As your relationship changes, are things getting better and better? Or have you gotten stuck along the way? If you get stuck - how do you get unstuck? And no matter what happens, how do you foster a sense of collaboration, of being on the “same team” with your partner? Today’s guests, Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson, have charted the course of how relationships develop - in fact, they created the “Developmental Model” for working with couples. Along with practical experience from having helped many couples, Ellyn and Peter are among the leaders in the field of training couples therapists to become more effective. Their book for therapists, In Quest of the Mythical Mate: A Developmental Approach to Diagnosis and Treatment in Couples Therapy is a classic that has stood the test of time - unlike many other books and theories that have come and gone. Today you’ll learn how to figure out where you’re stuck in your relationship, and how to be on the same team as you steer things back in a healthier direction.
Also, please check out our first episode with Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson - Relationship Alive Episode 24: Why We Lie (and How to Get Back to the Truth)
As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!
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Check out Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson's website
Get Ellyn and Peter’s Guide to Super Negotiation for Couples and find out about their other resources
FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide - perfect help for handling conflict…
Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner's Needs) in Relationship (ALSO FREE)
www.neilsattin.com/development Visit to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson.
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Neil Sattin: Thank you so much for being with us here today on Relationship Alive.
Pete Pearson: It's good to be here, Neil.
Ellyn Bader: Yeah, really happy to be with you again, Neil.
Neil Sattin: Awesome. Yes. It's been a while since episode 24, which was when we last spoke, when we're now in the 150s here. So ...
Pete Pearson: Oh my goodness.
Neil Sattin: I know, I know. So Pete, we were just talking, and we were talking about the ... Before we started officially, we were talking about this question about what people do when they get triggered, and you said, "That's not the most important question for people to be asking." And so I'm curious, from your perspective, what is the most important question that people should be asking?
Pete Pearson: See, here's what's interesting, Neil. In just about every couple that we see, a couple will get an insight into where they're stuck, how they're stuck, and why they're stuck. And the next question almost inevitably is, "Well, what do we do about it?" And that's an understandable question. And I used to think, "Oh, they're asking me for advice. I'll give them advice about what to do right now." And then they will leave, they will practice what I just expressed, they will come back, and they will be on bending knee thanking me for my wisdom, intelligence, smarts, etc.
Pete Pearson: What I discovered is, and they say, "God you're so wonderful, what other advice do you have? And we're gonna tell all our friends about you, because you're so smart. " Well what I discovered was, it didn't happen that often. But yet they asked, "What do we do about it?" And then I discovered, the what do we do about it is a good question, but it's a premature question. Really the question that comes before is, "How motivated are you to do something about it?" See, it takes a strong motivation, a bigger picture that pulls us forward, and that bigger picture, that stronger motivation is what allows us to unhook from those triggers. And if the motivation is puny, then no matter what I say that could be effective, will not be applied.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, we had David Burns on the show, and he was talking about how surprised he often is that when it gets right down to it, a lot of couples that he's worked with, actually aren't willing to change. Even though they are coming to couples' therapy, they would prefer being stuck where they are, versus whatever's required to change the direction.
Pete Pearson: Well I think that's true for one part of them. Here's what I mean. And I think the dilemma of change was summed up brilliantly by James Baldwin, the playwright and writer, when he said, "Nothing is more desirable than to be relieved of our affliction." And that's the motivation that brings couples into therapy. "Nothing is more desirable than to be relieved of our affliction, and nothing is more terrifying than to be divested of our crutch." And that I interpreted as, "nothing is more terrifying than to be divested of our coping mechanisms. Our self-protections."
Pete Pearson: So couples are in a terrible bind. They want to be relieved of their affliction, yes, and it's terrifying to be divested of their coping mechanisms.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and you speak also in your work about the importance of both people recognizing that there's something in it for them, whatever it is they're experiencing. I'm thinking right now of the example you give of people, and we'll explain this a little bit more as we go, but people who are in a symbiotic and practicing relationship. Where one of them is working to be more independent from the other, and the other one is like, "No, come back here. Be with me." And it creates all of this tension and conflict and it's easy for the practicing partner to overlook the fact that they actually benefit a lot from that symbiotic welcome home, that they get from their partner, even though it's confounding them in their quest for independence.
