rather than trying to get it to stabilize, and this is what you need to do to make it stable, and this is what I need to do to make it stable, and I don't wanna do that and you should do this instead and all of that. Conversations that must be had but, nonetheless, if instead of looking at each other as the source of the problem and the solution, I would say a great partner is one who will instead turn to stand shoulder to shoulder with you, to look out at the arc of the ride that you are on together now.

Susan Piver: Usually, like I say, we look at each other. You did this, I did that. But this... And good, you should do that. But this part says, "Well, you could also notice what's happening right now in your relationship, together, meaning... And open to it." Meaning now, oh, we love each other, this is great. Now, we don't really like each other, I don't know why. Now you really like me and I'm not that interested in you. And now we can get along and now we can't get along. Someone who will be like... I picture it as someone that's on a roller coaster ride with you. And you're not trying to flat straighten out the ride, you're just dipping and diving together and staying seated together. To me, that is a great partner. Just someone who will be on the ride with you. I don't mean that in a cavalier way, I mean literally join you in this incredible ride and be on it together. Whatever's happening, whether you're going uphill or downhill.

Neil Sattin: Right, being willing to say, "Here we are."

Susan Piver: Yeah, exactly.

Neil Sattin: And there's a lot of power in that, in that willingness to just be. And you talk about this too. I'm curious, maybe we can bring that in now, is the power of honesty, being honest about what is. But, and this veers us into the fourth noble truth, which is about the path and how honesty is used. And maybe we could talk about how that's part of the path and how that weaves into where we're going from here.

Susan Piver: Sure, yeah, thank you. So the fourth noble truth says, "Here's how you could possibly do these things, potentially do these things." And I looked at the three basic cycles of teachings within Buddhism and what they suggest, in terms of creating a spiritual path, and mapped them over to what they would mean to me, 'cause all of this is what it means to me and then I'm sharing it so it's useful to others. How would I map those into my relationship? So, they're basically four qualities. The first two belong to the first cycle. Then the third and fourth belong to the second and third cycles, sorry to be confusing. And the first quality that is... These first two qualities create the foundation for a relationship. And just like anything, a house, or spiritual path, or a piece of art, if you don't have a foundation, you're not getting anywhere. You have to have the foundation for your relationship, for your house, for your whatever it is you're doing. And the qualities that create a foundation, meaning if you don't have them, you're not gonna be able to build anything, are first, honesty.

Susan Piver: So that doesn't mean saying what you think the moment you think it. That's silly. It means first knowing the truth yourself about who you are and what you feel. And that doesn't mean you have to know yourself perfectly and always be completely clear about how you feel. But it means knowing when you are clear and knowing when you are not. Knowing when you know the truth and knowing when you don't and then adapting your behavior to that truth. So if you can't be honest, or you're with someone who can't be honest, not because they're a liar necessarily, although some people are, but because they don't know how to tell the truth, it's gonna be very hard to have a relationship. You could have a great time. You could have an awesome love affair, but it would be hard to make a relationship, I think. And the second quality that is foundational, it sounds funny, I think, is called good manners. And I don't mean knowing which fork to use particularly, but...

Neil Sattin: But that is so important.

Susan Piver: Knowing which fork to use?

Neil Sattin: Yes.


Susan Piver: Well, if it's important to you, then it is important, Neil. And in addition, it's important to... Good manners are very profound. They're predicated on awareness that there's actually another person present.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Susan Piver: And taking an interest in what they think and what they feel and what they need. Not that you have to supply it, but... Oh, this is what they're experiencing now. How could I help? How could I know when I can't help and back away? How can I notice where they are in their inner life and just recognize it? So, if you're with someone who is not aware that you're there, and therefore cannot have good manners, well then obviously there's very little you can do in terms of a relationship. So honesty and good manners, I would say, are foundational. And then the third quality here is just simply called openness, or openheartedness, and this refers also to the part, the cycle in the Buddhist teachings. First you create your foundation by being disciplined and keeping things simple and so on, and then your heart naturally opens to others.

Susan Piver: And this is the part in the Buddhist cycle where you think, "Oh, I'm not the only person here on earth, there are others. And I could actually begin to look at them as having equal importance to myself, if not greater, from time to time." It's radical, quite radical. And in a relationship, what it means is that you actually look at the other person as having at least equal importance to yourself in the relationship. I have to say, I found that quite shocking. I thought my relationship was about me, and sometimes I was like, "Oh well, now I guess it's about him." Neither of those... Sometimes both of those are true, but really it's about us thinking about us, not to the exclusion of you or me, but can I look at this person as having equal status in this relationship? It sounds like a silly question, but it's surprising how infrequently we act as if that was true.

Susan Piver: And then the fourth step here is called letting go or going beyond, and what it means in this context is looking at everything that happens between the two of you, good, bad, and ugly, not as a way to create more love or an opportunity to create more love, 'cause sometimes there is more love and sometimes there isn't, but as an opportunity to deepen intimacy. And this, when I realized it, was very, very heartening to me, because I knew, even before we got married, I cannot commit to loving this person. Sometimes, I will feel love, and sometimes I won't. But what I can commit to is to deepen intimacy and to look at everything that happens between us. Not, again, as a way to have more love, but to have more intimacy, to know each other better. And I have found that there's nothing that you cannot feed into the intimacy machine, because love, like I say, comes and goes, but intimacy has no end. You never get to a point where you're like, "Oh yeah, we know each other perfectly. There's no... Nothing more to reveal or know." There's always more. And so, that is an honest commitment. "I vow to deepen intimacy" is a more true vow, I think, than, "I vow to love." So I found that really inspiring. [laughter]

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, it's so, it's so expensive. And I think in terms of, especially if you're feeling like your relationship has gotten stale or boring, a more conventional approach to that might be to try to add some novelty, right? So like make things spicier.

Susan Piver: Right.

Neil Sattin: What I hear you saying is that, that my... Yeah, all the gears are turning right now. That that stagnation could be from not really turning towards your partner and from not actually meeting the person, the full human who is right there in front of you with their own set of needs, desires, etcetera, and that through leaning in with each other and creating more intimacy even in those moments, even in those moments where the love may not fully be there, or you might have the caring, but not the fire, or it could be any number of permutations of how you feel towards the person, but that the willingness to turn in and be present with what is happening creates intimacy that ultimately creates more, creates more. And more vibrancy, maybe is the word that I'm looking for.

Susan Piver: Yeah, I would say the vibrancy is always possible, but it creates problems for me, or I would think, to look at boredom as a problem that needs to be solved. We all prefer a relationship that's exciting and dynamic to one that is dull, obviously. And maybe it is dull for some reason that you should investigate. Absolutely, and do that investigation, but it's also possible to just be bored together. What is it like when we're bored together? Let's, let's... Can we do that? Can we be side by side in this bored, boring place? I know that doesn't sound like fun, but there's something very, at the same time, intimate about being where you are together. In fact, there is no other definition of intimacy, I don't think, than just being where you actually are together. And again, I know that this doesn't sound like fun.


Susan Piver: And this is not three ways to keep it awesome, this is not that book.


Susan Piver: If you have ever been on a retreat, for example, where there's silence, you find that at first it's intimidating or, "Oh, it's gonna be lonely or sad or whatever," but after a while you find that it is so intimate to just not talk, but to be with other people. It's bizarre. All of these projections, drop away and you just are together. So, excuse me, the idea that you could be with someone to whom you have nothing to say right now, but just be there, it's very intimate. It's strange. I remember after being on my first silent retreat thinking to myself somewhere in the middle of it, "What were all those words I used to say? [chuckle] Why did I need to say that?" Anything, because just being together without a particular agenda is really, really deep and rich.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, an experience that I've had that's along those lines, I have done a silent retreat, but we also, my wife and I are a part of this practice that we do called Infinity Practice. And every year we have a retreat, and one of the things that we do is we do a form of muscle testing before we speak. So that nothing that you say is something that you haven't tested strong. Like that it's generative to actually say this thing.

Susan Piver: Wow.

Neil Sattin: So that's been another little twist on that is just feeling how much we use words idly versus when are we actually... When are we saying something that actually contributes to the life around us?

Susan Piver: That's so interesting. What is it called? Infinity what?

