What's stopping you from having the kind of connection with others that you want? Whether you're in a relationship and feeling stuck with your partner, or single and wondering how to connect with someone amazing - today's episode is for you. You're going to learn a simple way to shift how you interact with others that will open you up to a much more alive, dynamic, exciting way to connect. You'll also know how to recognize when it's time to make a boundary and NOT connect.
And, as always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you.
Join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!
Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of: The Railsplitters - Check them Out
What’s the recipe for a successful divorce? If you’ve tried everything, and it’s time to separate or get divorced - how do you do it well, so that you (and your soon-to-be-ex) emerge relatively unscathed? And if you have children, how do you ensure that they are also not traumatized by the process? In this week’s episode, our guest is Dr. Constance Ahrons, one of the world’s leading experts in how to navigate divorce well. Her book, The Good Divorce was a groundbreaking work that studied the effects of divorce on children - and identified exactly what kinds of post-divorce relationships had the best outcomes. In my conversation with Dr. Ahrons, you’ll learn exactly what to do, what not to do, and how to salvage a situation that’s already not going well.
As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!
Along with our amazing listener supporters (you know who you are - thank you!), this week's episode is being sponsored by Hungryroot.com. Please visit them to take advantage of their offer and show appreciation for their support of the Relationship Alive podcast!
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Check out Constance Ahrons's website
FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide - it also still helps during separations...
Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner's Needs) in Relationship (ALSO FREE) - even this is helpful for understanding the needs of your co-parent
www.neilsattin.com/divorce Visit to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Constance Ahrons.
Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of: The Railsplitters - Check them Out
Neil Sattin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. Now as you know, we come down strongly in favor of relationships on this show, and in favor of helping you learn the skills required to have an amazing relationship, to turn your relationship around if things aren't going so well, and especially if things are really not going well, how do you find a foothold and work your way back up to intimacy and togetherness. But, as we've also talked about on the show, that isn't always possible. When it's not possible, we stand also strongly in favor of finding ways to part from your partner in ways that are kind, in ways that are loving, in ways where you can support each other. We've had Katherine Woodward Thomas on the show to talk about conscious uncoupling, her process of using the pain of a break-up to help grow, and learn new skills and new development for yourself, things that you would bring to your next relationship.
Neil Sattin: Today, I want to dive into the nitty gritty of what's required when you are ending a relationship. What kinds of things do you need to consider in order to have the best chance at being successful? In order to have this conversation, we have a very special guest, Dr. Constance Ahrons, who is the author of the book The Good Divorce, among other books. She was one of the first people to bring to popular awareness this idea that divorce doesn't have to be a stigma. It doesn't have to be all fire and brimstone and acrimony. It also doesn't have to mean that now you've created a broken family with kids suffering in the aftermath. Now, both I and Dr. Ahrons share at least one thing in common. We've both been through a divorce. This is a topic that's really personal for me as well, and her book has been really helpful for me, both in terms of my own situation - and when I went through Katherine Woodward Thomas' conscious uncoupling coach training she uses The Good Divorce as one of the textbooks for the coaches going through that training.
Neil Sattin: It's such an honor and a privilege to have Dr. Ahrons with us today. We will have a detailed transcript of today's episode, which you can get if you visit NeilSattin.com/divorce, or if you text the word passion to the number 33444, and follow the instructions. I think that's it, so Dr. Constance Ahrons, thank you so much for being with us here today on Relationship Alive.
Constance Ahrons: Thank you Neil, I appreciate you asking me.
Neil Sattin: Well, it's such an important topic. It's interesting to me, because your book, at least the edition that I was reading, came out in the mid-'90s, and at that time, you were talking about the importance of shifting the culture and our awareness of what's possible in terms of divorce. You did this comprehensive study of what you called binuclear families, and we'll get into that in a moment, and I think overall, though, the purpose was to get it out into the public sphere that divorce doesn't have to be this horrible thing, even though it's, in many ways, a set-up to be a really traumatizing experience.
Neil Sattin: What's interesting is that many years later, in fact I think it was probably close to 20 years later, when I was going through my divorce, my experience with my family was that it was really hard to talk to them about the fact that I was going through a divorce. In fact, one of my cousins kind of jokingly said, "You might as well be telling them you have cancer." That's what it feels like in our family. So I'm curious if we could start off by just kind of talking about the context of how much has our notion of a good divorce being possible, how much have you seen that shift since your book came out, The Good Divorce, and what do you think still needs to happen to help that conversation continue, along with things like you being here on the Relationship Alive podcast?
Constance Ahrons: You know, Neil, that's such an interesting question, because it seems to, I mean, I believe that it's changed dramatically, but at the same time, I also find that some people still carry the stereotypic image that it's going to devastate the whole family, children will always be destroyed in the process, and will have long-term damage. When I started to do this research, which was in 1989, that was the only stereotype that we had. That was the only literature that we had available to us, and it was quite a shift.
Constance Ahrons: My study was funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health, and it was even a shift for them to fund a study that was not looking for problems, that was looking instead for what does a divorce look like, for how it affects children, how it affects parents, what is the relationship between ex-spouses like, and trying to deal with the stereotype that we had that ex-spouses must, of course, be bitter enemies, and children, of course, must be damaged. There was no literature in the field to say anything that was positive about divorce. What I mean by positive is, I'm not saying divorce is good. I need to make that distinction which is very different from having a good divorce, and sometimes that distinction is sometimes hard to grasp, because divorce in and of itself, it just is. It's not good, it's not bad. You can make it good, you can make it bad.
Constance Ahrons: It is a fact of our culture, and it's a fact of marriage. Still we have the same kind of percentages, with about 50% of marriages ending up in divorce. 50% of our population can't be all that bad. What I did find, and what was most important about the study, and at the time was groundbreaking, so we have to remember that this goes back now almost 30 years that it was groundbreaking, and not if we were looking at it today as much, was the fact that not all divorces are destructive to the family, not all ex-spouses hate each other, not all divorces have to be full of fury and rage, that maybe there were different types of divorces. That's what happened in the study.
Constance Ahrons: What had only been studied was the problems with divorce, and just going from A to B, divorce is necessarily bad, rather than there are lots of different outcomes from divorce, and let's see what they look like. That's what I have spent most of my career working on, has been looking at the ex-spouse relationship, the relationship between former spouses when they are parents. What does that relationship need to look like for the children to come through the divorce with the minimal amount of long term damage? There is always pain, but the minimal amount of damage to the children. There might be pain and crisis for a year or two, and in a good divorce, where parents can continue to parent effectively, then the children are going to come through it better after the crisis. There'll be an initial, sometimes a year, sometimes only six months, and it depends on the age of the children of course, too, where there might be a great deal of upset, and then it starts to calm down, and parents begin to get into patterns with each other about how they continue to relate. But it takes a lot of work.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. I love how your focus is on uncovering what truly is in the best interests of the children, because that's something that it seems like it's just a matter of opinion in a lot of cases. It's hard to pin down what qualifies as the best interests of the children.
Constance Ahrons: Well, remember that it is a very rare case that children want their parents to divorce. We found that even when there was high conflict in the marriage, children still frequently did not want their parents to divorce. To find out exactly what it takes, and we had 98 pairs of former spouses in our study, and we interviewed them at one and three and five years post-divorce, interviewing both of the ex-spouses, what we found is that the relationship between parents, as we did by the way in marital studies, we found the same thing in divorce, that how ex-parents continued to relate to one another related to how the children came through the process. When ex-spouses could relate to each other in a way that I would call the good divorce, is when they could relate to each other in a way that was respectful, that they were mature enough to look at the difference between being parents and being spouses, and being able to switch gears and remember that they were indeed parents, and then co-parents as well, and that divorce and co-parenting could be for a lifetime.