Pete Pearson: Ellen, you want to speak to that?
Ellyn Bader: Yeah, but I'm not sure what the question is. I can speak about that type of couple, but Neil, did you have a question there?
Neil Sattin: Yeah, good point. So the question in there, I think it was more of an observation that this is a situation where people are invested in the problem, or invested in the crutch as Pete was talking about. Maybe the question is, what are some strategies you have for helping people become aware of their role or of the crutch that they have in the moment, even if they think, for instance, that something is all about their partner's problem?
Ellyn Bader: So I think what you're asking is, first of all, at least to me it's like, how does a person take a look at what they're doing that's getting in their own way, and can you get some acknowledgement that a particular thing somebody is doing, is actually getting in their own way of being able to realize the dreams that brought them together or being able to accomplish something they want to accomplish. So there's the question of, "Okay, what are some things you do to help somebody realize it?" So that's one piece. Then the second piece is what Pete was talking about, is "Can you lay out what it's going to take to change it, and then increase motivation? Or is there motivation to actually do the work or put in the effort." And then certainly you want the couple to be able to collaborate and work together on that process of change, so that they are reinforcing each other as they go through what is challenging and difficult for them to do.
Ellyn Bader: So when you can get all three of those things really solidly in place, you're gonna have a couple that's motivated and working with you in the therapy process. When any one of those things, is missing, you're gonna have a much harder time, and therapists often report having sessions that are repetitive and seem to go nowhere and the couple comes in week after week with the same fight or the same dynamic. So I think you have to look at all three of those, and make sure that you've got them all in place.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, where do you feel would be a great place to start? I mean, what's popping into my mind immediately, is your concept of developing a strong future focus for a couple, based on where they are developmentally?
Pete Pearson: See, that's an important place when we start to figure out the steps for change. But to get people to own their part, I find now is, what I do in the first 10 or 15 minutes of the first session, is to have people own their part. But I do it in a rather indirect way. It's like it's traditional for most therapists, when a couple comes in for the first session to ask, "Why are you here," or "How can I help?" And at that point most couples launch of barrage of cross complaints about, "Well, I'm here because my partner is insensitive. They're a slob. They're not affectionate. They're not responsible. They don't follow through." Etc., etc. And so they trade blames.
Pete Pearson: And then after a few minutes, everybody in the room is feeling miserable, I know that because I've been there so many times. And then I found there's a much better way to get to the bottom of what they struggle with without any blame at all. And I will say to them, "It's typical for most therapists to ask when we start the first meeting, is to say, 'why are you here?'" I say, "I don't want to do that, because it just ends up everybody blaming everybody. So what I'd like to do is ask you guys a diagnostic question, and it lets me know how well you've been listening to each other. Which also lets me know how hard you're gonna have to work in here. So Joe, tell me what do you think are Sue's major complaints about you are? And Sue, what do you think Joe's major complaints about you are? And it doesn't matter who goes first, because you both get a chance to express that."
Pete Pearson: And at that point, Joe will say, "Well Sue will say that I'm too preoccupied with my devices. I don't spend enough time with the family. I don't call if I'm gonna be home for work. I just, and I want affection without being nice during the day or the evening, and ..." And then I'll say, "Oh, man, those sound really good, Joe. What else?" And he says, "Well, I think she thinks I'm not very careful with money." Well I'll say "Dynamite. Those are good. Joe, how confident are you on a scale of one to ten that Sue's gonna say you nailed it?" Joe'll say, "Well about a seven or eight." And then I'll say, "What those complaints you just mentioned, is there some legitimacy to her complaints?" And he'll say, "Well, yeah." But I don't go into detail.
