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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 http://www.neilsattin.com
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Now displaying: February, 2019
Feb 27, 2019

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

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

Resources:

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

FREE Guide to Neil’s Top 3 Relationship Communication Secrets

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

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

Amazing intro and outro music provided courtesy of The Railsplitters

Feb 19, 2019

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

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

Resources:

Visit Michael Yapko’s website to learn more about his work.

Pick up your copy of Michael Yapko’s book, Depression Is Contagious: How the Most Common Mood Disorder Is Spreading Around the World and How to Stop It

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

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

Visit www.neilsattin.com/depression to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Michael Yapko.

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

Transcript:

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

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

Michael Yapko: My pleasure. Thank you, Neil.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neil Sattin: Yeah, thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[chuckle]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[chuckle]

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

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

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

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

Michael Yapko: Yeah, go ahead.

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

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

Neil Sattin: Awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Yapko: And there are so many different ways that depression can end up impacting the relationship. How many couples I've worked with families? I've worked with... We're a partner or a child will say to me, "Here are the kinds of awful, nasty things that my partner says when he's depressed," or "Here are the kinds of things that my mommy says to me when she's depressed or when she's not feeling good," and I have to say to the person, "I'm really sorry you're depressed. I am genuinely sorry you're depressed, but you can't say those kinds of things," that, "Your depression is going to lift, sooner, later, your depression's going to lift. But the things that you said to your partner, the things that you said to your kid are going to be echoing in their brains for years, you can't say those kinds of things. "And helping the person start to place boundaries. And what's interesting is, when I say to them, "You can't say those kinds of things," they say, "But that's how I feel."

Michael Yapko: Well, therein lies the problem. Just because you're feeling it doesn't mean you have to say it. Just because you're feeling it doesn't mean you have to act on it. Just because you're feeling it doesn't mean it becomes the basis for what you decide to do. And this is one of the models of depression that I find the most instructive. It's called The Stress Generation Model, and this is a model that talks about how depressed people make bad decisions that exacerbate their depression, and this is certainly one of the things that happens in relationships. So part of what I speak to when I'm working with couples where depression's a factor or when I'm working with families, where depression's a factor, is helping them build the boundary. It's not dishonest, it's not withholding, it's just setting limits on how far you're willing to go to introduce toxicity into the relationship and how to protect the people you love from that. Your moods are going to change, the nasty things that you say aren't. And so that is a really critical force. But there's another, as long as we're talking about interwoven factors there's a... So, another factor to bring into it, it's what's called the internal orientation, the internal orientation is how depressed people tend to use their feelings as the indicator of what to do.

Michael Yapko: And this is to me, one of the most exciting realms of new research, it's in the realm called Affective Neuroscience. And Affective Neuroscience as a field addresses the question, "How does your mood influence your thought processes? How does your mood influence memory, how does it influence autobiographical memory, how does it influence risk assessment, what you view as risky and what you view as not risky, how does it affect your perceptions of other people?" So for example, when we talk about depression's effect on relationships, part of what you alluded to Neil that was right on the money, is how depressed people often display a pattern of excessive reassurance seeking, that no matter how much reassurance you provide, it's not enough. "Do you love me? Do you still love me? Now, do you love me? Do you love me, do you love me, do you love me now, do you love me, do you still love me, do you still love me?" And no matter how many times you say, "Yes, I still love you. Yes, I still love you. Yes, I still love you," it's not enough until finally, the other person says, "I can't take this anymore."

Michael Yapko: So that is one of the patterns that play out in relationships that again, I'm helping people put a boundary on it, that that feeling of insecurity is not something you have to lay on the other person necessarily to ask it again and again and again.