Constance Ahrons: When we began to switch our thinking a little bit about this, we began to find that the strong relationship was how well the parents continued to relate. Of course, we used a number of different scales and different ways to look at the process and to understand what went on, and then importantly, we looked at change over five years, and then the children's reactions 20 years later. Those findings were published in a book called We're Still a Family, also by HarperCollins. What we found over time is that for the most part, the relationship between former spouses was perhaps the most important factor. There were other factors in terms of resilience of children, how much support they had outside of their parents, but when we looked at everything together, it was clear to me that parents could determine a lot about how their children were going to react to their divorce over time, not just initially, but what was it like five years later. Yeah.
Neil Sattin: What I'm noticing is that there's some irony there, right? That the reason that you're splitting up with someone, unless you just kind of lost interest, is maybe that you don't really get along so well. I mean, obviously there's a whole host of possible issues that bring two people apart, but it sounds like what you're saying is, is if there are kids involved, now if there aren't kids involved, you can just kind of go your separate ways. There may still be things to figure out about property divisions and things like that, but if there are kids involved, you're still going to have to figure out how to get along, even if it was something that vexed you as a married couple.
Constance Ahrons: That's very correct. Excuse me. But if you don't figure out how to get along, then you're going to really run into a lot of problems with your kids over the years. There is a difference between not getting along as spouses, but being able to get along as parents. I often see couples who come and tell me that, "We're great as parents. We are really good parents, I respect her or his parenting. We do fine together as parents, but we just can't live together. My anger with him or her is about being married to one another, being partners, being spouses. That's where my anger is." It takes some learning, and it also takes a lot of maturity, that for the sake of our children, we are not going to keep enacting the same marital communication that we had that brought us to the level of divorce, that we're going to try to ... In fact, parents often become better parents, and many talk about having better relationships once they are not living in the same household.
Neil Sattin: Now, if we could, let's just quickly enumerate the different, I think you call them typologies, of post-divorce families. Just to give our listeners a chance, if you're in a divorced situation, or a post-divorce situation, these are the possible couplings, or decouplings, that you may find yourself in. They each have their impact on the outcome in terms of what we are talking about, the best interests of the children, and probably also your own best interest, in terms of your own levels of stress and being able to function well in your life, in your non-married life, to that person, anyway.
Constance Ahrons: Well, what you're referring to is that coming out of the research data, we did all sorts of fancy things with factor analysis and so on, and came up with some typologies. We came up with 5 typologies that were at one point given very academic names and then we changed the names with the help of my daughters to some much more acceptable names that everybody could understand and identify with. We came up with five types essentially but it's really a continuum. It's not as set differently as it sounds. They run the continuum from very very angry to friendly.
Constance Ahrons: Start at the friendly end. First group we called the friendly - I've forgotten the name of that.
Neil Sattin: The perfect pals.
Constance Ahrons: Perfect pals, that's right. That was a small group that you would anticipate it would be. But it was couples that when they divorce, they've been friends in the marriage and then whatever went awry went awry and they got divorced but they still had a friendship that they continued. The next group, which is where the majority of the couples fell into, was call cooperative colleagues. This is a group of people that would not call themselves friends. If you think of a collegial relationship it may even be with somebody you don't like who smokes in the next room to you or you don't like their language or whatever but for the sake of the job you're doing you cooperate. That's the same intent. For the sake of parenting, for the sake of your children you learn to cooperate and you learn what things not to talk about, what things to talk about. We talk about things like what boundaries do we set up, what's acceptable to discuss and what's not acceptable. What's gonna get us into a fight and what's not. How can we say with talking about the kids and not talking about, well when you did this to me 20 years ago and so on.
Constance Ahrons: That was very important and those people we called cooperative colleagues who could stifle the anger. They weren't best friends by any means but they learned to put their children's interests before their own at that point and learn not to go back into old history. They learn to cooperate as parents and they were good co-parents over time. The next group we had were the angry associates. And the angry associates, you could push their buttons asking anything about their marriage and they were off and running. They had trouble separating out the difference between being ex-spouses and being co-parents after divorce and those boundaries were blurred for them.
Constance Ahrons: Then we had a group below that call the fiery foes. The fiery foes really could not stop fighting. Essentially, they could not have a conversation that didn't end up in conflict and of course the children were often caught in that conflict. The sad part about it is in many of those situations and with the fiery foes that if the children, if it was a bad marriage or a high conflict marriage they were caught in a high conflict divorce.
Constance Ahrons: Then we have a group called the dissolved duos. In that group one parent drops out of the relationship with the children and frequently that parent is the dad. Each of those types or the continuum of types had an effect on children. Had an effect down the line of stressing the children out for many years following the divorce. Parent continued to play out the marital conflicts through their divorce for whatever reason. Sometimes it was maturity, sometimes it was just not knowing how to let go of anger. But for whatever reasons they could not move beyond the marriage and talk about their children's best interests and how to deal with that most effectively, then the children of course would feel that over the years.
Constance Ahrons: And so I think it would help if I moved on to what the book We're Still Family is about.
Neil Sattin: Great.
Constance Ahrons: 20 years after the divorce we went back and interviewed 163 children from the 98 families.
Neil Sattin: I was wondering about that. If you had done follow up.
Constance Ahrons: Yes. And that's in We're Still Family. We didn't have enough funds we would've loved to interview the parents as well at 20 years post divorce, but we decide that it was most valuable to interview the children. That's what we also were funded for. We found out from the kids, not surprisingly really, from the kids that when they look back the kids that did the best, the children who came through the divorce process in the healthiest way that they could, had parents that were more like cooperative colleagues. Who had learned over the years and because it was 20 years after the divorce these 163 adult children could then reflect on how things changed over the years as well and what they were most comfortable with. You would expect most people at that time had remarried by then. Almost everyone had remarried and some had re-divorced during those 20 years span.
Constance Ahrons: But the children were able to reflect back and say to us the same thing that we were finding with the parents. That when their parents found a way to get along, they didn't have to be friendly, they might only see each other at family occasions. A child's graduation, a wedding and so on, when they were able to not put children in the middle and function well as co-parents, the children did better. One thing the children hated the most is when their parents continued to fight. And that was the most destructive to children as you would expect. Different children in the same family had different responses. Which were depended on their age at the time, their personal resilience, what kind of support they had. Because children showed us very strongly that there were other factors that entered in that could help them in difficult times. That could be a coach in school, or it could be a grandparent or a close adult friend of their parent. Somebody who intervened at a time when their parents were not able to function very well. These children learned who they could depend on outside of their parent to help them through.
Constance Ahrons: Some of us are just born with more resilience than others and the age at which the children were when their parents divorced made a big difference and sometimes whether they had older siblings who were able to help them through the crisis. There were a number of factors but the one that just kep popping up over and over again was how the parents continued to relate even 20 years later. And sometimes they related poorly in the first 3-5 years but improved their relationship over the years and that had an impact as well. It's never too late to have a good divorce.
Neil Sattin: Let's start there because I have two questions that are closely related. But let's start there with let's say that you're listening, you're divorced and that probably true for a lot of my listeners because so many of us are. We go through that first marriage, we get divorced and we're like okay I'm gonna do it right the next time. And so you're tuning into Relationship Alive to hopefully get it right the next time. But let's say you're hearing these descriptions and if you're like me you might be thinking wow sometimes we're cooperative colleagues and other times we're angry associates and I would love to be more strongly in the cooperative colleagues camp for the sake of my kids and the sake of my life.
Neil Sattin: What are some ways that you advocate for people to start moving the needle in that direction for that relationship with their ex-spouse?
Constance Ahrons: The first is what you mentioned, which is motivation. I really wanna do this I want to improve what's going on with my ex and that if they knew that they could parent better that they would better, that their children would profit from that. The first thing is just an awareness of doing it. Second is to know what your hot buttons are. Know what happens when you talk with your ex on the phone, why does it all of a sudden end up in conflict. What happens? To understand what does happen and what particularly gets you set off and where the anger comes from. To be able to stay away from those areas. I'm not suggesting that we get over all of our anger at an ex-spouse from a 20 year marriage for example. But I am suggesting that I can find ways to at least not keep stepping into that same trap again of every time I say this he says that and off we go.