Neil Sattin: Well, we've been studying with a teacher in actually out in the Northampton area. Infinity Healing Practice. It's something that she created. And I've talked about it a little bit here on the show. I think we're five years into our training with this person.

Susan Piver: That sounds great.

Neil Sattin: It's sort of a blend of Shamanist practices and neural science and acupressure, and it's got a lot of different components to it.

Susan Piver: Cool.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. But we actually use muscle testing all the time in our relationship, when we're trying to make choices about things, or what we're gonna do, or what we're gonna eat, or who's gonna massage the other person, things like that.


Susan Piver: That's an awesome idea. I'm gonna try that. I think that sounds great. My husband will really roll his eyes and laugh at me. I don't care. It will be... I think he would actually end up enjoying it.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, it's handy and fun. It also has a little, not that this is intentional or by design, but it makes it all feel kinda like a game, and you realize also that some of it is kind of arbitrary. Some of the things that we take so seriously, "Well, I massaged you last night, now I'm gonna message you again?" That you can go like, "Well yeah, that's what I'm gonna do. For some reason that's generative. So I guess it's my turn to give again."

Susan Piver: That's awesome.

Neil Sattin: And that reminds me too of one thing that you speak about that's so important. First I'm thinking about overall, how relationship is a practice. And then you also mention the act of loving and giving love, and how that's an element that you find is missing from a lot of the popular culture about how to get love or how to preserve the love in a relationship.

Susan Piver: Yeah, it's interesting. If you look at the self help books about relationships. I've noticed this when I wrote my very first book, "The hard questions", that you mentioned earlier, 'cause I was like looking for books, like, "How do you do this whole being married thing?", and I noticed that all, I'll say 100%, although I'm sure there's some exceptions, but 100% of the books that I found were about how to get love. How to get someone to love you, how to get love to return to you, how to get more love, and none of them were about how to give love, unless it was in the service of getting love. So that always surprised me. Like why, why? Because for a variety of reasons, but one of them is loving as we talked about earlier, it's so vulnerable, and everybody feels powerless because you kind of are. However, there is one way to take the seat of power in relationships. I don't mean of domination, obviously, of just feeling empowered, and that is as a lover. That's a very empowered place. I'm going to love, I'm going to be a lover. I'm going to give love." It doesn't mean to the exclusion of getting love, or I'm putting myself second, it just means my focus is going to be on "What can I give?".

Susan Piver: And then also, "What can I get?", 'cause you don't wanna be stupid. But if you just even bring in the question, "What can I give?", it changes things because the predominant question for most of us, myself included, is "What can I get? What will I get if I do this?" But when you shift it to just at least also ask, "What can I give?", I find I have a rush of confidence and empowerment that I don't feel when I'm asking, "What can I get"?

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, and I think that you refer to this toward the end of the book in a question maybe from someone from your Facebook group. I think you took a bunch of questions and answered them and talked about that, like how one might discern when their giving is a little lopsided, and they're actually in an unhealthy situation, versus learning more about your own power to give, to be loving, to show up that way in life. And this might be a great time to talk about the power of mindfulness and meditation, 'cause there are some great practical things. This is something that, again, I love about your book, it's very readable for one thing, and you lay out the arguments, the relationships never stabilize, expecting them to be stable is the problem, meeting the instability together is what love is, and there's a path through to liberation. So we've covered all those things, but then at the core is a need to, I think, get clear and to be receptive and to be as open to this thing that we've mentioned several times over the course of this conversation, to what actually is, to being present, even if you're being present to the boredom, as you mentioned earlier. That seems like it would be impossible without learning mindfulness.

Susan Piver: It would be for me.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Susan Piver: It would, but there are people for whom it's not impossible. But I'd say it's rare. But yeah, if you don't know how to work with your mind, then it's very, very confusing. Of course, I'm not saying you have to know how to do it perfectly, at least I hope not because I certainly don't.


Neil Sattin: Now we're gonna have to write "The Four Noble Truths of Meditation".


Susan Piver: Right, right, right. Meditation is actually about placement of attention. So if I say to you, I don't know, "Don't look at your foot, left foot, but place your attention on your left foot," something sort of goes to your left foot. And if I say, "Now, place your attention on your right earlobe," which you can't look at, "But just move that attention to your right earlobe and just notice it," that's all mindfulness is. Something moves between those two points between your ear and that something is your awareness, your attention. And all that happens in meditation is you are practicing working with that, placement of attention. In case of what I teach, and the most common object of attention is your breath. You're not practicing placing attention on breath so you can be great at placing attention on breath, because there's not much utility in that skill, but you're practicing with the breath so that when you talk to a human being you can place your attention on them, because you have learned how to place your attention on what is happening. Because the breath is always in the present, you can't breathe in the past or the future. So, if your attention is on the breath, you could make the argument that your attention is in the present.

Susan Piver: And then when someone's talking to you or you're trying to make a decision about what job to take or who you are, you can actually place your attention on the thing that you want to contemplate. It sounds so simple, and it is, but it is not easy, and for most of us, our attention remains on what we hope and what we fear. So we don't actually... It's hard to hear the person who's talking to us outside of that lens of, "Will this be good for me or will this be bad for me?" And those are important questions, and you should not release those questions, but first, can you actually hear what's being said to you? And so as... If you train in mindfulness in some way, whatever way makes sense to you, the likelihood that you will be able to answer "yes" is greatly increased, I would say. Although my husband doesn't practice meditation, and never has, but he's good at paying attention. So he's one of those people.

Neil Sattin: Maybe he is, and maybe he's gotten a little through osmosis.

Susan Piver: No, no, no, no. [laughter] He's much better at this kind of thing than me. He's much better, he is. He's much better, much more relational than I am, and I've learned a lot from him. He's good at relationships. I have to write books about them 'cause I'm not good at them.


Neil Sattin: I'll get him on the show next time, I guess.

Susan Piver: That would be awesome.


Neil Sattin: Well, Susan, again, I so appreciate your visiting us here on the podcast, and I think your book, 'The Four Noble Truths of Love', is a perfect... I don't know why the word antidote comes, I don't want it to be an antidote, but it goes really well, it's a good, it's a good... No, it's not a seasoning 'cause it stands on its own. All these metaphors are failing me right now, but when you hold it next to a book, like let's say, 'Getting the Love You Want', which is like a classic, and it came to mind immediately when you said so many books are about getting love, because this book is actually really helpful, and there's a lot in it about how to give, in particular, how to give your attention in how you communicate with your partner. And so, props to Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt. At the same time on the flip side of it, I think there's so much richness in what you're adding to the conversation about really expanding your view of what this whole relationship thing is all about, and how to find yourself in it so that you don't lose yourself there.

Susan Piver: I really appreciate that, and yeah, learning how to get, receive love, and learning how to give love, seems that one without the other would be not so great. So it's good that there are ways to explore both.

Neil Sattin: Well, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that at the end of your book there are some great... You talk about establishing a meditation practice, and we talked about that a little bit a moment ago with placing attention on the breath. And I like how you talk about just getting in the habit of it is so important. Five minutes a day is better than nothing, and better than 30 minutes once a month, so that you're developing that muscle, that habit. And then you also offer some other things. So when you pick up Susan's book, which I hope you will, there's a great addition to loving kindness meditation, that we've talked about a little bit on the show but you had some extra bonus ways to do that that I really love. And also a way to practice conversation, that's again really helpful and centering, and can bring some of this practice to how you relate with your partner. So, I love those practical additions at the end of your book.

Susan Piver: Thank you.

Neil Sattin: And I would love for you to let our listeners know how they can find out more about you and your work and what you're doing right now. And I know you have a lot of offerings for everyone.

Susan Piver: I appreciate that. Yeah, my website's, just my name, P-I-V-E-R, is a way to keep track of where I'm teaching, and it's also, if you're interested in learning meditation, a place for you to sign up for the open heart project, which is my online community. It's free and I send out a guided 10-minute meditation instructional video every week on Mondays. And if you wanna learn to meditate or re-establish your practice, I heartily invite you to check it out. But my website is the best place to find these things.

