What do you do if you want to have conversations about emotions with your partner, and all they want to do is talk about how they think about things? Or vice versa? In today’s episode, we dropped in with Sue Johnson for a few minutes to get her take on this question. Sue Johnson is the author of “Hold Me Tight” and the creator of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) - and has trained thousands of couples therapists in her methods. Sue also reveals one thing that you can do, today, to add positive energy to ANY relationship.
As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!
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Pick up your copy of Sue Johnson’s book, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.
FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide - perfect help for handling conflict and shifting the codependent patterns in your relationship
Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner's Needs) in Your Relationship (ALSO FREE)
Visit www.neilsattin.com/sue4 to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Sue Johnson.
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Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Satin. Today we're gonna do something a little bit different. We are going to dive in quickly with one of the world experts on relationships to get answers to some of your questions. I dropped into the relationship alive community on Facebook and said, "Hey if you had 10 minutes to talk with Sue Johnson, today's guest, what would you ask her?" And then I was like, "asking for a friend. Okay, I'm asking for myself." And so we got some great questions from people and so I wanted to take this opportunity to ask them and to share just a few moments with our guest - as I mentioned her name is Sue Johnson, she is one of the world's experts on relationships and specifically on how we use attachment theory and attachment science to build stronger bonds with our partner and to thrive in connection. It's also a great way to understand when things are going south, why they're going south, and how to rebuild your relationship.
Neil Sattin: Sue Johnson is also the creator of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy also known as EFT, and has trained thousands of therapists around the world in using EFT, to help couples. And it is one of the methods that has been empirically shown through research to be effective at helping couples build stronger relationships. Sue has been on the show before. If you've been a long-time listener, you know that. To listen to any of her other episodes, you can visit neilsattin.com/sue, S-U-E, and then a number. And so, there's just sue or there's sue2 and sue3 she's been on all of those times. So this will be sue4. And we will have a detailed transcript as always, that you can get by visiting that URL or by texting the word PASSION to the number 33444 and following the instructions. Sue Johnson, so great to be here with you again, on Relationship Alive.
Sue Johnson: Hey, it's always fun. Nice to be here.
Neil Sattin: Great, great, so thank you for being willing to just jump in and go with a few quick questions. As opposed to our long conversations that we often have. It's so easy to talk to you for a long time 'cause there's so much to say about this topic. Let's start with, I thought this was a great question. And this comes up all the time, what can you do if you're in a relationship where one person loves to talk about emotions and feelings and have those conversations and the other person would rather talk about things and events and when you start having an emotional conversation with that person they start to shut down. And that often creates this dynamic where they're each kind of wanting more of the other or in some cases less of the other. What advice would you give a couple in that situation? And maybe you could speak to both members of the couple and how they might come to a better place.
Sue Johnson: Well, if we saw a couple like that in EFT, in therapy or if we saw a couple like that in one of our educational groups, our Hold Me Tight groups, we would get them to talk about just what you said, to talk about the process. Everybody stays with the content, and with their own kind of dilemmas and their own kind of issues. And from that point of view all you're left with is that these two people are different. Yup people are different. Everybody's basically incompatible on some level but they're not. Because you can talk about the process. So if I was sitting down with that couple, I would ask the person who wanted to talk about emotion, "Could you share with your partner what's happening for you and what it's like for you, when you're... What is so important for you about wanting to share your heart?" And you make it simple. That's the other thing, "What is so important for you about wanting to share your heart, about wanting to understand something about your partner's emotions? Can you help him understand that?" And the person might say, "Well yeah, there's times in the relationship where I kind of feel lonely, it's like I'm in a relationship, but I can't quite put my hand on you Tom, I don't quite know where you are, I don't quite know how you're feeling about me, and I kind of feel lonely."
Sue Johnson: And when people talk on this process level, it's usually new to the other person. The other person says, "I didn't know that you felt lonely, I felt like you were just fed up with me and that I wasn't emotional enough for you." So this is how it kind of goes. Usually the person who's looking for this emotional connection is saying, "Where are you, where are you, where are you? Can you connect with me? I need this emotional connection." And we know how important that is to people. Psychology pathologized that for a long time saying, "Oh no, you shouldn't need that. It's somehow immature." And now, what we're understanding is, no, no, no, it's just who we are. It's how your brain is structured, you're a bonding mammal and you need this sense of connection. So that person would say, "I don't need to talk about my emotions forever." That's the other thing, that people have fears the other person who's more withdrawn or more introverted would say, "Well, like if we start talking about emotions, are we gonna have to talk about it like for a week?" Usually the fear there is, "I'm gonna get overwhelmed." I'm not gonna know how to do it right.
Sue Johnson: So it's important for the person to say, "No, I don't need to talk about emotions for a week, I just need to be able to check in with you and connect." And the other person says, "Oh well, that's really not so hard." And then the other person needs to be able to say, "I'm slower than you. I'm more externally focused than you. I'm not as embedded as you in my emotions. I need to think about it a bit and I'm not always sure how I feel. And if I'm gonna share with you my emotions then you got to like understand that. And I also wanna connect about other things." The joke with me and my husband is that, his favorite place to go is a hardware store.
Sue Johnson: So I can't remember where we were, we were somewhere exotic. Oh, we were on this beautiful little island, a couple of days ago. And we're wandering around after coffee, and my husband's looking across the street and he's looking at the hardware store, and I said, "No. You don't wanna go in the hardware." He said, "I just wanna go in and find... " Right, so I wanna go look in the art galleries, he wants to go to the hardware store. The point is, if you can talk about them and talk about your needs and your softer feelings, and you can be responsive to your partner, you can deal with all kinds of differences. Tricky part is, that so many of us, that's not what happens.
Neil Sattin: Right.
Sue Johnson: What happens is we get stuck. We get stuck. The person who's wanting connection gets upset and angry and says, "You never talk to me." And that's a challenge and it's an accusation, really. And then the other person feels like they're failing, they can't do what they're partner wants and they say, "Well I don't wanna talk right now, I'm busy right now." So they shut down more; the more they shut down, the more the other person gets upset, and that is what brings so many people into seeing someone like me. And that's what I try to lay out for people in my book for the public, Hold Me Tight, because so many people don't understand that we can get trapped there, and then the dance takes us over. And before you know where you are, the other person looks like the enemy, and looks like somebody who's so different than you, that you don't even know what to do with it. So it's a good question. And we think it's always about gender, but it's not always. I've worked with folks where it's the man saying, "I wanna talk to you or I wanna get close." And it's the woman saying, "What are you talking about? I come home from my law practice, I'm exhausted." And so people have to be able to be emotionally accessible and open and responsive to each other. It's not about making cognitive deals. Cognitive deals, they don't go to the right level. It's about being able to share what's going on with you.
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Sue Johnson: I don't know if I've answered your question. Have I answered your... I think I have.
Neil Sattin: You have. Yeah, in detail. And one little point about that, that I'm curious about, because I was thinking about the question and thinking, "Okay, so we reached this point." As you said, it used to be pathologized when someone was emotional in a relationship. How do we avoid pathologizing the other partner who is less emotionally oriented?
Sue Johnson: I think what we've learned over the years in emotionally focused therapy, is we think of emotions and how we deal with emotions as somehow random or irrational. And what we've learned over the years is emotions aren't irrational for a start, there's always a good reason for why you feel the way you feel. Emotions are all about telling you what matters in the world and what is important for your survival. And people have very good reasons. They have learned to focus on certain things and to deal with their emotions in a certain way to survive. And they're standing in front of you, so it worked, it worked on some level.
Neil Sattin: Right.
Sue Johnson: And now, that's what they know how to do. So I remember working with a man who could hardly... He could not look into his wife's face, for sure, and talk about his inner world. If he was going to do it, he had to go very slowly and stare at the rug, stare at the carpet. But what he told me was, he grew up in a very violent family, where the music to their dance was all kind of hostility and rage and violence all the time. So any time he heard that music, his brain would go into alarm. And his brain would start looking for ways out. And he needed to be able to tell this partner that, but they were very good reasons why when she would up the emotional music, he would start to freeze and go still.
Neil Sattin: Right.
Sue Johnson: And there's no point in telling him that's bad or you mustn't do that, that doesn't help at all. The most useful thing is to say, "Well, you must have a very good reason for that. Obviously, that was important for you to be able to do that right now. And can you tell your wife how can she help you? How can she help you not move immediately into that shutdown?"
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Sue Johnson: He said, "Oh, she can talk slowly." And his wife roared with laughter, because, of course, she spoke very fast.
Neil Sattin: Totally.
Sue Johnson: He said, "She can speak slowly, because everyone in my family spoke very fast and all this fast emotional stuff coming at me, and I feel like I'm in a hail of bullets." Listen to his image, "I'm in a hail of bullets, I'm gonna get hurt."
Neil Sattin: Right.
Sue Johnson: No, we must not pathologize. People have certain ways of regulating their emotions. And the thing about that is, if we accept them and we understand them, people can then add to them. Relatively withdrawn folks can learn to come out and talk about what's happening inside and know that it works, and that the other person listens and actually it creates connection. And people who are really hungry for emotional connection, for all kinds of good reasons, could also learn to trust another person and to not have everything so urgent all the time. Like, "You've got to speak to me now."
Neil Sattin: Right.
Sue Johnson: Can translate into, "Basically I know you care for me, and I'm gonna take a deep breath here, and I'm gonna give you some space after you come home from work. And I'm gonna trust that, then if I come and talk to you, you'll be willing to talk to me."
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Sue Johnson: So it's a lot of distress in relationships comes from partners triggering each other and ending up feeling disconnected and insecure, rejected, or abandoned. And as human beings, what people don't get is that feeling rejected and abandoned by someone you count on, your brain translates that into a danger, straight danger, just like walking up on a freeway, crossing a freeway is danger. Your brain says, "Uh-oh, emotional isolation. If you call no one will come. Danger!" Right?
Neil Sattin: Right.
Sue Johnson: And people don't understand how they trigger each other.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. And so the words that come up to mind for me is: One, I'm hearing that there's this sense of moderation. The "emotional person," I'm putting that in quotes, like learning how to be emotional without overwhelming another person. And the less emotional person learning like, I don't think anyone is devoid of emotions, but learning like, "Oh, there's actually something happening here." And it could be useful, it doesn't have to overwhelm the system. But it's not like you're gonna turn a non-emotional person into emotional person unless they discover some joy in that. I'm reminded of a conversation with...
Sue Johnson: I think that's a good point. Yes.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. I'm reminded of a conversation with Dan Siegel, where he talks about... He was doing mindfulness work with someone who was in their 80s or 90s and woke that person up to their physical sensation and their emotional experience, and suddenly the world was a rich place where they really wanted to be and we're enjoying it more. It's not to say that that's required, but I think that's available for people if they're willing to dip their toe into that water.
Sue Johnson: Yes, and also in relationships, the bottom line is, relationships are all about emotion, relationships are a dance, and the emotion is the music, and relationships are all about emotion. So when I'm working with a couple and one partner says something pretty loaded they're like, "Well, sometimes I think about leaving. I get so desperate I think about leaving." And I say to the other person, who might be the rather shutdown person, "What's happening for you?" And they say, "Nothing." I mean, I deal with it respectfully, but the bottom line is, in my head I say, "No. That's impossible. If you care about this person and you're not dead, and you're not a lizard, you are feeling, because she just sparked alarm in your mammalian brain. In your mammalian brain that knows that emotional isolation and losing someone who's a huge resource for you and who you depend on is a safety cue. Your mammalian brain knows that, your whole nervous system sings that song." So when people say, "No. I feel nothing." I just go, "Aha!"
Neil Sattin: Right. And I think with what you're... Go ahead.
Sue Johnson: Then I say, "Let's try that again. She turned to you and she's dead." And I run it past his amygdala again and finally he says, "Well, well, well, I don't know. I just wanna get out of here." So then he starts to tell me, "My body tells me to just get out of here. So then we go with that." And the whole thing opens up. We haven't taught people to trust their emotions and listen to them and make them their friend, we haven't taught therapists that. We've taught people that emotions are sort of dangerous stuff, they get out of control, they're associated with women. [chuckle] Women kind of going hysterical.
Neil Sattin: What's wrong with that?
Sue Johnson: Yeah, that's a bad idea. So there's a lot of interesting stuff in our society about putting rationality on a pedestal and ditching our emotional realities, actually, when the bottom line is, it's our emotions that organize our inner world and it's our emotions that organize the signals we send to others and the way we dance with others. So from my point of view, we might as well get to know them and start to use them well, but then I do something called emotion-focused therapy. So I am gonna feel that way.
Neil Sattin: Right, right. Thank you so much. I'm wondering before we go, 'cause I promised something quick, and it's so easy to talk to you, and we could keep talking about that very topic, probably for an hour.
Sue Johnson: We could.
Neil Sattin: I'm wondering if you'd be willing to just... Anyone listening, if they wanted to do one thing today that would infuse their relationship with some positive energy, and if they're not in a relationship maybe just infuse their relationships with others in their life with some positive energy. What's one thing that they might be able to do? They turn off this podcast and they can go and do it today.
Sue Johnson: Oh my goodness, there's so many things you could do.
Neil Sattin: I know, I know.
Sue Johnson: There's so many things you could do. What we see when couples have repaired their relationship or when they've gone through our education groups, is that they reach for each other. They reach for each other, and they risk sharing. So that's what we do when relationships are working. So that doesn't have to be a big thing. I worked with somebody last week, for a whole week. This young woman was helping me, and at some point during the evening I looked across at her face and I saw... And she was starting to talk about something and I saw the emotional music change and her face change, and I suddenly really got in my body that this was something... She was in pain, she was certainly in pain. She wasn't just chatting anymore, she was in pain. And usually, I don't know what we do with that, we kind of don't want to embarrass the person, so we stay away. And I just had this incredible feeling, so I saw that she was vulnerable, so I reached.
Sue Johnson: So what did I do? I didn't want to embarrass her, so I just went around the table and sat beside her and put my hand on her arm and looked at her. What I was saying to her, we do so much non-verbal. What I said to her with my eyes was, "I see that you're in pain." And she just turned into my neck for a minute. Some other people at the table might not even have noticed. She just turned into me for a minute and put her hand on my hand. It was like, "I see you. I see you and I care that you are there." And so, I reached to her and she... It's like her whole body told me, "Thank you. Thank you for this." People love it when we see them.
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Sue Johnson: We do this with our dogs, we do this with babies, we forget the adults want it too.
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Sue Johnson: My dog will come and drop his toy at my feet, and I'll say, "Oh, you want to play? You're such a good dog." And my dog will quiver in joy. Why can't we do that with people? Just see them, see them and respond to them. It's so powerful, and in our busy lives, we don't do that very... We don't listen, we don't honor, we don't say, it's like we say to people with our actions, "I see you. We're two human beings on this planet. In this short little time we have here, I see you. I'm with you, you're not alone here, you matter." That's a very powerful message.
Neil Sattin: I agree. Such a gift to give someone else your care, your attention, to actually see them fully. Thank you so much, Sue, for joining us for this quick dive into your world and your world of relationships.
Sue Johnson: So is this sue4?
Neil Sattin: This is sue4.
Sue Johnson: It is sue4 and do I improve every time, Neil?
Neil Sattin: I think we both improve. I think we both do.
Sue Johnson: Okay, that was very insensitive of me. Yes, you do improve, Neil. We both improve every time. That's right. Okay.
Neil Sattin: Thank you so much for your willingness to join today and yeah, for you listening, neilsattin.com/sue4 to check out the transcript and download it. And Sue, I'm so looking forward to talking with you again sometime soon.
Sue Johnson: Yes. Take care.
Neil Sattin: Take care.
Remember that spark you had with your partner when you first met? Butterflies in your stomach. Constantly checking for a text message or call from them. Daydreaming about your next date. Well, how do you get that back after you’ve settled into a routine of work, home, dinner, dishes, mouthguard, sleep? How about after a year? Five years? Or even a decade? Today you’ll learn how to use mindfulness techniques rediscover what’s amazing about your partner. Today’s guest is Dr. Cheryl Fraser. Cheryl combines her knowledge of how the mind works from a psychological and Buddhist perspective with her mission to help people create sexy, passionate, playful relationships. She’s also the author of Buddha’s Bedroom: The Mindful Loving Path to Sexual Passion and Lifelong Intimacy.
As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!
Check out Buddha’s Bedroom on Amazon
Visit Cheryl Fraser’s website
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Visit www.neilsattin.com/bb to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Tammy Nelson.
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Amazing intro and outro music provided courtesy of The Railsplitters
Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. We’ve covered lots of aspects of how to develop true intimacy with your partner: how to communicate well, how to understand each other, how to get past your triggers. Today, I want to focus on how to bring that mindful connection that you’re developing with your partner into the bedroom. So that you can have passionate, thrilling, sexual connection with your partner. Because often that’s, if not part of why we’re in relationship, it’s a big part of why we’re in a relationship. In fact, recently I put the question out to the relationship alive community on facebook: “How important is sex to you?” and there were very few people who said “yeah, it’s not a big deal to me.” Almost everyone, without a doubt, talked about how important a sexual, intimate connection was. So there’s the intimacy, that’s your closeness, your connectedness, and then there’s your ability to bring that intimacy into the way you connect in the bedroom with your partner.
And today we have an expert in that very topic to chat with us. Her name is Doctor Cheryl Fraser, and she is the author of Buddha’s Bedroom: The Mindful Loving Path to Sexual Passion and Lifelong Intimacy. And, Cheryl actually reached out to me and sent me a copy of her book, and I was just really moved by how simple it is, and yet how powerful the results can be for you. So, I’m really excited to have her here on the show. As usual, we will have a detailed transcript and show guide with relevant links. To download that, all you have to do is visit NeilSattin.com/bb -- and that stands for Buddha’s Bedroom. So I’m making it really easy for you. Or, you can as always text the word “Passion” to the number 33444 and follow the instructions.