Constance Ahrons: If I'm working with couples and trying to establish a better relationship over time, I help them to see where they get into trouble. What happens, what kind of conversations do they get into that takes them on a bad road. Almost always it's the same kind of conversation over and over again. It's when they get into some of their own spousal history. When you start to talk about the kids can you stay on that plane of just talking about the children without going in to recriminations of when you always did that or you remember when you did this and so on. But rather trying to stay as much as possible in the present, focus on the children. If things get hot - calm things down. If you're on the phone say "why don't we talk later." Sometimes couples only do well if they're meeting in Starbucks for example. They really can't meet alone. Never have these discussions in front of the children. It's always better to have a separate time when you talk about this.
Constance Ahrons: For each of the spouses to identify within themselves when do I start to see red flags? When do I feel myself getting angry? When am I getting off the track? When are we talking about what to do for Jeanie's birthday and all of a sudden we're talking about 10 years ago when this happened or when that happened. Or you always did this in the marriage. And to also understand that your partner, your ex-spouse is always changing. Because one of the things we found is that dads often became better parents after divorce. Sometimes it was hard for their former spouses to accept that change.
Constance Ahrons: "Well you were never there when I needed you before, how come now all of a sudden you're willing to do this for the kids or do that for the kids?" The other thing is to accept that we never change anybody else. To be able to accept that she was always late, she was never on time. Then he anticipates that she's probably going to be late several times when you're picking up or dropping off the kids. And allowing some space for that because it comes up so often. What I'll say if I'm seeing one of the couple at the time, I'll say to them did she do that in the marriage too? And the husband will say yeah. And did you try to change her? Oh for 20 years I tried to change her. And did it work? No it didn't work. Well don't think it's gonna work now. If you couldn't change somebody. Especially in the time of a loving relationship, you're certainly not gonna change them in a time in an unloving relationship.
Neil Sattin: What have you seen work as far as, let's say I'm the ex-partner who's listening to this podcast and I'm thinking, okay I wanna take the initiative and help try to shift us toward being cooperative colleagues. Are there ways that you've seen in particular that work for introducing that conversation? Like hey I read this book called The Good Divorce. Something along those lines where you're like let's step back a minute and look at how we're doing here and maybe there are ways we could do this better or where we'd feel less stressed out with each other? Is there something that you've seen really helpful for people who wanna make that shift towards the more positive interaction style?
Constance Ahrons: I think most helpful is when they have some good intervention. When they see a counselor together, which many people do after divorce. Because what you can accept from somebody else like how about you read this book, you may not accept from your spouse or from your former spouse. You may be resistant to anything that your former spouse presents you as being biased or whatever. Where sometimes a third party can help by presenting the same information that your ex would present but in a way that you can hear it better, that doesn't feel critical. That makes a world of difference.
Constance Ahrons: I think in varying points in time it usually benefits most couples going through a divorce and afterwards to get some kind of help. Whether it's counselors, mediators, those people that can give you a third party view of you that isn't biased that can help you sort out what's going on. Frequently that person will see each of you individually to get a handle on things to be able to coach you. We're doing much more coaching today. It's not therapy. It's much more related to the current situation, not to go back into the history of the marriage, but to go forward with how are we gonna relate from here on no matter what went on in the marriage. How are we gonna be able to handle that? But very frequently it takes somebody outside the two of you.
Constance Ahrons: ... it takes somebody outside the two of you to bring in that new information in a way that you can hear. So I strongly suggest then, especially in times of remarriage and at varying times in the post-divorce relationship between ex-spouses. There are times we can almost predict when there's going to be a crisis that is looming. One of them is re-coupling, having a new partner, remarrying and all of the possibilities within there. The other partner has children of their own, changes in schedules are difficult, moving away. There are all sorts of situations that are going to produce a crisis. How you come through that crisis will predict a lot about how you're going to manage the next five, eight, 10, 15 years.
Constance Ahrons: The thing to remember is that once you're parents, you are a parent forever. If you want to be involved in your children's lives, and if you know that you're going to grandparent together, for example, you better start pretty early on trying to have a good relationship so that neither one of you loses out on times with the children. There are too many children I've heard recently who have said, "I'm not going to have a wedding because I can't stand having to deal with my parents together in one room. So we're just going to elope." Or, "We're not going to invite one of the parents", usually Dad. That's how dads get left out a lot.
Constance Ahrons: If you want to avoid those kinds of situations, then it pays to do all the work that you can early on so that you can try to avoid those situations so that 10 or 15, 20 years later, you are still able to enjoy all the wonderful occasions that come with children. You don't want a graduation occurring and the kids being scared to death because Mom and Dad are going to fight. Who are they going to go up to afterwards, after the graduation? Parents sitting on the opposite side of the assembly or wherever the graduation is occurring. The child is the one who has to look back and forth, has to make the decision so that who's going to have dinner, who's going to have the party and so on.
Constance Ahrons: Whereas a parent can do some of this deciding, it makes it much better for the children. They're not caught in between in the same way. I've heard of children being invited by both parents for dinner, separate dinners at the same time by both parents. Well that's terrible for kids. The last thing you want to do is ... You know, the worst thing for children is to be caught into a loyalty conflict between their parents. "If I chose Mom, Dad will be furious." So you want to help your children by the two of you deciding beforehand how are things going to go.
Constance Ahrons: You don't have to do everything together, but at least don't do them concurrently. Don't have Mom and Dad having a party at 6:00, in their own homes at the same night. At least split of the evenings or something.
Neil Sattin: Right. There's a situation that I've seen in clients. I'm curious for your take on this, which is ... I love your practical advice here. Like figure out what your hot button items are, and just don't talk about those. Try to keep it about the kids.
Constance Ahrons: That's right.
Neil Sattin: Yet, many times, the contentious issues end up being things like, what's our visitation schedule? How much is the child support going to be? That sort of thing. So I'm wondering when you're in that kind of thing where it's like, okay, you know it's going to be contentious, but maybe one of the ex-partners wants to be collegial and wants to just say, "Hey, let's work through this," and the other one is more stuck in angry associate mode where they're just like, "Nope, I don't have to listen to you, that's why I divorced you.", etc, etc. What do you suggest that helps people come to the table around an issue that really can't be avoided like that?
Constance Ahrons: Well, you know that's an important question because rarely are two people in the same place at the same time in terms of their emotions. So I think the best we can hope for is that one of them hopefully will take the high road and not get into that fight over and over again. Then, if they can, then get some help for how can we get around this? How can we find some way to compromise? It's all about compromise, just as marriage is too, for that matter.
Constance Ahrons: So how can we find a way to compromise? We have to accept some things and not others. Sometimes parents do trade offs. I'll give you this if you'll give me that. If you'll give me that extra day next week, I'll give that extra day next month. What they're fighting about usually, what the things you're talking about is child support and issues which are frequently contentious, they're not really about the kids. They're about the parents. They rarely fight about the children, I find, directly related to the children. Except if you have people whose value systems are very, very different. One is very conservative, and the other is very liberal, and they want their children freely brought up that way, or big religious differences I found are problematic. But there are things that are definitely related to the children, and not related to each other.
Constance Ahrons: Yeah, sometimes you do have to take the high road. You have to bite your tongue, and you have to say, "Okay, I'll compromise here if you'll compromise there." That, sometimes, works out very well by seeing a mediator. Sometimes it only takes one or two sessions with a mediator, to help you come to some compromise solution.
Neil Sattin: Right, right. That's one thing I love about mediators is hopefully they are very skilled in their training, which is all about helping everyone get their needs met. I also appreciate too, that you still do coaching and consulting to help people around collaborative divorce. Your books are great guideposts, especially The Good Divorce, for how to recognize these different characteristics that you want to shoot for, that become your ideal. So you kind of know what you're modeling after.
Neil Sattin: Constance, I'm wondering if we could take one last moment to chat about if someone is here and thinking, "Okay, I'm headed down this path. I'm getting divorced." What's a key element for that person to help steer the conversation towards the path of one that will leave them as cooperative colleagues so that they're starting off on the right foot? Because we've spent a lot of time talking about people who maybe aren't quite there, but who are already divorced.