Neil Sattin: Great, and we will have links to all of that in the transcript for the show. And as a reminder, if you want to download the detailed transcripts just visit, that's the number "2". Or you can text the word "passion" to the number 3-3-4-4-4 and follow the instructions. Although I'm tempted to have them text the word "boredom".


Susan Piver: That's what it is. That's so funny.

Neil Sattin: But don't do that, don't text. Well I don't know, maybe I'll see if that word's available, if it is, I'll make something cool, and if it's not I take no responsibility for whatever happens if you text the word "boredom" to that number.

Susan Piver: That is so funny.

Neil Sattin: And in the meantime, Susan, I hope to have you on again. I just so appreciate the depth and richness that you bring to the conversation about relationship, and taking one's seat in the middle of it.

Susan Piver: Well, I appreciate that. It's a pleasure to talk with you, and congratulations on your podcast. It's really bringing great conversations to light, and I'm just happy that you're making these kinds of insights and view points available to others. Thank you for doing this.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, it's my pleasure. I'm glad. I'm glad that I can be on this end, bringing everything to people, so it feels good. Thank you for saying that, I appreciate it.


Sep 21, 2018

What’s realistic to expect in terms of things improving between you and your partner? When you're trying to change something in yourself? Or when you're hoping your partner will change? Once you've identified a place where you want things to be different (or see those things all around you), you can sometimes feel an overwhelming sense of urgency. How will all this get done? Can't it all just be fixed - NOW? This week we're going to continue the process we started in Episode 157, where we took stock of our relationship - identifying the things we want to celebrate and also the things that we'd like to improve. Today you'll discover a simple process that will help you relax, prioritize, and know exactly what the next right thing to do is in terms of improving the way things are.

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 Episode 157 - Celebrating and Taking Stock

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Sep 12, 2018

Do you ever feel like there’s a barrier between what you know about how to have a good relationship, and what you actually do? How do you take what we know about the science of relationships, combine it with the wisdom of our hearts and our quest for deeper meaning, and integrate it into something practical? Today we’re going to get practical, integrated, and Integral with a return visit from Keith Witt, whose new book Loving Completely: A Five Star Practice for Creating Great Relationships was just released. Keith Witt has conducted more than 55,000 (!!) therapy sessions, and is also often featured on Jeff Salzman’s The Daily Evolver podcast. He is truly gifted at taking the “big picture” and making it useful for a daily lives. Loving Completely is a manual for how to not only set a higher standard for what’s possible in your relationship, but you also get simple steps that get you there.

Also, please check out our first two episodes with Keith Witt - 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!


Along with our amazing listener supporters (you know who you are - thank you!), this week's episode has two great sponsors, each with a special offer for you. provides ultra-comfy mattresses and other products to help you get a restful night’s sleep. You can try out a Casper mattress for 100 nights - and if you’re not completely satisfied return it for a full refund. As a Relationship Alive listener, they are offering you $50 OFF select mattresses - terms and conditions apply. Just 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.


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Read Keith Witt’s new book: Loving Completely: A Five Star Practice for Creating Great Relationships

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Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. We're trying to change culture with this show and I am so appreciative as always of your being here with me to evolve what is actually possible for us in terms of our relationships, and we know more about how to relate with other people than we've ever known before. We know more about the science. We know more about our spirit and how that factors in. We know more about the power of mindfulness. We know more about how our hearts interact with other hearts. It's all taking shape in a way that's very unique, and what we are trying to do here is to not only talk about it, but make it so practical for you so that you can put this stuff into use in your relationship. And so you can talk to other people and say, "Hey, like you're having a hard time, you know, check out this episode on Relationship Alive where you will get your problem solved or see a light at the end of this dark tunnel," that, let's face it, sometimes we're in a dark tunnel in our relationship, it's part of what happens.

Neil Sattin: So, I'm overjoyed today to have a returning guest, someone who has been on the show twice, and he's here today to talk about and celebrate really the release of his latest book called Loving Completely. I'm talking about Dr. Keith Witt, who you may know through his appearances on The Daily Evolver or you may have heard him here on Relationship Alive. He was here in Episode 80 where we were talking about shadow and he was also here way back in Episode 13 talking about Attunement and how important that is. So he is back on the show. And we will have a detailed transcript of this episode. If you want to get that, just visit as in Loving Completely or you can as always text the word Passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions and we'll send you a link where you can download this transcript, and all our other transcripts and show guides.

Neil Sattin: So today, we're going to talk about what it means to love completely, and how that's maybe different than your standard kind of relationship and why it actually helps you deepen and deepen what's possible for you in partnership. I think that's all I have to say for the moment. Keith Witt, it is such a treat as always to have you back here on Relationship Alive.

Keith Witt: Great to be with you, Neil.

Neil Sattin: So, let's just start there. Loving completely. Now, I know that some of the book is based on a course that you did in the integral world called Loving Completely. Why loving completely? What was the inspiration for you for that title versus just like, How to Have a Kickass Relationship?


Keith Witt: That's not a bad title. [chuckle] I've been doing therapy and writing and teaching for 44 years and I have studied dozens of brilliant people. And most people, most researchers, their understanding comes from how they came to establish mastery in their areas of psychotherapy or of understanding. Esther Perel, for instance, worked a lot with couples where people were unfaithful, and so she is oriented according to how sexuality ebbs and flows and manifests and affects relationships in her work. Stan Tatkin came from attachment theory and interpersonal neurobiology and his system is heavily oriented in that direction. John Gottman is a pure social scientist. I mean, the way that he found his wife was he went on 50 dates in 60 days and she was the outlier whom he married. He did it like a science experiment. And so his approach is social science. He uses social science to find what works and doesn't work and so on.

Keith Witt: So, everybody comes from their orientation and they're all right. But in Integral Psychology, we say that everybody gets to be right, but nobody gets to be right all the time. And so, most of us who work with couples and individuals have found that people are wildly unique, and people have different languages and understandings that help them love better. And so I was interested in an orienting system, where you could start with basic principles and practices and they could lead you in the direction that you were most open to in terms of helping you grow and transform in your ability to be intimate with the different parts of yourself and be effectively intimate with other people and especially with your chosen partner in a long-term lover relationship.

Keith Witt: And so that motivated me. That was a challenge. How do you get oriented in that fashion? And so out of that came the Loving Completely Course and then out of that course came, I wanted to expand the ideas and present a deeper dive into a lot of the constructs and so I wrote the Loving Completely book, which is gonna come out soon, and that's what oriented me in terms of and inspired me in terms of writing this book.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I like that picture of completeness, not only in terms of what it inspires me to think about and how I conduct my relationship, the process of my relationship, but also the willingness to look across the spectrum of what's available to help you that you don't have to be confined just because so and so says that their thing works 85% of the time. If it doesn't work for you, you're not screwed like there are other options for you that might be effective for you. And so there's that completeness of like, "Oh, the whole world is available for me to actually help me get this. Get this right."

Keith Witt: Yes, and we live in an age where there's a cornucopia of great knowledge available to us and especially around intimacy and around relationships. And so let me explain. I'm gonna talk mostly about a committed intimate relationship like a marriage, a long-term love affair, and so on, though these principles apply to lots of relationships, parental relationships, sibling relationship, friend relationships, and so on. But a relationship of marriage is basically a friendship, a love affair, a capacity to notice and repair injuries and ruptures, and a mutual commitment to each other's evolution. If those four components are attended to on a daily basis, couples tend to do well. If one of those lapses in some fashion, suffering occurs and suffering in relationship tends to spiral into separation. And this is one of the reasons why half the marriages end in divorce.

Keith Witt: And so that's a great picture of a good relationship, but how do we do that? How do we establish that? And just like any area of mastery, what you do is you pick a goal, you get ignited. I wanna have great relationships. You find data and information and master coaching in the world, and then you break it up into chunks and you do focus practice on those chunks and with a growth mindset of effort and progress is what matters. We're not trying to get anywhere, we're just trying to have effort and progress. You gradually can establish mastery in this area of loving, loving another person, helping another person love you and... Go on.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And so a couple of things are coming up for me right now. One is, we're talking here, we're on a show where we are focused about, we're coming from a growth mindset. And I can't tell you how many times I read something or I have this conversation with you or someone like you and I have that light bulb moment of like, "Oh right, this is how I've been seeing it, and I could be open to a different perspective here and that actually might serve me a lot better." So let's just start with maybe the hardest question which a lot of people who listen to the show are gonna be asking which is like, "Alright, you said growth mindset. And now, I just know that this ain't happening because my partner, like that's the problem, they don't have a growth mindset, and they're fixed and they're shut down. And I'm trying, I'm trying, I'm trying." I know, in the 65,000 or more sessions you've done with people, you've come up against this with couples and I'm curious to know how you help inspire both people in a moment like this.