So let’s dive right in to the bedroom with Buddha and Doctor Cheryl Fraser. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Cheryl Fraser: It’s so much my pleasure. So happy to be talking with you.
Neil Sattin: Well, before we can get into bed, let’s talk about the way that you start your book which I love, which is bringing mindfulness to your relationship, and the sense that our partners aren’t there to make us happy. And how that desire for our partner to be that for us is at the root of so much unhappiness. So, before we can get really bed into partners, we often have this obstacle of feeling the resentments that we’ve stored about them. Or that abrasiveness that is actually an obstacle to the closeness, to the openness, to being there in a sexual way. So, how did you arrive there, and what, what is our good entry point here. Maybe it’s just with the Buddha, and how the Buddha’s teaching really do apply to the misery, the potential misery, of relationship as well as the bliss and joy.
Cheryl Fraser: Yes. Well, I think the short handle there is that great love and great sex are all in our head. And that ultimately is absolutely true. When I’m in love with you, it’s in my head. When I’m disgruntled with you, it’s in my head. When I’m horny, it’s in my head, even if it’s in my body. That’s why we can have an orgasm in our sleep, with absolutely no physical contact. Because actual eroticism and sexual response is also in our heads. So, you know, the title of the book, is a little bit controversial in some circles. I’m a card-carrying buddhist, whatever that is, I’ve been studying for 25 years, and I teach buddhism in long retreats, and I’m studied in Tibet and India etcetera. And “Buddha’s Bedroom” is a bit of a misnomer, in that Buddha was a celibate monk after the age of, about, early twenties. After he left his pleasure palace, and his concubines, and his wife, and his infant child, to go discover the root of suffering.
So. Why would we put Buddha in the Bedroom? Because ultimately the teachings of buddhism, and whether you’re a secular person, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, whatever your religious or philosophical bent is, the beautiful thing about the teachings of buddhist philosophy, is they’re simply about training your mind and looking at your experience, whatever your belief and religious system are, how do we bring that to love and sex, which is the root of your question.
So in essence, whether I’m happy or not happy is in my mind. And that applies directly to our relationships. So I’ll give a very simple example.
Neil Sattin: Great.
Cheryl Fraser: Let’s say after this interview, you and I have to drive somewhere, we’ve got a meeting. And we each go out to our car after we hang up from each other, and we’ve each got a flat tire. So what happens next is entirely up to our head. Do we have a tantrum? “This is a terrible day, I’m going to be late for my interview, oh no, this is a disaster, why does this always happen to me!” None of that has anything to do with the tire. It’s completely due to my mind’s reaction to reality. Reality is I have a flat tire. So let’s say, I’m going to make me the bad guy and you’re going to be the enlightened one here Neil. Let’s say I’m the one that’s having a tantrum, and I’m freaking out “Wahh!!!” meanwhile Neil goes out to his car, and is a highly civilized human being, and sees his flat tire, and says “Oh, ok, that happened. I’ll have to adjust my plan now.”
The difference between you and I is in our minds, and our mind’s reaction to reality in that moment. I freak out, and my mind goes into suffering and dismay, and creates my problem. Not the flat tire. You have the same real issue, the car won’t work in the way you need it to in here and now. And you simply go “Ok, that happened. Reality changed. And I, Neil, am going to go with the flow, and make a new plan. Call a friend, grab a bus, reschedule your appointment.” This is so simple. We all know that from our daily experience, when we react to something, that’s when we suffer. That’s Buddhism 101. How does that apply to love? Well, let’s say my sweet heart comes home today, and he promised he was going to get cat food. Now, my sweetheart has adult ADD, he’s a little bit forgetful. So let’s say he promised to get Cat Food. I texted him, “Hey hon, remember the cat food.” Because that’s part of our relationship agreement around his forgetting things. And he walks in, and we all know where this is heading, blissfully happy to see me, gives me a hug and a kiss, the cat’s meowing, where’s the cat food, his face falls. In that moment, reality is I have a person who’s forgotten to buy cat food. That’s all that’s happened. But what happens next can often be, and I’m not proud to admit that I’ve often gone there: “Oh, for goodness sakes. I can’t rely on you, I texted you, couldn’t you just check the phone before you leave the store. You know, what’s the deal.”
I am suffering but it’s in my mind. It’s certainly not the cat food. It’s certainly not the cat’s fault. And arguably, and this is where it gets challenging, arguably my misery isn’t because my partner did or didn’t do something. My misery is because I don’t like reality. I don’t like the reality that they did or didn’t do something. So to your point in your introduction, about whether we are ever in the right relationship, or can we be happy in our relationship. I’m fond of saying we all marry or fall in love with the wrong person if we expect them to make us happy all the time.
And the first quarter of the book is really about this teaching of examine your mindset, and don’t change your mate, change your mind. So most of the small or medium distresses in our relationship, sexually, romantically, communication wise, how we handle the chores, how we handle the commitments at christmas time -- whatever that is. The small and the medium distress, pain, annoyance, anger -- most of that we can get on top of that if we work with our mind. We can say “Oh, I’m so frustrated with Neil right now!” I can look at my mind, I can look at the emotion, I can feel the emotion in my body, I can look at the story: “Neil’s so unpredictable, he makes promises and he breaks them, nah nah nah.” I can harness that in, and ideally calm my body, calm my mind. Do a stretch, do a little meditation, go for a walk with the dog, and come back and say “Hey babe. I need to talk to you about something that’s really bothering me.” So when we take all of that, it sounds complex, it’s actually reasonably simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. But it’s reasonably simple to say “My mind is the root of my experience.” How I engage with you, my beloved, is, in reality we’re having engagements, but how my mind interprets them is where I’m either happy or not.” “Oh, I’ve got a hubby who forgets cat food, he’s such a sweetheart.” versus “I can’t rely on you. I’ve got to do everything myself.” Wow those lead down radically different roads.
Neil Sattin: Right. Right. And so there are several different paths that I want to go down here. One of them, I just wanted to share, I had this interesting insight when I was reading Buddha’s Bedroom, which was thinking about the question that I’ve often get asked which is, “When I’ve done all this growth, what if I find out that my partner isn’t the person that I’m supposed to be with anymore?” And I think that a lot of what you just said is the answer to that question. Not 100% of the time, but probably 85 to 90% of the time, as long as that growth includes how you process your own stories about your partner and your relationship. And you may find yourself able to connect in totally new ways that aren’t based around the dysfunction that maybe brought you together to begin with. Which is so often the case. So I just wanted to share that because for me, it was actually really inspiring, as a way of saying, yeah you know what, when you reach a new level of growth, you also reach a new level of ability to take a new approach in something that’s problematic in your relationship. That’s part of the growing. And some of that is the relational skill -- it’s how you talk to Neil about the cat food he keeps forgetting. And another part of that is how the inner part of your conversation that’s happening. Recognizing that “Oh, it’s my mind that’s torturing me right now,” and whatever you do to get past that.
And a question that I have for you is around, is around those moments, like, how would you describe someone being, having their story, and getting past their story, but still recognizing, maybe it’s not the cat food, but maybe it is a repeated sense of like, “Oh, in reality I’m noticing that my partner actually doesn’t pay much attention to me.” It’s not like you’re giving the negligent partner a blank check to walk all over the newly practicing buddhist, right?
Cheryl Fraser: No, because that would just create more suffering. And buddhism is all about trying to reduce our suffering not increase it. So let me get a little more clear here, so if we’re becoming a little more aware, and we’re examining our inner experience and our relational experience, and we come to a dawning realization that maybe our partner’s not that great at paying romantic or connected attention to us. That’s partly what you’re putting out. What do we then do with that? And these are such vast, vast questions. And as relationship therapists and coaches, both of us, we know that there’s not pithy answer, but what I’m putting forward as a really important tool in the tool box that’s different than a lot of other relationship advice, is don’t immediately go to “I need to fix this situation.” i.e. teach you, bed you, plead, cajole, bully you into paying more attention to me, in order to be happy. That’s generally where we go. I have to fix the tire in order to be happy. And from buddhist philosophy, it’s a bit of a radical idea for most of us in the west who are not trained this way. Well, you don’t need to fix the tire to be happy. Ipso facto, I don’t need to get my partner to be attentive to me in a specific way that I would enjoy, in order to be happy. Whatttt.
That means I’ve got all this space in which to be happy, with my inattentive, distracted partner. Who I know loves me deeply, and shows me in other ways. It also gives space for the two of us to say “Hey, but with the inattentive, distracted, not romantic part, that is something I would like to work on.” But now I’m working on it from a place of curiosity and wonder and friendship and play and good humored acceptance that that is not your strong suit, instead of pain, demand and almost a cyclical failure experience, where I’m hoping you’ll remember to --
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Cheryl Fraser: Ok, here’s one. Oh, I did not get his permission to share this, I’ll get it retrospectively. I had an experience with my dearly beloved this weekend. It was my birthday, and um, I told him that all I want is something with wrapping paper on it. I said I don’t care if it costs a dollar. It’s not about that. It’s because I love wrapping paper, not because I love wrapping paper, but because of what it indicates to me. Which is a thoughtfulness, a bit of precision, a bit of, you know, making something special. It goes back to old patterns, about wanting to make a fuss about my birthday as a kid, and all that good stuff that we have some awareness of. So, my dearly beloved goes and gets me a really sweet little gift. As dog lovers, you and I both Neil, he got me this sweet book on you know dogs and whatever -- lovely book. And, he put it in a bag. Oh, uh, no! I’m telling you we’re set up for a fight now. He put it in a bag, and he left it on the hotel bed, and he left a card, and in the card, he said all sorts of loving things that were beautiful. And he said, “And redneck wrapping.” Now, redneck wrapping, meaning “I threw it in a bag! I didn’t get [TK AGAINST TAPE].” And I was not a very good buddhist, or a very good sex therapist, or a very good relationship therapist, or a very good wife, or a very good person in that moment. I kind of freaked out. “All I asked for was for it to be wrapped! I just wanted it to be wrapped!” And I actually had some tears, I was very tired, it had been a very long week. Now, if I had practiced what I preached, which I try to, as much as possible, I would have said “How cool! That’s his way of wrapping. This is my sweetheart. It’s kind of funny. It’s kind of cute. It’s kind of quirky. We’re different people.”
So, just to bring this back together and to summarize it for our listeners. When I accept responsibility for my mind’s reaction to reality, it frees me up to accept reality the way it is, and be not upset. It also frees me up to say, “Ok, I’m not really upset, but we can talk a little bit about the wrapping paper in the future? What I would really love, if is on special occasions, if you got paper, because it’s symbolic to me. It just lights me up. You’ll get great return on your investment because I’ll be so thrilled.” But instead of doing it from a place of pain and hurt, and the place we usually dialogue about problems. So, I don’t want listeners to think that “Oh, my goodness, I have to accept every shortcoming in my relationship, from now on, because it’s my fault that my head isn’t happy with it.” No, no. That isn’t what we’re saying. But we’re giving people a super powerful tool, to add to the way we usually do relationship. Work on our head as well as the interaction between you and I. And find a way to be happy, and joyful, and horny, and in love, and curious -- regardless of what’s going on for our sweetheart. And then maybe, take their hand and ask them to jump into that playground with us, when we’re at our best. Cajole them out of their stuck place instead of trying to berate them, or guilt them, or harunge them out of that place. I think you and I have both experienced professionally and personally -- it doesn’t work all that well.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, as soon as we are coming at people with, what in the dog training world we call negative reinforcement, as soon as that is happening, they’re going into their shame, and feeling unworthy, and that’s not a place where any good problem solving is happening. And certainly, where the connection, also, isn’t happening. I love that example that you gave, because your husband clearly he was thinking that -- he was probably thinking that he was getting at what you were asking for. He acknowledged it even. But he didn’t really get what you were asking for in the end, because, what you wanted was fairly simple. But he missed that point.
Cheryl Fraser: And I love him anyway. And we redeemed the weekend. And often it wouldn’t have gone that way, but you know, the trifecta was there: the exhaustion, the working too much, and hadn’t had much time together, and all that stuff. I’m a human being in relationships, so are you. My private practice therapy office is upstairs from my home. You and I are speaking from my home right now. And I often say to my beautiful patients I get to work with, the couples I work with, I say, you know, “There’s upstairs Cheryl, and she’s awesome. And then there’s downstairs Cheryl, and I’m a lot less skilled down here.”
But, all of us should be that self revelatory and not set ourselves up. Because even though, I’m literally considered a sex and love expert, that doesn’t mean it’s easy in the trenches of real life with real human beings. That helps keep us humble, and it keeps us always searching and looking for ways to bring this beautiful work to people to do something that is sacred and profound. Which is to choose to walk through life with a person. And we learn if we’re older than 16 or so, that it’s not as easy as we thought it would be, and that soul mates don’t exist, and that Walt Disney sold us a bill of goods, and we should all sue him. [LAUGHTER] There is no happily ever after, at least by itself.
Neil Sattin: So I think they have some money, so I think we should put a class action suit together, and go after Disney. Yeah, yeah, and I think that this is so true, that what we’re after is not this idea of a perfect relationship where nothing goes wrong. In fact, my latest catch phrase has been “the perfectly imperfect relationship.” That, that’s part of it. That it’s not that nothing ever happens it’s how you show up, it’s how you handle those things that inevitably go wrong that show you how strong you are, and actually I think are just as valuable as the blissful bedroom moments, are the moments where you survive something with your partner that was tough. That maybe in the past would have really derailed you. And you realize, “Wow, we did that in five minutes, which would have before taken us five days, or five months.” And that’s a real beautiful level of resilience, that you only get to if you’re doing the inner and the outer work that you’re talking about.
Cheryl Fraser: Yeah, there are no easy relationships, other than maybe in the first few months. And it’s the work, and the joy, and the … I think the old fashioned wedding vows are so profound: better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health. And I’d love us to remember that, that’s love. Not “you’re so perfect, and you’ll keep me happy forever, yay!” I mean, that’s naive, and, it’s not bad, goodness knows I’m not anti-romance, I love romance. But I love reality too. But the first part of the book, and we’ll probably move on to passion and stuff now, but the first part is sketching out the fundamental philosophy of using your mind in the way we’ve been talking about, as one way to approach your relationship, to increase your happiness and your connection, and avoid the pitfalls of having your day ruined because there’s a flat tire. Cuz nobody’s days ruined by having a flat tire. Your day is ruined by your mind, not the tire.
Neil Sattin: And I want to highlight too that you offered this really profound view of self responsibility. That it’s not only about your happiness, it’s also about your horniness, or about your attention to a quiet moment. It’s what you’re bringing in every single moment, to that moment, is something that you have a say in, that you can bring awareness to. And what I love about these kinds of conversations, that now that you have heard us say this, you will not be able to experience the moment the same way ever again. You’ll experience it, and you’ll recognize, “Oh, wow I’m really unhappy right now.” And it will give you the opportunity, to ask yourself “What is my story that I’m telling myself right now.”
Cheryl Fraser: Yes, yes. The phrase I use right now, that I bet you resonated with, is that we are story making machines. Right? I know you do that a lot of that in your work, and your teaching on this podcast and your other venues. It’s so important. What’s the story right now? And is it working for me! If the story is “You’re the worst husband ever, and all I wanted was wrapping paper, and nobody loves me!” That’s a dumbass story. I mean, what good is that doing me, what good is that doing me to the evening? Sure, we’re flooded with biochemistry, we all know when we’re in this story that it’s not always easy to snap our fingers and turn the page. Fair enough. But at least when we can realize that we’re stuck on a yucky page of the book, and this story is destructive, we can at least begin the process of stepping away, calming our self, finding our grounding, maybe hugging and holding our partner, letting our parasympathetic nervous system take over the sympathetic fight or flight, calm our self. And then we can probably turn the page, to a blank page and start again. Not easy, but profoundly beautiful to take that as a challenge personally, and with our partner if they’re willing to engage with some of that study with us. We can do with or without them being fully on board, like much relationship work, but to say: “I’m interested in re-writing my love story one mindful breath at a time,” is how I sometimes put it.
Neil Sattin: I love that, I love that. And as we bring our attention to the moment, this is like a perfect segue I think, because I think for one thing I think a beautiful remedy for those really triggered moments is how you presence yourself. You know, our limbic system is lost in this sense that the tiger is chasing us. So being able to bring yourself into presence with your partner and talk about what is literally happening, I think is part of the mindfulness that you’re advocating for. Is that you seperate your story from what is actually happening, what the reality is that you maybe don’t like, but this is reality. And that can bring you into “I’m here, in this room, with my partner, they’re standing in front of me, we’re both breathing, the cat is meowing,” whatever is happening, that that brings you back into the moment, and once you’re there, all those systems start to come back online. And now let’s talk about how being in the moment is so important to revitalizing the sexual passion that so many people lose, and I’m putting “lose” in quotes. Because I love how you talk about how that’s never really gone, that it’s there within us. So yeah, how does our mindfulness and being moment focused get us back into passionate connection with our partner.
Cheryl Fraser: Oh! My favorite topic. So the first chunk of the book is laying out what we’ve been talking about, the mindset and some of the fundamental teachings about how to use your mind to, to interpret reality and be happy regardless of reality, flat tire or no. Then I move into, I chunk it into what I call the “Passion Triangle,” I’ll briefly lay it out, and then I think you and I are going to focus on one or two key piece of that. When I talk about how to help people create, or become, or uncover, or revitalize, or reignite passion, I break into down into three keys to passion as a way for people to remember it. And I use the structure of the triangle, because I was told once by an engineer friend that a triangle is an incredibly stable structure. And if you want to build a big building you want to build it on the variation, and the idea of the triangle. All sides leaning on each other, strongly unshakeable. Isn’t that what we want to build in our love life? All three sides of our relationship leaning on each other strong and unshakeable.