Constance Ahrons: Yes, well one important thing is don't use an adversarial process. I am a firm believer in using an out-of-court process because it doesn't escalate things - and when you tend to use an adversarial process, the issues become escalated. Somebody has to win, somebody has to lose. You want to use a process where you hope it's going to be a win-win.
Constance Ahrons: So the first thing I would say is don't try an adversarial process. Don't go through the lawyer and say, "I want to get the most out of this that I can get. I want the kids all this time. He or she didn't do very much for the kids and wasn't good." Don't try to get your way in the divorce. So instead choose a path that is non-adversarial. Choose a path like mediation. I'm a firm believer in collaborative divorce because it's a non-court approach by a team. I think that that's a very effective approach to coming up with resolving the differences, and it's almost always using compromise. But the major part of it is the lawyers and the divorce coaches, and child specialists and financial people all sit around the table together and say, "We as a team," which includes the clients, "are going to work together to make this the best divorce we can possibly make it."
Constance Ahrons: Now, that doesn't mean that there's not going to be problems and differences, of course. There's going to be ... I've yet to see one divorce where there isn't that. But it's how can we resolve those in a productive way? All of us working toward the best interests of the children. And always putting the children up front.
Neil Sattin: You talk about creating a limited partnership agreement, like figuring out what your principles are and how you're going to co-parent, and spelling it out ahead of time before you even end up in front of lawyers or a judge.
Constance Ahrons: Absolutely. It's very important. As we were talking about a little bit earlier, Neil, is what do you do when every time you talk on the phone you end up fighting and so on. In a limited partnership, you decide quickly, "Okay, what are the limits to this partnership? We are going to be partners. We are parents who are partners, divorced or married, or remarried. How are we going to work toward the same goal, which is having a good divorce come out of this where we can continue to relate to our children, continue to give them the best possible options in life by having two parents who love them? Let that be the major focus, and not having two parents who are constantly fighting. I'm not sure that answered your question but I think I was heading in that direction.
Neil Sattin: It does. This makes me think that this term that we started out the episode with, a binuclear family, you talk in The Good Divorce about how challenged we are to have words that actually portray the outcome of divorce in a positive light, that the words themselves are hard. So maybe in closing you could just explain what's so important about binuclear, because I think it's such a valuable way of envisioning what happens next.
Constance Ahrons: Well, binuclear, I think if I could have developed a different term than I did ... I used binuclear because essentially, I'm a social psychologist. So essentially I was looking to say, "What else can we be but a nuclear family?" The nuclear family does split, and it splits into two households. So if you think of two households as binuclear, so that we are one family that lives in two households, it's a wonderful message to give children is to say to them, "You know, we are still family. We live in two households." Maybe some parents will decide to do things together, sometimes celebrate holidays and have family dinners once a month or something. Other families will not. But that we still are a family and it's just a family that is in two households now. It is binuclear. It's very, very helpful for the children.
Constance Ahrons: But when you think about the terminology, we've only had negative terminology about divorce. Is there a better term that ex-spouses?
Neil Sattin: I wish there were.
Constance Ahrons: Well there is. We talk about ourselves now as co-parents.
Neil Sattin: Yes.
Constance Ahrons: We encourage people not to refer to "my ex", but to refer as to my co-parent. People when they say, "Oh well, why is language so important?" Well language is very important. It really determines what our next steps will be and how we can think about ourselves.
Neil Sattin: Right. It's part of what frames the emotional state that comes from contemplating any situation.
Constance Ahrons: That's right. Yeah, and I'm shocked that in all these years that I've seen very little change in that area. I still hear that ... Nobody's come up really with getting co-parents as acceptable as ex. People still say my ex rather than my co-parent. One is negative, and one is in the past, and one is positive.
Neil Sattin: Let's commit right here and now that we're going to work on that change in terms. The other one I want to put out there that I think I've mentioned on the show before is because I'm remarried and we've talked about Chloe, my wife, being my kids bonus mom as a way of putting a positive spin on that.
Constance Ahrons: That's nice for kids because, as you probably know, step-mothers have a terrible image. You can't find anything positive about step-mothers. All of the humor, everything, is directed at them, and it's a negative image. That's all kids hear, "You're going to have a step-mother?" as if it's awful, so I think bonus mom is terrific.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, the language does matter.
Constance Ahrons: Oh, it makes a big difference.
Neil Sattin: Well, Constance, thank you so much for being here with us on Relationship Alive. I think we're bumping up against what you said was your hard stop, and I want to honor that.
Constance Ahrons: Hard stop, yeah.
Neil Sattin: But I really appreciate you being here with us. Such important work. Again, if you want to get a transcript of today's episode, you can visit NeilSattin.com/divorce, or text the word "passion" to the number 33444. We will have links to Dr. Ahrons's website and her books on the show page for this episode so that you can connect with her, read her books, and perhaps if you're going through this, you can even get some guidance from her about how to go through the process. But thank you so much for being with us today, Constance.
Constance Ahrons: Well thank you, Neil, for keeping up the good work.
Neil Sattin: My pleasure.
Have you ever felt like everyone else’s needs come first? Have you wondered how you’re supposed to show up in your relationship, or for your family, if you’re exhausted and not feeling nourished and supported yourself? How do you make the shift so that you feel full enough to have something extra to offer those around you? In today’s episode, we’re going to cover the art of Extreme Self Care - so that you can learn how to make boundaries and take better care of yourself (and why that’s so important for the health of your relationship). Our guest is Cheryl Richardson, professional coach and New York Times Bestselling author of several books, including Take Time for Your Life, and her most recent book, Waking Up in Winter. Cheryl Richardson was literally one of the first professional coaches, and her decades of experience will help you reclaim your life, find your center, and bring your best self to your relationships.
As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you.
Join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!
Along with our amazing listener supporters (you know who you are - thank you!), this week's episode is being sponsored by FabFitFun.com. FabFitFun offers a seasonal gift box with full-size, ahead-of-the-trend, fitness, beauty, lifestyle, and fashion products.
Each box retails for $49.99, but contains more than $200 worth of goodies! You can customize your box, or just be completely surprised by what comes. As a special for Relationship Alive listeners, FabFitFun is offering $10 off your first box if you use the coupon code "ALIVE" with your order. It's a great gift for yourself - or for that special someone in your life.
This week’s episode is also sponsored by SimpleContacts.com, which offers an easy, convenient way to order contact lenses, carrying all major brands. They also have an online vision test that’s you can take quickly in the comfort of your own home or office, AND they are offering you $30 off your order by visiting simplecontacts.com/alive and using the code “ALIVE” at checkout!
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www.neilsattin.com/selfcare Visit to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Cheryl Richardson
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Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. On today's show, we're gonna dive deep into the question of how to take care of yourself and why it is so important to take care of yourself in the context of nurturing your relationship with others, whether that be your spouse, your partner, your children, other important people in your life. At the core of it all rests your ability to nurture who you are here in this journey of your life on the planet. We've covered some more maybe psychological ways to do that. Episodes with Dick Schwartz, with Peter Levine, et cetera, et cetera. We've covered the gamut, and yet, what I wanted you to have today is some very nuts and bolts practical approaches to the art of extreme self-care.
Neil Sattin: I'm saying that intentionally because today's guest is I think the person who launched that term into the public eye, extreme self-care, and in fact she is one of maybe a dozen people who launched the profession of coaching in the world. So, if you are working with a coach or are thinking about working with a coach, then you have this esteemed guest to thank for coaching being what it is today. Her name is Cheryl Richardson and she is author of New York Times bestselling books. She's been on Oprah Winfrey's show. In particular, the first book of hers that I read, Take Time For Your Life, was huge for me in realizing all the ways in which I was not showing up for me and what that was costing me in other aspects of my life.
