Relationship Alive!

Neil Sattin interviews John Gottman, Sue Johnson, Harville Hendrix, Peter Levine, Stan Tatkin, Dick Schwartz, Katherine Woodward Thomas, Diana Richardson, Terry Real, Wendy Maltz - and many others - in his quest to dig deep into all the factors that keep a Relationship Alive and Thriving! Each week Neil brings you an in-depth interview with a relationship expert. Neil is an author and relationship coach who is enthusiastic and passionate about relationships and the nuts and bolts of what makes them last. You can find out more about Neil Sattin and the Relationship Alive podcast at
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Sep 14, 2019

It’s easy to talk about “Self Care” - to pay lip service to it - but what does it really mean to take care of yourself? In today’s episode, we’re going to get back to basics to ensure that you’re actually nourishing the most important person in your world - you! Because if you’re not, then how are you going to show up for the people around you? By the end, you'll have a sense of exactly what's essential for keeping you at your best.

Come see Relationship Alive - LIVE! with John and Julie Gottman, on October 12th in Portland Maine. You have the chance to ask us *your* questions - and get answers. Visit for more information.

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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Find a quality therapist, online, to support you and work on the places where you’re stuck. For 10% off your first month, visit to fill out the quick questionnaire and get paired with a therapist who’s right for you.


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Sep 5, 2019

There are ways to communicate that keep you stuck, or that make things worse - and there are ways to communicate that foster the healthy development of your relationship. So how do you avoid the pitfalls, and reconnect with each other in spite of your differences? Or even in appreciation of your differences? In today’s episode, we have a return visit from Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson. They are co-founders of The Couples Institute, one of the leading centers for training couples therapists and helping people find practical solutions to relationship issues. Their book “Tell Me No Lies” describes how to create a culture of honesty in your relationship (and why that’s so important) - while their work on the Developmental Model of relationships gives deep insight into why we do what we do. Today we’ll get theoretical, we’ll get practical, and you’ll walk away with some new ways to communicate about challenging topics in ways that encourage the healthy development of your relationship.

Visit to join their free “What do you do when” 4-part series!

If you’re curious to hear our first episode together, about shaping a culture of honesty in your relationship, you can also check out Episode 24 of Relationship Alive - Why We Lie and How to Get Back to the Truth

And you can listen to our second episode together, which was about Relationship Development and getting unstuck in your relationship, if you click here.

Meanwhile - come see Relationship Alive - LIVE! with John and Julie Gottman, on October 12th in Portland Maine. You have the chance to ask us *your* questions - and get answers. Visit for more information.

And 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!


Beautiful jewelry, exquisite craftsmanship, sustainable sources, and affordable prices. Get $75 OFF your purchase at when you use the coupon code "ALIVE". With free overnight shipping and free returns, you can see something online today, and try it on tomorrow risk free.

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

Find a quality therapist, online, to support you and work on the places where you’re stuck. For 10% off your first month, visit to fill out the quick questionnaire and get paired with a therapist who’s right for you.


To join Ellyn and Pete’s free “What do I do when” series, follow this link here.

Visit The Couples Institute website to learn more about Ellyn and Pete’s work with couples, and with helping therapists help couples.

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 to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Jeff Brown.

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


Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. On today's show we are going to have a return visit from some of my favorite guests; Pete Pearson and Ellyn Bader. They are here to dive even more deeply into the developmental model for relationships and why it is so important for you to understand where you're at in terms of your development, both as an individual, but definitely as a couple, and also to talk about a new series that they're offering for therapists that will be great for you if you're a therapist in terms of boosting the way that you work with couples in your practice.

Neil Sattin: We're going to talk more about that, but I know that they elicited feedback from their audience of therapists about some of the toughest issues that they deal with, in sessions with couples and they put together a free series around that. So we're going to talk about that and we're going to ask them some questions about how to know where you are in the developmental status of your relationship and we're also going to give you a very valuable way to structure how you communicate with your partner around a sensitive topic, something that we haven't covered in quite this way on the show before. Ellyn and Pete have both been here before. If you want to listen to their episode about lying in relationships and how to cultivate a culture of honesty you can visit

Neil Sattin: If you want to hear more about the developmental model, you can visit Those are the two episodes that they were on prior to today. And if you want to download a transcript of today's episode, then visit Let's see, what should we call this one? Let's call it development2. I know that was really tricky. So, you can visit, the number two, and that will take you to this episode where you can download a transcript or you can always text the word Passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. That is it for this moment. So let's dive into the conversation with Ellyn Bader and Pete Pearson. Thank you so much for being here with us today.

Ellyn Bader: You're welcome, it's always fun to talk to you Neil.

Peter Pearson: It's good being here Neil, thank you.

Neil Sattin: Yes, and I should know this by now, but Pete, is it okay to call you Pete? Should I be calling you Peter or should I be calling you...

Peter Pearson: Pete is fine.

Neil Sattin: Okay, great, Petey... So let's start with just this... I want to give a quick overview of what we mean by the developmental model. If people really want the nitty gritty, then you can go back and listen to the first episode, but just so... Just to give us some context, the two-minute elevator pitch, that's a really long elevator ride if you've ever been in an elevator for two minutes. But anyway let's start there.

Ellyn Bader: Sure. So we look at relationships, and healthy relationships as going through a series or potentially going through a series of developmental stages and I'm going to give you the really short-hand version of it. But people will meet ideally often they fall in love, they have what I call a temporary psychosis, where they just focus on each other and the grass is green, and the sky is blue, everything is wonderful. And I know all relationships don't start out that way, but many, many do, and others start out more gradually. But the developmental task of that first stage is putting a boundary around the two of us as a couple and making the decision to be a couple, whatever that means to the two of them, but it's a commitment to that relationship.

Ellyn Bader: And then after people are together for a while and we see this happening, generally anywhere from about six months to two years, the partner gets taken off of that magical wonderful pedestal, and people start to see their differences, and that's a good thing, that's a healthy thing, it's not a bad thing. Many couples get scared when this happens, but it's inevitable that you're going to see more aspects of the other person. I use a disco ball in my office when I'm talking about it with couples because all those mirrors on the ball represent different facets of ourselves and those facets get shown to each other over time. And so this is a stage of differentiation, it's a stage where differences arise and the task is to learn how to be open, and authentic with each other about what you think, what you feel, what you desire and to be able to hold still while your partner does the same thing, and then to learn how to manage those differences successfully. And so there's... That's a short version. We can go into a lot more detail but basically there's a lot that's going on in terms of the personal growth of each partner during that stage.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so this actually brings up a question for me around this process of differentiation because I think that in that psychosis that you mentioned that often a lot of partners they start making agreements or presenting ways of being that maybe, when it comes right down to it, aren't truly authentic to who they are. They do a lot of compromising, for the sake of the relationship. And then when they come back around to this process of differentiation, there's this sense of coming into integrity with each other and with themselves around what they really want. What are the ways that they signed up for the relationship that actually haven't been working for them? So I'm wondering how common it is for you to see people going through healthy differentiation really getting clear on who they are, on what their authentic truth is, and then looking at the person that they're with and saying, "Wow, I'm actually not sure that we're meant to be together, now that I'm differentiated, now that I'm not in the psychosis, wow there are these things that maybe are... Represent ways that we're not compatible." How do people frame that? Yeah, go ahead.

Ellyn Bader: Well of course, that happens, and ideally, probably that happens a ton when you think about people who date and they get really excited about each other and then a few months later they realize, "Oh well, this is not really the relationship for me."

Neil Sattin: Right?

Ellyn Bader: So there's some of that going on there, it's much...

Peter Pearson: Sometimes I will ask a couple because they are challenged when they come into the office and they talk about all the differences that they have and the problems those differences create, I will ask them, I say, "Hey would you like to be married to a personality clone of yourself where all of the differences just magically disappear?" The vast, vast majority of people say, "Actually no, I would not want to be married to a personality clone." And one person said, "I would have all my problems times two. I don't think I want that.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so there is first recognizing the value in the difference, but I'm wondering within there is something about learning how to love another person in the way that they're different from you and to feel like in the ways that it jars you that it maybe isn't in total alignment with what you would want, or who you are as a person, but there's some way to navigate that that's healthy, versus just kind of exploding it into, "Well, I guess we're just not meant to be together."

Ellyn Bader: Right, I mean the challenge you mentioned what goes on when people are developing a... What I call emotional muscle or a stronger backbone where they can hold on to their authentic selves, but it also means being able to do what we call other differentiation. It's what enables you to learn more deeply about your partner, be more giving at times when it isn't convenient. But it's not compromising core aspects of yourself. And that's why some couples especially in the differentiation stage, but even later, too, will have a really tough conflict to handle and deal with and some people will want to run and flee really quickly instead of hanging in there and learning how to stay open to yourself and to somebody else, which is something that most of us have never learned or never been in relationships that are interdependent and require you to be open and giving at the same time.

Peter Pearson: Actually Neil, there's two examples of this. One is couples will often say, "Well, we don't want to argue in front of the kids, we should have a united front." And the downside... I can understand their intention behind that but the downside is, the kids then do not see how their parents disagree and work it out in front of them and that is such a priceless gift when parents finally get it, "Oh, we can disagree not only in front of the kids, but they can watch how we come to a resolution on that." And boy, if that's not a priceless gift. The other one is just in our relationship, Ellyn between the two of us, Ellyn is a lot more organized. She likes more consistency going through life and I can get a life-changing idea every time I take a shower. Now what could possibly go wrong with that system?

Ellyn Bader: Yes so we have to... We've had to learn how to navigate our differences, for sure.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I wish you could see the look that Ellyn gave Pete when he started talking about this.

Peter Pearson: But see, here's the key, when somebody has differences is if I have to tone down my life changing ideas, am I compromising a set of values in me? And the answer is really no, it's more like a series of interests, what I'm drawn to, but it's not... I don't organize my life around creativity much more expensive visionary thinking, etcetera. It's an interest, it's a concern, but it's not a core value, which then makes it easy there to create adjustments when there are differences.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I'm wondering if you have any hints on in a circumstance like that, how could I as the person who's thinking like, "Wow, I wonder what Pete's going to say the next time he comes out of the shower."

Ellyn Bader: Well, what I... I'll answer that 'cause what I had to learn was how to give him positive recognition for great ideas and still say to him, "Focus Pete, stay focused."