What are the three? I’ll name them. I’ll briefly describe them. I talk about intimacy being the base of your triangle. Thrill being one side of the triangle. And sensuality being the other side. And intimacy is what a lot of your work and my work covers, Neil. Which is I don’t use intimacy here as an euphemism for sex. I use it as a psychological, emotional communication, even spiritual connection. That sense of knowing each other and being known. What John Gottman and team call love maps, and which many other people talk about being seen by you, being heard by you, ups and downs, the little stuff, the big stuff. True intimacy grows over time, months and years, through what you were just about, the ups and downs, the things we go through, and maybe we can stand in the middle and survive. Intimacy, key to lifelong passion. Because the kind of passion I’m talking about, isn’t just a wild weekend. I’m talking about sustainable fluctuating alive passion. Sexually, emotionally, romantically and spiritually. So intimacy is really important, we probably won’t talk a lot about it for the rest of this conversation, but a chunk of the book is talking about how to bring mindfulness to your intimacy, and communication practices, mindful apology, things like that.
Thrill and sensuality, are what I think people really respond to as ways to think about their relationship that are cast in a slightly different manner than maybe they’ve heard before. Thrill, I’m talking about the ineffable sense of butterflies in the tummy, and a rush of lust, or excitement through our mind or body, that most of us experience very easily in the beginning of our relationship, when we’re dating, we’re beginning to fall in love. You know in my days, I’m going to date myself a bit here, but it was all about the answering machine light and whether or not it was blinking or not when you walked in the door, you didn’t have the cell phone, so you were at work all day, and you came in at 5:30 or whatever, and immediately look to the corner of the room, where the answering machine sat, and if it was blinking, that meant there was a message! And hopefully it was him or her, and I would go and listen to the message, and it was my grandmother… And I love me my grandmother, but you’re so disappointed. We all know what it was like to be excited and anticipatory, and feeling a rush of thrill. To be at your office desk and to literally a rush of lust in your body when you remember that goodnight kiss from last night. Now what happens three, six or eighteen months down the road? You and I are familiar, and most of your listeners may be, with the findings that there’s a period of what’s called luminessence or numinosity, or whatever we want to call it in the fallin in love stage that is biochemically driven. We’ve got dopamine, we’ve got serotonin, and oxytocin, we’ve got love hormones, we’ve got sexual drive. We’re cave people in cave bodies, and we’re programmed to mate and get it over with! So the pursuit and the chase is very thrilling. Then we move into a phase of what I call “Marriage Incorporated.” Whether or not you’re married, gay, straight, or alternate couples, I’m talking about when we make a dedicated commitment to each other in whatever form. I just call it Marriage Incorporated. And that’s where the thrill is gone. We think, I’ll get back to that, but we think. As the old song says, the thrill is gone. And, we’re doing ok. I love you, you love me, we’ve got the kids, the dogs, the horses, the cats, no cat food, but whatever. We’re good, we’re fine, Neil, we’re fine. I like you, you like me, we’re not looking for an affair, directly, we’re not wanting to divorce, and we have a good time on vacation. And we are running the business of us: the mortgage, the pets, the kids, the activities, your career, my career, you’ve got that podcast, but I’ve got this other thing. We all know this, we are often living that right now. Marriage Incorporated is where the thrill seems to have gone, and we’re in contentment. Now, that’s a natural phase. My work’s about bringing the thrill back, re-infusing Marriage Incorporated, and turning it into Passion Incorporated. I’m going to get to sensuality probably a little later in this conversation, so let’s stay with Thrill right now.
A reminder the three are Intimacy, Thrill and Sensuality. Because you asked me a key question, which is how does the mind, or mindfulness or paying attention, relate to thrill? In every single way. Because when you and I are new it’s novel, and novelty automatically takes care of thrill. I am curious as heck about you, I can’t wait to hear about your day, who your best friend was in school, and what happened to that friendship, where and how you lost your virginity, and how embarrassing was it. I want to know everything, I want to know where you bought that shirt, I want to know what your relationship with your parents are like. It’s easy, we’re organically curious when we’re falling in love. The thrill is based on novelty. You are uncharted territory, and I can’t wait to map every single bit of you. Every inch of your body, and every neuron of your mind. I want to know you.
Neil Sattin: Right, and there’s often some fear, involved there as well that’s often fueling the dopamine and chemicals that are coursing through our bodies.
Cheryl Fraser: Great observation, I am investing, and I’m fearful or anxious or excited that, you know, I’m falling in love with Neil, and I don’t know if he’s going to feel the same way, and am I over playing my hand, all of that is very exciting -- sometimes painfully so. And we then move into contentment, and life and busyness. We get complacent often. And the few of you listening that didn’t, Bravo and Hallelujah. But the majority of us get complacent, and I start to take you for granted. And what was new seems familiar. And it blows my mind when as couples we say, “I don’t really think there’s anything new to learn about my sweetheart.” Are you crazy? Have you met them?? We are vast, we contain multitudes. I think that’s Whitman.
Neil Sattin: Yeah it is.
Cheryl Fraser: Thank you, thank you! You will never know your partner anywhere as deeply as you think you do. As this is where I mentioned affairs. And I just want to ground this in reality for all of us. If you and I are in long term relationship, and our partner loves us and thinks were cool. But they’re not all that interested in our day, or our hopes and dreams right now, we’re not creating time to explore that together, we’re not cultivating thrill, we’ve lost novelty in terms of newness, and we’re not creating novelty with our mind and our activities. And then you and I meet someone at work, or at play or at a conference who’s interested in what we’re interested in. We have a fascinating conversation that is so often the grain of an affair possibility, someone finding us fascinating. So the work I bring with bringing mindfulness and the buddhist philosophy to our love and sex life, is create novelty all over again by what you so cleverly summarized a little bit ago in this conversation. If I show up with you here and now in this conversation, you are freaking fascinating. Even if I’ve slept next to you for the last 26 years. Even if I believe I know everything about you. You are filled with surprises, if only I have the eyes to see. And I think that a very simple way to make this relatable to people, is: Let’s say you and I love chocolate. And I am able to gift you with a tiny sliver of the most gorgeous Belgian truffle, in exactly the flavor and style that you would most love. Even as I say this, my mouth starts to water a little bit, and probably yours, and probably our listeners. And I give this to you, and I say to you “Neil, I want you to take your time, and I want you bring this to your nostrils and have a little scent.” And you’re like “Oh my goodness, it smells delicious.” But then I ask you to place it on your tongue and just leave it there. Just for a few seconds.” And it starts to melt a tiny bit, and I ask you to roll it around, and it’s silky and it’s smooth, you’ve got texture, you’ve got the orgasmic flavor explosion. And then you just enjoy it, you take time, and you swallow, and it’s gorgeous. Right?
Neil Sattin: You’re killing me!
Cheryl Fraser: Oh! Right after this I’m going truffle shopping. And I bet what you do not say to me is “Yeah, whatever. I’ve had a lot of chocolate before.” And the reason is, you’re just showing up here and now with that sliver of truffle. And you’re experiencing it, as though for the first time, and if you’ve had thousands of chocolate -- if you have a two chocolate a day habit, this moment is gorgeous if you focus on it. The power, and the eroticism, of attention. Now, if you were to, and let’s do this together right now. I want you to take your hand, and everybody listening, and just gently stroke the top of your other hand with the fingers. Using my right hand fingers, I’m stroking the top of my left hand. I’m closing my eyes, and I’m focusing on it for a few seconds. And it feels very powerful. Simply because of the special sauce of attention. Imagine kissing like that. Imagine someone licking our thigh like that. That’s the way it felt for the majority of us in the beginning, when we were exploring each other. We were locked and loaded on that sensation, and it was so alive, and it was so erotic, and it was romantic. Not just because it was new, but because we were paying attention. Novelty makes it easy to pay attention, familiarity does not make it easy to pay attention. The first time you drive a tricky mountain road. If you’ve driven it four-thousand times, because your house is at the top, you stop paying attention. So, what’s the point of all that? If you want thrill in the here and now after 27 or 48 years or 30 days, or however long it’s been. It’s your mind paying attention to this truffle, this kiss, this conversation with you, this description of your business meeting today, that makes it alive and passionate. Interest makes us fall in love over and over again. Interest and mindfulness, make thrill perpetual. Instead of simply part of the first few months of our relationship. That part comes automatically. Enjoy the heck out of it! I love falling in love. I love the rush of all that biochemistry and projection and craziness. And when I counsel people on what to do about it, I’m like “Enjoy the freaking ride.” It’s a roller coaster, but just know that you’re on a roller coaster. It’s amazing, it’s intense, you’re in an altered state of consciousness, the biochemistry of falling in love literally mimics the biochemistry of obsessive compulsive disorder in functional MRI machines. We actually are mentally ill when we’re falling in love. Enjoy the heck out if it. And then when it starts to settle, change, shift, and some of the deep work starts to happen, and it’s no longer so perfect, that’s where we can say “Ok, I am interested in boarding the roller coaster volutionally over and over again through our decades together.” That’s my mindfulness, that’s choice, that’s effort. That’s how we can begin to keep thrill alive forever.
Neil Sattin: Great, yeah, that’s exactly how you take charge of your story. If you’re able in the moment to remind yourself, just like I had the ability to choose happiness in this moment, even, no matter what the circumstances are, now I also have the ability to choose attention.
Cheryl Fraser: Yes.
Neil Sattin: To put my attention into this level of fascination. And where my mind went strangely, not necessarily that the words are connected at all, but I was thinking about fastening, like you’re fastening your attention to someone. So you’re fascinated with them. And the way that brings you into joy, also I think, takes you out of that realm of wanting someone to fulfill your expectations. So, and this I think goes into the sensuality piece, right? Because when you’re in the moment, and you’re fascinated, and you’re just enjoying that last sense of the chocolate on your tongue, you don’t want that moment to end. You’re not really thinking of the next piece, right? Because you’re able to bring your attention in that fully. And where so many people get lost, I think, in especially when there’s a disconnected state, where we’ve been in relationship for a long time, and it feels like the chasm between us is vast -- I don’t even know how to get to being sexual with you because I’m so wrapped up with business, and the kids, and the dog and the cat food. So, but the way, it’s such a quick bridge is to be able to give your attention like that to your partner, and to find that fascination. And then, it’s almost like, that question of how we get to the bedroom, in some respects, becomes a lot less important, because you’re enjoying that moment, potentially almost as much, as you would enjoy the bedroom. And it gets you into that enjoyment, which gets you maybe into more of a sensual experience with your partner.
Cheryl Fraser: Yes. I want to comment on a few of those great points before we move into sensuality, I love the idea of fastening and fascination, because there’s actually a fairly esoteric buddhist word to describe deep concentrated attention, which is called Watakka [TK AGAINST TRANSCRIPT] which means to tack onto. Which is to fasten. Where your attention kind of gloms onto this breath, and it’s unshakably there. So you’re intuitively really on that point there, Neil, of fastening and fascination, because you’re the totality of my experience in this present moment. I am focused on you. The truffle. The business proposal. The kiss, etc.
The other thing is sensuality is the word I chose on purpose, and again you intuitively picked up on this. I didn’t call the third side of the triangle “Sexuality” because sensuality is a much broader field in which to play. All five senses: touch, taste, sound, smell, and vision. And, in Buddhist and other teachings, the sixth sense, which is our mind, we can play in that whole realm. So the third side of passion, intimacy, kind of our relational connectedness, psychological work, the delight in communication. Thrill: we’ve talked about here, every moment, being a perfect truffle. No, that doesn’t happen for me either. But I can aspire to it more often. And thirdly sensuality, our sexual and erotic life across the entire spectrum. Everything from my eyes meeting yours across the room and having a spark of “There’s my sweetheart.” to holding hands while we walk the dogs in the forest, to kissing to cuddling when we watch TV, to our entire spectrum or our erotic sexual life -- whether that’s a verbal foreplay with a sexy text, whether that’s kissing, whether it is in our love making, the breadth and depth and possibility of our love making, I’ll talk a little bit about that. All of that, is really in your head. I’m turned on or not turned on in my head, I’m interested or not interested in my head. I’m present with this orgasm in my head, or I’m fantasizing about someone else in my head while I’m orgasming. Which means I’m not fully present with this physiological and emotional experience, it’s still fun, but I’m having sex with someone else somewhere else, while my body’s with you. Which is a pretty common phenomenon. I’m not even conscious at my own orgasm, and feeling fully the deliciousness of this truffle.
Neil Sattin: Ok, so, bringing our attention back to the sensual piece, when Chloe and I, in our course, when we talk about this, we talk about the continuum. And developing this mindful awareness that you are always on this continuum of sensual experience with your partner. Even if you are thinking about them, you are on that continuum. And the reason I talk about it that way, is because I like the sense that you’re always connected in that way, it helps, I think, also bridge the gap between disconnection or how do we even overcome this gap between us, and where we stand right now. If you’ve always been nurturing that sense of “Well, we’re on this continuum no matter what. It’s just a matter of where we are. We’re not in the bedroom part of the continuum, we’re on the kitchen making dinner part of the continuum, where we can be aware of each other's breath. Or I can go and touch and you really pay attention to that touch. And now we’re in the same dimension of sensuality, even though we’re in a different place than necessarily, hot sweaty sex between the sheets.
Cheryl Fraser: Yep! I am so happy that you teach it that way, and to help people come to that understanding. But you know, I’m going to have to say that unfortunately in my experience, not a lot of couples are doing what you’re promoting there. And that they don’t experience it, as a continuum. They experience it as a relational life, and psychological life, and our loving each other life. And it’s like errrrr bomp! And then there’s our sex life, and it’s not experienced as a continuum. So I think a lot of people would say “I love making dinner with my sweetie, and we’re laughing and joking and we’re listening to oldies and dancing around the kitchen, but I’m not connecting that to sex.” And that’s what you and I in our own unique ways are encouraging people to do. Which is, oh my goodness, the state of sexuality in long term relationship is really poor. There any very good surveys that give us a real glimpse into what’s happening in long term relationship bedrooms -- but clinically, and the best of the surveys and research that’s out there, I would guess that the vast majority of long term couples are having sex maybe a couple of times a month. And it is something they’re neglecting, it’s something they’re not even necessarily avoiding, though that can be the case. It’s more like passive, denial?
Neil Sattin: There’s so many other things going on…
Cheryl Fraser: So many other things. Fatigue and Netflix, the two biggest killers of sex ever. Maybe there’s another class action suit there. But, I’m Canadian and we’re not litigious, when we spill coffee we generally just clean it up. We don’t usually sue. But, I don’t know. We’re obviously teasing, neither you nor I want to sue anybody. But humor’s also good in love and sex. Here you go. But in the passion triangle, for sensuality, I just want to offer a few teachings that I think will be super helpful for people listening. And hopefully very reassuring. For people in long term relationship who are not having much sex, and not having very much spontaneous desire -- they’re not just like “Oh, I want to jump your bones, right now.” That’s sort of the old thrill phase for a lot of us, the early roller coaster phase. I want to let people know that there’s some very important research. Rosemary Bissant out of UBC, Vancouver, Canada, she works with a new model for female sexual desire, people can look her work up. But here’s the take home message that’s reassuring. Her research indicates that the majority of long term couples start making love from a place of sexual neutrality, now what does that mean? It means that the majority of long term couples start making love when neither of them is particularly in the mood. They’re not turned on, and horny in the body, I call that physical arousal, there’s different language for these, I’ll use mine. How I break it down to make it relatable to people. So they’re not physically turned on, and they don’t necessarily have mental desire: like “Oh, I really mentally feel like making love.” Often, they have sex because they’re like “Dang, honey, it’s been three weeks. We should probably have sex.” “Yeah, we probably should.” And that does not sound romantic, but I’ll tell you what it is, it is real.
I had a patient, a gay patient, lesbian patient last week, say to me, she and her wife hadn’t made love in four months, and I was really encouraging her to attend to that and open up those possibilities. So she was really excited, cuz they’d made love, and she said “Oh Cheryl, it was so great. I was snuggled in…” I’ll call her wife Jane, “and Jane had her back to me, and Jane said to me, ‘Do you have your mouth guard in yet?’” That was the big move! THAT was the big move, man. “Do you have your mouth guard in yet?” And we laughed, my patient and I. Cuz we thought right on baby, that’s real life. And she said “No, I don’t.” And the rest is history. Why do I make that point? Because that’s real life! So rest assured, if we’re not feeling spontaneously lusty, or really in our mind, “Oh, I really want to make love.” That is normal. And Ok. And so, one of the things I suggest to people, it’s not a novel idea, your guest a few episodes ago, Tammy Nelson suggested the same thing, as many wise people, you probably do to: Make a once a week sex date. And make that be unshakable. Like, Monday night we make love whether we have a headache, or one of us is super tired, or one of the kids has the flu. We make love whether we’re into it or not. Now, the only reason we won’t, is if really through illness or a business meeting, we consult each other and say, “Hey babe, I’m not sure I can make out Monday night sex date. Are you ok if we move it to wednesday this week?” Because that way, you start making love touching, kissing, have a hot shower, have a bath, when you’re not in the mood. Don’t wait until you’re in the mood. In fact I like to counsel people, one of my catchphrases is “Never say you’re not in the mood ever again.” And what I’m saying by that, is that it’s ok if you’re not in the mood. No one should be in the mood if you’re making scrambled eggs and thinking about your tax return. Tax Day in the states today, right?
Neil Sattin: It is.