Michael Yapko: There's another interpersonal pattern called conflict avoidance, that's also very typical in depressed relationships. The person isn't happy with something and they can't bring themselves to say something about it, so the other person does something and instead of saying, "Hey, that wasn't okay with me," or "Please if you would not do that anymore," or "Please stop that," wouldn't occur to them to say it because they're afraid that the other person's going to leave them, they're afraid the other person's going to get angry, they're afraid the other person's going to throw a tantrum, so they don't say anything. And by not bringing a correction into the interaction, the other person keeps doing what they're doing while they do a slow burn and eventually just can't stand the relationship anymore, and they missed all these opportunities to help shape it, help grow it, help make it better until eventually they just walk away from it, and that's an unfortunate consequence of that kind of conflict avoidance.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so quick question, especially when you were talking about affective neuroscience and how depression might affect one's ability to make good decisions, how do you balance that out with the cure to depression or I guess, maybe I shouldn't be using that word, but an effective way to manage your depression is to take action. So how do you take action, if on the one hand, you're afraid? Well, I'm depressed, so my decisions are going to be bad ones, so the actions I take are going to be bad ones.

Michael Yapko: Here's where the ability that I mentioned earlier to step outside your thinking becomes critically important. Let me give you an example.

Neil Sattin: Great.

Michael Yapko: A woman comes to me and she says to me, "I am so depressed. Have been for a long time." I ask. "Okay, so tell me about it. What can you tell me about it?" She says, "I'm just so lonely. I live alone in an apartment and I sit in my apartment and nobody calls me, and nobody comes to visit me. I go to work and I work in a little cubicle and nobody there talks to each other, they instant message, they text message, but I go to lunch and I sit by myself and nobody talks and nobody... And I'm just so lonely, I'm so lonely, I just sit in my apartment night after night, and I don't do anything and nobody calls me." So then I say to her, "Well, you stand a much better chance of meeting interesting people and developing friendships if every once in a while, you leave your apartment." [chuckle] She says, "I know, but I don't feel like it." Now, that's what I mean by an internal orientation. She is using her depressed feelings to keep herself alone and lonely.

Neil Sattin: Right.

Michael Yapko: I need to give her another frame of reference, "Whether you feel like it or not, if the result you want is to have people in your life, guess what, you're not likely to meet interesting people in your bathroom. If you're going to want to meet interesting people, you're going to have to go where people are." Now let's talk about the skills that make people less intimidating. Let's talk about how you start a conversation, let's talk about how you keep a conversation going, let's talk about how you end a conversation, let's talk about how you know what to self-disclose and what not to self-disclose. Let's talk about how you ask people questions and express interest in them. Let's talk about all of these things that are the skills that go into how to relate to members of your own species. Because if I can get you to respond and behave, according to what the goal is, instead of responding to what your feelings are, that's how you're going to make better decisions.

Neil Sattin: Perfect, and then, that experience of not feeling it, but doing it and following through on the skills that you're learning, that becomes a positive spiral.

Michael Yapko: But I have to make sure I'm not setting you up for failure. I can't send you into a social situation until you have at least the most basic skills. Otherwise, you go into a social situation with none of the skills, then you self-disclose things that are sensitive or inappropriate, and you get negative feedback from people, and then it becomes a failing experience. And then you come back and tell me, "I'm never going to do that again. You lousy therapist." I have to make sure that before I send them into those situations that they're ready.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, makes total sense. Well, this has been such a deep and far-ranging conversation, and most of what we've talked about, I think has been really for, to help understand depression more, for sure, and for people who, if you are experiencing some depression hopefully this conversation has given you some light and some sense of the pathway through and it really is on the person who's feeling depressed to find that pathway out with help of course, we can't stress that enough. That being said, what can we offer the partner? If I'm partnered with someone who I think is suffering from depression or I know they are because they've been diagnosed of depression, what are the best things that I can do to show up and to give us the best chance of succeeding in a relationship together?

Michael Yapko: It's hard to find the boundary between supporting someone, and enabling someone. So you as a partner, you certainly don't want to criticize the person, you don't want to belittle them, you don't want to minimize it, you don't want to get angry and frustrated with them that, "You must like your depression, otherwise you'd be going to get help." Bear in mind what I said earlier in this conversation. That depression's built on a foundation of passivity, and it's built on the hopelessness that this person doesn't seek help because they don't really believe it's going to make a difference. And that's why you as a guide of being willing to go in with them and be supportive, help them find somebody, help them get there, show up, even go into the session with them, if need be. But hopefully, the depression doesn't get so severe that somebody is that passive. How much suffering does somebody have to endure before they're willing to do something about it?