Neil Sattin: Cheryl has a long running radio show and I'm gonna let her tell you a little bit more about what she's doing and what she's done. She leads retreats and still does coaching, I believe, and in the meantime she is here with us today to share with us her wisdom on how to take care of yourself extremely well. If you are interested in downloading a transcript from today's conversation, then you can visit NeilSattin.com/selfcare, all one word, or you can text the word "passion" to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. I think that's it, so Cheryl Richardson, thank you so much for being here with us today on Relationship Alive.
Cheryl Richardson: Hi Neil, thank you for having me. I'm glad to be here.
Neil Sattin: You are most welcome. I think when I first reached out to you is maybe two and a half years ago, so it's great to finally be able to connect with a fellow ...
Cheryl Richardson: Sorry it took so long.
Neil Sattin: ... A fellow New Englander. That's fine, I'm sure that you were saying no until it was a definite yes.
Cheryl Richardson: Yes, exactly.
Neil Sattin: We'll fill in everyone listening on what we're even talking just then. So, perhaps ... Like, why extreme self-care? Let's start there. Why extreme and not just take care of yourself?
Cheryl Richardson: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, the phrase "extreme self-care" was first coined by my coach, Thomas Leonard, who really is the man who's sort of single handedly launched the profession of coaching back in the early '90s. He was my first coach and I worked with him, and, as you said in your introduction, a handful of other coaches who were sort of helping him to craft the curriculum for Coach University, which was his training organization at the time. He's since passed away.
Cheryl Richardson: He coined that phrase and I remember early on after we had been working together for a few years, he was developing this extreme self-care program as part of the coaching curriculum and he called upon both myself and a colleague of mine, Stephen Clooney was his name, to work with him on developing the program. So, he coined the phrase and I decided to bring it to sort of the mainstream world after he had passed, through the book, The Art of Extreme Self-Care. That book was really written ... You know, I had been teaching self-care. As you mentioned, Take Time For Your Life. I had written that book and Stand Up For Your Life, which is ... So, Take Time was about sort of self-care. Getting a handle on the outer world. Stand Up For Your Life was about building confidence and character and self-esteem.
Cheryl Richardson: Then The Unmistakable Touch of Grace was about going even more deeply inward and taking care of our self-care for the spirit. You know, taking care of our spiritual wellbeing. When I wrote The Art of Extreme Self-Care, I had been teaching about self-care for many years but my husband was really sick at the time, and at the time that I had the book contract, and I remember I was really struggling to support him through his illness. My best friend at the time said to me, "How can you possibly write a book on extreme self-care when your life is in a state of extreme disrepair?" I remember thinking, "My God, she's right."
Cheryl Richardson: Early on Thomas had used the phrase "extreme ..." I remember one time he said to me, "You don't just need self-care, you need extreme self-care," because I was such a good girl back then and I was such a yes machine that he was really challenging me. He was brilliant at honoring his own needs and at setting boundaries. At one point he said to me, "Your good girl role is gonna rob you of your life." So, I think he used the word "extreme" certainly to get my attention but to also get the attention of those of us who were training to be coaches by first really getting a handle on our own lives and our own self-care so that we could be good models and so that we could, in working with people, really know what people were up against when it came to practicing better self-care so that we could support them with integrity and with real empathy, I would say.
Neil Sattin: What is extreme about it?
Cheryl Richardson: Well, it really depends on who you are, because, for example, I remember one time early in my coaching with Thomas, he said ... We both identified that I, like a lot of people, especially women, was always saying yes because I didn't want to hurt someone's feelings. I didn't want to disappoint them. I didn't want to piss off people. I wanted them to like me, and so he gave me an assignment. For 30 days I had to piss off one person a day, every day for 30 days, and I remember being ...
Cheryl Richardson: Now, for me, that was extreme, right? For a lot of people, that would be extreme, but he was trying to help me find a balance, and a lot of times when we grow, we go from one way of being in the world to the complete opposite for some of us, until we find a balance in between, so he was challenging me, like a good coach will do, and I've done this for years with my clients ... You challenge your clients to do more than they think they can and they often fall somewhere in the middle, but it's far better than where they were, and that's really what he was doing, I think, at the time.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and what I appreciate about it among many things is that it isn't polarized in the way that ... There are a lot of popular books right now that are basically about kind of not caring what other people think.
Cheryl Richardson: Yeah.
Neil Sattin: What's so artful about what you teach is that these are ways that you can take care of yourself but in a way that actually still honors your connectedness, your relatedness to other people.
Cheryl Richardson: Well, yeah, and as a matter of fact there's one point ... So, my most recent book, Waking Up in Winter, which isn't a how-to book but instead is a memoir that just shares with people exactly how I live an examined life and how I grapple with my own self-care. At one point when I was going back to sort of edit this little section that I had written about doing an interview around self-care, I just named something that I hadn't been able to really name, and I'm not gonna be able to do it as well as I did in the book here in this moment, but ultimately we're all really caring people.
Cheryl Richardson: I mean, trying to teach people to not care what other people think ... I say good luck to that. I mean, that's just not gonna happen, because we are relational beings. We have a need for belonging. We have a need for connection. Most of us do. Very high percentage of people, and so it's not that we want to take care of ourselves at all costs. What we really want is more integrity in our relationships, right? We want to be able to be who we really are. We want others to be who they really are, and we want relationships and connectedness based on truth, so if I say to you, Neil, "Yeah, sure, I'll help you move on Saturday," when I haven't had a day off in 30 days and then suddenly I'm really pissed and resentful because I now have my only day off scheduled to help you move, I promise you I'm not gonna show up on the morning of your move ... It's unlikely I will show up being all excited and ready to be supportive of you.
Cheryl Richardson: So, most of us when we're overwhelmed, and most of us are busy and overwhelmed, when we say yes out of guilt or obligation or just unconsciousness, we end up putting ... Sort of taking little bites out of our relationships, out of the integrity of our relationships, and eventually you wind up with a lot of stuff that's unsaid or a lot of sort of unnecessary energy between two people that prevents a clean, vital, alive connection with the other person. So, I find as I get older and I think I'm probably much older than you are, I want relationships with people based on authenticity, based on aliveness, based on truth, based on a give and take relationship. I don't want to be sitting having dinner with somebody who spends the whole time just talking about themselves and their problems. I have no interest in that.
Cheryl Richardson: If you're somebody I really care about, then I'm gonna attempt to interject. I'm gonna attempt to create some balance in the give and take, but if that's not something you're sensitive to or aware of, then I'm probably not gonna have dinner with you again, and I wouldn't want somebody to do that with me either. If somebody felt drained or frustrated or irritable after spending time with me, I'd want to know that, number one, and number two, I'd want to rectify it, because at our best ...
Cheryl Richardson: You know, when we've got really good, clean, honest, open communication with one another, we really get the value of relationship and our relationships become alive, much like your podcast name, right? They are alive and fulfilling and meaningful and satisfying, and in the end, that's what really matters. I promise you, that's what really matters.
Neil Sattin: So maybe a great specific thing, because I really love the wording of this. You talk about how to say no gracefully to someone, and in a way, that is about honoring your relationship with someone and it being based on truth or being willing to be truthful with someone because you honor and respect your relationship with them. So, what's the key to delivering a truthful message? It could be delivering a no to someone, like refusing to help them out, let's say, or show up for something, or to change your mind about something you've committed to, or it could be a moment of wanting to provide feedback about what's going on in a relationship, to bring the truth to it in a way that isn't heavy handed.
Cheryl Richardson: Well, the honest answer is that for each of those different situations, the language is gonna be different, right?
Neil Sattin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Cheryl Richardson: So, let's start by looking at what are some of the general truths for all of it. Number one, if you're having any kind of an emotional reaction to a conversation, you're scared of having it, you feel pressured, you're anxious, you're pissed off. If you're having some kind of an emotional reaction or response to somebody or to the need for conversation, then the very first thing you want to do is go handle that without having a conversation.