Cheryl Fraser: And someone comes up and wraps their arms around you from behind, and says “Hey baby what do you think?” It’s like “I’m not in the mood!” Worst thing to say ever even though it’s true. Instead I suggest people say “Not right now babe, ask me later.” It’s a very different energy, and it acknowledges what we’re talking about right now. That waiting until you’re in the mood to have sex, means you probably won’t have very much sex. Versus, I have a couple working with the weekly sex date, just for the last three weeks, and they were having sex maybe once a month, they like sex. They have successful sexuality together. They were just busy and tired. But they made a weekly sex date, and they’ve made love five times in the last two weeks. Because the sex date on Monday, kind of got everything warmed up, and then Saturday morning was like, “Hey let’s have a quickie.” That’s not true for all of us, but what I’m saying is that this is also the practice of mindful attention. If we’re not paying attention to our sexual life, on that continuum, as you so beautifully put it, if we don’t bridge the gap in our continuum, from you and I, and our humor, and our playfulness, and our parenting, and our going to symphony, and all the other ways that we are. If we don’t remember that we’re naked under these clothes, if we don’t remember that the unique part about you and I, if we’re choosing a variation of monogamy, is that sexual contact is unique to my relationship with you. And we’re neglecting it, and we’re expecting it to take care of itself, and we’re buying into the myth that the thrill can’t last forever. And it’s normal for sex drive to wane. It is typical for sex drive to wane, which make it normal on a Bell Curve, but that’s like saying it’s normal when you’re old to get unfit. That is typical on the Bell Curve, but if we choose fitness as we age, if we choose to be at the gym, or yoga class, then we don’t have to fit what’s normal. Don’t be lazy and old with your sex life. Bring mindfulness to sensuality side of your triangle. And it gets so much bigger than that, we probably don’t have time to go into that, but I wanted to at least mention to people, where it gets super juicey to use your mind in your love making, is the aspect of Tantric Sexuality. Transcendent mind states in my lovemaking with you, where the sense of you and I dissolve, and the orgasm turns from its typical physiological experience, which is actually pretty puny -- the average male orgasm lasts 7 seconds, and the average female orgasm lasts about 20 seconds. That’s a pretty puny amount of pleasure, as great as it is. Through meditation and through focusing your mind, and some practices I talk about in the book, and you can research elsewhere as well, around tantric sexuality, extended orgasm, full body orgasm, we can turn the orgasmic experience into something that lasts much longer than 7 or 22 seconds. Imagine the orgasmic pleasure filling your whole body for minutes, even longer than that. Imagine being to exchange that on an energetic level. That’s some of the really beautiful places that working with our mind, our partner, our heart, our connection could lead us to in the sexual realm. A type of transcendent sexuality. So maybe once a month, or once a quarter, you decide to have gourmet sexuality and sensuality with your partner. Instead of your typical meal. And I talk about that in the later part of the chapters in the book, because, why don’t I talk about the in the beginning of the book? Because, it you try to practice tantric sex without clearing up some of your unfinished business, learning to communicate better, enjoying cooking dinner together, remember your partner’s fascinating, and all the things we’re touching on today, Neil, you’re probably not going to have a 15 minute transcendent orgasm. Don’t be greedy, put in a little bit of ground work.
You know, create and cultivate the conditions with Thrill, with Intimacy, and with Sensual contact, to move into some beautiful areas of sexuality, and intimate, spiritual, sexual connection that a lot of us don’t explore. And that, can certainly make a long term relationship fascinating a again. Fascinating again. And open up new worlds. From what I usually refer to as our nipple nipple crotch, good night routine. Where we just do the dang thing ever time, and I’m not opposed to that, but I’m saying sometimes, create a gourmet meal.
Neil Sattin: Right, so I just want to mention that if you are interested to learn more about Cheryl Fraser’s work, obviously you can read her book, Buddha’s Bedroom: The Mindful Loving Path to Sexual Passion and Lifelong Intimacy. There are lots of little how-to and action items in the book, to help you along the journey. So I recommend that. You can also visit her website, which we will list in the show notes. It is DoctorCherylFraser.com. And, as a reminder, if you want to download the show notes, and the transcript of today’s episode, it’s NeilSattin.com/bb, as in Buddha’s Bedroom, or you can text the word “Passion,” which is appropriate for this episode, to the number 33444.
In terms of Tantra, I think it would be great to have you back on at some point to chat about that more. Um, we have if you’re listening and you’re curious, we’ve had Diana Richardson on the show, Episode 2 is a great place to start, it was the very second episode of the podcast. And, Margot Anand has also been on the show, I can’t remember her episode number, but if you search for Margot Anand on my website, you’ll find her. Two amazing Tantric practitioners who can at least start the conversation with you with what we’re talking about today.
Cheryl Fraser: Beautiful. Beautiful.
Neil Sattin: Cheryl, I’m wondering if you, cuz you offer on your website, people can sign up and get free stuff every week, and you over little love bites that give people a piece of something to work on, or to take action on, or to think about their relationship in a different way, which I think is really helpful to have those bite sized actionable items. You talk a lot about Tantra.
Cheryl Fraser: I do. It’s critical to have bite sized action items. Because we talked about complacency, familiarity, fatigue, and netflix and everything else gets in the way. So they’re called love bites because they’re meant to be small bites of digestible. Some of them are two seconds, five seconds, thirty seconds to read a little reminder for your love this week. So that’s how I try to help each of us -- myself included, my sweetheart and I read my bites and try to put them into practice.
Neil Sattin: We’ve been there, yeah.
Cheryl Fraser: Yeah, and if people want to learn a little more about Tantra. I would start with the episodes you suggested, and I have a ten minute free video on my website as well, people can watch. Just so people can get a sense of what is a tantric orgasm, and how is it different, and that is a lifelong exploration that I welcome everyone to engage in, and I would delighted to dedicate a whole episode to that in the future, it deserves a bit more of an arc, so we can teach people some techniques on your show here, and have them start with that. But don’t lose hope. There are worlds to discover, sexually, emotionally, romantically, and conversationally with this person you think you know everything about.
Neil Sattin: So, there’s one little bite that I’m wondering if you could offer our listeners today. I’m wondering if you could offer something for, let’s say you have that sex date on your calendar. And I have ten different ideas here, but I’m hoping you can offer one thing that brings people into the sensual dimension with our partner, something simple that helps reignite how they experience their partner this way, how they can invite their partner into the experience of them in a sensual way, what can you offer our listeners today as sort their little take home bite that they might try.
Cheryl Fraser: Beautiful try this at home. There are a lot of ideas, but the one I’m going to offer right now is pretty simple, but very profound and very few of us do it. Which is, on your erotic date this week, take at least an hour, and break it into two thirty minutes segments, and it can be longer if you wish, and do a giving and receiving of erotic touch. With the rule, that you’re not allowed to touch overtly sexual zones. So, no genitals, no bums, and no breasts. So how that would work, would be the following: flip a coin as to who goes first, whoever wins the coin toss is the receiver first. And the receiver lays down on their back, nude, their eyes closed, you can use candles, and sometimes soft music without lyrics is nice to help relax the receiver and give them something to kind of let their mind dream on. And the giver, you probably did this in your falling in love and wildly sexual, but you probably haven’t done it in a long time, it gives you thirty minutes to explore your partner's body with a finger, with a tongue, with your hair, with a feather, with whatever you like. To just explore that body. When’s the last time that you licked the back of your partner’s knees? Everybody listening is probably thinking “Ummm 17 years, I think we probably did it that time we went to the cabin for the dirty weekend.” Anyway. So giving and receiving erotic touch. The receiver use this as a mindfulness practice, there’s more description of that in the book in some of exercises I’ve given as you mentioned, to do this with your partner. But, as you’re lying there, and your mind’s racing, about this and that, and thinking, and being distracted as minds are unless you’re very well trained in meditation, try to re-focus. Every time you notice you’re off in your head, “Ok, Neil’s fingers are, fingernails are scratching along my knee cap right now.” And just try to focus on experiencing that as deeply as you can. Mind races off, come back “Oh, now he or she are nibbling on my neck.” So you’re learning as the receiver, to really start to pay, and this is preliminary, it takes, some practice, really starting to notice the actual sensory experience without story. That can lead to persons who have difficult with orgasm, erection, premature ejaculaiton, this can help with that down the road, by the way. Then, at the end of the time, when the timer goes off, and you thank you partner as the receiver, and you switch. And you become the giver, and you explore your partner. So you’re doing multiple things here. You’re training focusing on your partner when you’re the giver. You’re training on focusing on your own experience when you’re the receiver. You’re training on exploring the sensual body away from the usual, as I call it as you heard, nipple nipple crotch good night points, that we’re used to diving for. Nothing wrong with that, but we’re expanding it. And we’re looking at creativity, we’re looking at eroticism, and we’re looking at making it more interesting, because if we fell madly in love with a new person or into the taboo of an affair. That sort of exploration might come naturally, all we’re doing is creating it in the here and now with the one we’re with.
So there’s an idea people could do. And I’ll make the implicit, explicit. For this exercise, you could either then stop, and that’s the end of your sensual date, or, you could take it into love making if you wish, there’s different reasons to do either. But it’s really about erotically exploring. And let me just finish by saying that a sex date doesn’t mean that you necessarily have intercourse, or that either person necessarily has an orgasm. It means it’s an erotic experience that involves nudity, touching, in that way. And that’s a real relief for exhausted bodies too. Our sexual date might be we play, we touch, and one of us chooses to have an orgasm. And the other one says “I’m completely satisfied right now just with playing and kissing and helping you as you touched yourself etc.” There’s no right or wrong. It’s the mindset of exploration, and the willingness, if it doesn’t go well, to just begin again with curiosity.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, I love the permission that you bring to how you approach this kind of time together. An it’s interesting because when I said the word permission, I’m also thinking about the permission to say No. So, there’s, even though for instance you just mentioned in this exercise you might say, that the genital areas are off limits. If you have points on your body that are triggers for you, those can be off limits too. Like you can set rules so that you feel safe enough to have this erotic but not explicitly sexual interaction with your partner.
Cheryl Fraser: Yes.
Neil Sattin: Create safety for you. I love that too when you mentioned the never, never say I’m not in the mood. And what you offered was to say, “Not right now, how about later?” that really reminds me of the Gottman’s work around the power of saying No, and both people have permission to say No, but it’s not a “No, never” it’s a “No, and” or a “No, let’s do this instead,” and speaking scientifically, they proved mathematically that more free each person feels to say no, the more sex they actually have, ironically. So I love that to incorporate that into your work, and hopefully if you're listening, you’ll get a date on the calendar, with your partner for this week even. And if you are not partnered, you can do that for yourself as well. You can have the self exploration, or, find a good friend. But you could definitely do that with yourself as a way of exploring your own erotic inner experience, and connection to self.
Cheryl Fraser: Yes, and I’m so glad you mentioned that. Because although the book is written primarily for couples, everything in it applies to us when we’re not in relationship, particularly around discovering our own mindsets, our own erotic potential, our own erotic touch and there are solo erotic exercises in the book as well. Because, my goodness, get yourself ready for when and if you choose to be partnered again.
Neil Sattin: Yeah it’s amazing how many opportunities you have in line at the grocery store to be reminded like “Oh, this is all a story in my head, what’s happening right now.”
Cheryl Fraser: Right, right.
Neil Sattin: Well, Cheryl Fraser, you’ve been so deliciously generous with your time and wisdom today, and it’s such a delight to have you here to chat about Buddha’s Bedroom, your new book, and I hope that you listening have gotten a lot of today’s show, and you take the opportunity to visit Cheryl’s website and find out more about the kind of work that she’s offering.
You mentioned that you’re going to come out with a course as well, in the Fall, right?
Cheryl Fraser: Yes, I am, mid-September, it’ll be debuting an online course for couples, eight weeks on this material and more that couples can do at home. I think the way a lot of your work is so important is that we create work that people can do from home, because they can’t necessarily arrange their lives, their childcare, their business lives to come at the same time to a therapist’s office for deep work, and I’ve been looking at ways to offer deep work to people, and that’s debuting in the fall. And anybody who goes to the website, or signs up for love bites, will get more information about that when it goes live. I’m very excited to work with people in that medium.
Neil Sattin: Love bites, Great. And if you download the transcript of today’s episode, we can also let you know when Cheryl’s course becomes available. So some incentive to grab the transcript.
Doctor Cheryl Fraser, thank you so much for joining us today on Relationship Alive. It’s been so great to have you here.
Cheryl Fraser: Thank you so much, and thank you for the work you do Neil. You know, I think people may often take for granted the plethora of profound, free, amazing, accessible content out there, so I encourage people listening to support this podcast and other great podcasts out there, that bring this amazing work to us that we didn’t used to be able get so easily. We’re all very blessed.
What do you do if your partner tells you that they don't love you anymore - or, maybe, that they think they never actually loved you? What are your next steps if your partner had an affair? These are all varying degrees of "leaning out" of your relationship. So - how do you respond in a way that has the best chance of not only preserving your sanity and dignity - but also, potentially, re-igniting your relationship? In today's episode I answer two listener questions and get to the heart of what to do, and how to get to the truth, in these situations.
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With so many different potential approaches to helping your relationship, how do you choose the one that’s right for you? And how do you make sense of them all together? John and Julie Gottman, Sue Johnson, Esther Perel, David Schnarch, Stan Tatkin, Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson, Terry Real - they’re all describing different ways of getting the same thing - a loving, thriving, passionate relationship. Today we’re going to tackle how it all fits together, so you’re better prepared to steer your own relation-ship. To help us integrate in a way that makes it practical and clear, we’ve invited Dr. Keith Witt back to the show. Keith Witt is an integral psychologist, which gives him a unique perspective in making sense of all these roads that lead to Rome. His most recent book, Loving Completely, details his approach to bringing all of the essential parts of you to your relationship. Along with having written 7 other books, Keith has conducted more than 55,000 therapy sessions with his clients! If you’ve been wondering how to make sense of it all, this episode is for you!
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Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. And if you can hear it in my voice, I'm particularly excited for today's conversation. Of course, we've had so many different viewpoints represented here on Relationship Alive because there are so many roads that lead to Rome, the Rome of romance and romantic partnership, and how we sustain loving, thriving, monogamous relationships, and it's not always that one road works for any one person. And this has come up several times in the show, this question of, well, “so and so says their way is the way and they sound so convincing when you're talking to them, Neil, so what do I do when it doesn't work?" And this happens sometimes.
Neil Sattin: So, if you've tuned in for a while then you know that the reason that I have all these different voices on the show is because I really believe strongly that it's whatever works that's important. And I suppose for myself I might put some boundaries around that; what I'd be comfortable with or where I'd feel a little edgy or stretching, but for the most part, I think that it's up to you to really get informed about what's possible and then make choices that really align with you or maybe stretch you in a direction that feels like a light way to be stretched. At the same time, they all form part of this big puzzle that makes sense. And so, I wanted to have a conversation today about how we integrate as much as possible the way that we think about all of these different methodologies so you can see how they all fit together, they don't exclude each other, for the most part. They actually all find a place in the big picture of how we make relationships, what we want them to be. And as much as some of the people on my show might want you to think otherwise, this is my personal belief.
Neil Sattin: And so to have this conversation, I've invited one of my favorite guests to have here on the show who also happens to be someone who's very good at integrating all these different approaches. His name is Keith Witt. He has been here before to talk about his books, "Loving Completely", "Shadow Light", "The Attuned Family"; and he is an integral psychologist among other things. And so the integral perspective, I think will help us understand how all of these different pieces fit together in a way that actually does make a coherent whole, it makes sense. So, Keith, thank you so much for joining us today on Relationship Alive.
Keith Witt: I am always happy to be on your show and it's one of the pleasures of my life, our conversations.
Neil Sattin: Awesome, well, the feeling is mutual. I do want to say before we dive in deep that we'll have a transcript of this episode. If you're interested in downloading it, you may want to read it a few times, you can visit neilsattin.com/integrate 'cause we're going to be integrating everything today. Or, as always, you can text the word "PASSION" to the number 33444, follow the instructions and you'll be able to download the transcript to today's episode. So, Keith, let's start with maybe where you orient in terms of this conversation. And before we got started, you were talking about this sense of, as we talk about all these different schools of thought, we're really talking about the founders of modern relationship theory. So, where do you put yourself and how do you make sense of where you are in this conversation about how we're tying all of these things together?
Keith Witt: Well, first of all, being a founder is a peculiar thing. I've developed various systems, all of them interrelated generally, under the integral umbrella. And integral has worked for me greatly. [chuckle] The reason why integral has worked for me greatly is the integral is a meta theory, not a theory. And so, I had actually generated systems and written some books about systems before I encountered integral. But then the integral, looking at the world through the objective and the subjective, the individual and the collective; looking at the world through types of people, states of consciousness, through people being at different developmental levels, including therapists, I realized that when you put any system into that, including the systems I developed, it expanded. And it made me just fascinated with the commonalities that affective systems, particularly of relationships and of love because I think everything's relationships is.
Keith Witt: And so, one of the things that's different for me and other founders is that, even though I've... If you look at my eight books, there's essentially seven different systems interrelated of doing psychotherapy and of doing couples work. I'm not particularly invested in any of them. Those systems are useful, they're coherent, they have a lot of technical and theoretical interconnections with everybody else and with the research. But I agree with exactly what you said. Ultimately, when a couple or an individual wants to love better, they come in, it's the goodness of fit with the therapist and it's how effectively they move forward, and there's an alchemical experience that happens with that, that can only be described in the intersubjectivity of the session. And meta research on psychotherapy has shown this again and again, and one of my favorite meta-analyses, which they took lots of studies and put them together, they found out a couple of very fascinating things. One, therapy helps people, okay? That's good news for everybody.
Neil Sattin: Good to know.
Keith Witt: The second thing that the variance of change was explained by 40% in this meta-analysis, 40% of the variance of change was client variables; how resilient they were, what kind of social networks they had, what kind of resources they had; 30% of the variance of positive change was the relationship, what was the solidity of the intersubjectivity of the alliance between the clients and the therapist; 15% was placebo effect. If you go to somebody, give them a bunch of money and they expect to change, you're going to change.