Peter Pearson: And then, I had to learn how to hear Ellyn telling me to focus without feeling like I was being controlled. And I also had to learn that when I have a new idea, I will say to Ellyn, "Now wait a minute, this is just a brain storm idea." So if I go to Ellyn and I say, "What do you think about moving to Australia? 'cause I just saw a National Geographic special on Australia." And I say, "Now wait three days from now, I'm not going to want to move there, but let's just talk about it. It might be interesting."

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so Ellyn, for you in this... How do you... It feels a little challenging as an example, because it seems obvious how this doesn't conflict with your core values but I'm curious to know how would one sit in a moment of tension and decide, "Is this about my core values?" And that could be true for either person, right, or, "Is this more about something that can be adjusted or worked around?"

Ellyn Bader: Well, let me say that I think... First of all, that sometimes people jump to that question that you just put out too fast. It's like the more that I am sure that I won't compromise on core core values, the more open I can be to any of Pete's ideas because I know I'm not going to get completely caught up and swayed and go down certain paths that I don't want to go down. So the ability to really explore the other person's world and the other person's reality, is dependent on how centered somebody is themselves or how differentiated they are themselves.

Ellyn Bader: I mean core values tend to be things like, "I don't believe in hitting kids or I'm not going to discipline my children by hitting them," whereas somebody might say, "Well, for me it's fine, to spank, and whatever," those kinds of things you're not going to get a compromise on. Religion is one that very often, you're not going to get a compromise on but there are so many things that people think. One other quick example I had a couple that I was working with, where he desperately wanted to live on this beautiful island, off the East Coast where they built an incredibly unbelievable place that they lived and she wanted to live in California where she had lived before and they were at a stand-off for probably 13 or 14 months about where they were going to live.

Ellyn Bader: But I kept saying to them, "We're going to stick with this and find out what matters to each of you so much about each of these places and that there is a solution. I have no idea what it is. You have no idea what it is, but there are core values that are embedded in this that matter to each of you a lot, and that's what we need to uncover to make a good decision," and it's that ability to live in the uncertainty that's so hard that leaves people to quickly get divorced or give up or throw their hands up in despair.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, and so I'm hearing in there like a really valuable question such as what is it about this thing that really matters to you that might help people unearth the values embedded in something like a choice like where to live.

Ellyn Bader: Yeah that's the agreement.

Peter Pearson: That's right Neil and when you say, "What are the values of that and often there are multiple nuanced layers to that question, but people want to rush to the answer because it creates anxiety or tension to live in that pressure so they want to hurry up and rush to it but there are a lot of nuanced layers to that question, about why something really matters to me.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, awesome. And so that leads me to something that we had chatted about maybe sharing with our audience which is a tool that you use as therapists and it's also a tool for people in relationship around how to communicate around a particularly challenging thing that involves these prescribed roles. The initiator and the inquirer. And I'm wondering if we could just take a few minutes to describe that process, which seems like it would be so powerful for people having that exploration with each other.

Ellyn Bader: I'd be glad to... I'd like to frame it first by saying that the most common problem that couples come to therapy with is the problem of saying, "We can't communicate, we have a communication struggle or a communication issue."

Neil Sattin: Great.

Ellyn Bader: As a therapist, I know that it's not just a simple behavioral change that's going to make them be able to communicate more effectively. And so, the reason Pete and I developed the initiator inquirer process is it is designed purposely to do two things. One is to help communication but the other thing is it does help people develop new capacities, new abilities in themselves that they didn't have before that make them a better communicator.

Neil Sattin: Got it, right, it requires you to be more differentiated in order to even engage in the process.

Ellyn Bader: To engage effectively, yeah.

Peter Pearson: Yeah, in that sense, it goes way beyond just a technique or a tool to talk about things.

Neil Sattin: Great.

Ellyn Bader: So basically we teach couples two very different roles and when you say... When kids go to kindergarten you learn to take turns, but as adults, when we have stresses, or problems we don't take turns we're both like hammering at each other. And so we divide it up into one person is the initiator and the other person is the inquirer. And the role of the initiator is to bring up one issue and only one issue at a time, and to say what they desire, to say what they feel when they bring it up, and to avoid name-calling, to avoid blame, to any negativity. And then the most important part of that role is to be open to learning more about yourself by the time you're finished talking than when you started.

Peter Pearson: Now that's pretty unusual. If I have a conflict with you, I'm not interested in learning more about myself.

Ellyn Bader: That explains why it is hard for you to be an initiator for a while.

Peter Pearson: Or an inquirer.

Ellyn Bader: Yeah, as Pete just said, it's not easy for people who... 'cause it's more natural to just blame and want the other person to change and not be open to learning about yourself. So that's the initiating role, the inquiring role is the role for the listening partner. And when I'm teaching this to a couple, I'll say there are real challenges in this role. The first thing you gotta do is listen, and that means you're actively listening to understand, you're not listening but all the time you're thinking about how you're going to prove your point. So you listen. We teach people to be curious rather than furious.

Ellyn Bader: So you ask questions and the questions are designed to have a... Like if I'm asking Pete it's to get a deeper understanding of what he's communicating to me. The third piece, which is really hard but is to respond with empathy and to be able to stay with empathy until you get what we call a soothing moment or that moment of connection and contact where Pete feels like I really get him or I get what he's communicating to me and I've let it impact me 'cause I can be empathic about what's being communicated.

Ellyn Bader: And then we recommend a break and then you can switch roles but you don't want to mush everything together so, there's not clarity about what belongs to each person. So that's a quick short hand. We work with continuum so we help people see what they're developing in themselves to get better at it, and... But it's... The process is used by therapists all over the world and it's probably the most widely-used part of our model because they get to see how powerful it is for couples.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so I'm seeing as the important components from the initiator's side being willing to really get to what you want or what your issue is from a self-perspective, so not being in a position where you're blaming the other person, but focusing in on what is going on within you that's a challenge or problem, and...

Peter Pearson: That's extremely difficult Neil, what you just expressed right there is to get clearer and clearer about what's important to you and why. And so many people grow up with almost nobody encouraging or supporting the expression of what you want, or why that's important. And so as adults, it just gets layered over and layered over and it's surprisingly difficult for so many people to be clear about what it is that they really want.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and so the flip side of what's so important about this is that the person who's the inquirer, along with the empathy that you named which is clearly really important is this sense of like, "I'm asking you questions so I can understand you better not so I can pin you down, not so I can get my point across." It's not... I'm not asking you questions to make a case about something else, I'm asking you questions that are about really unearthing... Helping you dive more deeply into who you are and like we were talking about before, what it is about this thing that really matters to you.

Peter Pearson: And also Neil, what you're saying right there is on that side of the coin, extremely difficult. A lot of people think, "Well, jeez, if I really start knowing what's important to you and why, then I'm going to have to give up what I want or change what I think or change what I feel." And so that feels, it almost is like there's a self-preservation against knowing much more about what it is that your partner wants. They are simply afraid it will intensify the conflict and sometimes it does.

Ellyn Bader: But... And getting to that empathy pushes development, it pushes people to get out of themselves and understand another reality.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, it makes me think too of your work around lying and your book Tell Me No Lies because this is one of those moments where it seems so important to be fostering an atmosphere that invites truth-telling, so that when you're asking your partner questions they feel like they can answer... Answer you honestly, without being beaten over the head by what they're saying or the person's response. So there's that aspect that's challenging as well of hearing things and learning how to not take it personally or to deal with the emotions that arise when you're hearing things that are challenging.

Ellyn Bader: Yup, yeah, I mean relationships are a place where an enormous amount of growth takes place and if you have the expectation that your primary relationship is always going to be easy, effortless, and enjoyable all the time you're in for a tough ride.

Neil Sattin: That doesn't happen?


Ellyn Bader: Not too often.

Neil Sattin: So, you alluded earlier to the series that you're doing, and we've been talking about communication and you said that one of the biggest things that comes to a couples' session is when couples think that their problem is that they're not able to communicate with each other, that all they have to do is learn how to communicate better. And that's one of the topics that you're going to discuss in this five day... Five part series, and I happen to have the list of the other topics in front of me, so I'm just going to name them for people, so that they can hear.

Ellyn Bader: Do you want me to do it or you want...

Neil Sattin: Yeah, go ahead, 'cause you can probably talk about it with even more intel.

Ellyn Bader: Well, yeah, let me just create a context. As Neil said earlier, I surveyed therapists about tough things that they struggle with. And then I wanted to put together this five part... Well, a series of training that would help therapists learn more about what the developmental model can do for them and why. And so I'm doing three live webinars starting a week, starting Monday, September ninth and going through that week. And the first webinar, the point of the first webinar is really clients don't always tell us what we need to know about why they're having trouble.

Ellyn Bader: They'll present a problem like we fight about clutter or he's never home on time, or whatever it is, but you don't have a window into seeing their developmental stage and the level of differentiation. And so the first webinar is designed to help you with an exercise that will show you how to see better what you need to know. And I'll be showing a video of a couple that I worked with using this particular exercise. The second day is actually an article and a clinical transcript. And it's about power struggles because so often, people get stuck in a power struggle.

Ellyn Bader: And this particular one is a case that Pete worked with and it is power struggling over parenting and how to parent. And then the third one is that we can't communicate. It's a video example of showing how to work with a couple when they come in and they believe their problem is communication and you want to take it further and deeper and more vulnerable and more open. And how do you get there and how do you help them see that it's more than just communication.

Neil Sattin: And I just want to mention too that being able to see you work with other couples is so valuable I think as a therapist, and a training exercise but also as a couple being able to see how another couple responds in a similar kind of situation, and how a therapist interacts... Just there's so much juice there, in terms of informing how we respond in a relationship as well, along with how we respond as counselors, and therapists.

Ellyn Bader: And yeah and we try to pick some cases that have common problems so that people who watch like you're saying Neil can benefit. In the first case, it's a blended family who are struggling with blended family issues. This case, I just mentioned is one where they say, "We can't communicate," but they've had some alcohol problems, they've had some other deeper issues that weren't on the surface. The fourth day is another article and transcript. And it's with me working with a narcissistic husband who had really dominated most of the sessions and was not somebody who had been willing to look at himself. And so I chose the transcript of a session where I was really pushing him around being open and looking at himself, and not being... Not externalizing everything onto me and onto his wife. So that's the fourth day.

Neil Sattin: Cool.