Cheryl Richardson: I love it. There's a wonderful book called Growing Yourself Back Up by John Lee that I recommend all the time to people because it's about emotional regression, which is something that therapists understand. Coaches don't necessarily understand it because they're not therapists, but, you know, when somebody gets their buttons pushed, we often go into a regressed state. So, I'm suddenly not 58 years old, I'm 12, and I'm about to have an adult conversation with you as a 12 year old. Chances are it's not gonna go well, right?
Neil Sattin: Right.
Cheryl Richardson: So, the first thing I need to do is step back and grow myself back up. It might be that I have to turn to my husband or another friend to kind of process the experience. This happens a lot when you've got people in your life that are critical or mean spirited or the nasty boss who humiliates you in front of other employees. Whenever people are inappropriate, the normal human reaction is to be stunned into silence. You don't even know what to say, and then people usually beat themselves up afterwards for not having said something, but it's normal when somebody behaves inappropriately to not have a response because you're too busy processing the shock of it. So, you need to walk away and process that. Have conversations. Maybe write in your journal or write a letter to the person. Do some emotional ... Go to see a therapist depending on the intensity of it.
Cheryl Richardson: You want to just get yourself into as neutral a state as possible. In coaching, we call it "charge neutral," so it's not an excited or a reactive state. That's true for any conversation, and then I would also say, again, a good general guideline is keep it short, sweet and to the point. I can't stress this enough. My dad used to say this to me. I grew up in a family business and my dad, like from the time I was 16 years old when he would be communicating with clients, he was a tax consultant, or he would do an annual letter to his clients, he would always say to me, "Keep things short, sweet and to the point, that way people remember, they get your message and they're not bogged down with too many words."
Cheryl Richardson: I think it's the same thing in difficult conversations. So, what's your truth? You deliver that as succinctly as possible. Along with that, you don't want to defend your position. You don't want to over explain it, which would be giving too much, and you don't want to open the door for debate. So, that's part of the reason why I say "keep it short, sweet and to the point." Then I would say ... I think those are probably the most important general guidelines, and if you can enter into a conversation without being emotionally activated, you've got your best chance of being gracious, and when you keep it ... Oh, and prepare. That's the other thing.
Cheryl Richardson: Sorry, the other thing I want to say is if you have to have a difficult conversation, and for some people, saying no to a friend who asks you to babysit their kids is a difficult conversation, so they need to step back and process the feelings. Let's use that as an example. You've got to step back and process the anxiety in your body of, "Oh God, I know she's gonna be really pissed at me. She watched my kids two times last month, but I'm just ... I'm not able to do it," or, "I really don't want to do it. Her kids are difficult and they're exhausting for me. I don't have kids and it's not easy for me to be with them." Whatever the reason is, process that truth first and then you can simply have a conversation and I think it's always best to have a phone conversation unless the person is toxic in any way. Then we can talk about that separately.
Cheryl Richardson: It might be that you just simply get on the phone and you say to your friend, "I got your message about wanting to take care of the kids and I'm not gonna be able to do it, and I want you to know that I will absolutely look for a time in the future when I can, but this time, I'm not able to and I hope you understand. Period. Period." Then you keep your mouth shut, and regardless of what that friend says, you just repeat the truth of what you just said, and nothing more. "Oh, God, that's too bad. I really needed you to watch the ... I can't find anybody. There's no one." = "I'm so sorry. I really look forward to helping you out in the future. I just can't do it this time."
Cheryl Richardson: "Yeah, but, you know, I'm always watching your kids. You should really-" - "You know, I recognize you're watching my kids and I appreciate that and I will absolutely return the favor. I just can't do it this time." You see? So, I'm not saying, "You know what? I'm so sorry but I promised Jim that we'd get together this weekend and we're supposed to have a date night or a date day." The minute you do that, now you're opening it up for interpretation. It's just completely unnecessary, so ...
Neil Sattin: Right, and what's interesting too, I think, is that the more you say ... When you talk about opening it up for interpretation, that's totally true. The meaning that the other person is making, whether it's ...
Cheryl Richardson: That's right.
Neil Sattin: ... "Oh, they value this person more than me."
Cheryl Richardson: That's right.
Neil Sattin: Or, "Oh, they actually don't really like my children" or whatever it is.
Cheryl Richardson: Yeah, exactly, exactly. So, the more you just keep it short, sweet and to the point, the truth is whatever story they make up is their story and that's their responsibility to manage that, so that's why I say it's so important to process ahead of time, then plan what you're going to say. Keep it short, sweet and to the point. Don't over explain. Don't debate it. Don't even open it for ... Just keep returning to the truth of what you've said and let that be enough. Then you'll need to do ...
Cheryl Richardson: You know, if it's a hard conversation for you ... Like, I don't like disappointing people, Neil. I don't like being disappointed. I haven't liked it since I was a little girl, and I've done a lot of work on dealing with my own issues around disappointment, but I know I can get activated. Just ask my husband, you know? All of a sudden we're supposed to do something and he decides, "You know what? I've had a horrible day. I just can't do it. I'm just exhausted and I'm just not able to do it," and I'm like, you know ... I get all activated. The little girl in me, I go into a regressed state sometimes and it's my responsibility to step back and go, "Okay, sweetheart, 90 percent of your reaction has nothing to do with this present moment, so let's become an adult again. Get out of the room and go get your shit together." Excuse my French.
Neil Sattin: No, that's fine. We have actually talked about that a lot on the show, recognizing those parts of us that are stuck in earlier places and earlier traumas, and trying to find the signs that that's where we're operating from instead of operating from our wise adult self, and to show up to care for those parts of us, whether it's ... We talked about it with Margaret Paul, with inner bonding work.
Cheryl Richardson: Yes. So, she's brilliant. She understands. Yes, it's exactly ... You know, it's internal family systems work, it's inner child work, it's ... Yes, it's absolutely, and that's really important. That's why ... So, from a communication standpoint, self-care, the decision to take care of oneself, brings up a lot of stuff. If you grew up in a family where it wasn't okay to tend to your own needs, or you just didn't ... It was never demonstrated to you. You never learned how to do it, it can bring up a lot of anxiety. The simplest thing can bring up a lot of anxiety, and we do need to be really respectful and loving and honoring of those parts of us that get activated. We don't want to communicate with people when they get activated.
Cheryl Richardson: Now, this especially comes into play when we're dealing with tough people, right? Critical people, authority figures, toxic-
Neil Sattin: Ex-spouses.
Cheryl Richardson: Ex-spouses. Yeah, okay, great, or situations fraught with excitability. Toxic people, all of that. It's become so important to ... The more toxic the relationship, the briefer the conversation needs to be, and I will say that in situations like a toxic ex-spouse, let's say, or a toxic parent or sibling, which, you know, I'll hear a lot about that sort of stuff, sometimes the best way to communicate is via email, once again using the guidelines, but not going ... You know, a lot of times people will say to me ... I just had a conversation with somebody recently who had to have a very difficult conversation with a really toxic friend, and she was really scared of her. Understandably so. The woman was a bully.
Cheryl Richardson: I said to this person, "No, no, no, no, no. You don't need ..." She said to me, "Well, I feel like it's only right that I see her face to face." Well, that's really lovely and clearly you're a person of integrity, but it's not good self-care, because this person's gonna eat you for lunch. So, instead, you need to communicate what you have to communicate via email. That's when it's appropriate. It's not appropriate when you're just trying to get out of a tough conversation with somebody you love, but when somebody's really inappropriate, has a history of that or is toxic in some way, or where you get incredibly triggered like an ex-spouse, sometimes you're doing both of you a favor.
Cheryl Richardson: Let me also say this. Sometimes you're doing both of you a favor by communicating via email. The other thing that's important is if you have to deliver really tough, bad news to somebody, you want to remember that sometimes you're doing them a favor by communicating via email, because you're giving them a chance to process their reaction instead of puking it all over you, and I use that gross word intentionally, because a lot of times that's what happens. People end up just puking their unfinished stuff, their unresolved stuff, their old stuff on you, and a lot of damage happens in relationships because of that.