Keith Witt: In fact, that's something that has completely confused the field when it comes to the whole psychotropic thing. Probably 30% or 40% of the effect of most antidepressants is placebo effect, 8%-12% is probably the drug. Okay, so 15% placebo effect, 15% method of treatment. Okay, well, method of treatment 15% is significant. In poker, 7% is skill and the good poker player always wins but that 15% isn't as big as the client variables and it isn't as big as that 30% of the alliance. And so, I'm aware of that and so I hold my systems lightly, even though I love them. And so, I look at the other systems and I look at my relationships with the other systems, and I get a lot out of all of them. But also, I noticed that as we moved through the fields, our own little blind spots tend to affect how we absorb systems, how we enact systems, and how we integrate them. And I find that interesting because every time I find a blind spot, that's an opportunity to wake up. And this is where our conversation went when we were talking about this. So, how do they fit together? Well, as it turns out, even though they look very different from the outside, most of them fit together quite well in terms of the constructs that the various therapists bring to bear with couples and individuals for that matter and what they have to do in a session to help people move forward.
Keith Witt: So, that's pretty much it. My Loving Completely approach is approach that I love a lot, and you can check it out in my book, "Loving Completely". And my book, "Waking Up" that was the first book that I wrote after I had my integral awakening, is one of the first texts on integrally-informed psychotherapy, and it has sections in it around integrally informed sex therapy and marriage counselling. And I'm quite proud of that, and I think that works a lot, but are those more effective than Gottman's approach. Schnarch's approach, or Perel's approach, or Tatkin's approach? I don't think so. I think pretty much you have a good therapist, who's enacting their system and is attuned to their clients, they're going to do pretty well. And this goes for me, all the way back to my doctoral research. I was always interested in this, and so my doctoral research was I took three different kinds of systems and researched them in terms of how much they enhanced the health of clients. Talking plus touching, talking without touching, and touching without talking. And I found that the people got better equally, which led me to conclude that in psychotherapy, people have a natural healing style.
Keith Witt: And what you want to do is you want to identify it and enhance it and let it and help it grow as you grow throughout a lifetime. And I think that's probably the best way to go, as a psychotherapist and as a marriage counselor, and certainly when I train people and supervise people, that's my perspective. What's your natural healing style? How can we help you expand that and grow within that natural healing style? And that natural healing style has to involve, not just your style expanding, but you expanding. If we don't grow as individuals, we're limited as clinicians.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, that's... I really appreciate your saying that and it's making me think about that problem of when someone comes to me and says, "I tried. I found an EFT therapist and that didn't work, or I found a Gottman therapist and that didn't work." I wonder sometimes if that might be, because the particular therapist isn't necessarily 100% aligned in terms of their healing style, which you just mentioned, with the system that they've learned. It may be that they believe 150% in the effectiveness of that system, but if it doesn't tap into their own natural alignment and integrity and how they create resonance with their clients, then I could see it falling flat at times.
Keith Witt: Oh yeah. Before, let me see, probably 2000, I've been doing this since I first started studying therapy in 1965. I mean, I've been studying bazillion systems. And so for me, until I was around 50, every time they discovered a new system, I go, "Oh, damn." Because I knew that I was going to get disintegrated. I was going to learn this system and it was going to disrupt my understanding of the psychotherapeutic universe. I would have to climb into this system and enact it until I could actually enact the system naturally, I could answer questions from the system. And I knew that it would re-organize my understanding of the universe, and it was a lot of work. So, every time I found a good system, I go, "Oh Jesus, not another one." And then I would study it and I would... Sometimes for years, and it was always difficult in the beginning because it would destabilize, and that's very much how development goes on any developmental line. You expand into the current world view, and something comes and causes that world view to not quite be enough, and so the old one disintegrates and you go through that period of disintegration before you re-integrate into a more complex system. And I kept hoping that it would be the end of it. I'd finally get a system that was so great that I wouldn't have to have go through that experience.
Keith Witt: And then after I was 50 and studied integral and wrote about integral, I realized that I was enjoying the process now, that when someone came up with a new idea, like EMDR that it actually was... EMDR is wonderful in certain situations dealing with trauma. And so that was great when as soon as I identified it as a great system, I saw a research that persuaded me, I dived in and I had a lot of fun learning and acting EMDR until I could bring it into my repertoire of theoretical and practical understanding. Now, what did that reflect? That reflected my consciousness changing.
Keith Witt: I shifted from being more egocentric in my understanding to being more open, so my unconscious was actually aware. Keith, there will be great systems that will happen and when they arrive, they'll help you grow and be a better therapist, they're wonderful. And so, my subjective reaction to them shifted from, "Oh, no," to "Oh, boy." And this is how you notice that you grow. You don't notice that you grow particularly because you have a new idea, you notice that you grow because you have a different natural reaction to something that you had a different reaction to before. And it's very difficult to notice a shift of world views from the inside. It's easier for other people to give you feedback about it until you get to a certain level of development in the integral, we call that the "second tier" and then it's just easier to see that kind of stuff. And so that's been my experience with this over the decades. That's my current experience with it.
Neil Sattin: Great, yeah. And just to give you listening, a full sense of what I'm bringing to this conversation, I mentioned in the introduction that a lot of this is about you finding tools that work for you. I also have another bias that comes from my position of being able to talk to so many of the founders of relationship theories, which is... And it comes from my upbringing I think, which is this kind of like, "can't we all just get along" mentality. In an ideal world I'd be having this conversation, Keith, you would probably still be there and we would have everyone on a stage as a panel, but the express purpose of that conversation would be like, "Let's figure out how we can all work together." And my understanding is that, that's been challenging in the field to bring everyone together like that, but that's another thing that... My own agenda that I bring to this conversation is, I want everyone to get along and to commit to the overall betterment of how effective we can be in our lives or as therapists or coaches, or people who help others. It's really important to me.
Keith Witt: Well, Amen.
Neil Sattin: And some other things that you were mentioning made me think immediately of John Gottman. And I can't remember if he mentioned this actually in our first interview, if it was part of what I recorded or if it was just part of my conversation with him. But he talks about how important it is for him to know when he's wrong. He keeps a very detailed record of all the ideas that he's ever had and I think he might have said that he's wrong more than half the time.
Keith Witt: Yes, he says that. More than half of his hypothesis have been proved false. [chuckle]
Neil Sattin: Right, right. And so for him, this is one of the things that he stakes his claim around is that, he's distilled a body of work that statistically has been shown to work more than 50% of the time I think, in fact it's like 86 or something percent of the time. And that being said, he's also... What I love about that statement is one, his embrace of the willingness to be wrong, which is so important at any level of relationship, relationship to an idea, relationship to your spouse, so I really appreciate that. And also it seems to be his major critique of people who would use other systems that maybe haven't been empirically proven to be effective because what if you put it under a scientific scrutiny and found that it only worked 10% of the time, like your best placebo on its, without; or sorry, your best drug without the placebo effect. So, that's where it gets confusing for people I think, because they're like, "Well, if my local shaman hasn't undergone scientific study, what do I do with the fact that it's actually been really helpful for me? Versus going to my Gottman-certified therapist?
Keith Witt: John Gottman is the only founder that I know of whose psychotherapeutic approach and theoretical approach literally arose out of his research. That's not true for any of the rest of us. Everybody else was doing stuff that worked really well for them in certain situations and they saw how things fit together, and then they fitted it together with other stuff that they found out and created a structure. That's not a bad thing. That's how theories historically have arisen, in my opinion, except for say, physics. And John Gottman started out as a mathematician.
Keith Witt: I went to a three-day workshop with him and Julie, and at the very end, I went up to him, I said, "You know, John, I've done a lot of this stuff, okay? And your system has the most amount of good stuff and the least amount of bullshit than any other system that I've seen." And he laughed because he got it. Another thing that endeared me to him, and I gotta say I am biased towards John Gottman, I love that guy, I think he and Julie are great.
Keith Witt: In a conference where everybody's talking about how their system is the best, he went up on stage and says, "You know, I think about my treatment's failures." And I thought, "God, John, thank you." I think about my treatment failures too, what the fuck. What can I do different. What's the new stuff? He is a researcher. Now, I use a lot of his research to validate my approach, I've changed things that I've done in response to some of his research. I've changed some of my understandings in response to some of his research. Why? He's just the best and most comprehensive couples researcher around. In terms of my approach, almost every psychotherapist and all couples counselors to a certain extent through psychoeducation, you're basically teaching people about themselves and about how relationships work.
Keith Witt: The nice thing about Gottman's approach is that he didn't really, in most of his work, he didn't really have confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is what most founders bring to their research, if they do research. Okay, well, if you're doing research to show that your system is great, that's confirmation bias. Now, human beings, when they develop, when they develop from fundamentalist, which is I'm going to enact the EFT system or the crucible system exactly how it's supposed to be, and I'm not going to really think about whether it's working or not, that's a fundamentalist system. I'm going with the structure, but because it's the structure.
Keith Witt: When you go to a more rational system, a rational system is, "Well, I want to cross-validate things and see how they work, and if they work better, I'll shift into a new system." In between that conformist and that rational system, there's an in-between stage. Susanne Cook-Greuter and Beena Sharma who studied developmental stages, they call it the 3-4 stage 'cause 3 is conformist and 4 is rational; they called it the 3-4 stage. In that stage, people experience themselves as open to input, but actually they have confirmation bias, they're looking for data that support their preconceived notions and they very much resist change.
Keith Witt: You know, back in the '90s, I went to a David Schnarch workshop. And so, David Schnarch was all about differentiation, a concept he obviously lifted from Murray Bowen and never gives him any credit for, which pissed off Dan Siegel enough in the conference so Dan Siegel called him out on it. It was one of those little conference snafus that happen, it fascinated everybody. So I went up to Schnarch, I said, "You know, I think there is a more fundamental construct than differentiation." He said, "What?" I said, "I think it's health." He said, "That's too broad." Now, maybe he's right. Maybe my orientation towards what's healthy and not healthy is a too broad concept. But his immediate reaction was dismissal. He didn't want to consider that there might be a more fundamental organizing principle than his, okay? There was confirmation bias. Now, he's a good counterpoint, to me, to John Gottman. John Gottman doesn't like people making assertions without doing research, but I don't care, I still love John Gottman.
Keith Witt: David Schnarch spent minutes on stage during that workshop warning people to not use his stuff 'cause it's all trademarked and I found him arrogant and narcissistic, and to this day, irritating. Now, what is that? Both of them have their own critiques. Why do I find myself really liking John Gottman and irritated with Schnarch? Even more importantly, whenever you get irritated with someone, there's a tendency to dismiss what's great about their system. And this is what is beautiful about integral, integral says, "Everybody gets to be right, nobody gets to be right all the time." And Schnarch's concept of differentiation and holding on to yourself and the whole crucible approach to couples is a really good approach. Okay, that is very effective, particularly with some couples where they keep trying to move out of the container and you keep them in the container until something pops, and out of that pop come something new. And sometimes that newness is a new discovery of love for each other. Now, Esther Perel does a similar thing, but she's more of a practical romantic. I see Schnarch and Susan Johnson as more practical moralistic, in that they seem to literally have moral disgust for other people who disagree with them. [chuckle]
Keith Witt: I go, "Okay." [chuckle] Maybe that's what irritates me about them. Like Susan Johnson says, "If you do your work, you have to be slow and soft." Okay, well, that works for her with couples. But you know, as people might have noticed so far in our conversation, I'm not a particularly slow and soft guy, okay? So, my natural healing style, sure, I can get really gentle with people, and I actually was critiqued by Gestalt therapists in the '70s by being too nice to my clients. "You're too nice to your clients, Keith." "Oh, I'm sorry. Just because Fritz [Perls] is an asshole doesn't mean I have to be an asshole when I do therapy."
Keith Witt: And so, sorry, Susan, slow and soft is not my natural style, okay? It's alright. Now, does that make me less effective than her with a couple? Probably with some couples, I don't know.
Neil Sattin: Right, and it would probably make you less effective if you were implementing her system.
Keith Witt: Yes, that's exactly right. And when you learn a system, it's good to implement it. Now, even though I love John and Julie, John and Julie, when they talk about implementing their systems, they use a lot of their research tools. They give people like questionnaires, they give them cards and stuff, and they have their structured things that they recommend people doing. I'm sorry, I don't like doing that stuff.
Keith Witt: My clients don't like doing stuff like that, but even if my clients liked it, I don't like doing it. If you go to a risk management workshop, they give you a five-page thing your clients are supposed to sign about all the horrible things that they can report you for and that the therapy does and doesn't do. I'm sorry, I don't do a five-page thing. We all have our different styles. Now, that being said, I just love that guy, love him, and every time he gets a new thing out... I studied his last book from the beginning to end several times, and except for the math, just found it utterly fascinating. And I see him as a practical scientific guy. He is a true scientist. John Gottman will change an opinion on a dime if you give him persuasive data. And that's just not true for many people.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, so, since you've brought up David Schnarch, and unfortunately, he hasn't been on my show yet, so we haven't had the benefit of being able to hear from him directly. I still... I reach out to him every so often and I'm hoping that one of these days he will. That being said, it's funny. I have my own bias when someone doesn't want to be on my show. [chuckle] I'm like, "Well, what's your problem?" What you just mentioned about your experience with him, that seems in some respects, to make sense given that he's staked his claim on differentiation, that that's where he's coming from, differentiation being that sense of holding on to you and your sense of who you are no matter what someone else is throwing at you. And so in preparation for this conversation, I really dove into his passionate marriage work, which is sort of the lay person's approach to crucible therapy, which is what he calls his work in the therapeutic realm. And I found myself really appreciating it, in fact, and it got me irritated because even... I was listening to this one recording of him and he said something that was dismissive of attachment theory and...
Keith Witt: Yes.
Neil Sattin: And I love what attachment theory brings to the conversation about relationships, both how you come to understand your own dysfunction in a relationship or how you come to understand the function of the dyad, what that does for you. And concepts of safety and how that enables you to differentiate. I love that, and it kind of bridges into Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson's developmental model too, which we can talk about in a little bit. But that all being said, when I heard him talking about the importance of knowing who you are, and at the same time being able to remove your distortions of who you are. And he talks about part of crucible being that your partner being there, that's a great way for you to learn where you actually aren't who you think you are, just as one example. Or you get to, through self-reflection, see some of the dysfunction in who you are, and actually work towards growth and improvement. But when he talks about differentiation, he talks about some things that I think are key. You talk about, not only holding on to who you are, but also your ability to self-soothe, so to take responsibility for yourself when you're triggered. How many times have we talked about that on the show? He talks about getting over your reactivity, so taking responsibility for not freaking out at your partner when they trigger you.
Neil Sattin: Again, so important, and fits right in. And then, he talks about, and I love this concept, the idea... And this is a place where I feel like he's kind of unique, and you can correct me if I'm wrong here, Keith, 'cause you have a broader perspective, perhaps, than I do. But he talks about... He names his approach as a non-pathological approach. In other words, if things are going wrong, then nothing is wrong. It's like, that's what you would come to expect. And that part of what he holds as an ideal in a relationship is the ability to hold onto yourself, to self-soothe, to not get reactive with your partner, and to hold the container of a relationship when things get uncomfortable. And that does seem so important, being able to grow with your partner. If you're so focused on fixing things and one of you capitulating to the other, it's not that there's never a place for compromise, but it's like, I think, and so many couples rush to that, they overlook the actual growth potential that happens in truly experiencing themselves as separate individuals with different ideas about how to live and how to be in the world, or how to be with each other.
Keith Witt: It's a wonderful approach. It's a wonderful understanding. I like it. And I use those concepts and those understandings, and have, ever since I learned the system. That the system has great efficacy, practically speaking. Now, that being said... So let's just expand. Okay, so it's great to say it's a non-pathological system. Okay, fine. And basically, effective therapists operate from that perspective. Here's two people, they want to change, they want to grow. That power of a human consciousness wanting to change and wanting to grow is so robust that there's a lot of details of self-regulation and moderation and holding on to yourself and understanding. But there's that basic core of power, of human consciousness wanting to grow. That's true, and psychopathology has existence. If somebody has a personality disorder, there's no couples approach that is going... In my experience, maybe I'm wrong, because I've been doing my own work. My lab is my practice. I've done 65,000 therapy sessions. And so, I take stuff into my lab, so to speak. So psychopathology has existence. Sometimes you need to go into that to help people grow. You have tell somebody, like, "You have a distorted view of the world," and need to have some individual work to deal with that, or, "You are so overwhelmed by your trauma history that you have to go resolve that trauma before you can experience sexuality and intimacy with your partner comfortably."
Keith Witt: That needs to be normalized and there's a subtle bias. In integral, we would call that a pluralistic bias or a green bias, to treat everybody like they're the same. This is what causes David Deida to dismiss psychotherapy in general. Now, that's an interesting thing. I'm a psychotherapist, I teach psychotherapy, I write about psychotherapy, I've generated systems, I'm a founder of systems, I go to David Deida workshops. He generally puts down psychotherapy as being kind of a pluralistic, limp-wristed, egalitarian, second stage, you know, wimps, so to speak. And I still love the guy, okay?
Keith Witt: Okay, so why is that? Probably part of it is because I see him as a kindred spirit, as a fellow warrior. But when you and I were talking about this earlier, but part of it is I probably have more projections with people like David Schnarch or Susan Johnson, like that moralistic... Maybe there's a part of me that has moral disgust that I don't like and I project onto them. I do that a little with Dan Siegel. I love Dan Siegel's work, I've studied his books, I've listened to his lectures endlessly, I've enjoyed his lectures. And every once in a while though on stage, he starts complaining about how somebody treated him badly or how somebody doesn't understand him or he had to push back, and I just find that icky. I go, "Dan, don't say stuff like that. That makes the rest of the cool stuff that you talk about. You know, you're a brilliant man, and you've changed everybody. Your book, The Developing Mind, was my foundation of neurobiology, interpersonal neurobiology."
Keith Witt: Alan Schwartz is similar. He says everybody bow to evidence-based treatment. He's irritated with this American Psychological Association privileging the research of, particularly, cognitive behavioral therapy, I suspect because cognitive behavioral therapists and the labs around the country get a lot of money and other people don't. So there's a lot of personality that comes through and yet all these systems have wonderful things about them. So, Schnarch is more practical moralistic in that sense. Esther Perel is more practical romantic, she's practical. All the good therapists are practical. You're with a couple, we're going to help 'em move forward and understand them individually and as a couple, and we have a vision of good relating that's for effective therapists is similar. But she has basically a romantic approach. You have your own way of understanding yourself, and of love, and I support that as a therapist. And you have your understanding of what you want with this relationship and I support what you want. And your partner is similarly. And we deal with that and from an accepting standpoint and a practical standpoint, how can we move forward?