Ellyn Bader: And then the very last day is another one that I get asked about a lot and that is in the aftermath of infidelity, you often have one partner who is obsessing about all the details of their partner's affair, and they want to know, "Where did you meet, and where did you sleep, and how much money did you spend?" And that constant kind of obsession it can be very hard to deal with in sessions. And so it's an example of me working with a couple where the wife was doing that and how to turn that into a positive direction rather than having it undermine your work.

Neil Sattin: They all sound like super powerful things to witness and to learn more about. If you are interested in participating in this five-part series that Ellyn is doing, are the two of you doing that together or is it just you, Ellyn who's...

Ellyn Bader: I'm doing the webinars, but like I said, Pete did one of the transcripts for one of the article.

Neil Sattin: Oh right, right, yeah. So, you can visit and it's institute because Ellyn and Pete together run The Couples Institute, which is their center for information for couples, for therapists and their training course that they do because they have a big course that they do for therapists to help them learn how to work with couples around this developmental model. Ellyn, can you give us the full name of the course? 'cause it's... It gives you a lot just hearing the name you know what it's about.

Ellyn Bader: Sure. Just one thing before I do that, this series that I'm... That Neil was just talking about will be available online until September 22nd. So, if one of your listeners hears this a few days after we've started, they can still sign up and get what they missed up until the 22nd of September.

Neil Sattin: Great. And I think it's important to mention too, that this five part series is free. So anyone can sign up, and you'll be able to get access to these trainings for free.

Ellyn Bader: And the name of the course is the developmental model of couples therapy, integrating attachment, differentiation and neuroscience in couples work. And it's, of course, I love doing this training, it's an online program, there's therapists in it from all over the world, coaches too from all over the world, believe it, there's people from 35 different countries. And it's designed to help you learn to benefit from knowing the developmental model and using concepts to get you unstuck and to keep forward progress happening in your couples work.

Neil Sattin: So, very powerful and I'm always amazed as even when I re-visit your work in preparation for one of these conversations, I'm always pulling new stuff out and being like, "Oh I know, I read that before but there's another gem of information that... " So there's so much depth to what you're offering and you can tell just from the title of the course that it's very comprehensive in terms of merging development, attachment, neuroscience in a way that's really practical in the therapists or coaching office. Well, I...

Ellyn Bader: Thank you Neil.

Neil Sattin: One quick question going back to the initiator inquirer model, I was wondering if you have any suggestions for people on how to switch directions 'cause I think that can sometimes be one of the troubles where one person feels like, "Well, I'm always the one who's trying to understand my partner and I want them to understand me for a change." So are there ways that you found that work to invite that switch?

Ellyn Bader: Well, first of all, one of the things I like to say to people is that the person who actively initiates the topic and that can be to say to your partner, "Is this a good time to talk?" Or, "I have something I want to talk about." The person who takes the risk of initiating ideally is the initiator. Then when they're finished, you can take a 20 minute break up to a two or three-day break to come back and do the other side. But if there's somebody who's never initiating as their therapist, I'm going to be working with them on what's getting in the way of you initiating because there are many people who are just reactive and they wait for their partners to bring it up, and then they say, "But wait, I want to go first. There is my turn," but they won't do that active initiation. So I try to cut that out by really getting people to take that accountability and ownership to initiate for themselves.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, it almost seems like then the real potential issue is helping get the inquirer to really want to sign up for asking questions that are about unearthing understanding as opposed to just reacting responding.

Peter Pearson: And ironically, the initiator could say to their partner if this person does most of the initiating, "Honey there's something I would like to talk about, which is, it seems to me, I'm the one who continues to bring up... And it would mean a lot to me if you brought up stuff about yourself for example... And I want to be in the role of listening and being curious and understanding your struggles a little more comprehensively than I do. That would help us, I think, create a stronger union, may be a stronger team and work more collaboratively shoulder-to-shoulder going forth in life. So, knowing more about you, I think could help us short-term and possibly long-term as well."

Neil Sattin: Perfect, well I see that we're bumping up against our hard stop for time. And even though I would love to chat with you more, I think I'm just going to have to save my other questions for the next time that we talk. But in the mean time, it's always such a pleasure to have you both here with us. Pete Pearson, Ellyn Bader of The Couples Institute. If you want to take part in their free series you can visit or to download the transcript of today's episode, visit That's the word development and the number two, or text the word Passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions, and you'll have all the links for you that we talked about today on the show page. So that is for you Ellyn and Pete, thank you so much for making it work today, it's such a pleasure to talk to you.

Ellyn Bader: Well, thank you Neil, it's always enjoyable to talk to you. And yeah there probably will be a next time sometime we get together again.

Peter Pearson: Yeah, I hope there is a next time, Neil. It's like Ellyn says it's always good talking with you. The time goes fast and I just want to give another shout out to you Neil for all that you're doing, bringing these messages to the professional and to the public lives. So shut out to you for doing all your work Neil.

Neil Sattin: Thank you so much, I appreciate that reflection, a lot!

Aug 29, 2019

In what ways are you being controlled by your partner? In what ways are you controlling them? How does it help you? And how does it hurt you? In today’s episode, we’re going to dive deep on this issue of control, and see if we just can’t dismantle the ways that it’s holding you back in your relationship. By the end, you'll see exactly what structures of control you've put into place in your relationship, understand why they're there, and have a path towards greater freedom to be yourself in your relationship.

Come see Relationship Alive - LIVE! with John and Julie Gottman, on October 12th in Portland Maine. You have the chance to ask us *your* questions - and get answers. Visit for more information.

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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Aug 20, 2019

Is it possible to be a spiritual being in a human body? Transcendent, yet grounded? And why is that so many “spiritual leaders” tell us to leave our feelings behind? How is it possible to be truly connected to another person - including on the spiritual level? To get to the heart, body, and soul of these questions, we’re having a return visit from Jeff Brown, author of the recently released book “Grounded Spirituality”. Jeff’s work is focused on connecting you to your precious, unique divinity - in a way that’s practical, connected, and...real. Or as Jeff Brown might say...enrealed.

If you’re curious to hear our first episode together, you can also check out Episode 118 of Relationship Alive - Crafting an Uncommon Bond and Soulshaping with Jeff Brown.

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!


Find a quality therapist, online, to support you and work on the places where you’re stuck. For 10% off your first month, visit to fill out the quick questionnaire and get paired with a therapist who’s right for you.


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Pick up a copy of Grounded Spirituality by Jeff Brown on Amazon.

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Visit to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Jeff Brown.

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Neil Sattin  Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host Neil Sattin. 

Neil Sattin  It's always a thrill to get a return visit from a particularly awesome guest. And today is going to be one of those days. Here to talk about the, his new book "Grounded Spirituality," is Jeff Brown, who is also the author of "Soulshaping," and "An Uncommon Bond," and in fact we had him here on Relationship Alive, I guess it was probably about a year and a half ago, maybe, to talk about those two books. And if you're curious to hear that episode you can visit Neil-Sattin-dot-com-slash-soul-shaping. All one word. And today, we're going to talk about this approach to living a spiritual life that allows us to be fully grounded in who we are as humans in terms of our unique existence on this planet right now. I'm not going to try to describe the whole thing that's what I'm here to talk to Jeff Brown for. However I just want to say that for me personally this book came at a really challenged time when I've been going through a lot in my own life and I found some of the exercises in this book to be really helpful. And some of the viewpoints represented to help dispel some of the myths that I've been carrying around with me about what it means to be a spiritual being in a human body. And and helped me integrate in a in a new way that's been really helpful and transformative in terms of my day to day life right now. So I found the book to be really inspiring and that's why I'm so excited to be sharing it with you along with Jeff Brown it's auth, it's author. 

Neil Sattin  So if you want to download a transcript of today's conversation, which promises to be quite far reaching, then I encourage you to do so at Neil-Sattin-dot-com-slash-grounded, as in "Grounded Spirituality," not as in your grounded for being a bad human. And you can always text to the word Passion to the number 3-3-4-4-4 and follow the instructions to also get access to the transcripts and show notes for today's conversation. I think that's it for starters. So Jeff Brown, welcome back to Relationship Alive. 

Jeff Brown  Great to be with you Neil. It's good to be here. 

Neil Sattin  We're here to talk about "Grounded Spirituality," and I gave my off the cuff definition in the intro but I'm wondering if you might be able to give us a quick synopsis of what you mean by a "grounded spirituality," and maybe contrast that with what people tend to talk about when they're talking about spirituality and why this distinction is so important for you?

Jeff Brown  So let me just read from the book the grounded spirituality definition then go into the second part of your question. 

Neil Sattin  Sure. 

Jeff Brown  "Grounded spirituality is an all encompassing experience of spirituality that is rooted in and thread throughout all aspects of our humanity and earthly experience. We begin and end our spiritual quest within the ground of our being, our embodied humanness, as both interpreter of experience and as our individuated portal to divinity we don't look outside of our human form for spirituality we look deeper with a name and form, cultivating a more refined understanding of the divine reflection that exists right in the heart of our selfhood. We honor its sacred qualities and transformative properties celebrating it as the perfectly constructed laboratory of expansion that it is. With our feet rooted firmly on Mother Earth and in daily life, we become grounded in reality in all its identifiable forms. We expand outward and inward from there. In essence grounded and spirituality are synonyms. They both mean reality. The more deeply grounded you are in your body and selfhood, the more fully you are here. The more fully you are here, the more spiritual your experience. It's from the depths of your being that you have the greatest access to the everything." 

Jeff Brown  So for me you know I mean, my journey really began in the psychotherapeutic process. I didn't really have any idea of this thing called spirituality so I really... And, and as I went through that process and moved from more of a talk therapy model to working with Al Lowen and doing other somatic psychotherapy techniques, I found that the more deeply I opened and released the more expanded my vista. I felt like at the end of sessions or at the end of holotropic breathwork, I felt completely and deeply here in a unity consciousness field. And, but it happened through my body and it happened through the psycho emotional release. It didn't happen through anything separate from or distinct from my day to day experience. It was all coming through and threaded through my humanness. So I think I carry that forward and then began to explore this thing called spirituality and it began really with the love experience I wrote about in "An Uncommon Bond," and coming into a unified field or what I called the Unified Field from the love experience again through my heart and through my body through my being and then I began to encounter people like Bhagavan Das, and made Karmageddon and all kinds of other people in social media that were defining spirituality in a way that seemed to be devoid of humanness. I mean, it seemed to really be about something called transcendence. Something about finding selfhood finding spirituality independent of self, body, ego, feelings, stories -- everything about my humanness, everything difficult and uncomfortable was dissed. And spirituality was some awakened consciousness and an absolute consciousness field outside of my localized experience. That wasn't where I found it. I found it inside of my localized experience and so I, you know, as I've continued to work in the area and write in the area and develop ideas in the area, I began to realize that there's this thing called patriarchal spirituality. There is this thing I call the "new cage movement" there's this whole industry, industrial notion of spirituality that people are economically dependent on that tries to set off our humanness from our spirituality and that's just simply has not been my experience, and I feel as though that's one of the reasons why our species is in trouble because this way as in many other ways we continue to dissociated from our humanness in quest of something outside of it without understanding that the true integration happens has to happen right in the heart of it. 