Michael Yapko: And this is different from person to person, but for as long as you're supportive, as long as you're encouraging them to look beyond themselves, as long as you're playing a role and helping them understand that just because they think it doesn't mean it's so, just because they feel it doesn't make it true, inviting them to look outside themselves about how other people cope with these things, showing positive examples of people who have overcome difficulties that they can learn the same skills even if they don't have them right now, they can learn from those experiences that can be inspiring, they can interview therapists and find somebody to work with that they feel good about, they're going to have to do some therapist shopping anyway.

Michael Yapko: It's not an instant fit necessarily. It's great when you connect with the first person you talk to, but sometimes it might take a therapist or two before you find somebody you really feel confident working with.

Neil Sattin: Kinda like dating.

Michael Yapko: Kinda like dating, like any relationship.

Neil Sattin: Exactly.

Michael Yapko: You're looking for goodness of fit. And then the importance of not giving up on this person, but also taking care of yourself. One of the first relationship casualties is fun. Depressed people aren't known for being fun. So the partner says, "Come on, let's go take a walk." And the depressed person says, "No, I don't feel like it." Well, go take a walk anyway, with or without the person. That's what I mean by not enabling them. You can do it nicely. "Well, I'm sorry that you want to stay home, but I really want to get outside, because it's a beautiful day and I'll be back in an hour." There's a very good chance that this depressed person will begrudgingly say, "Okay I'll go." And then they have a nice experience and they enjoyed the walk, they saw something pleasurable, they enjoyed watching this dog running down the street or whatever they enjoyed.

Michael Yapko: And so take care of yourself too. That's an important thing, that you don't build your life around depression. That's kind of the problem is when somebody says, "No, I don't feel like it," "Well, let's go to a movie, let's go see a comedy," "No, I don't feel like it," "Come on. Let's go hiking in the park," "No, I don't feel like it." And then, little by little this person starts building their life around the depression until the depression is so top-heavy that they collapse under the weight of it. And what a partner can do is help diversify this person's life, take them places, do things with them, and if they don't want to go, okay, you don't need to get into a fight about it again, but live your own life too and make sure that you still go places and do things that allow you to take care of yourself so that your life isn't about adjusting to depression.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, it seems like in this situation more than any, there's also a certain delicateness with how you would create boundaries for yourself. I'm going to take care of myself, or I'm going to do this walk, but doing it in a way that isn't what you said earlier, isn't being contemptuous or complaining or...

Michael Yapko: Right.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, aggravating the situation.

Michael Yapko: Exactly.

Neil Sattin: Well, Michael, thank you so much for all of your time and wisdom. And you've been doing this, as you said, for nearly half a century, and we could probably talk for at least another hour or two but I think we've covered enough for at least one day. And I just so appreciate the ways that you've been able to make depression recovery practical, and I think that the skills that you talk about are skills that are actually beneficial for everyone to be conscious of and getting better at. I loved your book. Depression is Contagious. You have so many others to choose from. So I hope that our listeners take advantage of following up and finding out more from you...

Michael Yapko: I hope so, and I think there's one other book I'd really like to in particular, I'd like to mention it's called Keys to Unlocking Depression. And I wrote that book for the general public, and particularly, for the depressed people who don't want to read. It's a really simple book of major ideas. There's a major idea of something you really need to know about depression. And then just two or three paragraphs of explanation before I go on to the next one. It's a little book, you could read the whole thing in a couple of hours, but there are a lot of really good pieces of advice in there, and again, it's aimed at the person who doesn't want to read. It's really quick, really simple. So there's another alternative for people who are listening.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I'm so glad you brought that up. I did read it, but maybe because I'm the person who wants to read, I skipped on to the media book, but yes, lots and lots of valuable wisdom in that one as well. Michael Yapko, it's been such a treat to have you with us here today. I hope we can have you back again at some point, I imagine we'll get some questions from listeners for the next time around, and in the meantime, thank you so much for spending time with us today on Relationship Alive.

Michael Yapko: Thanks so much for inviting me to be here. Thank you, Neil.