Pete Pearson: See at that point, and then I'll say, "So Sue, how good has been doing?" "Well he's been listening, and frankly, I think he's listened better than I thought. I'd give him about a seven or eight on that or maybe even a nine." "Sue, do you have any appreciation for Joe, listening so well to you? Now why hasn't he done anything is why you guys are here. But is there a part of you that appreciates that at least he's been listening?" And she'll say, "Well yeah." "Well tell him." "Joe I didn't know you listened so well. Thank you for listening."
Pete Pearson: So instead of being defensive, now they're collaborating and giving each other compliments, and each of them, when they do that, have just laid out what the problems are by owning their stuff instead of having their partner do it for them. Almost nobody Neil, nobody wants to meet somebody and within 10 minutes start being ripped by their spouse about all their flaws and faults. All that does is create shame, embarrassment and guilt. But doing it this way, people claim their stuff for themselves, I don't have to work as hard, I get to understand the problems, and the atmosphere in the room is a whole lot better.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, I can see how that would get things started off on the right foot. Both with giving you a sense of what's going on for them, and how well they listen, and also, the degree to which they're able to see their part or take responsibility for at least what they think their partner is complaining about with them.
Pete Pearson: Exactly. And that can only be done in the first 20 minutes.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. That's perfect. I'm curious. Do you still ... You talk about the paper exercise in your book, The Inquest of the Mythical Mate. Do you still do that exercise with couples?
Ellyn Bader: Actually, you're right where I was gonna go. Because that exercise is an absolutely fabulous exercise. In five minutes a therapist can see and then can help feedback to the couple where they break down. It's an exercise that's designed to help you and couples ... And a concept the we talk a lot about is the concept of differentiation. And basically, the way the exercise goes is the therapist hands the couple a piece of paper and asks them to hold it between them, and gives them up to five minutes to decide who gets to hold the paper without ripping or tearing it. They can do it verbally, they can do it non-verbally, they can do it anyway they like, but at the end of five minutes, decide who has the paper.
Ellyn Bader: And then you get to sit back as the therapist, you get to sit back and watch for five minutes, and then in watching, you're going to be giving the couple feedback about how they do. And the exercise, I can give you a few highlights right now. It's a very wonderfully sophisticated exercise for getting to leverage stuck places in couples' relationships. But I mean, you're looking for whether people self-define. Whether they avoid conflict. Whether they're able to go into the conflict. Whether they have skills to negotiate and move a conflict forward.
Ellyn Bader: And so when you can talk to a couple about, "Hey, here's what I saw. Does this make sense? Here's what I think each of you did that was positive and great and effective, and here's where I think you're stuck, or here's where I see you getting stalled. And usually what you see in terms of how couples are getting stalled in that exercise, are similar to what they do at home, that prevents them from solving problems or sets them up to be angry at each other. And it's a very not-threatening, very sort of collaborative process that you can get into with couples when you do that exercise with them.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and what I loved about reading your book, was not only the recognition that I had about, "Oh, okay. Yeah. I recognize having been in a relationship that was stuck in this place or that place," and let's, before we go too much further, we'll define them so that people know what we're talking about. But I also love
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Neil Sattin: how, I think it's easy to, let's say, someone here says, "Well, I'm going to try that with my partner. Let's grab this paper and see if we can figure it out." And then for some reason they can't or they have a huge eruption or at an impasse to feel like, "Wow, we must be really horrible as a couple because we couldn't even do this paper exercise right."
Neil Sattin: But what I love is that it just is simply a way of getting insight into where you are, but that each place where you might be stuck simply represents a place where you need to grow and growing past that place gives you a pathway to a new level of intimacy and being able to handle conflict better and being able to stand really strongly in who you are while still enjoying intimacy with your partner.