Neil Sattin  I love that. And I'm thinking now of like the first place that I want to go with this, is, uh, that notion of transcendence and how helpful it has been for people to explore that to, to explore witness consciousness and, to in some senses let's just use the phrase rise above their, the drama and the chaos of human existence in order to get some perspective some peace. And your book is written as a dialogue between yourself and this character named Michael who is really rooted in this sense of spiritual journey that's all about transcending. Transcending reality or being far enough above it that you're you're not drowning in the chaos of it. And I think that's why it's so alluring to people because it, it's can feel easy to drown in the chaos of, of life and emotions and circumstances. So. Um.And you of course talk about Eckhart Tolle as a great example of someone who is you know the figurehead in some respects of the modern western transcendence movement. And so I'm wondering for you, where's the value in learning this witness consciousness and being able to take perspective vs. living there?

Jeff Brown  So the simple way I put it is that detachment is a tool. It's not a life. So for me... And transcendence can be defined you know, definitional stuff is very important and we won't go too far into it here. But you know what one person calls "transcendence," another person call something else. So the whole language of rising above being heightened all of that for me is part of the patriarchal bypass movement. That's not to say that being able to pull up and out and look at your localized self through various meditative and other techniques gain perspective on your habitual range of emotion, on the stories you tell yourself, and the way you move through the world on the various forms of anxiety that operate within you, is a good thing. It helped me enormously to be able to pull out of my very localized experience of Jeff Brown, from that super crazy childhood, and begin to witness myself and recognize and excavate parts of me that I didn't have access to in my habitual way of moving through the world. I have no issue with it. If Tolle  had written, "Power of Now," a book that I call the "power of self-avoidance." If if Tolle had written that book and he had said, "Look, I..." As he said in the beginning I think he said, he was suicidal and very troubled. If he'd said, "Look, I had all kinds of problems. And one morning I woke up and I developed, had developed some kind of a technique or access to a particular consciousness that gave me access to my material." Don't call it a pain body, don't talk about it like you're talking about a car part, acknowledge your tender woundedness, and then he said, "And I spent a lot of time out there getting perspective on where I'd been. Understanding my ancestral context, understanding how this painful material wove its way through my ways of being, and then I developed techniques for coming back down into that material," as though the material is in fact quite true and quite real and no illusion, no bashing of the ego, no bashing of the self, no bashing of the feelings, no bashing of emotions, no bashing of anything human. Acknowledging it, recognizing it, and understand that you needed to bring another consciousness into it in order to find the balance. The weave. The Holy Holy. That you need to move through the world with a connection to a more unified field and a profound and deep and worked through awareness of the localized self. If he had said that, I got no problem with that book. But he didn't.  He called that a, what'd he call it "a guide for enlightenment" or something in this, in the sub header? When you present the detachment or that as something that is the end of the story essentially to me that's just dissociative and that's not going to serve this humanity. We know why people want to do it. They're uncomfortable here. It's painful here. So they use the meditation as a drug or they use witnessing consciousness as a drug, and they convinced themselves they've gone to that superior place because they're numbing and detaching from all that material that's stirring up inside of them. It's still in there. It still shows up in their personal life. None of these teachers tell you about their personal lives, but you find out things about a lot of spiritual teachers' personal lives and you realize that this is an industry and they're telling you a story about their lives that isn't the whole story. Their stuff is still activated, their stuff is still working on them. They have not resolved work through all those pieces. And so for me what we need to do is develop a spirituality that acknowledges the wisdom and brings techniques to bear on people to be able to pull up and out, to pull back and look at themselves, to do the witnessing consciousness trip, to have a taste of something called "unity consciousness," and then to come back down into the body with that wisdom and find the weave between transcendence and imminence. That for me is the truest human experience. 

Neil Sattin  So let's contrast that with maybe some of your experience around the more human material. So when we come back in and write about how much is tends to be locked in the body and we've had right, Peter Levine on the show several times so that's that's I think, hopefully a level of discourse that listeners are familiar with, this idea that we're storing trauma in our body and if we're not dealing with it, then we're gonna have to stay in this dissociated state in order to feel like we're somehow coping, and I could, I could see like the freedom the illusion of freedom in that for people because we can't live there, there's that reality of your back in your, within your human form and there's still some shit to work through. 

Jeff Brown  Absolutely. It's, I mean trauma. It's encoded in the body. Its stored in the body. It's in the body. So I knew this in a very palpable way, when I shifted from being a talk therapy client to being a body centered psychotherapy client, and I would sit with Alexander Lowen for who was the co-founder of Bio and I would sit and talk for 15 minutes with him and he'd just be looking at my body and he'd be engaging my mind because he knew I needed that to feel safe, and I knew what he was doing but I needed to do it. And then he would say, "All right, you ready to work? You ready to get to work?" And so to get undressed, so I get into my underwear, my shorts whatever I would do and he would start working me, in the body, grounding me in the body, going over the stool, tantruming, kicking, and all of a sudden I would have access to a completely different experience of reality than my waking consciousness. It was painful. It was horrifying. There were memories that I had no conscious connection to in my day to day life, and understandably, I had to survive and get through my life. I couldn't be in touch with all that trauma but my experience of deep inside of my body was radically and remarkably different than who I thought I was. And I had tried going up and out I had been around the bypass movement I had attempted to be a bypasser. I would love to be a bypasser. But I just can't be a bypasser, it's just not, it, it's not in the way that I'm organized internally. But you know at the same time I was living kind of in between. I wasn't a bypasser but I wasn't going deep into the caverns of my own body consciousness. So Lowen, by going to Lowen, manifesting Lowen, what, however we characterize it, I was forced to go back down into that material. I chose to go back to into that material and and then I began to understand this deep and profound connection between this thing we could call imminence, the localized the day to day, the mundane whatever we call it and this thing called transcendence or unity consciousness field or the non-dual world, and then I would encounter it the spiritual world, they were talking about non duality and they all seem flatlined. They talk like automatons, they were they were addicted to meditation, you know, TM-ers, I knew so many TM-ers, who were like yogic flying and their personal lives were utterly insane, you know, there was no bridge. So I began to understand that my body was the bridge. My body is the bridge and it's the way that I try to make sense of how I can hold all of these threads of consciousness at the same time. And so. And Peter Levine is one of the great brilliant pioneers, and I noted him in the book. So his John Perocco, so is Wilhelm Reich. So is, you know, David Berceli is doing great work. Lowen, of course, did utterly brilliant work these people to me are the true spiritual teachers, because I define spirituality as reality, Neil. So the one who guides us or supports us in a movement towards being in touch with all threads of reality which must begin within the self it has to begin within the self, itself. To me those are the true spiritual teachers, not the ones who master a singular thread of consciousness master witnesses master meditators masters at the art of our premature forgiveness. There's a million of them out there calling themselves spiritual teachers to me there's nothing spiritual about them because all they've done is perfected one thread and they're not able to function within all of the threads of the human experience. 

Neil Sattin  That's one thing that's so appealing to me about your, your writing in "Grounded Spirituality," is this way that you continue speaking to "integrating." Integrating the spiritual awareness, integrating what's happening within your body, integrating your emotional awareness, integrating your intuition so that it it all becomes part of you as an alive, dynamic being. And what I've seen, what I've witnessed, it feels kind of funny to use that word, with lots of my clients who have been going through this sort of thing is that when people are totally focused on the meditative path, it actually creates a lot of challenges in relationship, because there's all that unconscious material that's still running them in the ways that they interact with each other or conversely they're they're kind of not really interacting with each other. They're, they're like two dissociated beings, or more likely one dissociated being, and another, who's like trying to call them back and then both of them of course have their work to do in order to to arrive at this place of being more integrated and unfolding in that way because I think it's it's not a static place, right? It's this dynamic place where you continually arrive again and again. 

Neil Sattin  Absolutely. I mean this is why the mindfulness revolution is dangerous. This is why the, you know, the society wide industry now really related to meditation is dangerous. I mean I get that meditation can be a wonderful technique for connecting to the self for pulling away from the localized material for periods of time, to getting a break from what it means to be a human being, you know, or at least to get a break from some aspect of that. But the problem is again, if it's not also coupled with some kind of re entry process and reintegration process, it's like we're moving towards inclusivity with respect to gender, with respect to sexuality, certainly with respect to race, you know, ethnicity, all kinds of ways. But I believe because the spiritual community is the one area in society where nobody's allowed to critically review it. It's amazing how well, how effective patriarchal spirituality in its origins has been at preventing us from deconstructing. You just got to go on my Facebook wall, when I put up a post where I'm critically reviewing a teaching, and how many conscious people even, really people who've really done work on themselves say, "Oh my God. How can you do that. You have no right to critique that person's teaching. You have no right to critique that experience." They're OK if we critique politics. They're OK if we deconstruct legal decisions. They're OK with us critically reviewing religion, but not spirituality. And this is the biggest part of the problem. You know if we're going to move in the direction of an inclusive world we have to allow for the critical review of everything that is not inclusive and that really includes spirituality because spirituality is growing in popularity, religion is becoming less popular worldwide. And if we keep moving in the direction of this protectorate this nonsense about certain spirituality as being a sacred cow we're leading humanity away from inclusively while at the same time pretending that we're moving them in the direction of something more advanced it's not more advanced if it's not inclusive.  It can't be. 

Neil Sattin  I suppose the one thing that really speaks to me in your writing is that sense of the imminence that you talk about being here, in the here and now, partly because I feel like that is really the place where relationship actually springs from at least springs from in its most, most healthy manifestation. You know, it's two people who are actually being fully here and alive to what's happening within themselves. 

Jeff Brown  Right. 

Neil Sattin  And, and. That's the thing that I think scares me a little bit about the spirituality movement is the way that it's discouraging people from actually feeling their full experience here with another human. Because that of course is what propels the growth that happens in relationship with another person. 