Neil Sattin: I know. I hope more and more to foster a society where people are recognizing their potential to do that and stopping themselves, but I think it's healthy to recognize that that ain't happening all the time by any means. More and more, I think you listening to the show, that's probably true for you, where you recognize, "Oh, I get triggered. I'm going into my fight mode and I'm gonna let someone ... I could let someone have it, but I'm not going to because I recognize that that's what's going on."
Neil Sattin: There is a phrase that you mentioned in one of the recordings of yours I was listening to and I think in one of your books as well that I just love so much, so I want to make sure we say it specifically, and it's something like, "Because I honor and respect our friendship or our relationship or you, I need to tell you the truth."
Cheryl Richardson: Yes, yes. So, it's, "In an effort to honor our relationship, I want to be honest with you," or, "In an effort to honor our relationship, I need to tell you the truth." I would say, "I want to be honest." Depending on who it is, keeping it more conversational makes it feel less threatening to the other person. So, let me give you an example. This is an example I talk about all the time because ... I keep using it because people keep coming to me afterwards going, "Oh my God, that was so helpful. I needed to hear that."
Cheryl Richardson: So, let's say you have a friend that's constantly complaining about her job. Like every time you talk to her, she's just a chronic complainer, and you know you have a friend like this when you look at caller ID and you see that they're calling and you let it go to voicemail, right? Or you make dinner or lunch plans and you keep canceling at the last minute. These are the things we need to pay attention to. In our relationships, those are the clues that something's not working.
Cheryl Richardson: So, if you have a friend that's chronically complaining, it's really important to know that ... Oh, and by the way, let me just say this friend will also say things like, "You know what, Neil? God, I just love you. You know, every time I call you and I just talk about what's going on in my life, I feel so much better afterwards. I just feel relieved and energized." Meanwhile, Neil, you're hanging up the phone filled with all of their junk, exhausted and overwhelmed and thinking, "Oh, why did I answer the phone," right?
Neil Sattin: Right. Going through every spiritual clearing I know to release all that stuff.
Cheryl Richardson: Exactly. You're smudging yourself and you're taking a shower and all of that. So, it's important to recognize that when somebody's like that in your life, you show up and you answer the phone, you're completely ... You know, you're energetically clear, you're in a good place. I often use the visual of the thermometers you see in front of churches when they're raising money and they show the red line moves up as they raise more and more money.
Cheryl Richardson: If you imagine yourself as an empty vessel without a red line when the complaining friend calls and you pick up the phone and they start "wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah ..." You know, like the Charlie Brown character, "wah, wah, wah," and before you know it, the red line of anxiety or just stuff is moving up, up, up and you, because they're puking their negativity onto you, and again, I use that gross word intentionally ... So, it's coming out of them. Their red line is going down, yours is going up and by the end of the conversation, you're filled with their anxiety and you're exhausted, and they're feeling light and happy and off to the next thing.
Cheryl Richardson: The problem with that scenario is unfortunately ... I know you know this, Neil, because I think you were trained through Tony Robbins' work, right?
Neil Sattin: Yep, that was part of my training.
Cheryl Richardson: Yeah, most of us are ... Most human beings are motivated by pain or pleasure and most of it is pain, right?
Neil Sattin: Right.
Cheryl Richardson: So, when we get our anxiety relieved, we lose our motivation to take action to change things, so people who are chronic complainers who have vessels for their complaining keep getting to empty themselves of the anxiety of their situation so that they don't really ever get to a point where they have to do something about it. So, in that way, I'm not really doing you any favors by listening to you complain, right?
Neil Sattin: Right.
Cheryl Richardson: So, that's the basis for a conversation where ... Let's say you're the draining friend, Neil. Sorry, I'll only have you be that for a few minutes. So, my conversation-
Neil Sattin: Cheryl, you're always making me the draining friend.
Cheryl Richardson: I'm sorry - I'm so sorry. So, what I would say to you is, Neil, you know what? In an effort to honor our relationship, I really want to be honest with you. The last several times we've talked, you've been complaining about your job and it sounds like you're really unhappy, and you know what? Sometimes I hang up the phone and I feel kind of exhausted, or I notice myself every now and then kind of avoiding your phone calls, and I don't want that between us. So I just want to be honest with you.
Cheryl Richardson: I am here to support you and doing something about changing this job you can't stand. I'll do research for you. I'll take a look at your resume. I'll help you find a career counselor. Like, whatever I can do to support you, but I can't listen to you complain about it anymore, and I just wanted you to know that so that in the future if you start to complain about it, I'm just gonna gently say, "Hey, Neil? Remember that conversation we had? I just want to remind you, tell me what I can do to support you in taking action."
Cheryl Richardson: Then you keep your mouth shut. You don't say anything. Even if you're tempted, like, "I hope you understand. I hope you're not mad." Just keep your mouth shut. Be empowered. That's a way to really raise our level of self-esteem, by the way, by speaking our truth and then shutting up, and then whatever you say to me ... "Well, you complain about things too, Cheryl. I don't think I complain about it this much." - "Well, you know what, Neil? My experience is that you do, and I want to support you in doing something about it, so I promise you, I'm happy to help you take action. I just can't listen to the complaining."
Cheryl Richardson: Whatever you say, I need to just keep saying that, and then the last thing I want to say is, "And, by the way, Neil, you'll probably forget that we had this conversation and I'll gently remind you when it happens again," because the truth is if you keep listening to friends that are chronically complaining, you've trained them to believe that that's okay. They have a neural network set up. You have a neural network set up. That's what regression is. It's neural programming, right?
Neil Sattin: Right.
Cheryl Richardson: We tap into an old program and it starts running, and you're saying ... You're breaking up that neural network, that neural program, and that you're gonna remind them that you're doing that. So, then, what's really important is that I back up that boundary with action so that if a week from now you call me and you start complaining about your boss, I better say to you, "Hey, Neil, remember that conversation we had? Tell me what I can do to support you," because if you don't, you're also ... you're doing even more damage to the relationship because you're essentially saying to your friend you don't keep your word. Your word isn't to be paid attention to or trusted, so ...
Neil Sattin: Right, right, and I think that's helpful too, because so much of what creates alive relationships is having a container that feels safe. Now, within that safe container, that doesn't mean ...
Cheryl Richardson: That's right.
Neil Sattin: ... That there's not room to ask for adjustments like you were just talking about, but the container of safety, like you set it up by saying, "In an effort to honor our relationship, I need to be honest with you," so you're saying, "I honor you."
Cheryl Richardson: That's right.
Neil Sattin: On the flip side, you're also saying, "And you can trust me that I'm not gonna let this go."
Cheryl Richardson: Yeah. Well, and you can trust me that I'll tell you the truth. I think about some of my closest friends and they're my closest friends because I know that they'll be honest with me and I know that they care about the maintenance of our friendship, right?
Neil Sattin: Right.
Cheryl Richardson: They don't want unspoken things between us, and the friendships that I've had that have ended, the very long, important friendships I've had that have ended have all ended because of what was unspoken and un-dealt with. I think it's also important when you talk about creating a safe container. I mean, all of my work, for years, has been about building healthy relationships, both in my own life, first and foremost, and then teaching it as a teacher. My husband Michael and I have been together almost 25 years and the year before we got married, we spent a year doing imago therapy. Harville Hendrix's Imago Therapy Together.
Cheryl Richardson: I introduced Michael to it. I told him that I was not gonna get into a committed relationship, especially a marriage, with somebody who wasn't wiling to do the work, and it was the smartest thing we ever did and it was all about creating a safe container, right? Learning to create a dialogue process. I don't know if you've done any podcasts around that work, Neil ...
Neil Sattin: Oh yeah, Harville and Helen have been on the show twice now.
Cheryl Richardson: Great. Okay, great. So, a lot of your audience are familiar. Harville is a dear and one of his colleagues was and is our therapist on call for imago therapy and we've used him off and on over the years when we've been in tough places, all because that dialogue process creates a safe container. You can use it with friends. You can use it in business situations. I've used it in coaching relationships with people, in coaching people through difficult situations, and it is all about safety, because we all get triggered. We're going to emotionally regress for the rest of our lives. I mean, that's just ...