Ellyn Bader: Oh, absolutely and one of the things that I think is so valuable about it is that it's easy when you're in the midst of it with your partner and you're like going home after work and you're having fights or you're not getting along well on weekends or you're fighting over disciplining the kids. It's easy to think you have a whole lot of problems, but when you can find the leveraged place, the place that repeats, and you learn how to do that differently, then you start doing it differently in all the different areas that you have conflict. So you don't actually always have to go back and solve every single problem that you think that you have if you change the process of how you talk and the process of how you approach things that are stressful.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. That makes perfect sense. How much do you feel like awareness, before we dive into it, briefly, of the developmental model, how much do you think that awareness is helpful for a couple to be able to see, like, "Okay, this is the span of how couples develop looks like and this is where we're at." Is that enlightening or confining? From a couple's perspective versus the therapist's perspective.
Ellyn Bader: I can tell you what the therapists in my online training program report. And so, I have therapists who work with me, basically, who are in countries all over the world and many of them report that their clients feel relieved when they see the process. We have little brochures that we use and that a lot of therapists give to their clients which layout the stages and sometimes they'll send a couple home to look at it and figure out where they are. Sometimes they'll just talk about it. But when couples can see, hey, there is kind of a normal progression that a lot of relationships go through and either we're right on track, which is sometimes the case, or hey, we got stuck here and this is what our challenge is so that we can move forward. And what we always say is, when couples get unstuck, then they can get back into their own developmental process. They don't need a therapist all the way through their whole development.
Neil Sattin: Right. So, would you be willing, or I could do this too, but because I don't want to put you on the spot completely, but to give sort of the two to three minute overview of, what are we talking about, the developmental stages that a couple goes through?
Ellyn Bader: Pete, do you want to do it or do you want me to do it?
Pete Pearson: Go ahead, Ellyn.
Ellyn Bader: Okay. So, the quick version is, two people meet, they fall in love. In the ideal world, everything is beautiful, wonderful. They have that incredible falling in love period, which I sometimes call a period of temporary psychosis. But it's a period in which there's bonding and attachment and not everybody starts that way, but a lot of couples do. And then it's normal by about two years into the relationship, sometimes a little sooner, sometimes a little longer, but it's very, very normal to hit a period of disillusionment when the partner is taken off that pedestal and instead of being seen as wonderful, all of a sudden the flaws start to show up and that disillusionment period is normal.
Ellyn Bader: And then what people have to contend with is, how do we work out who are you and who am I given that we not only have parts of ourselves in each other that we love, but parts of each other that we find sometimes disgusting or we don't really want to be around or we don't like and that's all normal. But what's hard for couples is to learn how to manage those differences effectively instead of ineffectively. When they handle it ineffectively, they start to blame, accuse, or withdraw and then they get into some negative patterns.
Ellyn Bader: So the second stage of relationship is the stage of differentiation. It's a stage in which partners do learn how to come to terms with their differences. When that goes well, actually people are able to have a lot more independence than they had in the first two stages because there's a base of connection and a base of, hey, we know to solve things. We solve them well. And then they can be out in the world more. They can be doing more independent things, enjoying other things that they're bringing back to help nourish the relationship, and so there's often a period in which that can go on for many, many years in which each partner is developing their own self-esteem apart from how the relationship is fairing.
Ellyn Bader: And then at some point often there's a period of reconnection or of returning to the relationship as a source of greater nurturance and often couples at this time tend to focus more on their sexual relationship or on different aspects of intimacy when they're reconnecting. And many couples who get through all of this end up wanting to create something together and so we even talk about a last stage being a synergistic stage. A stage in which one plus one is really greater than two and they support each other in ways or goals or projects that are meaningful to both of them. So that's a very quick version of sometimes what I teach in a whole morning.
Neil Sattin: That was great. And I'm thinking back to how you mentioned that you're working a lot with entrepreneurial couples these days and I'm curious to know how you draw distinction between couples who are working together from a synergistic place that one plus one is more than two, versus couples who are coming at that from a more enmeshed place where they're not ... It's about just not being able to be without each other.
Pete Pearson: I guess, that gave me, what a great question. If couples want to start working together and they haven't been able to work out yet how to manage their differences or their disillusionments, boy, are they in for a wild ride. If you think about all the different areas of interdependence that couples have when they're not even working together, where they have areas of interdependency, our family and friends and finances and fitness and food and fidelity and faith and man, there are a lot of F words in an interdependent relationship.