Keith Witt: You feel enlivened by your secret affair that devastated your partner, I understand how you feel enlivened by that. I understand the draw of that. I understand your resentment at your partner for not being more cooperative and creating better love, the partner is outraged that you did this. Well, I understand your outrage. I understand your desire to love better. It's a very romantic approach, but it fits very well with all the scientific approaches, the moralistic approaches, with even David Deida's mythological approach. David Deida is basically a practical mythological approach. He draws from the wisdom, traditions of masculine and feminine. He used to teach the Shiva and Shakti scale, just brought it out of the Eastern traditions. And yeah, it's practical. This is how we can help you understand yourself, understand your partner, and understand how you enhance the polarity to have the intimacy and safety and love and the passion that you want. And if you get down to it in the psychotherapy session, if you watch any of us doing a session with people, you'd see very similar constructs that we're applying and you'd see very similar interventions.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, it's so funny I was listening to the first season of Esther Perel's podcast that she put out with Audible. I think it's called Where Do We Begin? Or something like that. And one of the sessions I was like, this might as well be Harville Hendrix that I'm listening to, just in terms of how she was showing up for that couple and talking about safety and the way they were constructing their communication and it was like right out of his getting the love you want workshop practically. So that was fascinating for me and I think worth noting because if you're just a bystander and you're like, say, listening to the Relationship Alive podcast, you can be so persuaded by one person's viewpoint or the other. And in fact, I find myself, like you were mentioning earlier, Keith, persuaded over and over and over again.
Keith Witt: Yes.
Neil Sattin: Because everyone's system has so much merit to it, that you might lose sight of where they both offer you something important. Sue Johnson and David Schnarch, it's interesting that you've paired them together because, obviously, they're in some ways they would see themselves as being in opposition to each other.
Keith Witt: Yes.
Neil Sattin: And yet, how many times have I seen with clients how important creating safety is to them, taking a stand for who they are? And vice versa, if they're all about the safety and they never take a risk by being who they are, I've seen that be problematic too. So, it's like everyone is reacting to the... What's the word? The distorted, the extended version, like if you go way too far into differentiation, that's not going to be a relationship. If you go way too far into creating safety or your couple bubble, like Stan calls it, Stan Tatkin, then you might lose the edge or the eroticism, which is what Esther would hone in on. You've lost your sense of the other person as other, you're too safe.
Neil Sattin: So, it's so interesting because even in just this past three sentences or so, you've heard me jump from one to the other to the other trying to show you, like, "Yeah, they all actually feed into each other." If you're really, really stuck, like a lot of people are, I think that's why Esther's TED Talk took off because so many people are stuck. I think she writes in "The State of Affairs" that sexless marriage is one of the top Google searches or something like that.
Keith Witt: Yes.
Neil Sattin: So, if you're in a sexless marriage, then when someone starts talking about how you feel too safe and you've come to not think of your partner as someone else. And so here are some ways to get you back to a more erotic, playful space with your partner, then you're going to listen and that's going to make sense to you. But it wouldn't make sense to you if you had no safety in your container and your partner was constantly texting other people and flirting with the waiters and waitresses at the restaurants, and if you were in a totally unsafe world, then that's not going to be a place where Esther's work might, or at least what you might initially think she's getting at. But again, this is just her TED Talk, you hear her in a session and she's talking about creating safety within a couple.
Keith Witt: Exactly. That practically speaking, everybody comes from constructs that involve relational patterns, a developmental orientation, that people are influenced by unconscious influences and trauma programming. Everybody has a vision of happy relating for every couple they work with. No effective couples counselor doesn't do that. We all, if we have a couple, we immediately start having a vision of how they could be getting along better with each other. And all couples counselors are informed by the psychological and psychotherapeutic traditions, therapeutic relationship attunement, and that kind of stuff.
Keith Witt: Now, when you look at it, for me, the breakdown between Schnarch dissing attachment theory and Susan Johnson saying, "I have the only couples therapy. We never had a theory before me." Okay? Well, look, if you say to a bunch of founders who have their own theories, "You never had a good theory of couples until me," everybody's going to get pissed off. So, Susan Johnson says that, I go, "Susan, you've got a good system, you got a good theory. You don't have to piss us all off by saying that. You can say, 'I got a couples thing that I prefer to yours.'" And so, John Gottman will go up in a workshop and say, "Well, we have our theory." You know he's speaking directly to that.
Keith Witt: Now, that being said, Esther Perel and Schnarch make a point that a lot of other couples people miss, they go, "Look, sexuality is a big deal and it's been neglected by the field," and they're right about that. That was true. In the '70s, therapists wouldn't even ask their couples about sex, it just drove me crazy. I did a lot of sex therapy training in the '70s because I realized that to be effective with couples, I need to be really good at helping them have better sex, and integrated that into my work and have ever since. And David Deida's stuff has been priceless around that stuff.
Keith Witt: And so, the field has grown to that. And to their credit, once again, John Gottman and Julie, they have their system of expanding the conversation about sexuality and the behaviors about sexuality because they've demonstrated from their research that it's not enough to just down-regulate conflict with a couple, you have to up-regulate good times. And as I make... The point that I make in my Loving Completely approach, a marriage is a friendship, a love affair and a capacity to heal injuries and ruptures. That love affair is a big deal. That first star, this erotic polarity between me and my partner, gets more space in my book than any of the other stars. Why? If that love affair isn't happening then there's a lot of problems that arise out of that, and that's that sexless marriage statistics that Esther mentions in her book. I wrote a book called "A Hundred Reasons to Not Have a Secret Affair", I couldn't find a publisher for it. And I read "State of Affairs" and I said, "Well, I like this a lot better than my book."
Keith Witt: And really I think that's a really good book about affairs and you can just feel that practical romantic orientation on her part.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and when you say romantic, let's just... Can you get more clear on what that means, just so we get you there?
Keith Witt: Esther has... Now, this is just my reading of her, okay? And I've never talked to her. I hope I do some day. There's this sense for her about love. There's a mystery, a cross-cultural mystery about love, that there's love is, I want to be loved, I want to love and I want to do it in a way that works for me. And if it's not happening, I'm suffering and I want to make it happen. And if it's not happening and I'm suffering, I need to take that suffering into the world and into my own development, into my relationship and make love happen. And there's a certain mysterious quality about it. And yes, there's things that interfere with it like lies and abuse and all that other stuff. And to a certain extent, because she works an awful lot with infidelity and that kind of stuff, you can see our practices shape our theoretical understanding. There's that sense of, if we open that up, then love will happen. Now hopefully, it happens with us as a couple, but if it doesn't, okay. It didn't happen. Love, the relationship just because it ends wasn't unsuccessful, we lose each other, we move on and we find love some place else.
Keith Witt: Okay, to me, this is very romantic. This is a subjective love-based, romance-based orientation towards eroticism and sexuality. And it's very effective because that's how in terms of the neurobiology of bonding, yes, we go from our various arousal systems, into attraction, into distracting attraction, into romantic infatuation, into intimate bonding, into life stages. Now, what I think Esther misses, because she doesn't seem to be as interested in the science, is that it's an apples and oranges comparison that early attraction, distracting attraction, romantic infatuation, sexual drives, with the sexual drives that exist in intimate bonding, okay.
Keith Witt: In intimate bonding, I have discovered or it's been my experience, to go into those romantic infatuation circuits, it's very, very intricate and detailed and it's not nearly as easy as finding a new person that you don't know. And so you can't compare, "Well, it's very hard to develop romance and passion with my husband, but really easy with my lover." Well, of course it is. We're wired to have that be the case. That's not the point. The point is that... And now we're getting into an integral understanding of evolution of consciousness. As we expand our consciousness, as we get more world-centric and more compassionate and less bullshit, our relationships are more demanding. And so it's very, very difficult. I haven't found relationships where people have the depth of connection that they want, knowing each other and accepting each other and loving each other deeply, that they have that and that that container, which is powerful but fragile, can tolerate one of them going out and falling in love with another person. And also, that container suffers if they don't do what they need to do to take care of their love affair. They have a love affair that they believe in that they're sustaining with each other.
Keith Witt: So, why is that fragile? Well, because it requires an awful lot of attention and knowledge and understanding and self-regulation. Why is it great? Because there's deeper intimacy available in that container than in previous containers over the last 10,000 years and it's more demanding. If you have a very, very primitive... Say you have a relationship that's pure conformist. We're getting married, we're going to have kids, we're going to do what the Bible says or the Koran says. In those cultures, women stop having sex with their partner when they stop being of childbirth age, in general. Fascinating study. They just go at that point, they go, "Well, I'm not going to do it anymore." A lot, not always, but a fair amount. Why is that? Because there isn't a developmental layer of intimacy that they and their husband are working for, because they're in a system where he's in charge. She has to do what he says. I say "yes" to sex, until I can't have kids anymore and then I can say "no" if I want.
Keith Witt: And if we don't have a certain level of intimacy and a commitment to depth, why would we be interested? He would be going after youth and beauty and maybe I'll have an affair or maybe I won't. It just depends. If you're going in, but if you both have the sense of equal depth, if you both are post formal operational, if you both want to sustain your friendship and your love affair and expand it and expand each other, well, then that requires a different kind of inner subjectivity. So these are very complicated forces that are operating on all of us. Now, they're explicit in integral psychotherapy because we always look at lines and levels, and probably, you're going to tell me about Ellyn Bader, probably in their developmental model, because developmental models notice that people's worldviews change, and that relationships, demands of relationship, change as we go into different developmental levels.
Keith Witt: The other ones, the effective ones, unconsciously adjust for different people's worldviews, but sometimes don't consciously do it, because it's not visible to them, consciously, but unconsciously, in the session, they get a feel for it and they attune to it. Just like if you're an effective therapist... Stan Tatkin has practically nothing about sexuality in his system, but I'll bet if people come in to his system suffering from not being sexual, he climbs in, understands their experience from the inside, finds out where they're turning each other and on and off, and helps them find the kind of safety that they need to move into eroticism.
Keith Witt: And eroticism's very central, because it's like the canary in the coal mine. Everything else has to be going pretty well for you to be good lovers with your partner. It's very rare, as a couples counselor, for people to come in saying, "Yeah, we're both fulfilled, sexually. We enjoy sex, we have sex regularly, and we want a divorce." That actually happens once in a great while, but that's like one in 100. Usually, when people come in and say, "Sex is great," there's a solidity to their relationship, and they're coming in to talk about other kinds of issues; money issues, sometimes... Often child issues and parental issues, sometimes physical issues, that kind of stuff.
Neil Sattin: Okay, so... Yeah, there are several different directions that I feel myself being pulled, and...
Keith Witt: Great.
Neil Sattin: I think where I'm going to go right now is on this practical level, because I want this to all be practical, and we're talking about all these systems as practical systems. I think I heard Schnarch say that... And I don't think this is an actual statistic, I think he was just making a point, which was, in a good relationship, sex makes up about 10% of what you think about and care about, but if the sex is bad... No, if the sex is good, then it's about 10% what you think about and care about. If the sex is bad, it's 90%, or non-existent. And so, I'm thinking about that in light of what you just said and wondering, okay, for people listening who are in this place where they're like, "Okay, well, I'm not connecting with my partner erotically. Should I be going to a sex therapist? Should I be going to an EFT therapist to work on my safety? Should I be... " I could feel... I can feel confusion there, around, what do you do, practically? 'Cause so many people might see like, "Oh, you're not having sex? Well, then, let's talk about sex." Others might say, "You're not having sex? Well, that's a symptom of so many other things going on in your relationship, so let's talk about the other things, and we'll talk about sex later."
Keith Witt: Well, first of all, go to a good couples therapist who understands eroticism. It doesn't matter what system they're operating in, if they're a good therapist, a good couples therapist, experienced and know how to attune, and have the things that I mentioned, those qualities, and understand eroticism. One of the reasons that Schnarch says that is that, in general, human consciousness goes where the pain is. We have a half-dozen sex drives, we don't just have one, we have lots of them. And so, if one of those sex drives is activated in a negative way, say jealousy, that's a lot of pain. Say frustration... Frustrated... This happens a lot with guys after the first baby is born. A baby is born. Okay, their wife kinda gets over the birth, and he finds her utterly adorable and desirable. Yeah, this is adorable and she's in love with his kid, she's full of love, "We're sharing this thing," and he wants to have sex. She's in love with the kid, she's got follicle-stimulating hormone up the wazoo, her desire is down, biochemically. If she doesn't have a commitment to re-establishing their love affair, then he's in pain.
Keith Witt: And so, what does he do? He makes jokes about it, and there's all these bazillion jokes about men wanting more sex, mothers with small children, and guys... Women don't want to have sex. And these are hostile jokes and these separate people. And, in general, three years after the birth of the first baby, according to the Gottmans' research, 70% of couples are doing worse. But what if you teach them about affection and eroticism and sensuality and say, "You need to sustain this after the birth of the first child. You need to both be onboard with it." Well, if you teach them that, then three years later, 70% of them are saying, "Yeah, we're actually better as lovers." Now, you need... In my experience, that's useful information for me to have, as a couples therapist.
Keith Witt: And it's useful for me to know the parameters of that. Just like it's useful for me to know about psychopathology. You know, if somebody has some kind of trauma thing or a personality disorder or some kind of debilitating or God knows, you know, bipolar. That kind of stuff. That has to be addressed. That really has existence. You go to a therapist that has a general understanding, and is good with sexuality in general. I don't know if I'd want to go to any couples therapist who didn't understand the principles of sexuality, and the sex drives, and the stages of sexual bonding, whether I was working on sex or not. It's such a central part of the life stages of a relationship, you know. You don't just have one marriage, you have many marriages. And there's different demands at each developmental level of marriage. And you want to be true to those demands and help each other with them, and good couples therapists all do that. Whether they do it consciously or unconsciously doesn't really matter, you know. They do it. Because, they're inside the universe of these couples helping them grow. And they discover these blocks, and they have their own orientation to help people through them, and help people into deep inter-subjective, into love with each other.
Keith Witt: And so, that's... All good couples therapists can attune. They all interrupt people all the time. 'Cause you gotta interrupt toxic patterns, and they all have some sense of what a positive pattern is. You know, all couples therapists suspend their ego in service of their clients. If you have too much ego in the session, you lose your capacity to help people. All good couples therapists are willing to share their clients' pain. All good couples therapists tell vivid enough stories, have vivid enough metaphors that they register, they land with people. They're bringing their best selves into the work, so that's... If you took anybody from any system and saw them work, and they were effective, you'd see that in my opinion and so, that's their natural healing style. And, you know, you keep expanding that and after a while... And what breaks my heart about this is since people resist change, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of natural healing styles in existence being embodied by great practitioners, that we'll never find out about. Because, you know, there's a resistance in the field to new systems. And these people don't have as much... I don't advocate much for any of my systems.
Keith Witt: As a founder, I haven't like pushed to make one of my systems famous. Okay, well, that means a lot of people haven't encountered a bunch of my systems. Okay. Well, that's kind of a weakness in my approach as the founder, really. Because if I want to make an impact, I should go out and beat drums about my systems and I don't. I go, "Well, yeah, I like my systems but the other ones are great too. Use the one that... Study the ones that turn you on. Turn that and have that enhanced and expand your natural healing style." What lights me up is people doing that. And if they want to use my system, if they like it, of course, I get a little ego rush from that, sure. That's great. [chuckle] Everybody likes to be told they're great, you know. [chuckle]
Neil Sattin: You're great, Keith.
Keith Witt: Yeah, there you go.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and...
Keith Witt: Well, I'm actually a little embarrassed, but you know, I often do if my clients compliment me extravagantly, I'll get embarrassed. Partly because of the transference stuff, you know. Okay, so people go through stages, and partly because, I'm uncomfortable with my ego. I don't want it to show up in my session. Anyway.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah. And I'm thinking of something you said earlier about systems that maybe do or don't actually handle mental health all that well. That there's, you know, a lot of these systems work well in the context of someone isn't suffering with major depression, or borderline personality disorder and that made me think of certain modalities that are helpful with that. Like in particular, what came to mind was Internal Family Systems, Dick Schwartz's system, and...
Keith Witt: I love that.
Neil Sattin: And there's been an evolution of that intimacy from the inside out which is basically applying Internal Family Systems to couples therapy.
Keith Witt: Yes.
Neil Sattin: And that Toni Herbine-Blank, she's been here on the show to talk about that. This is something that I feel particularly connected to, is this question of how we, in a relationship, actually show up for each other to help heal. 'Cause I don't think that there are many people in our world that have escaped some form of trauma or another. I think we all have like places where we're wounded or where we don't want to go. We're talking about all of these systems in many ways from the perspective of going and seeking help, which I definitely encourage you to do. It's a good idea to go and, as Keith was talking about a little while ago, to have that outside perspective until you're really good at getting outside perspective on your own.
Neil Sattin: But that being said, I like those modalities because the more conscious I think you get of how you heal from trauma, so I'm thinking of, yes, Internal Family Systems, somatic experiencing, the things that really enable you to identify what's happening within you, both your body awareness and how you attune to your body, but also what Dick talks about in Internal Family Systems, literally identifying the different personalities in you who are competing and at war, he calls them parts.
Keith Witt: Yes.
Neil Sattin: And then you can bring those dialogues into your conversations with your partner. Then I think there is a lot of potential through that, through co-regulation to actually heal with each other. But I don't know about any studies that show that that's going to be curative if your partner has depression, for instance, but I do have a pretty strong belief that that's going to help you show up in that relationship in a way where you're still feeling connected and you're in integrity.