Keith Witt: A human super power is our ability to receive caring influence. That is a super power. And it's more difficult than it sounds. Receiving caring influence means that you allow yourself to change how you think and what you do in response to someone else trying to help. Now, when people get threatened, when people feel insecure, when they feel unsafe, their nervous systems get more rigid. Your slower thinking frontal cortex gets inhibited and your faster thinking brainstem takes charge. And one of the ways to take charge is it resists receiving influence. And so if you have a partner that is resisting receiving influence, it probably means that in a particular level they feel unsafe.

Keith Witt: And so when someone comes in or a couple comes in, part of my job is to help that first person feel safe. And generally the way that I help people feel safe is through compassionate understanding. I know that at the core of everyone, there is a little interface between them and spirit. Patricia Albere in the evolutionary collective calls that the origin point, in the traditions she called that out man's soul, that kind of thing. That's how I identify people. And so, my job is to connect with that spot in them and then help them feel understood by me. And as we go into that understanding, we find a place where they feel threatened, where they resist influence. And the place where you resist influence and you feel threatened is also the place where you're yearning for something, you're yearning for love, you're yearning for security, you're yearning for passion, you're yearning to be known deeply.

Keith Witt: And as I help someone feel safe and as I help them understand their yearning, we can begin to open up a little bit to how those yearnings can be met in their relationship. They can be met by their partner, and I can help their partner help this other person feel safe. By the very act of coming to a therapist, people have gone to an environment where they've acknowledged, "We can't help each other feel safe enough to change, we need somebody else to provide a little bit more safety." And so that's a central part of what therapists do. Now, does that work all the time? Nothing works all the time. Does it work a lot? Yeah, it does. And if your partner seems impenetrable, then what you wanna do is you wanna say, "Well, look, let's get some help. Let's find somebody that you trust and let's get them to help us love each other better. Let's get them to help us be more connected."

Keith Witt: And you take a stand for that. And if your partner can't do it, you go get help and then that person helps you encourage your partner to get help. And so that's how it goes. Usually that ends up with both people getting into therapy, but not always. And frankly, it's just a bad sign. If somebody is having problems and refuses therapy, that predicts marital dissolution pretty reliably in a lot of cases, and that's just the way it works. If you take a rigid position, particularly in the 21st century with your partner, and refuse to work on things that are disturbing to them, that will separate you and those separations get worse, they don't get better. So those are the ruptures and repairs that are so important. They need to be repaired. And they're repaired when we're making that condition better, when we're working at loving each other better.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And this, I think, is so important because it's tempting, especially as you read a lot of, let's just say, self-help books about relationship which you might be doing if there are some issues going on or you might be doing even if you're like, "I just wanna know how to do this better," and kudos to you if that's what you're doing. Keith's book is great for that. It can be tempting to think like, "Okay, well, I'm gonna go into this with my partner like a therapist would. Like now I'm armed with all this new knowledge and I'm gonna bring it into my relationship."

Neil Sattin: And to some level, I think that is helpful, but what I'm hearing from you that I think is so key for people to get is that the real gem that happens in a good therapy, in a good therapeutic setting, is creating that safety and being seen without judgment, being seen with compassion, and from that everything else can grow. I would think that it's rare that someone comes in, and you're not just instructing them, right? I mean I sure don't. In my coaching practice, we're not saying, "You're doing this wrong, you're doing relationship wrong, so let me just tell you how to do it right, and then you're all set, you're then free to go."

Keith Witt: Yeah. Well, that would be great [chuckle] if it worked. You know, when I wrote a book on Integral Psychotherapy called Waking Up and in that I said what an integral psychotherapist does is relate, teach, inspire, confront, interpret, and direct and relating is first. If someone is open to learning a new perspective, they're open to receiving influence, in other words they get influenced to change what they think and do. A lot of therapy is just getting 80% of therapy is getting to the point where someone feels safe enough to be willing to do that. And, yes, we don't do that with our partners. I have two kids, they're grown 33 and 30, and wife, and I don't give them any input unless they ask specifically for it. And the reason why I've done that is because I realized as our family was developing that I didn't have a contract with them, like I did with my clients, and that actually interfered with our relationship if I offered input that wasn't requested or welcomed.

Keith Witt: And so I'm way more conservative when it comes to my opinions or my observations with my own family. Why? Because I'm not there primarily to enlighten them or to help them, I'm there to support the intersubjectivity of our relationships. I'm there to support our love for each other. And supporting our love for each other means having this relationship on a psychological spiritual level, we're experiencing ourselves as having equal power, equal credibility, equal say in the important aspects of our life around money, sex, parenting, time, that kind of stuff. And then all that stuff needs to be negotiated in a dialectic. And the dialectic is two people looking for deeper truth, respecting each other, open to each other, as influence, and acknowledging their individual rights. And that's called a growth hierarchy.

Keith Witt: It's a power hierarchy but it doesn't look like a power hierarchy because when people are going back and forth in that environment, you're not noticing how one person has a little more credibility, a little more power than the other person does because there's a flow back and forth in the integral cosmology, that's called the second tier. That's a particular kind of relating. Now, when people get threatened, they go into dominator hierarchies. You stop receiving influence and you're trying to bully the other person or convince the other person or submit even to the other person. That dominator hierarchy can get something done, but it contaminates a relationship. And an awful lot of work, whether therapist know it or not, when they're working with couples is noticing that shift in the dominator hierarchies, and then interrupting it and encouraging couples to go back into growth hierarchies where they're looking for deeper truth, more open to influence, being respectful, allowing each other individual rights.

Keith Witt: And just that, just paying attention. And that can transform your whole relational universe. Particularly, you can transform a universe relating to other people because once you start noticing those things you see growth hierarchies and dominator hierarchies everywhere. And if you have a moral sense of standing for growth hierarchies, that means that whenever you're around you wanna generate them. And if there's a dominator hierarchy happening, you wanna start working to shift that into a growth hierarchy. Nowhere is that more important than in your end of the relationship.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and this is something that comes up a lot actually in our Facebook group and just because we're here. I'm curious of your perspective on this. A lot of my listeners have actually been married and gotten divorced, and now they're working on their next big love, let's say. And so, of course, that introduces all kinds of other dynamics with former partners, their new partners, and that's a situation that's ripe for power struggles and dominator hierarchies to emerge. So, I'm curious like if you're a growth-oriented person and you're just getting hammered by a dominator, what's a good pathway through to navigate through that, that you might offer someone?

Keith Witt: Well, first of all, that is the... Particularly for educated people in this country, generally they go through at least two major intimate relationships, sometimes more. I was a hippie back in the '60s and '70s, so I had a three-year relationship where we didn't get married but essentially it was the first marriage. So that's very common. And when there's children and in-laws, you are bringing other people in and other responsibilities. Stan Tatkin says, calls it The Rule of Thirds. And he makes a point that I agree with. Yes, there's a lot of added complexity that comes when people have a second or third serious relationship, but that is simplified if you recognize the primacy of the intimate bond. The primacy, there's a reason that they call it a primary relationship, and that primary relationship is we wanna maintain this container in integrity, we wanna have this container be as clean and as pure and as beautiful as possible, and that means our friendship, our love affair, our capacity to heal injuries, and our commitment to mutual evolution comes first. And then everything else gets organized around that.

Keith Witt: What that does is it gets you oriented in terms of other demands, say there's an ex-spouse that is aggressive, this happens sometimes. Or punitive, people get angry after a separation, and often separations are expensive, and they're difficult, and people are more egocentric and distressed cells will come out and then they don't have much contact with each other, which makes it easier to objectify each other and see each other in negative black and white terms. Well, that's not good for anybody. It's particularly not good for children. Children of the divorce who have parents who are acrimonious with each other do worse. They have more symptoms and they have more problems. And so you don't wanna encourage that. You wanna discourage that. How do you do that?