Pete Pearson: And each one of those areas require a set of negotiation problem solving skills and working together. And then you add all those areas of interdependency with all the areas of interdependency at work, when they're working together. What could possibly go wrong? So, the problems just are geometric when you work with your partner, your spouse, and yet, more and more couples are working together. There's a lot of entrepreneurs out there on the internet or doing franchise operations and their spouse is involved and that just really doubles the opportunity to collide. It also doubles the opportunity to synergize your strengths and abilities.
Pete Pearson: So, it really, the push and pull is enormous to deal with the differences and it's ... Sometimes I will say, I will ask couples, "Would you want to be married to a personality clone of yourself?" Most couples say no. And I'll say, "Well, why is that?" And the category it's generally falling to, "Well, if I'm married to a clone of myself ... If I married a clone, it would be like World War 3." Or, "If I married a clone of myself, it'd be really interesting, but nothing would get accomplished." And as one woman said, "I would have all my problems times two."
Pete Pearson: And so the good news is, they're smart enough to know that differences can enhance a relationship, but the same differences can also corrode a relationship, but we want to marry somebody who is different. And that's the good news and the bad news.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. I'm just thinking too about how time, being such a limiting resource in many respects with everything that people are trying to accomplish in today's world and so I could see that providing incentive for people to want to work together as a way to actually maybe be able to spend more time together.
Pete Pearson: Right.
Neil Sattin: And yet, from what you're saying, I also gather, like, wow, it is so important in that case to be able to identify, oh, here we are not handling conflict very productively and here are all the signs of that. Whether it's increased resentment or increased ... Just increased conflict that gets explosive versus actually resolving. And that comes from what you were talking about, right Ellyn? That sense of, have you differentiated effectively enough so that you can stand in who you are, but actually meet the other person as a whole person unto themselves and have a collaborative way of being on the same team as you navigate those places where you're not in alignment.
Ellyn Bader: Yeah. One of the things, Neil, that I find really interesting, as I said, I've started doing some more work with entrepreneurs and their spouses and particularly, I love working with the couples who are fairly new to going into business together because one of the things that they know they have a ton at stake because if they don't make it, their business is going to have problems or have to be split up as well as their marriages or their committed partnerships. And so they actually have, in some cases, a much higher motivation to get it right at the beginning, and also sometimes it's easier for people to get the concept that in business, our roles and responsibilities need to be really clearly defined.
Ellyn Bader: And that's also true on the home front with a lot of couples, but couples don't tend to think about it that way, they tend to think about it as, well, if our relationship is good, everything will just go smoothly and we can move back and forth smoothly.
Neil Sattin: Right. It all just works itself out.
Ellyn Bader: Exactly. And so they know-
Pete Pearson: That's the hope.
Ellyn Bader: Right. That's the hope and the belief that it should be easy. But yet, when you have clearly defined roles, it mitigates a lot of conflict.
Ellyn Bader: Here comes our gardener making some noise I'm sorry to say.
Neil Sattin: I can hear it, but it's so faint in the background and you're coming through so loud and clear that as long as you're able to concentrate, then I think we're good.
Ellyn Bader: Okay.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. So, I love that. So, one potential option if you're having trouble motivating to actually change is to start a business together.
Ellyn Bader: Well, except if your relationship is a mess, it's not a great time to start a business together.
Pete Pearson: You'll have all your problems times two.
Neil Sattin: Just kidding. But it does bring us back to that question of how you get people to buy-in. To like ... Okay, this is actually going to require something of me to create change in our relationship.
Ellyn Bader: Yeah, and most people who have worked in the workplace understand that there are different roles and responsibilities that come with a job and they've been in jobs where they've had people on a team who are doing different aspects of the work. And so they've had that experience and it makes logical sense. But then when they go home and they think, there's just two of us, they don't think about saying, okay, who's responsible for organizing childcare? Who's responsible for our finances or is somebody paying the bills and somebody else doing the investments? Who's responsible for cooking dinner on Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday or does somebody always cook and somebody always clean up? And they get into patterns, but often it's not really clearly delineated.