Neil Sattin: And just a reminder to you listening, if you want to download a transcript, you can visit neilsattin.com/depression, you can also text the word "Passion" to the number 33444 and follow the instructions and do make sure that you visit yapko.com. Alright, well, we went a little bit over.

 

Feb 13, 2019

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

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

Sponsors:

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

Our first sponsor is TakeCareOf.com. Through a unique online quiz, they help you figure out exactly what vitamins and herbal supplements you need to achieve your optimal health. They use high-quality ingredients and can save you as much as 20% over comparable store-bought brands. On top of all that, you can get 50% off your first month of personalized Care/of vitamins. Just go to TakeCareOf.com and enter the promo code “ALIVE50”.

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Resources:

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

FREE Guide to Neil’s Top 3 Relationship Communication Secrets

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

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

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Feb 5, 2019

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

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

Sponsors:

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

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

This episode is also sponsored by Native Deodorant. Their products are filled with ingredients you can find in nature like coconut oil, which is an antimicrobial, shea butter to moisturize, and tapioca starch to absorb wetness. They don’t ever test on animals, they don’t use aluminum or any other scary chemical ingredients, and they’re so confident that you’ll like their deodorant that they offer free shipping - and returns. For 20% off your first purchase, visit http://www.nativedeodorant.com/alive and use promo code ALIVE during checkout.

Resources:

Visit John & Julie Gottman’s website to learn more about their work.

Find out more about John & Julie Gottman’s new book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.

Buy the Eight Dates book on Amazon.

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

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

Visit www.neilsattin.com/gottman4 to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with John and Julie Gottman.

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

Transcript:

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

Neil Sattin: In order to find out more, we have the pleasure today of being joined by Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, and also Dr. John Gottman, who are the co-authors, along with Doug Abrams and Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams, of the new book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. They are here today to talk about this book and explore exactly why it's so important to come together with your partner with some intention to understand each other more deeply, and not just for the purpose of bringing out the ways that you're the same, but in particular, coming to understand your differences. And we're going to get more into that in a moment. As usual, we will have a detailed transcript of this episode. In order to download it, you can visit neilsattin.com/gottman4, that's Gottman and the number 4. And you can also just text the word "Passion" to the number 33444, and follow the instructions, and that will also get you to a page where you can download the transcript for this week's episode with the Gottmans. So I think that's a good enough start. Without further ado, John and Julie Gottman, thank you so much for joining me today here on 'Relationship Alive'.

John Gottman: Thank you, Neil.

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

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

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

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

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

John Gottman: 300 couples.

Julie Gottman: 300 couples.

John Gottman: Yeah.

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

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

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

Neil Sattin: Right.

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

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

John Gottman: Right.

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

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

John Gottman: Right.

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

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

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

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

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

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

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

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

John Gottman: Right.

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

[laughter]

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

Neil Sattin: Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

John Gottman: We bring our kayak.

Julie Gottman: Yup.

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

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

[laughter]

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

John Gottman: Right.

[laughter]

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

Julie Gottman: Yeah, we would love that.

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

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

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

John Gottman: Yeah.

Julie Gottman: Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neil Sattin: Go ahead.

John Gottman: It's kind of a mindset.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

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

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

[laughter]

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

John Gottman: Hey, you do.

Julie Gottman: Right.

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

[laughter]

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

[laughter]

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

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

[chuckle]

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

John Gottman: But you actually do understand a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[laughter]

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

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

John Gottman: Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Gottman: Yeah, go ahead.

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

[laughter]

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

Neil Sattin: Uh oh.

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

[laughter]

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

[laughter]

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

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

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

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

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

[chuckle]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neil Sattin: Other than that, if you want the transcript to today's episode, neilsattin.com/gottman4. And as you might get, that's because we've had John on a few times before, so you can go to Gottman, Gottman2, Gottman3, and you can get your dose of Gottman, and it's so sweet, Julie, to have you here with us as well. I've loved your contribution today in this conversation. Thank you so much both for joining us, and I look forward to having you here again on 'Relationship Alive'.

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

John Gottman: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Great.

Julie Gottman: Okay.

 

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