Keith Witt: Well, there's two of general ways of dealing with other people. There's what you and I are doing now, which is relating. Relating is we're just telling our truth, we're respecting each other, we got individual rights, and we're both open to caring influence. You tell me something that's a better idea than something I got. I'll change my idea and change how I think in what I do. That's relating and relating is a superior way of being. But say, somebody can't relate. Well, then you handle them. And how do you handle them? You handle them so that they can't successfully dominate in a dominator hierarchy and you make it easier for them to relate. For instance, you set boundaries. So this happens all the time, when one ex-spouse wants special privileges and comes to feel entitled to it because the other person just tries to say yes rather than thinks in a larger sense about what's gonna make this a more coherent relationship.

Keith Witt: So then what you do is you start setting boundaries around whatever the dissolution agreement was. You don't say yes unnecessarily. And if someone is acting in a disrespectful fashion, you disengage. You set a boundary. Okay. So over time, this influences the other person to be more respectful. It's very much like parenting a child. And it's similar because when people are in defensive states, basically they've regressed to child ego states. And so you don't have to be... You can be respectful, but you need to be firm. I'm respectful of my four-year-old who doesn't wanna get in the car and go to the dentist, but I am firm. You're gonna have to get in the car and go to the dentist and that's all there's to it. So, respectfully, get in the car, we're going to the dentist.


Neil Sattin: You spoke in Loving Completely. And I wanna dive more into the meat of the matter here momentarily. You spoke about your commitment to more and more interacting with the world from a place of loving kindness and compassion.

Keith Witt: Yes.

Neil Sattin: And even then, you mentioned that there are some relationships and connections that you've had to let go of.

Keith Witt: Yes.

Neil Sattin: And I'm curious for you, what does that barometer like in terms of you knowing like, "Okay, I guess I've done all I can do here," versus like, "You know what? I'm gonna keep trying. I have faith in this particular container that it will ultimately yield to the power of a growth mindset and relating.

Keith Witt: Well, first of all, it of course depends on the nature of the relationship. You know, loving-kindness is a practice. And we can all do it now because it's a wonderful practice to get yourself into a place where you are available to engage in a mature and healthy activity, and here's how you do it. You imagine some other person. So I'm imagining you right now and then I am reaching out from my heart, to your heart, and in my mind, I'm saying to myself from my heart to your heart, "May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you have an easeful life." And as I do that, I am changing my state. Now, if I do that with... If you're my lover and I do that when we are in conflict, my defensive state, because I'm in, we are in conflict, all communication is complimentary, we're probably both in defensive states that are self-amplifying which is by defensive states we are so dangerous as couples. What I'm doing is I am now shifting into another state of consciousness where instead of allowing my nervous system to relate to you as an unsafe person, that I am objectifying to a certain extent.

Keith Witt: Now, I'm relating to you as someone I care about and that shifts my state. Now, as I do that, if we're around each other and you can see into my eyes, or hear my voice, your state begins to shift out of defensive state into a state of healthy response to the present moment. And so loving-kindness meditation is a wonderful practice to learn how to do when you're stressed because it shifts your state into an area where you have access to your frontal lobes, you have access to your deep wisdom and you're regulating your defensive states into your more mature and more powerful states of conscious awareness and compassionate understanding.

Keith Witt: And I encourage everybody who's listening to do it at this moment. Imagine somebody, you can imagine me if you want, I'd take all the loving-kindness that the... [chuckle] people could give, your heart to that person's heart. And in your mind, say, "May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you have an easeful life." And see how it feels. Interestingly, when people did this meditation, they had anti-inflammatory genes activated in their bodies and antiviral genes activated in their bodies that this meditation made their immune systems more robust, by shifting the myelinazation patterns of their genetic expression. That's how powerful this is.

Neil Sattin: Well, well, and... Yeah, I'm just struck by that like we talk about our anger being inflamed and how interesting that anti-inflammatory actions take place when we go into a place of loving-kindness like that.

Keith Witt: It's amazing.

Neil Sattin: And I'm thinking too about my own experience with Chloe and we're doing really well together. Not that we haven't had our challenges and despite doing really, really well together when something happens and one of us goes to that defensive state and we both end up there even... I guess what I'm saying is, even in the best of relationships, and you talk about this with Becky as well, it can be such a challenge, such an effort to even utter within, oh, you know, much less saying it out loud to your partner, if you happen to be in their presence. But within like, "May you be safe, may you be loved." I think if you're thinking back to a time when you had an argument with your partner, you'll get what I'm talking about that, it's like the last thing you wanna do.

Keith Witt: That's right.

Neil Sattin: And yet it has so much power if you can somehow do it.

Keith Witt: Yeah. What helps me with this is understanding that those defensive states that you enter when you're mad at each other, those were evolutionary milestones for the human species. And most of our brain is designed to relate with other people and there's a lot of good evidence that one of the reasons that brain size expanded about two million, three million years ago is because the level of complexity in human groups went up, and we needed to have more brain power to be able to relate with each other. And in those primitive tribes, there were social organizations just like there are in primate groups and that meant when there was a problem that couldn't be resolved cooperatively people went into dominance displays because the dominance hierarchies are what maintained the social fabric.

Keith Witt: And what they would do, they were programmed to do genetically is to raise their emotional intensity to intimidate the other person into taking an inferior place or the dominance hierarchy or to have you submit in a way that would happen before physical violence could take place, which would maintain the integrity of the social structure and protect people from hurting each other because evolutionarily speaking, the biggest threat to humans, for the last couple of million years, have been other humans.

Keith Witt: Now, what modern consciousness is brought to bear is way more powerful ways of dealing with conflict, way more sophisticated ways. And so when those defensive states are activated if I know that if I can engage in collaborative, two men in problem solving with this person, what that does is it opens up a possibility for this moment to enhance our personal evolution, this moment to make our love deeper, to support our friendship and our love affair. If I know that, if I can just have the faintest memory of that, then I can start working at soothing myself and soothing you and inviting you into that process to create that container of that dialectic. That container of mutual respect and individual rights and looking for a deeper truth and receiving influence. And when we do that a hundred times or a thousand times and discover how well it works, how it creates these miracles of consciousness, then what we've done is we've taken those primitive impulses and we've included and transcended them in the more sophisticated influences.

Keith Witt: And you know in our last talk, I talked about how what we're actually doing is growing our shadow selves. We're growing our unconscious. Our unconscious becomes more complex and it regulates outside of our awareness so that it gets easier and easier to reach for these better states. Now, every once in a while, we get triggered usually from a trauma memory and bam, here comes the defensive state, it happens in 60 milliseconds. We have amplified our numb emotions, distorted perspective, destructive impulses, and diminish capacities for empathy and self-reflection like that. But if you can learn to self-observe that, what you end up doing is instead of trusting all that stuff, trusting that distorted perspective, trusting those destructive impulses, going along with that lack of self-reflection and empathy and say, "No, no, I'm actually in a disadvantage state now I need to reach for something that is more powerful," like compassionate understanding that provides the impetus interiorly to do that for yourself. And then when you are doing that for yourself, you're non-verbally and verbally encouraging your partner to do the same.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Keith Witt: And this...

Neil Sattin: May I offer just a quick example of that?

Keith Witt: Sure.

Neil Sattin: So just the other night, I was with Chloe and we were talking about something, she was going to cover for me for something, and she made a comment like, "This is actually the last thing I wanna do, it sounds horrible to me, but I'm gonna do it but it sounds horrible." And I immediately went into like, she's being negative about this thing and I don't even want you to do it anyway, if it's gonna be horrible for you. So we started spiraling down this place and it was kinda late at night, so we weren't in our... There's not a lot of will power left at the...

Keith Witt: That's right. Oh no.