Neil Sattin: Right. So, is there a process that, if I'm listening to this and thinking, "Oh, you know, some of those things we haven't actually figured out," or "I wonder if we've differentiated effectively?" How could I diagnose myself or our relationship to know if that's happened or not?
Pete Pearson: Well, the easy way to know that it's happened, Neil, is, what does my partner do that annoys me? And when you start from a place of, what does my partner do that annoys me in what area of stuff around the house, I would bet that it's because you haven't clearly delineated and agreed upon the roles and responsibilities of that area. Couples kind of normally fall into those patterns in kind of like happenstance, but there's a lot of slippage and a lot of boundary confusion or unclarity about who is really responsible for what and who gets the deciding vote in that area. And that's when our annoyances almost always come from expectations, "My partner's not meeting my expectations." So, the annoyances have to do with expectations of partners that haven't been clarified very well or agreed upon.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. Or assumptions that you're making.
Pete Pearson: Assumptions, yes.
Neil Sattin: So, I'm curious for couples who say, think, "Well, generally it works out okay, but when we try to have that conversation, it doesn't go so well, like either ... That could be an explosive argument, or it could be I just always have to give in, because we can't have that conversation. What are some ways that you offer couples to help them have that conversation in a way that's more generative, and you talk about ... I think you talk about fighting fairly or conflict ... I can't remember the exact phrase that you use, but agreements around how you have conflict.
Ellyn Bader: Well, before we even go there, let's say that when couples are trying to negotiate, they make some mistakes. One of the big mistakes that people make is caving in too quickly and they don't realize that when they hit that place of tension, that's actually the place where it's important to stay with it a while longer and figure something out and not see that tension as something bad, but see that tension as where their growth edge actually is.
Ellyn Bader: And so, it's a long story, and we won't go into all the details, but Pete and I talk about many years ago, when we ran workshops together, how we reached a point of conflict, and where we each wanted something very different and it took a full year to sort it out and a full year of actually having to work with the tension, until we came to something that worked for both of us and enabled us to keep working together, because otherwise we would've had too much conflict and not been able to continue working together, running workshops together. People think they should get through stuff faster sometimes than is actually possible.
Ellyn Bader: The process of getting through it is a process where both you get to know yourself better, and you get to know your partner better, if you can stay curious about why something matters to your partner, stay curious about why is it so important to you, learning how to ask really good questions, learning how not to cave too fast. There's many different capacities that are involved in successfully differentiating and successfully managing conflict that get strengthened. The emotional muscle gets built as couples go through that together.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, so I could almost see, like for instance, if you sense that your partner is just caving in, because you've hit that point of tension, to have the willingness to say, “No, I don't want to just get my way here. Let's figure out a way to have this conversation, as long as is required.”
Ellyn Bader: Right, right, and you know, people who tend to be very active and assertive often end up with partners who are a bit more passive than they, themselves, are and for a while it may work to let the more passive person just cave in, but then, over time, instead of having clear roles and responsibilities, what you actually have is the active person doing way, way, way, way more, and the other person doing less, and resentment building. You need to be able to stop that caving in process early.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, what's ... Maybe we could talk briefly about a structure that could be helpful for people, when they realize they're at this place, a point of tension that's where they tend to get stuck. What might-
Pete Pearson: Hey, I have an ... Ellyn, I have an idea. Neil, if we could post somewhere, where your listeners could go to and get a four-page document called, “Super Negotiation for Couples.”
Neil Sattin: Love it.
Pete Pearson: It's a really step-by-step process for how to negotiate and how to avoid the two big problems of negotiation, which is either caving in too quickly or pushing yourself too hard to get what you want, at the expense of the other. I can give you a link where your listeners could go and get that document.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, that would be great, if it's easy. We can always post it in the transcript of the show, as well.