Cheryl Richardson: Without a doubt, I can be the healthiest, most functioning adult ... You know, I saw this ... My dad died a year ago, November, and the night that he died, I'm one of seven children, and thank God for the work I do because ... I mean, I was having my own reaction to my father dying, but here I am in a hospital with my whole family and I'm just watching, bing, bing, bing, one emotional regression after another, knowing, "Breathe, do not pay attention to anything that's going on right now, because everybody is in a regressed state. Nobody is in a sane, wise, adult state. People are scared, they're grief stricken, they're traumatized. Just stay sane as best you can."
Cheryl Richardson: Of course, I had my husband with me who knew exactly what was going on and was such an example, and I think this is important to say in terms of relationships. He was such an example that night of how powerful one's presence can be without saying a word. He was this calm, grounded, loving presence for everybody. He and my brother-in-law, both of them, they were like anchors for everybody. Just being in the room. I would watch him go from one room to another room where there was emotional upset. He would step into a room and just sit and everybody would calm down. That's the power of getting a handle on emotional regression on our own reactions and growing ourselves back up.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. I'm having this thought of, like, "Well, I wonder if when I'm 80 I'll regress to when I'm in my 40s and everything will be fine."
Cheryl Richardson: It's an interesting thing to think about, isn't it? I mean, I certainly have had experiences at 58 of regressing into remembering my mid-30s or 40s, let's say, from a career perspective when things were just going gangbusters and I've had the experience of feeling overwhelmed like I did back then, but so much of regression goes all the way back to where it all started, right?
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Cheryl Richardson: In the family of origin...
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, or maybe even for some of us what we brought in to this life.
Cheryl Richardson: Without a doubt. I personally believe that. Yeah.
Neil Sattin: Cheryl, I want to ensure, because this has been so powerful to talk about ways of creating healthy boundaries as a way of taking care of yourself, and I'm wondering, you don't have a lot of time left, but I want to ensure that we touch on some of the other things that are so important. At this moment I just want you listening to know that Cheryl's books are amazing. They lay everything out step by step so you're not gonna get overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to take care of yourself. There's a system there for you to follow, and I'm wondering, Cheryl, if you could give us just a taste of some of the things ...
Neil Sattin: Like, let's pull it back inward and how to really show up for us so that we're nurturing ourselves. That's where so much of your work is so powerful.
Cheryl Richardson: Well, in a lot of ways, my most recent book really demonstrates that. Waking Up In Winter. The subtitle is "In search of what really matters at mid-life," but it could've been subtitled, "In search of what really matters at a transition point in one's life." When it came time for me to write another book, I realized I really honestly felt like I had said all I needed to say about self-care and work-life balance and high quality living in all of my books, and what I really wanted was something I think a lot of us want, and that is to experience the healing power of story and example instead of teaching "how to" information and advice.
Cheryl Richardson: We have so much of it now, right? So, Waking Up in Winter is a memoir in journal form and I think journaling is one of the most powerful things we can do as an act of self-care, as an act of building a strong relationship with oneself, and I sort of demonstrate that through the book by taking a journal that was already written. It's not one that I wrote to be published. It was already written, and showing people what it means to grapple with issues of self-care, what it means to be too busy, what it means to enter a period of life where you feel like you're lingering in limbo, where you don't know what's next. You know what you don't want but you don't know what you do want, or you're waiting for the next stage of your life but you're kind of clueless about what it is.
Cheryl Richardson: How do you hold on during those times and how do you deal with the ending of friendships? I write about the ending of a very important friendship, and how do you deal with career transition and reevaluating? I mean, I think in a lot of ways I wanted people to know that they weren't alone in this process of trying to cultivate a deeper relationship with themselves. It sort of takes people on that journey by sharing what happened to me, and there's one part in the book that ...
Cheryl Richardson: I mention Louise Hay, who I had the good fortune to write a book with before this one. You know, Louise said to me one time when we were traveling together, she said, "Cheryl, you will be with you longer than anyone else on the planet. Why not make it a good relationship?" That just really struck me. I mean, think about that. You will be with you longer than your wife, your husband, your kids. I mean, you will be with you longer than anyone, and in the most intimate way. So, cultivating a relationship with our inner life through journaling or ...
Cheryl Richardson: When I say journaling, by the way, I'm not just talking about sitting down and writing. One whole year my journal consisted of every night I would make a list of 10 things that brought me pleasure that day. For the last two years on Instagram I make a list of five things I'm grateful for and invite my followers to do the same, and then I get to read about all these things people are grateful for. On Instagram I just want to say my username is Coach On Call. It's not Cheryl Richardson.
Neil Sattin: Great.
Cheryl Richardson: Also, I think photographs are a wonderful way, especially now with smartphones. Sometimes journaling is creating photo albums. Like every day I try to take at least one picture of something that's beautiful, and when I go back and I look in photo albums at the beautiful moments in my life, it teaches me something about myself and it reminds me of what really matters to me, so I think we have to expand our notion of what journaling is to be more about the activities we engage in every day that say to us, "You matter. I'm paying attention to you. I'm here for you. I'm present with you. You have my attention," because for most of us, the whole world has our attention on a regular basis. We don't have enough of our own attention.
Cheryl Richardson: In a lot of ways I took a big risk when I put this book out. I was convinced I wasn't gonna publish it til the day I hit send because it's very honest and it's about what happens when we decide to stop and pay close attention, to examine our life. You know, that's what I do. I live an examined life and then I write about what I discover. I mean, that's really ... You could sum up my career as a writer and a teacher pretty much, and that's what I really want for others, is to live an examined life. Give yourself the attention you deserve.
Neil Sattin: I think that's so important, whether it is figuring out how to achieve more of a work-life balance or getting rid of clutter and organizing your life and time so that it supports you and feels more spacious, or your health ... All the points that you talk about in more of your how-to books. I love that you're also there with us as an honest participant, just like I've talked on the show about things going on in my relationship with Chloe. We're not here to pretend like it's all perfect.
Cheryl Richardson: Yeah ...
Neil Sattin: We're here to remind you that it is about the process.
Cheryl Richardson: That's right, that's right. That's what it's all about. I mean, really, the soul is here to experience life, period. We're not here to accomplish or acquire or conquer. We're really here to be fully present for the experience of life and for the beautiful experience of our connection to one another because we are all connected.
Neil Sattin: I'm so pleased that we had this chance to share these moments together, Cheryl. If you're interested in finding out more about Cheryl's work, you can visit CherylRichardson.com. Her new book, Waking Up In Winter, is available, as well as all of her other books and audio programs through Audible, Sounds True. You can find it all on Amazon and through Cheryl's website, her Instagram, et cetera. We'll have links to all of that in the resources section of the show notes and transcript for this episode. Meanwhile, Cheryl, is there anything else that people should know about how they could work with you or get in touch with you?
Cheryl Richardson: No, I don't maintain a coaching practice anymore, so the best thing to do to learn about the events that I'm doing or the retreats ... I do host two retreats a year. They're just intimate gatherings of 50 people and they're very organic, and coaching ... That's where you could get coaching from me. The best place is to subscribe to the newsletter at CherylRichardson.com because I put a blog out every Sunday night and I always include what I'm up to in there as well.
Neil Sattin: Great. Well, thank you so much and it's such a pleasure to meet you and spend some time with you today.
Cheryl Richardson: Thank you, Neil, and thank you for the good work that you're contributing to the world. You have such high quality people on your podcast, people who are really steeped in a lot of experience and knowledge, and I really appreciate that you're putting this out into the world. It's so important right now.
Neil Sattin: Thank you so much for saying so. It's definitely work that's so important to me, so it's helpful to have that feedback from you.
Cheryl Richardson: Great. Thanks, Neil.
Neil Sattin: Sure thing.
Cheryl Richardson: Bye.