  Right. Well you know this is the trick of patriarchal spirituality to talk about the now, while leading you away from the now. That's the whole game. "The Power of Now," that's a very powerful sounding book title. "Be Here Now." Wow, what a powerful concept. But what are we really talking about we're talking about a notion of now-ness that is bereft of individuation. That is not connected to what I call the power of then, that is the true material that you're holding within your beingness unresolved, traumatic material, unresolved memories, unresolved events and experiences that completely inform your experience of the moment. Can you be fully in the moment if threads of your consciousness and threads that are somatically embedded in structure to defend and in armored ways of functioning, actually prevent you from being here in this moment? How could I be? 

Neil Sattin  Right. 

Jeff Brown  If I'm holding onto all kinds of stuff. And as a result of that early stuff I shallowed my breath. I pulled my head up and away from my body I tighten my hips, I rigidified my system, can I say that I'm actually in the now, in a full and complete sense? Of course not. So most of the people who are teaching now-ness are actually tricking you, they uh, or they're tricking themselves or both. They are the farthest thing from being in the moment because their version of the now is this patriarchal, cave dwelling, meditative absolute consciousness field, where you diss the self, you diss the story, you diss the ego you diss your body sometimes, you diss your feelings. All of that is an illusion, all of that is misidentified. But what's real is some version of the nowness where you're floating in the clouds scapes like we're birds or something? And you're having some experience of this absolute field of enlightenment, as though there is such a thing, as though we're not in process, as though it's not a relative experience? To me it's a big lie. So then people are going, "Wow, I get to be in the now." It gets... And the trick is we do get a little bit of relief when we get access to these techniques because they do pull us up but out of that worry-mind. Alright, I get that. But you have to look a little closer because then they go farther, they're actually taking you farther and farther away from your humanness and it's particularly dangerous for trauma survivors who really need to have a sense of intactness and integration and we're being led in the direction of dissolution of the ego, denial of the story, um, dishonoring of their feelings, all of it is unreal and untrue. And you know what,  what really got me going in this in 2013, someone I new on Facebook hung themselves after they'd bought into all these new cage and patriarchal notions of spirituality, fired their therapist and when their stuff kept haunting them in the middle of the night, they had nobody to turn to because now they had dissed all of that, and then they ended up hanging themselves and they announced it in advance, it was very clear what was coming. And I called the cops and tried to get them to go and they went and they couldn't do anything and then they hung themselves and that's when I really began to understand, and I'm understanding in my "Grounded Spirituality" discu-discussion group on Facebook. You hear these stories about how these bullshit versions of spirituality have damaged and destroyed lives, you know, and then you, you feel, I have felt compelled to find a voice that I'm not comfortable sharing in an effort to try to encourage us in the direction of a new spirituality not one that was fostered by men who couldn't admit their fucked up ness and had to go into meditation caves and convinced a village that they were the enlightened masters, that we're bringing great wisdom for twenty years sitting in a meditation cave being served by the villagers. That nonsense is ridiculous, that doesn't bring us into integration with ourselves or with humanity and now I think we need to move in the direction, as sacred activists, to bring ourselves into integration spiritually just like we're trying to bring everything else into integration. 

Neil Sattin  Can you draw a distinction for me, between what, how what we're talking about is spiritual, and sacred, since you just used that word vs. just, I'm going to a body centered therapist healing my old traumas. 

Jeff Brown  Mmmm, reframe the question? 

Neil Sattin  So in other words. How is what you're talking about different than, like if I were able to go to see, I know Alexander Lowen is no longer with us, but if I were able to go with him, is that in and of itself a spiritual experience? Or is there something more that's part of the spirituality that you're talking about? The grounded spirituality. 

Jeff Brown  So, so, I'll give you my Alexander Lowen moment because I was beginning to now to question the very beginning of, what is spirituality? So I brought it to him. I think it was in our last session I said, "So, Al, what is this thing they're talking about? About spirituality. What does this even mean?" You know, and he went: "UFFF." Like he was annoyed by the question and he said, he said, he said, "Going into your body, enlivening your body, getting your body grounded, and spirited. That's spirituality." So I think for me anything that we do that brings us into a more complete experience of reality, I would call a spiritual experience. I mean everything is spirituality. Spirituality is reality for me.  My opposition is simply to anything that's calling itself spirituality because of the way that I define it as reality. Those things that are only limiting our experience to certain elements of the human equation while dissing and disconnecting and boundarying themselves against the other part of it, to me are not actually part of the spiritual experience. So, the real spiritual teacher, if anyone is a spiritual teacher and really I say later in the book really nobody is. But you know for me somatic psychotherapists came closer to that because I felt that because they were taking me into my body and into the body of my experience and through that portal I had more access to a broader and inclusive experience of reality that felt more like a spiritual teaching than going to a non dual meeting and sitting in a Satsang, and accessing one very particular, elitist notion of what it means to be a human being while disconnecting from and dissing all the rest. 

Neil Sattin  Got it. I'm wondering if you could offer one of the exercises from your book, so that our listeners can get a flavor for the kinds of experiences that we're being invited into. 

Jeff Brown  Yeah, I have one called the excavation meditation. In "The truth is the gateway to the moment," chapter so I'll read that. 

Neil Sattin  Okay great. 

Jeff Brown  Great. Maybe you can do it, Neil. "Sit on a chair on the floor or on a cushion in whatever position feels most comfortable. While sitting do not close your eyes or focus your gaze directly ahead or above you. Instead keep your eyes opened and focus downward looking directly and with great curiosity at your body temple. Gaze at your body as you would a loved one. Begin to make contact with your breath, inviting it into awareness, feeling it move through you. First, start with gentle breathing as if you are gradually warming up. Then, invite your breath to move strongly and pointedly throughout your body infusing your body with life force, pushing into and beyond tightly held regions if you feel resistance do not hesitate or recoil. Breathe even stronger. If you feel emotions do not merely watch them as they float past. Instead immerse yourself in them deepen into feeling, inviting all held emotions and memories to be fully felt. Use the breath as an excavation tool. With your breath purposefully dig deep. Your aim is to bring repressed material to the surface, where it can be released and reintegrated. Allow this meditation to become a kind of visceral physical landscape of feeling and sensation. If there are tears, feel into and move them, to the extent that you can. If there's anger feel into and move it, to the extent that you can. If there are words or sounds express them fully. If you find yourself turning toward your habitual meditation style that includes a focus on the sensations of the body, return to the breath and intensify it. If you find yourself getting distracted by thoughts return to the breath and intensify it. If you find yourself wanting this exercise to end, return to the breath and intensify it, whatever arises return to the breath and intensify it. Your breath is your excavation tool and your guide. Now you are not just watching the body as it contracts and expands, you are fully experiencing and inhabiting the body, feelings, emotions, sounds, sensations, textures, roars, all and everything. Stay with this process until you have fully abandoned the watcher and have become a full bodied total experiencer feeling, moving, expressing and releasing as fully as you can." 

Jeff Brown  So I think for me you know this notion of monkey mind was very interesting, you know, it was like, OK I've got a monkey mind and I, so, when I wrote "Soulshaping,"  I was kind of a little bit more in that version of spirituality and talked about the monkey mind, and then I began to realize that really it was a monkey heart. You know, that focusing on the mind, getting inside of the mind, witnessing the mind, having various meditative, meditative techniques within the mind itself didn't seem to get me anywhere. I was just sort of going into one part of the mind to try to calm down another part of the mind. It felt like a very safe and irrational way to go about it, because when I went down into the body when I opened the material in this this armored temple of mine, I excavated feeling. I excavated sound. I excavated the need to rage or cry or whatever came through me. At the end of those discharges, I felt as though my mind completely calmed down. So it seemed very clear to me that this notion, this patriarchal notion, that everything is happening up high, and the mind is to blame for everything, which seems to be at the root of almost all of those spiritualities, if you read them, they're always blaming the mind, seemed to me to be a very safe and convenient thing, it was like talking to Michael, it was like Michael was at a safe place, was like how women have been perpetually frustrated by men who haven't accessed their feelings -- it was all the same thing. 

Jeff Brown  It was like a little boy who, who, who had pain and and didn't want anyone to know he was in pain so he, he picked up the Captain America shield and said, "I am Captain America," became a master. To me all of this mastering the mind nonsense didn't seem to get me anywhere. The only way that I ever changed anything inside of my mind really fundamentally was to change something inside of my heart and I think at the heart of patriarchal -- grounded spirituality is the belief not only that we live inside of the body, and through the body is a portal to all of it, but also that we understand the importance of clearing this emotional debris that obstructs our, our lense, that obstructs our presence. That makes it impossible-possible for us to actually be in the now. We could be in the now in a cerebral sense. We could be in the now in a tangible literal sense, but in a felt sense if we're not in the now we're not in the now at all. 

Neil Sattin  So I'm sitting with all of your words and also just with my experience from being guided through that process earlier and. And it rings true for me on the show I've recently had a triumvirate of AEDP therapists. I'm not sure if you're familiar with that modality but it's, I wouldn't, it's not body centered, per say, but the whole focus in that modality is on healing early attachment wounds relationally, through, with your therapist and they, they bring this whole skill set of co-regulation that I've found really helps me access these deep places, these deep wounded places, and heal in relationship with another person. 

Jeff Brown  Great. 

Neil Sattin  And at the same time what that process is with those, with that therapy has helped me see is just how much I am carrying around at any given moment. And you know I'm 45 years old. I've got probably, at least 45 years of things coming at me crosswise and it's not that everything has come at me crosswise, there, I've had a lot of blessed experiences in my life as well. 

Jeff Brown  Right. 

Neil Sattin  But those crosswise experiences I wouldn't say that I had the proper support as a kid to really handle those big feelings and I don't think many people do. 

Jeff Brown  Right. 

Neil Sattin  And so the technique that you just offered with connecting with the breath and, and you know, I loved how it started and even though I read it in your book I still like, when you said, when you invited me into the exercise, first thing I did was close my eyes you know and then the next thing you said was, open your eyes, and it was just like pretty amusing for me. And, and then I felt like by going through it, it really did help me access something that's here within me now. And you know for me it was this sense of, "Oh there are some tears there." Like I said I've been going through some challenges right now, some personal discovery that that's been like really eye opening for me as I look back over the landscape of my life. And so here in this moment I was super present to some, some grief and, and it was mixed with love that invitation to be looking at my body temple, as you name it. I think how also helped me connect with not only the sadness I was feeling in that moment but also the love that I had for this vehicle, this vessel for my, for my earthly experience. So I'm, I'm really just appreciating I, I felt within me like, OK if I weren't sitting here talking to you for the purposes of having a podcast like there, there are real deep aspects of that experience that I could have gone into and that moment right. 