Keith Witt: There are studies that show that it is curative to expand into your intimate relationship, your family relationships, and your social relationships to be curative with depression, just like there are many studies, overwhelmingly, that show that exercise is a better anti-depressant than any drug. So, that's all true. And your central point, I think, is huge, and that central point is when a couple has mobilized to, one, have compassionate self-observation of both their healthy and unhealthy sides. In my Shadow Light book, I talk about growing your shadow, and that our unconsciousness is constantly giving us constructive and destructive messages, and that we have resistances, defenses against being aware of them, and to the extent that we do that, we have problems with ourselves and in relationships with other people. Because, let's face it, the more intimate you are with yourself, which is having compassionate awareness and acceptance of yourself and self-regulation, the more able you are to be intimate with other people. So, that's just how it works, ask any therapist, any couples therapist.
Keith Witt: And Dick Schwartz's approach is wonderful in that, one, he develops... You'll notice there's always a compassionate witness observing these inner parts, okay? Just like meditation increases the capacity of the compassionate self-observation, the witness, as we say in the wisdom traditions, so do these systems that look at these inner parts. Because if I'm looking at inner parts, who's looking? The compassionate witness is looking, and awareness regulates. So, as I'm looking at these parts and I'm identifying the constructive and destructive ones, already I am unconsciously up-regulating the constructive ones, down-regulating the destructive ones. Okay, that's a great language, and it's nonjudgmental, but it's very, very powerful. Now, say you do that with your partner. Instead of taking offense when your partner says something nasty, you go, "Wow, that was that nasty sub-personality." And you go, "Whoa, that was kind of nasty." And they go, "Ooh, that was my nasty self, I'm sorry." Now, at that point, the nasty self isn't in charge. The compassionate witness is in charge regulating the nasty self and now bonding with that partner, and they are collaborating to help shape each other to be their best selves.
Keith Witt: When you get to that point with a couple that are doing that with their friendship, their love affair, and their capacity to repair injuries, that's a self-sustaining system that creates the great relationships. And you see the great relationships, you see that, it's called the Michelangelo Effect, it's been studied, and people, they end up talking more like each other, and looking more like each other. But even more, they get up... Long-term couples will tend to get happier with each other because they're receiving influence to be better. And it takes a lot of courage and a lot of openness to receive influence, and a lot of self-regulatory capacity, and that always runs from some kind of compassionate witness, and all the systems encourage that. They all have their different names for it, but if you don't have that, then you're kind of left with raw behaviorism. And if you do have that, which most of us do, or formal operational or post-formal operational.
Keith Witt: Having that compassionate witness be more robust gives us more options, response flexibility and interpersonal neurobiology, they would say. And response flexibility isn't random. I want to choose the healthy responses, which support love and support health and I want to say no to the unhealthy ones. But I have to be aware of them, I have to be able to regulate them. That's where Allan Schore comes with regulation theory, that's where Harville Hendrix. His systems basically force people to self-regulate because they can't go into their fight patterns 'cause he's given them different patterns to do.
Keith Witt: And so, probably the power of this system is as much by not allowing people to do their hostile patterns as it is giving them new patterns, and I think that's true for Dick Schwartz too in Internal Family Systems, and it's especially useful in trauma because we get overwhelmed with trauma. So, anything that causes us to observe trauma without being overwhelmed, whether it's somatic re-experiencing, EMDR, Internal Family Systems, all those things are drawing from the same well in terms of helping us be aware and regulate and then attach and then connect, love other people and be loved by other people. These are the things that the affective systems have in common. Like, practical mythological, somebody might do better if they see themselves at a particular stage of the Hero's Journey. Great, I love the Hero's Journey, I'm all over that, I've been studying it all my life and practising it.
Keith Witt: Somebody might do great in seeing, "Well, I have this destructive... An Internal Family Systems thing. One of my firemen is just driving me crazy by giving me all these impulses to regulate myself in unhealthy ways." You go, "Oh, yeah." But he wants that fireman and he wants to feel better and what's a healthy way to feel better? Oh, now, I'm going to these other selves. Okay, these deeper ones. Oh, and here's this injured self that just really never felt good and still doesn't. Oh, well, we need to love that self until it begins to feel like a legitimate person who's in pain. When that begins to happen, say a childhood injury, most people hate that little kid who was abused, if you had early abuse. Once you start loving that kid who was abused, feeling the pain but loving him, saying, "Hey, look, it wasn't your fault they molested you or beat you up," things change, there's more freedom of motion and you can love better.
Neil Sattin: Right. And this goes straight to the strengths of a system like EFT, and that's based around attachment and why it's so important to recognize the bonding, the safety, the ways that you are trying to regulate your safety in relationship. And if you're not conscious of that, how the ways you do it are probably going to be jeopardizing, ultimately, the safety of your relationship, even though, ironically, you're trying to keep yourself safe in those moments.
Keith Witt: Yes, and now here's the paradox of the whole attachment stuff. The attachment theory just kind of blew the lid off of the developmental orientation. People have been resisting psychoanalytics... The cognitive behaviorists, the cognitive therapists have been resisting for decades the psychoanalysts' assertion that infancy and early childhood really matter. Well, attachment theory showed that it really does, that we do get set up for secure and insecure attachment, and that there's elements of that that go all the way to the adult attachment industry that the researchers in Berkeley, I forget their name... Mary Main came up with. Yes.
Keith Witt: Now, there's a little switch here because that attachment has to do with mother/infant attachment. Okay, now, we go on to couples and then we gotta add that sexual component. Adding that sexual component to secure attachment is tricky. I really don't want to be having to be secure with my wife exactly the way I was secure with my mom. I want to have elements of that, but there's not a lot of eroticism there, or hopefully there isn't, and if there is, there's more problems, that would be more complicated. And so now we have to add that erotic component. Now that erotic component has a lot of other elements in it. It has adventure, it has transgression, it has change, it has whoever we discovered we are from a gender standpoint or whoever we discover we are in terms of our own kinks, whatever our culture told us about our sexuality, whether it's good or it's bad.
Keith Witt: People discover their sexuality, and if they're lucky, the culture says, "Oh, that's fine sexuality." Say you discover you're a heterosexual guy who likes the missionary position. Wow! You know, when you're married. Boy, you're in good shape, you can feel like a virtuous person. Say you discover that you're a transgender person who likes falling in love with the opposite sex, but likes to have fun sex with the same sex, it can go one direction or another, and really like being tied up and mildly humiliated before somebody fucks you. Okay, well, you're not going to get a lot of cultural support, at least from most of the cultures that I was raised in for that. So you're raised in endogenous shame that now you gotta deal with that fucking stuff. This is where Esther Perel's romantic approach is really good. The romantic approach says love triumphs. Love trumps culture, and so if a culture tells somebody that they're wrong, Esther is really good at saying, "Yeah, well, your culture does not understand how you love. And how you love is how you love, and I love that, and I support you." People feel liberated by that.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. Exactly.
Keith Witt: Yeah. Well, that's pretty great, and if you're a student of integral psychology, you recognize that when you get to an integral level of consciousness, an integral level of consciousness has a felt sense of appreciation from multiple points of view, and a diminished fear of death and of other things, okay? A felt sense of appreciation for multiple points of view, that means I have a felt sense of appreciation for however I am wired and how my partner is wired. And now we don't have a moral problem in finding our love affair, we have a practical problem, you know, more practical... All these things are practical. Practically, how do we create eroticism, erotic polarity, given who we are? It's not like either one of us is more or less morally correct. It's we are who we are, and now, where's the opportunity for movement and growth and passion? And good therapists go there.
Keith Witt: Whether they're at an integral altitude or not in their regular life, most good therapists are at an integral level during their work. If I observe their work and I track that around the characteristics of second tier functioning, most effective therapists are at that level when they're doing psychotherapy. They have felt appreciation for multiple points of view, they have diminished fear of everything, they have a profound sense of being able to shift the power dynamics to the growth hierarchies and the dominator hierarchies in the direction of greater love. They have a developmental orientation that intuitively tells them what's healthier and less healthy, and what's more love and less love, they're guided by that.
Keith Witt: And that's not just rational at all, that's rational plus intuition, plus something else. Now, you can do that something else directly by doing contemplative work and having your own understanding of the infinite, or you can do it unconsciously. But basically, good therapists are a channel from something larger than themselves into the session through their systems and their personality. And when that channel's there, magic happens, often. And if you don't have that channel, you suffer as a therapist. And if you continue at it, you'll find it, and that's that natural healing style. But when you get there, it's connected to something way larger than yourself.
Keith Witt: Now if I talk with John Gottman about this, because you can't observe this and measure it and study it and do a questionnaire about it, you go, "We should leave religion out of psychotherapy." In fact, I saw him do that once when they were talking about mindfulness. And so anytime he sees any kind of existential system coming into science, he gets uncomfortable. But it's not that he doesn't do that and he and Julie don't do that, they bring a sense of the sacred and sense of a sacred mission to every single class that they teach and session that they do. But in a way, they can't acknowledge it because they have to kinda anchor themselves... At least John can't, because he has to anchor himself, and you know... "Well, really, what I'm doing is I'm coming from my research." Yeah, John, you are, but there's something larger than you coming through you when you're teaching this stuff. I can see it, I can feel it, because I have no problem with it.
Keith Witt: I personally do not feel limited by everything has to be validated by social research and science. There are some things that you can only discover from the left quadrants. And that's from phenomenology. Phenomenology is real, but you have to develop the contemplative instruments to perceive things, you have to... And once you have those instruments, then you can perceive things like a channel into the other world. It's as visible as a blood cell is on a microscope. But you have to develop the instrument. That instrument is contemplative work in your own spirituality and your own development as a human being.
Neil Sattin: Wow. This makes me think of a system that we haven't chatted about here yet. And it ties in a little bit to attachment theory, and also kind of feeds into bio-hacking. And I'm pretty sure that I talked with you privately about the book, "Cupid's Poisoned Arrow", when we were talking about...
Neil Sattin: Karezza. And I'm thinking about the way that fostering what they call "bonding behaviors", behaviors that are oxytocin-producing, which is all about our pair bonding, all about our attachment, and diving into those behaviors allow you to experience a form of transcendence which feels very contemplative in terms of one's sexual connection with their partner. And now, we're talking about sexual development in a way that isn't entirely about eroticism, but that... And they talk about it in that book because their theory is that... And I'm saying "they", but it's Marnia Robinson who wrote the book...
Keith Witt: That's right.
Neil Sattin: Is that it's the chase for erotic polarity and the dopamine cycle that actually causes habituation to your partner and escalates the demise, potentially, of your relationship and your attraction to your partner, whereas if you're focusing on things that promote oxytocin and bonding, that might... Sue Johnson, I haven't talked to her about Marnia's book, but I could see her liking it from the perspective of like, "Oh yeah, it's all about attachment and fostering safety." Well now, you're able to do something that's also sustainable, because we don't develop a tolerance for levels of oxytocin and vasopressin in our systems.
Keith Witt: So first of all, I laughed because you mentioned that book to me and I went, "Okay, so this is one of those situations where here's a system." So I thought, "Okay, well, I'll check it out." So I went online, read the first couple chapters, and oh, really? And so I bought the book and I've read it. Now, no offense to Marnia. I think that this system is really, really powerful, and I think it's powerful not just for the reasons that she mentioned, I think it's powerful for other reasons. It's not just oxytocin that is increased by practicing karezza. You also increase vasopressin in men, which is a male bonding hormone. Also, you increase testosterone. Going into sexual arousal and not resolving it into orgasm, keeping it into that state increases the levels of testosterone, which increase levels of erotic urgency. Okay, that's another thing.
Keith Witt: Also, if you look at all the the practices, including the tantric practices, you'll see that the first levels of most practices involve renunciation. Any time that a human being takes one of the drives and does renunciation with it, it puts them into kind of a stark connection with their own material that they have to then wrestle with. And if you do it with a partner, together, you two are now engaged in a shared tantric practice. That shared tantric practice of we are now monitoring our levels of connection and love and passion too, because when you do karezza, you go to a certain level and you don't want to get too high or too low. But you're at a level of a erotic charge and a level of bonding, and you kinda stay there, that's why you don't have orgasms.
Keith Witt: Now, personally, renunciation is not my favorite, as everybody can probably tell from my tone of voice, of practicing. I love orgasms, and so the way that I manage that in my life is I have frequent sex and frequent orgasms. Now, that keeps me attached to my wife. Why? Well, the habituation part of eroticism and so on doesn't just run off of erotic habituation. When you enter the intimate bonding stage of relationship, you have the depth of connection with your partner where you recapitulate your family of origin levels of intimacy, that's when the more primitive and the older and deeper defenses come out. Those defenses were designed to protect you and to separate you from people that were acting badly. And they happen to happen in intimate bonding and they separate couples.
Keith Witt: Couples that work through, reach through those defenses into pleasurable contact of all sorts, that's another way of keeping that sense of special connection alive. Doesn't have to do with eroticism necessarily, it has to do with walking into the room and seeing your partner and smiling, and feeling the pleasure of your smile and their smile. It has to do with passing her and stroking her head, and her feeling the pleasure of that stroke. Couples that consciously practice those particular kinds of techniques, those couples are upping their oxytocin levels on a regular basis. You turn those kinds of practices into habits, then you habitually are increasing oxytocin level. You turn adjusting anger into regulating it into deeper contact, which is what you do when you're working with wounding, so you start out separated by anger and then you become connected by resolving it into love for each other, that actually plays on those same cords. Because habituation happens in many ways, not just one or two ways.
Keith Witt: Now, the karezza stuff works really well. It keeps you charged with your partner, and the people that do that kind of stuff report the same kinds of benefits that people who consistently practice any of the tantric techniques. And I think if you're wired for that and you and your partner like that, go for it. It's the same way, I was talking to a guy recently, and I said... His girlfriend wanted sex more frequently than him, and he was doing his best, I said, "Well, what gets her off?" He says, "Well, she likes Fifty Shades of Grey." I said, "Oh, constraints. Restraints." He said, "Yeah." I said, "Well, how do you feel about it?" "Well, it's okay. Now, it doesn't really turn me on, it doesn't turn me off." I said, "Well, good experiment, go get some restraints and play with them after you guys get turned on." If you're going to do something new, get turned on first because you get more disinhibited when you're aroused. And so, say they do that, okay? Well, then, he's brought that element in that has kept the eroticism alive, because those restraints might be a fetish. I hate DSM. DSM pathologizes fetishes. Every time I find a fetish with a couple and it doesn't completely turn off the partner, I go, "Oh boy."
Neil Sattin: And just to be clear, DSM, you're talking about the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, right? I want to just remove that from BDSM, which is what you're also sort of talking about in the moment.
Keith Witt: Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. The DSM, otherwise known as "the book of woe"...
Keith Witt: Has a bazillion things that are human problems, and then has a diagnosis for them. And some of those are quite useful and some of them are not useful and some of them are bullshit. And everybody in the field has a lot of hostility towards the DSM, but we have to use it because it's a common language. So a fetish is a problem if it interferes with individual relational health, and it's an asset if it can bring eroticism. But my point about it is, to me, the karezza practices fall within that, and you can see, karezza started in the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. And so, to me, what karezza ushered in was the egalitarian marriage between two educated people wanting to maintain a certain kind of special inter-subjectivity that was deeper than the people around them. And this was a sexual way of doing it.
Keith Witt: But to be able to do that, you do have to be educated, you do have to be self-aware, you do have to have capacities for self-regulation, you do have to be consciously sexual and have a conscious sexual practice that goes somewhat against cultural constraints, at least in the first part of the 20th century. Now, all those things that I just said are things that make relationships way better that don't have to do with not having an orgasm or maintaining a certain level of connection, but have to do with... Everything to do with intimacy, inter-subjectivity, and the development of consciousness and the co-development of inter-subjective consciousness.
Neil Sattin: So I'm appreciating that just like every other system that we've talked about, even karezza is a model that it's there for you to try and to see how that affects you. Does it have a positive impact or a negative impact? If you take karezza to an extreme and then you happen to have an orgasm, you might feel shame around that. Well, it's stopped helping you at that point, right?
Neil Sattin: So everything in its place, to everything its season. And that being said, it's a helpful seasoning to have.
Keith Witt: Back in 19... What was it? '79, I was studying with a Daoist priest and martial artist. I was learning a very intense kind of explosive form of somatic therapy called simple linking therapy, and I became his apprentice, and I studied martial arts and healing with him. It was just one of those archetypal things. So in the end, at the very end... So I'd studied hard, I became his number one guy. And in the end, there was this yoga called the yoga of the five dragons, and to get to five dragons you get one dragon every week, and you can't have an orgasm for five weeks. And not only that, because he wanted to make it hard for me, I had to go down to his fighting class in San Diego and I had to fight every guy in that class. It was just one of those martial arts movies things. At the end I was all covered with blood, right? So they had this circle, and they brought this poor, young fucker in, "Come fight Keith." He looked at me and he burst into tears. [laughter]
Neil Sattin: Oh my God.
Keith Witt: So then the teacher got in this ring with me and I had to fight, finesse fighting the teacher, so I didn't get killed and I could get out of there. Anyway, that five weeks of not having an orgasm when I was 30 years old was a fucking nightmare for me. Now, I can't remember what effects it had on my relationship with Becky at the time. Becky is way more flexible than me around sex. We were intimate, we were supportive and so on. And it was really useful for me, I remember those five weeks with gratitude because I had to discover new things about myself within that context and about us. And so I can really see karezza being something if a couple practices it, you're going to go deeper into your love and your eroticism with each other, whether you do it for a month or for a lifetime. And that kind of shared practice bonds people. It's kind of like both of you becoming yoga enthusiasts or both of you really loving meditation together, only this has those shared erotic elements that you don't do with other people. That makes couples special. And that special form of eroticism I think makes you stronger with your partner. And if you like it, you do it. But if you don't like it, then you don't have to do it. Now maybe I'm just saying that because it'd be great for me to do it and I don't want to give up my orgasms. I don't know, I can't say, Neil.