Neil Sattin: At the end of the day to actually steer yourself back. But fortunately I'd been reading your book and so I turned to her and I said, "Help me, help me help you, what I'm hearing you say that this is horrible. And it sounds like hell and I don't know what you need from me right now, what I can see is that I'm just going into this place where I am polarizing or where I somehow wanna change you or change your experience, but I clearly that's not working 'cause you're just getting more and more angry at me, and I'm getting more angry at you. Like what do you need?" And you know, to prove your point, Keith and this was just so hilarious to me in the moment, she looked at me and her eyes were big and wide, and she just said, "I need your compassion. I need you to understand that, yes, of course, I'm gonna do this for you, I love you, and it's not... It wouldn't be my first choice to do this thing and I just need you to hear me and to acknowledge me and to be compassionate."

Neil Sattin: So that was the first thing that was like, "Oh okay, right." And so, of course, I'm thinking like I know this and of course I know this, like I've... 'cause we've done this a million times, but here we were in this space of conflict. And so then I started thinking, like, "Well, I know that the key right now is to be compassionate and I've even done it before, but right now, I can't for some reason, I really can't." And so I asked myself like, "Why, why can't I be compassionate right now?" And I had this huge realization about my own earlier experiences with being confronted with, I had an idea about something and just to keep it somewhat vague like let's say a family member would have shit on my idea or say like, "No Like that. We're not gonna do that."

Neil Sattin: And so for me, I had to develop a pretty strong defense to that kind of what I perceived as negative energy, or a negative attack, and so my choice was never to meet that with compassion. I didn't... No one instructed me on how to do that as a kid, so I was just like kind of shoring myself up and figuring like, "Okay, how do I turn a negative into a positive, how do I... " It's like I had Martin Seligman in my back pocket like...

Keith Witt: There you go.

Neil Sattin: And which was good for me, in some level, but in this situation with Chloe, there was no like saying, "Hey, let's turn those lemons into lemonade." Like that wasn't what she needed in that moment. And as soon as I realized that and I shared that with her, "Oh wow, I'm realizing that you need compassion, and I can't do it and it's because I just have this defense against being... Like I've never learned how to be compassionate, what I've learned how to do is to try to look on the bright side or try to make things not as bad. And for us, it was this huge moment of understanding that just softened everything and next thing you knew, we were singing to each other and making peace with each other instead of making war.

Keith Witt: Well, I just love that story. You know what? When a couple comes in with the story like that, there's part of me that goes, "Mm-hmm. My work here is done." [laughter] You notice what you did, you went into vulnerability as power which you can do with her because she is a sophisticated enough partner to see that and to be moved by it and then you went into the real issue. The real issue is us, our container. And to go there, I have to go essentially into my trauma history to find out why I had this reaction, that's more rigid than I'm used to. It's more amplified than I'm used to. And yes, that it always comes from previous learning, often it comes from a family of origin. And when you understand that the problem right now was a solution, it's often a brilliant solution 40 years ago, but now it's not adequate because I'm in a relationship where I can actually go into deeper love from this place, which was not available then, I'd rather go into deeper love.

Keith Witt: And that's what you guys did and you were focusing on the real issue, which is we need to... There is a rupture in our container, in our intersubjective container, we need to heal that. And we know that we've healed it when we feel that sense of loving connection. When you're repairing, yes, you wanna validate the other person and, yes, the other person wants to feel understood. And you wanna feel understood. And you wanna take a little bit of action to solve the problem. Those are all important parts of repair. Yeah, you wanna accept that that's not gonna solve the whole problem but it will solve a piece of it but at the very end of it, there needs to be loving connection. If you don't have that loving connection, you haven't repaired it yet. And you only know that when you both feel it at the same time and everybody who has done that, which is almost all of us, knows what that feels like. And that needs to be the standard. That is always the standard to get back to love.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. There's this little song. I don't know who the source of it is but Chloe learned it recently and it's become our latest practice at the end of conflict. Not that conflict's happening all the time, but just as a reminder and a recognition of having gotten back to love. And can I sing it? Can I share?

Keith Witt: Oh please, I was gonna ask you to sing it. Sing it.

Neil Sattin: So it goes like this. "I behold you beautiful one. I behold you child of the Earth and sun. Let my love wash over you. Let my love watch over you." That's it.

Keith Witt: That's beautiful.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So for us that... And actually I find myself when I'm still stewing I can sing that to her in my mind. And that also helps like, "Okay, I'm coming back now." I can remember that the whole reason we're here is because we love each other and because our love is ever deepening and we've had that experience. So that also helps me come back to the table and get back to love with her.

Keith Witt: When you sing that song inside you, when you're with her, you're doing loving-kindness meditation.

Neil Sattin: Yes.

Keith Witt: That's another form of loving-kindness meditation.

Neil Sattin: Yes, exactly. So, Keith, let's shift gears just a little bit because I wanna give you a chance to paint the picture. You created a beautiful scaffolding around which Loving Completely is built and you call it The Five Star Practice. And there are these five questions that people can ask themselves about themselves and about their partner to help direct their attention to the elements that create an amazing thriving relationship. And you talk about how it came up in a conversation with your kids around like what to look for in a good partner and how that has become this lens through which you can... These questions have become a lens through which you can look at any relationship and see what's going well, what's not, where you might need to adjust your habits. And so could we go through those five star questions?

Keith Witt: Sure.

Neil Sattin: So people get a sense of what we're talking about.

Keith Witt: Yes. The genesis of this was in a conversation with my two teenage kids in the kitchen, of them asking, How do I choose somebody? And anybody who's done therapy realizes that at certain points in your life you open up and something comes through, you become a channel. And so those five questions came out. And as a scientist, I'm always a little uncomfortable with stuff like that because, yes, we can see it as an unconscious download, but it always feels like you're connected to something larger. And the interesting thing about that is that they really haven't changed that much over the years. It's been 15 years or so. And they've been cross-validated again, and again, and again, and again with neuroscience and social science and so on. And so I'll tell you the five questions but I'll tell you the reason for the questions and I'll tell you the foundation of the questions.

Keith Witt: The foundation is compassionate self and other observation. Loving-kindness meditation does that, attunement, paying attention with acceptance and caring intent to what you're sensing, feeling, thinking, judging, and wanting. Paying attention with acceptance and caring intent, what your partner might be sensing, feeling, thinking, judging, and wanting. That's the foundation, compassionate self and other observation. Now, if you can establish that, and however way you do it, if you ask yourself these questions, you're basically, when you ask yourself a question, you're opening up to your unconscious.

Keith Witt: So the questions are first, is there erotic polarity between me and this other person? Is there a spark between their feminine and my masculine? Because when we are looking for a partner, or when we were maintaining a relationship, part of that is the love affair. That love affair is a big deal, and that love affair is based on a spark between two poles, between the masculine in one person and the feminine in the other. Now we have energetic polarities between ourselves and everything and everybody. You have an energetic polarity when you look at a sunset, or when you're telling your daughter good night, I love you. But you have a certain kind of erotic polarity, has a sexual feel, between you as a masculine or feminine person and another person as a masculine and feminine person, and we're adjusting those all the time.

Keith Witt: And so that's one question, Is there a spark of erotic polarity between me and this other person? The second question is, Does this person maintain their physical and psychological health? Doesn't mean they have to be super healthy, it just means they're responsible for their physical and psychological health, and if there's a problem they'll take care of it. Third question is, If I'm in a relationship with this person or if I am and there's conflict, would they be able and willing to do what it takes to get back to love? We've been talking about repair, you and I, and that's a central skill in intimate relationships. A fourth question is, Would this person show up appropriately for a child or a family member? Appropriately is not co-dependently, appropriately is there's a lot of things that are appropriate, but will they show up in a healthy fashion for a child or a family member? And the fifth one is, Does this person have something larger than themselves, something sacred that they're committed to? And do they feel a sense of respect, even admiration, or would they feel that for what's sacred to me?

Keith Witt: So those are a lot of questions but if you pay attention to those five dimensions about other people, after a while they become like new sense organs and you just notice these things. You'll pull up to somebody... You're sitting down next to somebody in a restaurant, you look over and you go, "I bet that person would be a good parent." Or you see somebody, you go, "Hmm, I feel a spark of erotic polarity with this person." Or you look at that person, you go, "I don't think that person maintains their physical health very well." Or they do. They become things that you notice like people's clothes and eye color. And if you notice them about other people, it makes it easier to notice them about yourself. And these are not absolute questions. In relationships, we go moment to moment to moment to moment. And so they're dimensions that keep shifting. I can be engaged in a healthy behavior in one moment, and then all of a sudden I'm reaching for the doughnut and I'm engaging in an unhealthy behavior. And now what am I gonna do about that?