Jeff Brown  Right. Right. And end of an end for all kinds of various reasons we, we don't you know or we can't. Even though I could probably easily hold the space for that. And as you could for me, I think. You know we our adaptations and you know survivalist tendencies and practical response, all that stuff. You know, one thing I understand, it's very simple in a way when I think about this thing called spirituality, is that everybody I've ever known as part of this human collective at this stage of human development is carrying an enormity of unresolved individual, very personal and ancestral material collected material and you know we approach this question of, What is Enlightenment? What is awakening? All these kinds of things. And it seems kind of preposterous to me, and I actually mean that with some compassion, that we try to answer these questions when we're not actually fully inhabiting our bodies. When we're walking around in these deeply armored and obstructed temples and then trying to ask the question, what has meaning? You know, what has, what is awakening. What does it mean to be an enlightened or enlightening consciousness? What is enrealment? All these things if we don't begin within clearing the emotional debris that obstructs us and affects our beliefs and our behaviors and our energies and our, and our relationships. I mean we see this all over the relationship field where at this stage of human development it's all most people can do to figure out who they are individually, let alone try to work it out with another person in the room for 30 years. I mean if you think about it it's a great miracle when two people can survive 30 years or even 30 days together given the amount of material we're carrying. And so for me and it's kind of simple. Before we go farther into the question of what is the most expanded consciousness, we need to clear the debris.  You know it's like trying to see what a room looks like when the room is completely filled with garbage, you can't. You can see the dimensions, maybe the size of it, but you can't really get a sense of that room. And I think that that's where we are. And I think that the more techniques we develop, not to pull us up and out, sure, for survival purposes. Sure, when we need to disassociate because sometimes we do, and I honor that and I've employed those techniques. I still do, I'm employing them right now in the last couple of weeks but at the same time until we start to develop takes to techniques, like Peter Levine's work, like Logan's work, that really bring us down into the truth of what we're holding not calling it a pain body like it's a car part, but acknowledging our tender woundedness and the tender woundedness of the collective. Finding ways to get into that material, to hold it safely, individually, collectively, therapeutically. Move it through so that it's resolved transformed whatever can be healed, can be healed, whatever can't be healed is managed. All of that, I don't think we even know what we're talking about when we talk about awakening. I think we're just full of shit to be honest.  And I think that's because we're literally are full of shit and we need to move that debris but before we can begin to access the truer and deeper questions of our lives. 

Neil Sattin  How would you suggest someone know whether or not, because this, this experience of accessing, the, you know, let's say you rise above, you see the, the garage full of boxes and boxes of old stuff and then you're like, Okay, I'm not going to stay in this risen above state I'm gonna go back and I'm going to start cleaning things out, I'm gonna clean house. When do you think someone needs help and support in that realm? Because I think that's you know the illusion that we have about big feelings and this is, I think, part of the cycle is when we're young those big feelings, especially when we're not given a safe container for them. They do feel like they're there too big they overwhelm the system and our nervous systems aren't, they aren't essentially capable of handling them. So, so then we have this irrational fear as an adult that we can't move through them when in fact like going into a feeling like that it does... It comes on strong and then it does subside and leaves you in a better off place, at least that's been my experience. And yet at the same time, I also have this feeling that for some people they may need a container or someone who's there to kind of help hold the space for them to have those kinds of experiences and so how in your opinion how would I know where I was landing on that spectrum? 

Jeff Brown  I mean, I don't know that you would. I mean a great many -- most people walk around you know living far distance from their body. Was that a line from I think it was, Walter Mitty or something: "He lived a fair distance from his body." Um. You know, I feel like what has to happen is this conversation has to be normalized and, within society. And I think it's beginning to happen and I think that it needs to begin to happen in the school system, where, there's some forum created for emotional attunement because we're talking about not being attuned at an early age for a healthy emotional release for supported release within the school, within the classroom, with teachers, with practitioners that are part of that. I think it has to happen in corporate environments where we learn how to attuned to and move material that's preventing us from being most effective. I think we need to have some kind of release chambers on street corners, where people can go inside and smash a cube with a baseball bat and normalize it, normalize healthy anger release, because it's, anger has been so deeply stigmatized that now all of it's restrained, repressed, and gets acted out in all kinds of weird passive aggressive, inappropriate ways. I think we just have to make this part of our every part of society so that attunement and release are normal and are considered to be healthy steps towards a healthy society. And, and then people will be able to gauge themselves. So right now you have people walking into a b- a body centered psychotherapist room who've never really enlivened their body. Who've been adapting, amoring in a million different ways. All they know is that consciousness. That's how they've organized themselves to survive in the crazy world and and then they have the super extreme experience of grounding, opening it. "Oh my God, what is this?" And many of them leave. Many people will go to somatic psychotherapy sessions and never do more than one, because it's, it's not normalized within society. It's startling. It's stigmatized and it's a radical experience of opening in a system that's been closed. So I think it's on all of us to create some kind of a reality where the conversation about how angry I am or I'm at level four in my anger quotient, or I've got grief at Level 2 or however you want to language it, begins part of our day to day conversation. So when people cry in a coffee shop people don't look at them and make faces. They come over and they sit around them and they hold the space for them. Those kinds of things need to happen. I believe they might happen and they are beginning to happen in some ways but not happening quickly enough. 

Neil Sattin  Yeah. Yeah. I agree. 

Jeff Brown  So you and I, so you and I are good examples. So you know it happens between people you know. I mean we're damaged in relationship and we heal in relationships, so here are you and I. I read the meditation not even thinking you might be having an experience of it. You have an experience of it. So then the question is how can I hold the space for that experience for you, so that you actually make some progress internally, resolutionally in a 10 or 15 minute period and model that to humanity and then as we model that to humanity, especially as men, which is so important to model this to men, in particular. And not only but in particular, then we begin to make progress. 

Neil Sattin  Yeah. Yeah, I think that's really true. That's really true. And it feels true also in terms of my experience. You know when I take something like a moment like this and then go out into the world then I start feeling those innately, I'm putting, I'm making the little quote marks with my fingers, those spiritual unity consciousness type experiences and I think they emerge from being really deeply in touch with... 

Jeff Brown  Your feelings. 

Neil Sattin  Yeah. My feelings these real parts of me. 

Jeff Brown  Yeah. This is... I'm not opposed to unity consciousness but I'm not interested in a unity consciousness experience that is limited to a transcendent field. I want my connection to the everything to come from the heart of the body itself and the emotional body. And then it feels like a more sustainable experience. And it actually feels like a more expansive experience for me. And I also feel safer because I haven't had to bifurcate my consciousness to have that experience. So now I'm afraid to come back down to earth and I'm going to crash at some point because you know I'm not bridging the two. If I start from within the body... So, so you know in interacting with Michael in the book was a kind of one of my struggles. It was like, what he's calling awakening or transcendence is something that's very different, may be very different from what I experienced as awakening or transcendence. Because I did it from within my body, my feet grounded on the earth plane. So are we even talking about the same experience? His feels flight, you're more kind of motivated by or intended in the direction of getting away from something, whereas mine felt like it was about really trying to be here for all of it. You know the real "Be Here Now" the one that actually starts within my body, not renaming myself, as Ram Dass did, but as Jeff Brown. Jeff Brown with Jeff Brown story. With my bubbie Frannie Perlove . With my grandfather Zeyta Deela Perlove. 

Neil Sattin  I'm just laughing... 

Jeff Brown  With my very difficult mother Barbara Brown. All of that is real. That is not not spiritual. That is so spiritual that's my lineage. That's my ancestry. That's my flesh and bones baby. And if I'm not in my flesh and bones there's no possible way I can access an awakening consciousness. 

Neil Sattin  I'm just laughing because I'm thinking of the place in the book where you talk about Eckhart totally changing his name and then... 

Jeff Brown  Yeah his name is Ulrich.

Neil Sattin  Right. And then like if names aren't important, then why are people changing their names? 

Jeff Brown  Yeah yeah. He's got this quote about like you know "formlessness over form," it's like, well you know, and "ego is the enemy of the sacred," whatever all these people are talking about. And then they change their names. Well clearly it's important enough for them to take on another name in order to disconnect from their birth -- their name of origin. And you know, I understand the purpose that serves it gives a lot of people a break from what it meant to be, their, their origins. But because their origins are them and their origins are encoded in their bones and in their cells. Changing the name can be a temporary reprieve. But ultimately you still got to come back down to do the work inside of "Ulrich Tolle" and, Ram Dass has to still do the work that is Richard Alpert and Ram Dass  wouldn't disagree with that, I think. You know and that's everywhere in the community. Bhagavan Das's real name was Kermit Michael Riggs. He's walking around carrying everything that's Kermit Michael Riggs. He can call himself whatever he wants, he's still carrying Kermit Michael Riggs and he is Kermit Michael Riggs. So I think you know, if we're going to go down into the body, into the feelings. And I realized because we don't have templates we only have a few models, a few techniques developed, it's very difficult to invite people in this direction because then how do we get them there to stay there because there aren't that many integrated models, most of what we've been calling spirituality is bifurcated and if you really look closely, even yoga was... If you look at its origins it's called "Yoke"  It means unity. But really what they're talking about is a version of unity that gets you away from and perfects the toxic body beast again. It's still dissociative. It's still the bypass. And what we need now and what I try to ignite and support in the call to action is: people, all the people, young people out there who were interested in somatic psych, a lot of them going into inclusivity, begin to co-create models that unite these various techniques that pull us up and out or in a way to look at ourselves through a more expansive lens, whatever we call it, with the desire to be deeply living within our body and healing the trauma that obstructs our consciousness. And finding a way to weave transcendence and imminence into the holy holy what I call a "We-stern" consciousness. The quest for unity consciousness and essence fundamental to Eastern traditions and the quest for a healthy self concept, and a work through, an embodied experience of the moment, that's more fundamental to Western consciousness. And when we find that weave, then we're really going to be here for our awakening. 