Neil Sattin: Well, I can't tell you how many people I've talked to about it who have literally had that, "You're not taking my orgasms away from me," kind of response.
Keith Witt: How dare you!
Neil Sattin: And I think that that's one of the reasons why it's so important, not that it necessarily become a lifelong practice, but particularly because of those habitual ways that we think about our sexual selves and that we're driven to orgasm, I think that it's helpful to really peel that back a little bit. And as an adult, as a mature adult, to take some perspective on how you even learned to be a sexual being and to re-experience yourself to some degree. And if you're not having orgasms and you're someone who's been orgasm-motivated, then that's going to give you a totally new way of understanding how you're even relating to your partner. And it definitely gives you a much broader vocabulary in bed if suddenly you're like, "Well, I'm not being driven to orgasm, so what the hell am I going to do? I gotta figure this out." So I think it's also a very useful vehicle to just waking up other parts of you that then, yeah, why not, integrate it all. But integrate it from having that new perspective where you're not just being run by the need, and so many people do express that as a need; I'm not sure that it is a need, but the need for orgasms.
Keith Witt: It's a drive. So first of all, it's a drive. So with the drives, we don't deny... Denying the drives screws us up. Integrating the drives into a larger consciousness makes us bigger people. The great thing about karezza is that when you're pushing towards orgasm, it's more individualistic. If you do karezza you're always in the intersubjectivity with your partner. Couples that are able to do that, "Yeah, I make love and I have orgasms or I don't have orgasms, or whatever," some people don't care to have orgasms during lovemaking, but I like the connection and I maintain the connection. It's frankly way, way easier, if you're doing karezza, to maintain that inter-subjective connection, to feel it, to feel that as the primary mover of your eroticism. It's not getting off that's the primary mover, it's that.
Keith Witt: And so it's a beautiful system for that. And so, is it a good thing to try? Sure, it's a good thing to try. If you and your partner feel like there's more love and passion if you do it, is it a good thing to continue? Sure, it's a good thing to continue. Is it alarming when you've been acting out on a drive, to go to orgasm, and somebody says, "No, you can't act out on the drive, you gotta suppress your drive." People get all defensive and rather than examine their defensiveness, we'll try to find some reason why you're wrong.
Keith Witt: Well, in integral you go, "How is this right? How does it fit in to the larger framework of the infinite variation of consciousness?" But still, that still predictably goes through certain stages, and has a directionality. Well, if something's creating more love and more connection and more of an erotic specialness with you and your partner, it's going to be a good thing, in my opinion, if you both feel that. Now, if one person is denying themselves and doing it for you and being pissed off about it secretly, that's co-dependent. And as we all know, being counter-dependent, pretending you don't need people sucks. That's differentiation, pathological differentiation. Being codependent sucks, which is, serving somebody in a way that denies yourself or supports your pathology. Being interdependent, where you two are appropriately connecting in ways that support your individual development and your collective development, that's the gold standard for human beings. And so, we want everything that we can to support interdependence around our friendship, our love affair, and our capacity to heal ruptures.
Keith Witt: Those three things are central to all the systems, and the karezza fits into it, it fits into it quite beautifully, in my opinion, and, particularly, a pro-sexual system in the beginning of the 20th century, end of 19th century. Remember, Christianity is not pro-sexual. These people were really going against the culture. The minute today, when you go to a... If you go to a fundamentalist church, and you got a pastor saying, "Yeah, I want everybody to have sex every day, for the next year... Month," which happens, this is Christianity, progressive Christianity, moving towards being a more pro-sexual system, and I think that's necessary, and it... And beautiful, and that's the development of that particular tradition, in my opinion.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, it's... I love how it's become another one of our many paths to Rome. And I also like how you put that into the integral context. I think that's helpful, for me, and, probably, for everyone listening, because we can talk about integral, and we haven't even... And you mentioned at the very top that it's a meta system, so it's a way of seeing systems.
Keith Witt: Yeah.
Neil Sattin: So I think it's helpful to understand that evolution, that that's maybe the bias, and it happens to be a bias that I appreciate, of looking at things from an integral perspective.
Keith Witt: Mm-hmm. Well, yeah. The downside of it is that I can't really... I can't go out and say, "Hey, buy my Loving Completely book, do my Loving Completely system and you'll be a much better couple's therapist, then you will be better than the other people." I don't know. You take my book, and you read it, and you apply it to your life, or you apply it to your practice. It'll probably enhance your life and your practice. As a therapist, will it make you better than other good therapists? Well, it'll make you a better therapist. Will it make you better than other people? I don't know. No. If somebody else is doing a really good work out of their system, and they're getting results, they're doing fine. And if they try to kind of shape themselves into Keith's understanding, bringing integral and neurobiology in the stages of bonding, and telling jokes and whatever it is I do, opening up a channel into the other world and letting that flood into the session, which is what I do in most of my sessions. If you go, "I'm going to try to do that instead of what I, naturally, want to do," it's probably going to screw you up.
Keith Witt: Now, if you're really excited by that, you go, "Yeah, I want to try that, put myself in that shape." Absolutely do it, and then what you'll end up discovering is your own version of that. And people end up having, I just need to say, whether they do it consciously or unconsciously, good therapists, really, are bringing in something larger than themselves into the container of the session. And just because I can see that and other people can't, sometimes, doesn't mean that it's not always there with people that are doing healing work. I might not, personally, think it's better to be aware of it so it's easier to regulate it up if you're aware of it, but that's not necessary. Consciousness of it is necessary, but the presence of it does make the work more sacred and more beautiful, in my opinion. And in integral, those are your three validity standards. What's true objectively, what's beautiful aesthetically, and what feels good, either subjectively and morally. The beautiful, good and true.
Neil Sattin: So I'm wondering, and this might be our last question for today, because I feel like we've covered so much territory and, hopefully, this has been helpful for you listening, to get so many different perspectives. And hopefully, if we've pissed anyone off, Sue, John, David, Stan, if you guys are listening. [chuckle]
Keith Witt: Sorry, you guys, really sorry if I irritated you. I'm just trying to be a truth-teller here. I love your systems.
Neil Sattin: If we've pissed you off, hopefully, it's in a good way. Hopefully, you'll see that this is all meant to be just in service of taking this all to a place where it's really benefiting the most people possible. And that brings me to my last question for you, and this is... I'm just curious to hear your answer, do you think that we'll get to a point where the last book on how to have a good relationship will have been written, and people will just be like, "You know what? We're just going to... This is the book, and there's no [chuckle] other, no... " Some people might say, "That's the Bible." But do you think that we'll get to that place where it's just going to be like, "You know what? Indisputably, this is the book, this kinda covers it." And it manages to encompass the light, the dark, the this, the that, the breadth of the spectrum, and it's all there.
Keith Witt: [chuckle] Well, so... The short answer to that is, no.
Keith Witt: That book is not going to be written. "Loving Completely" is my eighth book, and I'm working on a book on trauma now. And that book on trauma, those nine books together are cosmology that's an accurate reflection of how I understand the universe, how I understand people in love and psychopathology and healing and how to move forward developmentally in the world, and support the evolution of consciousness. Okay. So that's Keith's system. It's integrally informed, but still it's got my personality and my psychology, and my bias is all over it. So that's going to be true for everybody. Also, we grow through stages. We grow through an ego-centric, which is age-appropriate to little kids and to ethnocentric, where we're conformists to other standards. They don't have to make sense, which is normal for grade schoolers, to rational at teenage, which we can do critical analysis, but we're attracted to merit-based hierarchies. The pluralistic, which you see a lot in college where there's people who are egalitarian and multi-cultural, to integral where you're looking at everything in authority and goes in a flex-flow standard. You notice how growth hierarchies and dominator hierarchies and chose growth hierarchies.
Keith Witt: Okay, so every one of those world views responds differently to different teaching about love. When I write, I try to write to all of those world views, but each one of them is listening differently, because we all look at different worlds. And the world views don't stop. They don't stop at integral. You go from integral to a level of connecting where you want to connect with like-minded others that serves the world. You and I are doing that now. That's the next level after integral. There's another level after that where there's a constant relationship with spirit in whatever you do. And then there's another level after that. Now, the more... The higher you go, the fewer people meet you there. But if someone understands that territory and writes a book about it, it's just one of the pleasures of the world to run into that book and go, "Oh, my God." This is what Ken Wilber's stuff did to me. There was a part of my consciousness that was bursting to grow and wasn't finding a map to grow until I found the integral map, the meta-theory, and then bam. It literally transformed my consciousness. I'm a different person in many ways. I see a different world, and I've progressively seen different worlds.
Keith Witt: And so, what's going to happen more and more, particularly now that there's this explosion of knowledge, is people will write their books from their systems to whoever it is they're talking to. And I'm focusing more on people that are rational and post-rational, but the fundamentalist get stuff out of my book and ego-centric people can. But I'm not writing it to an ego-centric audience. If I was, I would write a book about the warrior in the "Man of Wisdom." When I have ego-centric guys in here, I challenge them to be a warrior of integrity, moving towards "Man of Wisdom." Red, ego-centric power God types guys like that. If I have an ego-centric feminine person, I challenge her to be the embodiment of whatever her concept of the feminine design, moving towards "Woman of Wisdom." Those work very well in my experience with ego-centric world views, but they don't work very well with ethno-centric world views, and so on. And so as we expand and we understand, there are all these world views, all these ways of experiencing the world are valid and that they do develop progressively. You don't skip levels when you grow on a developmental line. And then each one of them is available for different kinds of input.
Keith Witt: Terri O'Fallon up north does this. She says that, "You have to inhabit certain kinds of states before you can make it to the next developmental level." And those states involves understanding, but they also involve a visceral experience of certain things. If you don't have a visceral experience of, say, the infinite, you can't get to a particular developmental level on your psychosocial line, or your self-line. If you don't have an experience of world-centricism, of all people being connected, all of us being brothers and sisters, you can't really get to a world-centric world view. You have to have that experience. It's a felt experience. So the books all speak to the different stages and the different developmental levels, and different systems. And so, well we'll keep on writing books and we'll keep on coming up with new systems and we'll keep on interfacing it with technology, like neuro-feedback or therapeutic systems, like somatic re-experiencing, EMDR and so on. And we'll keep on refining our understanding of development on what's going on neurobiologically in the different developmental stages, but also, not just individually 'cause we grow up in a relationship, what's going on relationally when you shift from infant to toddler to young kid to sexually aware? Neil, one of... Just a final bee in my bonnet.
Keith Witt: I have worked with families. I tell families, "Talk about... Control what your kids see. Control images. Screens, whatever, but talk to them about everything." Couples are like, "I don't want to talk to my kid about sex until, they're what, 14 or something, or 11 or... " No. Talk to them about sex when they're two or three. "I don't want to talk about violence to my kid because I don't want him to... " Talk to them about violence when they can talk. Talk to them about everything. And then... But control the images. You don't want them to have traumatic images, but you want them to have a global understanding of how the world works and how they work, because they're sexual beings. They have impulses to violence. How are they going to understand their sexuality, their impulse to violence, their selfishness and so on, unless you can see it, normalize it and help them understand it within the context of development and the cultures that they're in.
Keith Witt: Talk to them about everything. And from an accepting standpoint, and a standpoint of, "In our family, we focus on everybody developing." And mom and dad a developing just like the kids are developing. Those are the families that seem to do the best, in my opinion, and those are the couples that do the best. It's not like we ever get there. We're always working at loving each other better. I'm going to be working on loving Becky better until one of us dies, or until my brain dissolves or whatever the hell. Okay, so why? Because that commitment, lets me know, I want to make it work now, but I'm always... My job is to make it work a little bit better, because that grows me and it grows her and there's something sacred about that.
Keith Witt: I'm not just doing it because it makes me happier and I'm not just doing it 'cause it makes us happier. I'm doing it because I think it makes the world a better place. It makes me a better therapist. Those are the reasons... I'm doing it for world-centric reasons as well as egocentric reasons, because development is including the transcendent. You never lose ego-centricism but you do get world-centricism or even life-centricism. I'm doing this, so hopefully people will stop this great "Die off" that we're doing now and start saving the planet. I think that contributing to the evolution of consciousness is contributing to solving those problems and so, that's my attempt to do it. That's a motivation system that runs me, as well as the other ones. And that's true for all of us.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. It's certainly true for me as well, with the podcast and this work. As I hear you talk about all those different levels of how we're contributing. I'm right there with you, that's... I've sat back and thought about it a lot, recently. Having celebrated the three-year anniversary of the podcast just a month ago or so, and I was just kinda like, "Why am I doing this?" And then, it's interesting, right?
Keith Witt: Yeah.
Neil Sattin: Because some of those reasons are personal like, "Yeah, this is Neil Sattin wanting to make his mark on the world." And then... Then I'm able to step back from that and say, "Yeah, and I want to make a mark on the world, I want to make this world a better place and I want to make it a better place for my kids, for you listening, for future generations, for... " Hopefully there are... There's a long future ahead of us, as a planet. And then, even potentially, when aliens finally do make contact with us, or we with them, then hopefully we're in a better position to do that in a way that's actually constructive. That's the first time I've spoken those words, so... [chuckle] I wouldn't have told you, I'm going to have to interview Whitley Strieber now. I'm going to have to get him on the... On this show.
Keith Witt: Well, that's why I love talking with you, why you enjoy talking with me. We share these motivation systems, Neil, and other people that talk to us and share them, they'll... We know each other when we relate.
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Keith Witt: We feel that and you know what, it's... There's something... This is the evolutionary impulse coming through us. It feels sacred. It's something that is in the fabric of the universe to evolve to greater complexity and with human beings, greater complexity is deeper consciousness, more compassion and more love. More care for more. More for all. It's just we feel it. We feel it in each other and we feel it in ourselves and we want to help other people feel it because it's such a great thing.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. And I feel in this moment the presence of everyone listening who's here and is hopefully nodding their head at this moment, like, "Yeah, that's why I'm here, that's why I'm listening, and that's why I want to be a part of this conversation too."
Keith Witt: Yeah. God bless all of us and thank you for listening.
Neil Sattin: Yes.
Keith Witt: Thank you for sharing this with us and for growing and for contributing your development and your consciousness to all of us. Thank you.
Neil Sattin: Keith is there and obviously, we've recommended your books highly here. Is there a particular Ken Wilber book that you think is a good starting place for people whose interest is peaked by our conversation and who isn't already integrally informed?
Keith Witt: I think the best place to start would be to get the "Kosmic Consciousness" audio tapes that Ken did with Tami Simon, It Sounds True, because once you hear those tapes, 12 of them, and listening to those more consistently than anything else, has lit people up in terms of their understanding, what this understanding of the universe. As Ken, Ken has called himself a "mapmaker." And it's not the mapmakers don't discover, don't create the territory. They draw maps that help us explore the territory. So you do that... That would be the first thing I'd recommend, get the Sounds True "Kosmic Consciousness," K-O-S-M-I-C Consciousness.
Keith Witt: Now, after that I recommend "Integral Spirituality." "Integral Spirituality" is a wonderful book. The first time I met Ken was when I was on a podcast with him talking about one of those chapters. And he and I have since become friends and he's written blogs for my books since... Like blogs for my books and stuff. And we've interviewed... Done various interviews with each other, but that's when I first met him. And that "integral Spirituality" book, if you've... Particularly, if you've heard "Kosmic Consciousness" it really takes you deeper into the cosmology. At a particular point, you just understand the universe in a different way and particularly, how consciousness exists in the universe and particularly, human consciousness that changes you. In that sense, it's a psychoactive system. You learn the system and you embody it and you're by definition, a different person. You have a larger perspective. Now, it doesn't solve all your problems and turn wine into water, water into wine or anything but...
Keith Witt: I don't want to over promise you.
Neil Sattin: Dang. [laughter]
Keith Witt: I know, that would be great but it doesn't do that. As far as I know, maybe it's somebody else has turned water into wine. But that being said, that's what I'd recommend. "Kosmic Consciousness" first and then if I was advising, do the "integral Spirituality." Now, any of his books are utterly fascinating. I haven't read all of them, but the ones I've read every single one of them has been great, because he knows that territory and describes it in ways that are surprisingly wonderful and very... To me, very applicable that's why I wrote "Waking Up." His stuff, to me at that point, hadn't been adequately applied to psychotherapy and, "Well, I'll do that." [chuckle] I was at a conference, he said the books haven't been written, I went home and wrote book.
Keith Witt: I dreamt about that material everyday for over in a year and then I would wake up and I'd write a 400-page book and I'd wrote... So I wrote a 400 page book and then send it to a couple of the integral people and said, "Hey, what do you think?" And they didn't even remember who I was. It was one of those real bizarre things, but that led me into the system and into meeting people and into my other books and so on. I find it enormously useful in understanding psychotherapy and everything else. And parenting for instance, and integrally understanding of parenting in my opinion, makes you a hugely better parent because it makes the interiors of your child and the world views of your child way, way more visible. And gives you direction about how to guide your child to more fully occupy their current world view, and then give them little hints about going to the next one because you can't skip world views, you have to go from one to the other. It helps you with sexuality, it helps you with your physical health, it helps you in your interface with culture, it helps you in your work.
Neil Sattin: Keith, Keith, you're getting into water into wine territory here.
Keith Witt: Okay, I'm sorry. Sorry about that. Getting a little evangelical here, hallelujah brothers and sisters. I'm not that, it's not for everybody. If you don't like integral that's fine, you can grow. You can transcend. I have no problem. I love you just as much if you hate integral. No problem. Just saying, just 'cause I love it. It's like karezza and you, just 'cause you love it doesn't mean everybody has to.
Neil Sattin: That's right, that's right. Well, Keith, it is always a pleasure to have you here on the show. I love your spirit, your wisdom and your willingness to go there despite how it might irritate people, not that we had that much of that here. And as you mentioned, it's just always great to connect with you for the podcast. So thank you so much for your time and enthusiasm today.
Keith Witt: Well, thank you for having me on again. I had really a lot of fun.