Keith Witt: Am I gonna adjust towards health or am I going to eat the doughnut then eat another doughnut? If I do that as a habit, then I'm not maintaining my physical health, for instance. And in relationships, we're always kind of adjusting... When I was talking earlier about being in growth power hierarchies, and then adjusting from dominator hierarchies to growth hierarchies, that's attending on a moment to moment, and these five dimensions are ways of adjusting. Am I showing up appropriately for my son? Am I expressing admiration and respect for what my wife finds deeply meaningful? And if I'm evaluating a partner, does this person do these things? And if the answer to even one of these is no, then there's gonna be problems. That doesn't mean you don't get in a relationship, but what it does mean is you have a conversation about it.

Keith Witt: And if you can ask yourself these questions about yourself and other people, what that does is it opens you up to have these be continua that you can discuss, they make them talkaboutable in relationship. And one of the big problems that couples have is they have one set of agreements on top that they usually hear in their marriage vows, and a whole different set of agreements below the surface that never get discussed until a problem comes up. You know, a great one is, I promise to be faithful for you. That's a public agreement. And then, the private one, unless I have an opportunity to have great sex with somebody else and I have this conviction that you'll never find out about it.

Neil Sattin: [chuckle] Right.

Keith Witt: Yeah. Well. If that agreement, if that private agreement is examined by me and discussed with you, I'm less vulnerable to have that happen. Number one predictor of affairs is opportunity and people have an opportunity and they're not prepared because these things have not been talkaboutable with another person. That's one of the reasons I have two or three chapters on affairs and what to do about affairs in Loving Completely. Even if you never had an affair or if your partner has never had an affair, it's useful to understand the dynamics of affairs because those dynamics affect everybody, and if we're aware of those dynamics, awareness regulates. And so being more woken up and more aware helps prepare us. Now, this is my bias, my bias is I like to understand everything, that's why I like Integral Studies. Integral Theory is a meta-theory that has a lot of theories inside it.

Keith Witt: And other people don't particularly like to grow in that fashion. But if there's one approach that speaks to you around any of these, okay, you can just dive into that approach. But you don't dive into the approach unless you realize it's something that needs attention. And asking yourself these questions about yourself and your partner and having them be modes of discourse between you and your partner, if some problem does happen in intersubjectivity, if there is a problem in your friendship, your love affair, your ability to receive influence or support of each other's personal evolution and collective evolution, it's more likely to come out and now you have a language to discuss it and to resolve it, and you have a growth mindset to make it better. And you have an orientation, we wanna turn this into deeper love and compassionate understanding of each other. And that's what creates the great relationships.

Neil Sattin: Right. I love hearing someone saying, "Oh, I just started seeing this person and we decided to start going to therapy together so that we were getting support." Or, "I just got together... " Actually I just had this happen with someone who said, "I just started this relationship... " And they had actually purchased the course that Chloe and I put together called Thriving intimacy.

Keith Witt: Great.

Neil Sattin: For a previous relationship, and they said, "We're starting off doing the course together." And I love hearing that because not only are they skill building, but yeah, they're creating that common dialogue of common vocabulary, a way to talk about things. And I think one of the biggest challenges is especially around those things that are scary like someone for instance saying, "I don't know if I have what it takes to be faithful." Wow, what a scary conversation to have with your partner. So any framework that you have that gives you the ability to talk about that and to keep each other safe in that conversation is so powerful and important for helping you strengthen rather than repeatingly shying away from those kinds of topics.

Keith Witt: Yes. And it's hard to talk about difficult things. You get easily threatened. And those defensive states show up. And if you're not aware, if you can't see those defensive states, then you tend to have those downward spirals that you talked about. But if you're aware of them, and you adjust back into those dialectics, those states of healthy response in the ways we've been discussing, then you can sustain the conversations. People, if they have a bad time, will tend to avoid the conversation. There's one study that showed if a guy initiated sex with his partner and she said no once, there was a certain number of guys that never initiated again. That one negative experience was enough to close down that conversation.

Neil Sattin: Wow.

Keith Witt: That's really a bad thing in intimacy. You want your intimacy to be marked by more and more things being talkaboutable, not less and less, not fewer and fewer things.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I love that. Talkaboutable. I think I'm gonna start using that. That...

Keith Witt: There you go.

Neil Sattin: Phrase. Yeah, it's a good one.

Keith Witt: My gift to you.

Neil Sattin: Thank you, thank you. One last thing, and we could talk about this forever. Obviously, I think every time you've been on the show we've spoken for quite a while and there's so much to digest here, and I do encourage you to, if you haven't heard the first two episodes that Keith and I did together, definitely go check them out. Episode 13, Episode 80. And there's so much in your book. I'm really excited for it to be out because it encapsulates so much. And as you mentioned, there are a couple of chapters on affairs. As I read through it, I was like holy mackerel. There's a couple of chapters on just about everything. Which isn't to say that it's this long slog of a read, you're actually a very entertaining and engaging writer, which I really appreciate.

Keith Witt: Thank you.

Neil Sattin: But there's a lot here for you to get that different growth oriented integrally informed perspective on all these different facets of relationship. What I'm curious about, from your perspective, Keith, is this is something that we've been touching on. And we touched on it in the dimension of... And I even had my own confession here. Yeah, I know I'm supposed to get compassionate right now, but I can't fucking do it. [chuckle] There's so much that we are learning about how to have better relationships and yet it requires us to change what we habitually do. It requires us to not just hear it and be like, "Yeah, that's awesome." And maybe to not even just tell our partner about it, but it requires us to actually shift the way that we behave and to follow through on that over and over again, especially because sometimes the initial shift doesn't yield the results that we are hoping for.

Neil Sattin: So it's like, you gotta stick with it. You talk in the book about mastery, and that initial like you learn a lot and then you have this plateau and it takes a lot of effort to get through that plateau to the place where you have another growth spike. So I'm curious, if I'm listening to the show and saying, "Alright, this stuff sounds great, it sounds really great. In fact, it's amazing." What do I do to remember it tomorrow so that I actually can put this thing into practice tomorrow?

Keith Witt: First of all, do the loving-kindness meditation a lot. The more irritated I am with somebody, the more of a positive impact on me the loving-kindness meditation has. And so that's kind of the first place I go when I get pissed off at somebody and I gotta tell you, I've been doing it quite a lot the last year and a half in that state. And the other thing is to ask those five questions, ask them all the time, not just with your partner but with everybody. Ask... Notice them in yourself. Am I... How am I doing with these five questions? And just to get information. Just to have... Do it from a perspective of compassionate understanding. I wanna understand, and by asking those questions your unconscious will give you answers. And as that happens, you're strengthening that perception, that perceptual capacity to notice these things and to be interested in these things and to be able to discuss these things.

Keith Witt: Now, why is this super important? None of us exist independent of everybody else. So we have our history and we have all the cultures that we were in, embedded in our personalities and in our relationships. An American culture has, over the last hundred years, has gradually been waking up. Psychotherapy and psychology has influenced it to some extent. And in the 21st century, more and more psychotherapists are recognizing that psychotherapy is not primarily about identifying psychopathology and treating it like an infection. Psychotherapy is about supporting people's development, relationally, individually, it's about supporting people's personal evolution, supporting people being healthy and happy, and having coherent lives and growing.

Keith Witt: And then along the way, there's blocks and problems that are natural functions of being human beings. And that those are difficult. The human nervous system, once it establishes a defensive pattern, doesn't want to give it up. That pattern has to be included and transcended in a more complex pattern and that requires conscious effort on our part. And ideally, these things would be taught from birth onward, but they're not. So what we do is we start whenever we start and learn things and do our best to implement them. And receiving influence from carrying other people is a super power as I said in the beginning. And particularly from our partner. Now hostile influence is not caring influence. If somebody wants to dominate me, and I'm influenced to submit, that doesn't do us any good relationally, okay?