Neil Sattin  So I'd like to spend. Our last few minutes together today bringing this into the realm of relationship. And what I'm thinking of is how, in your book, The Evolution of this starts with being in the body and and there are a few other exercises that you offer that are all about accessing what's happened, the material that's happening within you now. And then that leads to this place of that being able to fuel a sense of who we actually are, beyond who we think we are and and mining ourselves for that, the uh, I forget the term that you use for it. But for those aspects of us that are about who we are uniquely able to be in this lifetime in this body. And I think for a lot of people there's this question of their journey found them, let's say to this place of relationship with this person, and then they start wondering well how do I know if this is a true connection, where we can grow each other, versus one where we're just going to be trapped in our woundedness together? So I'm curious to know how you would connect this body centered awareness with that question of: Is this the right person? Is this the right choice? Is this like, is this the work worth doing? Because we have all our own material that's right there for us, and then we're in, we can be in choice about the material we want to work on with another human. 

Jeff Brown  Yeah I mean, I mean so the distinction let's say between "woundmates" and "soulmates," or something. Yeah, I mean, I think that you know, I think one of the dangers of the therapeutic revolution with respect to the shadow work that I am encouraging people to do, is that we make the mistake of thinking that every trigger filled connection is worth our while. I don't believe that. That has certainly not been my experience. There, you know, there are certain criterion that would determine whether or not it's worth our while and whether it isn't. And one of the most obvious ones is whether both people are willing to do the shadow work, is the most basic level question, you know. Because if, if they're not if one of them isn't, then you have a problem. You either adapt your consciousness kind of lowest common denominator to the vibration of the person who doesn't want to do the work or you walk away. But even in an experience I've been in experiences where there was a willingness for two people, myself and the other to do the deeper shadow work. But the relationship was like a nexus for so many triggers, both very obviously, individually rooted in individual experience, and all kinds of inexplicable... You know it's so difficult to language collective, ancestral, familial material, that it didn't matter how much work we did therapeutically, there was no way it was ever going to become anything other than painful. And I do not believe that we need to perpetually live in suffering in order to become conscious. I mean, we have to do work within the pain material for sure. So, I think that you know as you move into this kind of consciousness, authentic relating more deeply attuned to your material and the others, you have to ask the question, is this the kind of experience where for whatever reason without having to judge it, perpetually, we're not going to be able to move our way through this to transformation in a way that feels healthy positive and forward moving? Or is this the kind of connection that has the hope of becoming what I call a "wholemate," you know a connection that really has that more subtle, essential, soulful quality to it. And the same time is grounded in the real world in the day to day life experience and also in the working through the shadow material in a way that's forward moving. And you have to always ask that question, because not every connection, even with the best of intentions is a connection that's going to allow you to grow and evolve. 

Neil Sattin  In your book you offer "the beloved meditation exercise" and I don't think we necessarily have the time and space to go through that whole thing right now. But I think it's it's actually a great, it's a great way I think to explore that question from a centered place. 

Jeff Brown  Yeah. And from an embodied place. Not as a concept. You know, I had a cousin who kept asking me if a relationship, every relationship he'd say he'd asked me if it was a fit. Like I knew I would say, well you know I'd say I don't know, how do you feel? He go, "Well I think..." And I'd go: You're not answering it from I think you keep trying it's not working you need to go into your body. He didn't want to go into his body. He was very, very detached from his body and only when he finally did have a forced, kind of a forced embodiment experience, as the trauma built and built and built into kind of like a breakdown. Did he actually come to access the answers that he actually had and always knew and always carried as to whether a particular connection he was in was a fit for him. It has to happen all of it inside the body so with the beloved meditation, my effort in a way was to try to invite people inside of that temple in order to ask that primary question whether or not that connections really a fit going forward. 

Neil Sattin  Right. And it's questions like, now I have it in front of me: Is this person still part of my future? Are there still lessons we need to learn from each other? Or are we complete together? Are there lessons I now need to learn on my own outside of this present relational form? Are we meant to walk together in the coming moments? Or is it time to take leave of each other? I mean these are great questions and they have to be answered from a place where you're fully... 

Jeff Brown  Feeling. 

Neil Sattin  Exactly. Like if they're, if those answers are coming from a place of fear then we already know what the answers are gonna be. 

Jeff Brown  You can, you can answer a question about whether someone's a fit for you from your mind if you want to do a practical pros and cons list or something. But if you're asking the question of how you feel you can't answer that question conceptually, you have to enter into that very scary terrain for most of us which is the emotional and physical body. And to me, they're kind of synonymous, and drop down into that and let your body tell you what your answers are. And that's why a lot of people remain stuck, you know, and then they go and they go to a workshop experience, that has in it a body component at the end of it they know whether or not to end their relationship or not, or to go deeper because they finally access their body which is very hard to do in our cultural, overstimulated, survive, by your wits, culture. We have to have an experience of the body in order to figure out what direction to walk in our lives. 

Neil Sattin  Yeah and I'm... It's interesting for me. We, Chloe and I, actually have this whole practice of using muscle testing and kinesiology to to tap into the body wisdom. And at the same time, I'm, I'm curious to see how these deeper and deeper emotional excavations will inform the body's wisdom, when we're asking those questions. 

Jeff Brown  Yeah. Yeah. There's such important questions and they're not just about relationships. They're about, you know, I use the term, "truthaches," in the book, in "Soulshaping," because there are many indicators we're off-path and the way we again determine that, is we do something embodied, whatever that happens to be. Osho's dynamic meditation, holotropic breathwork, some Somatic Experiencing work. You know, bioenergetics your core energetic sessions, core energetics is amazing also and something you know that allows you to really enliven the body and let the body speak its truth. It wants to. And that's what it's built for. 

Neil Sattin  Right you've got to help your body speak, and then tune yourself so that you're actually listening to what your body's saying. 

Jeff Brown  Right on. 

Neil Sattin  Well, Jeff I really appreciate you're here being here to join us again on Relationship Alive to talk about your work the book, "Grounded Spirituality," is a fascinating journey of a book and I appreciate that you gave me the time because we were actually in dialogue about when to do this conversation, that you gave me the time to really explore it, and try things out and it was helpful for me in my personal life and in being able to have this conversation with you. Of course because it's a really long book we could talk a lot longer, but I think I always have that feeling with you honestly that there's, there's always more to say which leaves me excited for the next conversation. 

Jeff Brown  Great. 

Neil Sattin  So thank you so much for joining us here today. And if people want to find out a little bit more obviously, they can pick up the book "Grounded Spirituality," and how else can they find out about you and your work? 

Jeff Brown  They can check out soul-shaping-dot-com, my older site. There's some course downloads and things there are lots of stuff to read. Soul-Shaping-Institute-dot-com. I've got a couple of writing courses coming up writing your way home courses and my new Jeff-Brown-dot-co, web site will be up soon. I'm very excited about that and start doing a lot more video, start a podcast and all that and just join me on Facebook and Instagram and there all the time and interactive. And thank you Neil. I appreciate your support. 

Neil Sattin  My pleasure. And just a quick additional plug for your writing course. Those are all about using writing as a vehicle for healing and finding your authentic expressed, grounded voice, right?

Jeff Brown  Absolutely. I hold a very tight and safe container for people to excavate their material and write through it, and bring it in the direction of healing without any emphasis on perfect writing or perfect grammar any of that stuff. It's... There are some people who do the course and don't join the Facebook private group and go off and write and write books and a number of my students have been published but the Facebook group component, which is about 60 percent of the student body for each course, is really focused on helping to support one another to just say and to express the things they've never ever felt permission to express before so it's a really beautiful experience. 

Neil Sattin  Such important work. And again if you are interested in finding out more, you can get all the links to Jeff's websites etc. through the show notes page which you can get at, Neil-Sattin- dot-com-slash-grounded, as in "Grounded Spirituality, where you can text the word "Passion" to the number 3-3-4-4-4 and follow the instructions. And thanks again Jeff for being with us today. 

Jeff Brown  Thank you Neil. Appreciate it. 


Aug 9, 2019

Can people really change? And how do you know if someone *will* change? It's a good question, especially if you're dealing with some significant challenges in your relationship. You might be wondering about your partner - or you might be wondering about your own ability to do things differently, especially if you feel stuck in a rut. In this episode, we'll tackle how change works. What are the requirements for creating changes that actually stick? What's realistic when it comes to the pace of change? And how can you tell if someone else is truly going to do what it takes for change to happen? I want to inspire your hope and faith, while at the same time painting a realistic picture of what change looks like, without the hype.

Come see Relationship Alive - LIVE! with John and Julie Gottman, on October 12th in Portland Maine. You have the chance to ask us *your* questions - and get answers. Visit for more information.

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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Jul 24, 2019

When looking to change things in your world, how do you let pleasure be the force that guides you? How do you fulfill desire while you fight for change? How do you take care of yourself while you transform? And how do you allow organic, sustainable change to emerge in your life - without feeling like you have to force things? Today we’re speaking with author, activist, and healer adrienne maree brown. Her most recent book, the New York Times bestseller “Pleasure Activism”, leans into black feminist traditions to challenge you to rethink the groundrules of how to facilitate change in your own life, and in the world around you. In this episode, you’ll hear more about how adrienne came to this work, and her thoughts on how to be imperfect, yet honest, in relationship. You’ll learn how to bring true integrity into your relationships - and ways to ensure that your health and wellbeing aren’t compromised while you grow and transform. 

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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Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host Neil Sattin. I want to start by saying that I believe in the power of synchronicity. I believe that when synchronicities happen it means something. And so to me it meant a lot when I was walking into a bookstore with a new friend of mine in New York City and she grabbed this book off the shelf and she said, "Given what we've just been talking about how you want to make this huge impact with your work and with the Relationship Alive podcast you need to read this book." And she handed me a book called "Emergent Strategy" by adrienne maree brown. 

adrienne maree brown: Oh wow. 

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And after reading that book and being so moved by what I read there both in terms of the promise that it holds for how our lives can unfold in a way that's really organic and natural and suited to who we are as people and also how that can impact the communities that we form whether it be our micro communities our family, our friends, or our larger communities, the movements that we become a part of and how we create change in this world. It was just super inspiring to me and I was delighted to see that adrienne was coming out with a new book called "Pleasure Activism," which just hit the New York Times Bestseller List and I thought you know what, like, I have to talk to this person and hopefully they'll talk to me. So. So I reached out and fortunately here we are today to talk to adrienne maree brown, who is a social justice facilitator, focused on black liberation, a doula, healer and a pleasure activist and a coach. And the list goes on and on. And honestly I can relate and I love that about... 

adrienne maree brown: Yeah. 