Pete Pearson: That would be great, but very quickly, and then we'll send you the link, and it could be posted in the transcript. It's couplesinstitute.com/blog, and then in the blog, it's Super Negotiation for Couples, couplesinstitute.com/blog, and the blog is “Super Negotiation for Couples.” It's four pages, which is really good, a step-by-step process to lead you through what can be negotiated, and, interestingly enough, what cannot be negotiated, and even more importantly, how to prepare ahead of time to make an effective negotiation.
Neil Sattin: Great. I can already envision enlisting Chloe and doing it experimentally and recording ourselves for the podcast-
Pete Pearson: Oh, cool! Yeah.
Neil Sattin: So that you can hear us live going into negotiating or not, something really sensitive for us.
Pete Pearson: Oh, that would be interesting.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, totally. I appreciate your sharing that link, and we will definitely have a direct link to that in the transcript and show notes, as well.
Pete Pearson: Terrific.
Neil Sattin: I guess that saves us from having to go through the whole thing here.
Pete Pearson: Right.
Neil Sattin: One thing that I want to touch on is when people get into relationship and, Ellyn, you mentioned, very often, not always, but very often there's that initial falling in love or that feeling of merging, or we're the same, or we're meant for each other. This is perfect. Then the disillusionment happens, where you start realizing the person isn't perfect. Yet, towards the end of the developmental process, when you're actually in that place of synergy, I don't think you're going to feel like you're the same again, but you will feel an intense level of intimacy and closeness that, in some ways, is at least a variation on the theme of that kind of intimacy that you experience at the very start of your relationship.
Neil Sattin: I want to bring this up, because I feel like, so often, the struggle for people is wanting to hang onto what they experienced at the very beginning out of fear of moving like that, in the differentiation process, they're going to lose each other. How do you keep people connected, while they're differentiating?
Ellyn Bader: First of all, one of the ways that I explain this, and I think it's a visual that people really get, is you know the disco balls that have mirrors all around them?
Neil Sattin: Yes.
Ellyn Bader: I keep a disco ball in my office. What I say is a disco ball represents each person, and all the mirrors on the ball are different facets of yourself. When you two met and fell in love, the disco ball mirrors that were facing each other or were setting each other off, and you were falling in love, and all the brain chemicals got going, are those places where you really felt like you were the same, like you were meant for each other, like everything was just perfect.
Ellyn Bader: Well, because everybody has so many different facets of themselves, it's inevitable that those balls are going to spin. There's going to be a period in which the ones that are facing each other are actually the ones where you don't get along so well, or you're not the same, and where you have growth that needs to take place, in order to keep the connection. Over time, the balls are going to continue to spin, and you will learn things that will deepen your connection and, actually, the kind of intimacy that most couples experience when they get to the other side of that is a kind of intimacy that feels more real and more grounded than that super-exciting, temporary psychosis that went on at the beginning.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, I mean the disco ball isn't terribly effective when it stays in one place. It needs to spin for-
Ellyn Bader: Exactly.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, it makes a ton of sense.
Ellyn Bader: Now, and a relationship needs juice. It needs energy, and some of that energy comes from the differences, as well as from the similarities.
Neil Sattin: I suggest that you, at home, you pick your favorite disco tune, and you can hum it to yourself when you're in a moment of uncertainty about the direction that you're headed. I'm already getting it might be the night fever, we know how to go it.
Pete Pearson: Cool.
Neil Sattin: There's that reassurance that you're headed towards that place, and yet it can feel really scary to give, to grant, freedom, or to take freedom, let's say, to take that independence. Is there a specific way that you encourage people to do that, to enter into that required process, but to maintain an awareness of the other person's heart and how they're affecting them, but not in a way that leads to codependence?
Pete Pearson: That question, Neil, brings us full circle back to where we started. Instead of saying, “Here's how you do it,” or, “Here's the way to do it,” it's like, “What is your motivation for doing it? What are the advantages for put ... Why would you put forth the effort? Why would you take the emotional risk? Why would you take the sustained effort to bring that about?” Then we can talk about how to do it, but let's first talk about the "why" you would be willing to do it. It's the why that gives us the motivation to do the work.