Keith Witt: But someone influencing me when I'm being pissed off, inviting me into a growth hierarchy with them, inviting me into mutual understanding, and if I can receive that influence and do it, then we've taken our relationship at that moment to a greater level of complexity. Like you and Chloe did in the example that you gave. Okay, we wanna do that, we wanna get better at that throughout our lifetime, and we want to teach our children how to do it. And with our partner, we wanna help our partner do it and generally insist on partners who are willing to grow with us. They don't have to be as deep as we are in any developmental line, but if they're willing to grow in any of the significant lines of development, the psychosocial, the sexual, the moral line, and so on, we can continue to get more loving and more complex and human development goes in the direction of more compassion, more deeper understanding, deeper consciousness.

Keith Witt: And with couples, it goes to having a more and more special intersubjectivity. And that intersubjectivity is beautiful and powerful and really the most powerful and delicate relationship that's ever existed is a modern marriage where people can maintain this container, this friendship and love affair and repair of injuries and support each other's evolution. It's the developmental driver. As you begin to do that with someone, you value it, you get a little bit protective of it. It's easier to not let outside influences screw it up and it's easier to adjust when you have primitive incursions from your trauma history or from your early learning.

Neil Sattin: I have a question. How do you... Can you give me an example of this is the moment to exercise my power to receive caring influence? And I know I sort of offered one with Chloe, but I'm curious how would that... When does that typically arise for a couple so that they're like, "Oh this is the perfect time. Caring influence is available for me. Let me receive." How would I identify that.

Keith Witt: Great example. You're having a conversation with your partner. I've had this happen with Becky many times. She'll say something. I don't know. She'll make a comment about taking care of somebody. She errs on the side of co-dependence occasionally. And I'll go, "Cheese." Just like that. Really? You're gonna take care of that person? Now you can hear the contempt in my voice, right? Now at that point, if I'm looking at her, I see a wave of pain go across her face. And she'll... These days, she'll say, "Geez, that was kind of a nasty tone." Now, 40 years ago, I would have said, "Well, yeah, yeah, well, you're thinking of doing a really stupid thing. That's why I used a nasty tone." Okay, well, I learned from bitter experience that that really wasn't a very good response to that. That was a stupid response 'cause it just made things worse.

Keith Witt: So what I'll do is go, "Yeah, she's right." And I'll go, "I'm sorry. I know if I think it's a bad idea I use the dismissive tone, and I apologize. I am worried that you're gonna do something that will hurt you, that might not be appropriate to do, and so I got contemptuous, I apologize." I received influence. I changed what I thought and how I did.

Neil Sattin: Got it.

Keith Witt: Now she, on the other hand, was not caught up in the fact that I used a contemptuous tone 30 seconds earlier. She could have been. She could have said, "Well, you said that. And used that nasty tone. Screw you." "Well, I'm sorry I used a nasty tone." "It's too late." People will say that, it's too late. Well, it needs to not be too late. If your partner is doing their best to shift. And so all Becky will do is go, "Thanks, I appreciate it, and I'll do my best to not be codependent with this person." She'll receive influence from me then. Okay? It's is as simple as that. If you just do it on the level of tones. Is my tone communicating respect and care? If it's not, I'm sorry. By definition, I'm sorry. It's not like, "Oh yeah, I'm sorry, unless you deserve it."

Keith Witt: No, nobody deserves a contemptuous tone. I'm a martial artist. I studied karate and lots of other martial arts for decades. You know, the only time that you do violence to another person is in a street fight, and then you do it respectfully. The other person really could care less whether you're being respectful when you're breaking their arm, but you know that you're doing it respectfully. Every other situation, setting boundaries, we talked about earlier, telling somebody you need to stop doing that 'cause that's hurting. All of that can be done respectfully. That's the standard. And once we embrace that standard, which is basically a nonviolent standard, it's not a passive standard, it's a nonviolent standard. It organizes us whenever we have a little bit of violence of tone or deed or thought or so on, to say, "Yeah, that was violent, I apologize." And that... Noticing that in itself, and then making that adjustment changes everything.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, and following on the question before I'm listening and I'm saying, "Okay, I want, I need to remember to do that tomorrow, I need to remember to do that tomorrow." Like on this core level of recognizing, okay, I have a habit of not doing that and I realize we probably don't have time right now to go into a whole conversation about how to change habits, but what would be the first step that someone could take to ensure that, okay, I'm not gonna just do tomorrow what I habitually do. I'm gonna maintain my awareness of some other options that exist for me.

Keith Witt: Almost any contemplative practice helps. There's a real interesting study that was done on psychotherapists. Psychotherapists who did contemplative practice, which is any kind of meditation that focused on compassionate inner awareness, they had higher empathy scores. But when they stopped doing their practice, their empathy scores went down.

Neil Sattin: Wow.

Keith Witt: So having some mindful practice, and those five questions if you're asking them about yourself is a mindful practice. Paying attention with acceptance and caring intent, what you're feeling, thinking, judging, wanting, sensing, is a mindfulness practice. Doing that mindfulness practice and being able to recognize when you shift into violence, when you shift into diminishing another person. Or when you're feeling that sense of attunement where the sky is the limit. You and I are going back and forth in that intersubjectivity that we all love so much, that seekers love so much with other seekers, where we're looking for deeper truth together and both of us are kind of alert to what's gonna emerge between us. There's a palpable difference between those two moods of discourse. Once that becomes visible to you, it becomes way easier to regulate it. And what is visible to you as a couple? Now you've changed. That's a developmental milestone when that's visible for a couple.

Keith Witt: And they both feel a sense of responsibility to maintain the positive intersubjectivity, and to make adjustments with the negative intersubjectivity. So there's the answer, attunement, contemplative practice, and noticing the difference between those two states. And recognizing it's my responsibility to adjust from the negative state to the positive state. Just like you did with Chloe. I have a problem. What's my responsibility? My responsibility with her now is to lead with my vulnerability. I really don't know what to do. You're upset. I'm kind of conflicted. I don't know what to do. That vulnerable response was the most powerful response you could give in that moment. It invited her to understand and to offer her own vulnerability and out of that you guys came to a greater level of complexity with each other.

Neil Sattin: Perfect, yeah. Well, Keith, thank you so much as always for being here with us to chat about relationships and your experience combined with all the research you've done. I really enjoy our ability to enter that highly attuned intersubjective space together and hopefully it's enjoyable for you listening as well 'cause you can tell. I think we both get kind of excited about it.

Keith Witt: Yeah. It's really fun. It's really fun talking with you, Neil.

Neil Sattin: Awesome.

Keith Witt: Just gotta say, this is really... This is really a good time.


Neil Sattin: Good, awesome. Well, then, we know we'll have another opportunity for sure, in the future. In the meantime, if you are interested in finding out more about Keith's work, do check out his new book, Coming Out, Loving Completely. He has many other books that are all great that I recommend for sure. Keith, what's your website? What's the best way for people to find out more about what's happening with you?

Keith Witt: Just go on my website, There's lots of free lectures and lots of blogs. If you sign up, which is free, you get a free copy of my book, Attuned Family, and I'll send you free content from some of the classes that I teach, or the lectures that I've done. And there's also lectures for sale and classes for sale on my website. So, yeah, go to my website, check it out.

Neil Sattin: Awesome. And...

Keith Witt: Take something for you.

Neil Sattin: And we will have, as I mentioned at the beginning, a detailed transcript available for you if you visit, as in Loving Completely or text the word PASSION to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. Keith Witt, such a pleasure to have you back here and thanks so much for all of your wisdom and knowledge today.

Keith Witt: Thank you for having me.

Sep 6, 2018

Do you ever feel like you'll never quite reach your ideal in your relationship? And does it bring you down? How do you take stock of how things are going in a way that helps you not only improve things, but also identify what your strengths are - what needs celebrating? On today's episode, you'll learn a simple process for assessing things in your relationship - and how to celebrate the things that are celebration-worthy. And you'll uncover a way to hold your ideal vision without it becoming something that teases you by being continually out of reach. How do you hold your ideal, while celebrating along the way? That's what's up in this week's episode of Relationship Alive - which also happens to mark the 3 YEAR ANNIVERSARY of the podcast.

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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