Ellyn Bader: Pete, I think of some of the stuff that you've been doing lately around couples as a team also is part of an answer to Neil's question.
Pete Pearson: Totally, because we first have to identify where we get stuck, where the pain is. That's easy for couples to do.
Pete Pearson: “Here's where I get triggered. When my partner does X, this is what happens, and I get triggered.”
Pete Pearson: I say, “Great, let's look at what you feel/think when you get triggered.”
Pete Pearson: They go, “Oh, that's easy to do.”
Pete Pearson: Now I will say, “Let's shift, because we have to shift from where you are in that emotional brain, that lizard brain reflex, that self-protection, and let's talk about how you aspire to be instead. If you come from your higher self, your transformative self, you're better self, what would that look like? Instead of responding from a defensive, blaming, accusatory, withdrawing place, what would be a better way of responding?”
Pete Pearson: Most of the time, people can say, “Well, I'd be better if I was calmer, if I was curious, if I was a little more compassionate, if I was a better listener.”
Pete Pearson: Then here's, I say, the key question, which is, “Why would you be willing to make the effort to go to that future focus, that forward focus? Why would you be willing to do that?” Then, that gets us to all the benefits for change. People only change for three reasons: to avoid a greater pain, for the benefits involved or the rewards involved, and to live more within our integrity about how we aspire to be. We talk about why they would be willing to make the effort.
Pete Pearson: Then, I'll say, "When you get stuck, when you get triggered, I want you to clasp your hands together and squeeze. That will, first of all, distract you from being looping in that emotional, lizard brain response. Then, think about how you would aspire to be, and why you would change and be that way. When your partner sees you clasping your hands, that's a signal to your partner that you are struggling to change your response and come from your better self. Then your partner will say to you, 'Oh, thank you. I appreciate your willingness to try to avoid going into that old place and do something different. I really appreciate that. What can I do to help that? What can I say or what can I do right now that would be helpful?'" I say, "When you guys do that, now you're working together as a team."
Neil Sattin: Perfect, and that being the whole goal is recognizing that, even as you progress through these stages of togetherness leading into greater independence, leading back to greater interdependence, that you're on the same team with each other.
Pete Pearson: Yes.
Neil Sattin: You're not out to get each other. You've got each other's back, and you can help each other through that process.
Pete Pearson: Exactly.
Neil Sattin: Well, Pete Pearson and Ellyn Bader, it's been a treat to have you on the show again, just like the first time around. I wish I had read your book, In Quest of the Mythical Mate, years ago, but I'm so thrilled that I read it now. I would say it's required reading for any couples therapist out there. You're doing a lot of work, training couples therapists, as well as work helping lay people just do better in relationships, through your work at The Couples Institute.
Neil Sattin: Thank you, again, for being with us here today. I'll make sure we have links to your website, so people can find your work. I just want to say how grateful I am for the work you're doing in the world, and for your willingness to come and share it with us here on Relationship Alive. We could talk more, and hopefully, we'll get that chance again sometimes soon.
Pete Pearson: Thank you, Neil, so much, for what you're doing to bring the message to the people out there.
Neil Sattin: My pleasure.
Ellyn Bader: Yes, thank you, Neil. It's always a pleasure talking with you, and I also will mention that I'm going to be doing a free online workshop between August 13th and 25th, so if any of your listeners want to participate in that, I can send you a link for that, as well.
Neil Sattin: That would be great, and I can actually send that out to my mailing list, as well, so that people can find out about it that way.
Ellyn Bader: That would be fantastic.
Pete Pearson: Thank you, Neil.
Ellyn Bader: Yeah, that would be great.
Neil Sattin: Absolutely. Well, we'll be in touch about that, and always great to talk to you guys. Take care.
Ellyn Bader: You, too.
Pete Pearson: Bye-bye, Neil.
Ellyn Bader: Bye.