Neil Sattin: About her work. And so we're gonna be here to talk about emergence and pleasure and how this all unfolds in the world of relationship. The relationship you have to yourself, the relationship you have to your beloved or beloveds, and the relationship you have with the world. As usual we will have a detailed transcript of today's episode which you can get if you visit Neil Sattin-dot-com-slash-A-M-B as in adrienne maree brown or you can always text the word "passion" to the number 3 3 4 4 4 and follow the instructions. And that will get you the transcript and the show notes and all that good stuff. 

adrienne maree brown: Oh cool. 

Neil Sattin: I think that's it. So adrienne, thank you so much for being here with us today on Relationship Alive. 

adrienne maree brown: Thanks for having me now. I'm excited that a podcast it's about relationships in this way, exists. So I'm like yay! Let's talk about it. 

Neil Sattin: Awesome. Yeah I've been thinking about a good way to dive in without asking you like a ridiculously broad question, but I might have to start with a ridiculously broad question.:. 

adrienne maree brown: You're like, I tried! I can't. It's ok. What's the  ridiculously broad question. 

Neil Sattin: Well. Yeah. So let's start with this idea about pleasure and activism and what does it mean to have pleasure be the center of how one operates in the world?

adrienne maree brown: For me, you know, I got this terminology, was taught to me and I learned the words from an organizer named Keith Cyler, who was the founder of something called "Housing Works," that's based in New York that raises resources and all kinds of resources like financial resources, but also does trainings and other things like that for people who are dealing with house-lessness, dealing with HIV, AIDS. And I was really moved by his genius and his work. But, one time we were just sitting around having a good time and he talked to me about this terminology "pleasure activism," and it stuck with me over the years so I kept being like "Oh. Like what could that mean? What could that mean? What could that mean?" And especially as I I grew, you know, I've always been very aware that there's a lot in the world that is broken that is hurting that is traumatized, and inside of that reaching for how are we meant to connect with each other? And somewhere in there this idea of pleasure activism kept returning to me as I was doing voter organizing, returning to me as I was learning about harm reduction, returning to me as I was supporting people to do direct action, nonviolent civil disobedience. It just kept coming back. And when I was working on my last book emergent strategy, I had to include it as a concept and I wasn't sure at that point like am I going to flesh this all the way out? Like there's a lot here. But then at some point I was like, "Let me just.... Like what would it look like." You know, what would it look like to actually flesh this out? And I had been reading Audrey Lorde's text "the uses of the erotic:: as power," which I got permission to reprint in this book. And I really loved her use of the erotic. And yet I just kept coming back to this idea of pleasure. Like that pleasure includes the erotic, but also includes a lot of things that may or may not be erotic, and so I was like, what is pleasure. And I looked up and its just like happy, joy and satisfaction. And I was like, "Gosh it seems so simple and yet there's so much resistance to it. There's so much fear of it there's so much control of it. And. And for those of us who are like actively trying to change the world in some way there's a denial of it, right? Like it's like, "We are not allowed to have that. We need to be fighting for this you know future that's off in the future somewhere.". 

Neil Sattin: Right. 

adrienne maree brown: And I just remember landing and like. Wouldn't it be so radical to listen to Audrey Lourde had taught us about engaging the erotic now, engaging our full aliveness, in this moment. And for black women who, you know, that's who is at the front of my mind when I wrote this text, you know, I was like there's a lot that has intentionally cut us off from our relationship with joy and happiness and pleasure and contentment and satisfaction. It's been trained into us that we're not allowed to have those things so I got very... Then I got very light lit up with this idea, that I was like, "Oh what if we could have these things? Like what if it's a measure of our freedom to reclaim pleasure?" And so that kind of sent me off down this path that has been really exciting. And you know it's interesting because activism in general is not where I land right? Like I, I've often been like I'm an organizer! And for me the distinction you know, I think activists or folks who are really like advocating for something like using their public sphere to advocate for something, going and talking to friends. Organizers to me or folks who are like, "I'm actually trying to move a strategy amongst the people." Right? Like I'm going to go find those who are not going to just easily be reached and I'm going to knock on their doors and I'm going to find out what they need and and build an analysis and a vision together. And so you know it's like, "OK is activism OK for this? And it felt like actually for this, it is it is important that as many people in the world as possible begin to come out and advocate for all of our rights to have pleasure to have pleasure be an organizing principle of how we structure our relationships in our society. And then it starts with reclaiming our own, and moves out from that place. So I'm excited that it exists. I'm excited that it came together and then I've been really blown away by the responses. So I'm like, OK this... I really for a while was like, "This is not the time to be putting out right now. We need something about justice or we need something about like you know I kept having this strategic idea around if this current administration is starting fires all over the place. I kept thinking like, how do we conjure up water? How do we vaporize ourselves in some way to come up and over and rain down on them? And I was like, I got to go write that strategy book or whatever. And then I realized I was like, "Oh this is actually it," in a way? 

Neil Sattin: This is that book. 

adrienne maree brown: This is actually that book and that's been clicking to me that I'm like: This is it. This is the way that we become more powerful through pleasure, through what we can release rather than what we can contain. So. Yeah. 

Neil Sattin: I love it. It's to me... What was I mean there are so many threads that came together for me as I was reading the book, and even just in hearing you speak right now. Primarily, that way that people are so.... Many people, I should say are so exhausted right now, with with just the state of affairs and.... 

adrienne maree brown: That's right. 

Neil Sattin: ...that's political, it's environmental it's economic. There is a lot that's taxing us and that's something that regenerates us when we can find the sources of pleasure within us and in how we connect with the world that I think allows us to bring more of ourselves to the world and and also highlights the places where we are denying ourselves or denying others that inalienable right for... 

adrienne maree brown: That's right. 

Neil Sattin: ...the experience of joy. 

adrienne maree brown: That's right.:I mean it blows my mind to really think about, like, what people what people have survived, like often when I stand in a room of people and I'm giving a speech or a talk or a training or something. There's a lot of me that's present with that moment but then there's also a part of me that's kind of thinking about all the lineages of all these human beings and how some of them in this moment have landed in a place of power, or privilege, and some of them haven't ended up in a place that's not that. But that those lineages all include some survival, some fighting to exist some taking a risk, some you know, moving out into the world with an unknown response you know, like we don't know what's going to happen here. We don't know if we're heading the right way. We don't know if we're going to survive and that there have been so many things that have have you know, like so much of our human history has just been about surviving, right? Just like can we make it? And so there's something interesting to me now to be like, I think I think we have shown that like oh we could make it like we could figure this out. We could be on this planet technically. But what is the life worth making it for? Like, what is worth surviving for?:

Neil Sattin: Yeah. 

adrienne maree brown: And now I think we're actively in that question. That is like, all of us deserve this relationship to pleasure. And when you look at like who thinks they deserve it or who is encouraged to have it, it's actually a very narrow small grouping of human beings. And I think that's because of capitalism. You know, I really think that as an economic system, capitalism thrives when we believe that we are not good enough and that we need to buy something outside of ourselves in order to experience pleasure. And I love the trick of it which is like, if you actually just drop down into your own body, which is the only thing in your entire life that you ever truly have, from the beginning to the end, if you just drop down into it, it's wired for pleasure. And those wires may have been crossed, you know, there may be some like dysfunctional parts of it because of trauma, because of pain, because of... which I now, also when I meet everyone, I'm like, 'I know you have some trauma," right? Like, I know you have some. 

Neil Sattin: Yeah no one escapes that. 

adrienne maree brown: Yeah. I don't know what it is. I don't know how severe or central it is to your life, or your life story it is to your life, or your life story. I don't know if you had the resources to recover or not, but I know it's there. And so I think like, "oh." What we're dealing with is like, what is the relationship between that trauma that's everywhere. And this system that's telling us that we can't heal ourselves we shouldn't even feel ourselves. We should just kind of outsource that to something we can purchase. And, and, then how in that do we find a way to be in RIGHT relationship with each other on this planet. Right? So that's the stuff I keep, I keep floating around with us like I want to, I want to leave a world behind me that people like I like I feel very compelled. I want to be here. It feels good, right? And that doesn't mean that I think we will solve the climate crisis in my lifetime because I do think... You know...  I really believe in Gopal Dayaneni, 1who works over at Movement Generation and talks about, like, there's things that we have already set in motion that we are gonna have to face the consequences of as a species. And I don't deny that that's what's coming to us but inside of that I think we also have to be actively fomenting pleasure and actively fomenting like reconnecting ourselves to land and to each other because as the changes happen we're still going to need to be able to feel, feel pleasure, feel satisfaction feel like being here. Otherwise we'll just depress and numb and you know kind of slip away. And I think that would be an unworthy end to our species. 

Neil Sattin: Totally agree with you and a word that popped into my mind that I would like to add to that, is resilience. 

adrienne maree brown: Yeah. 

Neil Sattin: The more that we're embracing our capacity for resilience in terms of how we heal our lineage of trauma. Or present moment traumas in terms of how we make things right when they've gone wrong, and do that in the context where what we're shooting for what we're envisioning is something joyful blissful like that actually has ease and pleasure connected to it. 

adrienne maree brown: Yeah. Yes. 

Neil Sattin: Then that that makes it worth it and gives us kind of a... I hate to use the word technology, but like a technology of continually adjusting to get there. 

adrienne maree brown: Yeah. 

Neil Sattin: You talk in "Emerging Strategy," about adapability... Yeah. 

adrienne maree brown: Exactly. Yeah exactly. Yeah. Well, I was just going to say, I was like, yeah. You know, like, to me emergent strategy and pleasure activism really go together like they're holding hands, dancing across the field of ideas and I really think that this this idea of resilience. You know I have a teacher Alta Starr who's always pushing me to be like you know, resilience is beyond even harm, right? It's sort of like this natural capacity we have to learn to adapt, to like grow, to learn from whatever changes come. And it's hard for me because I'm still like "Well. But also when someone hurts us, you know we had to be resilient." And you know it's hard in a city like Detroit because you know resilience can be weaponized. Like if people like you bounce back from anything, like, we'll just keep doing anything to you. Like you know we'll add an incinerator to your neighborhood or whatever you'll be fine. And so I think there's something about, Oh to me, like how do we have a transformative resilience right. How do we have resilience that is not just like we can recover back to conditions that we weren't very happy with in the first place. And being like oh you know when I look at like what am I recovering? I'm recovering something that's beyond my own origin, you know like I need to recover something that goes back past the many hours that my grandmother overworked, and I need to recover something that goes back past my enslaved ancestors, and recover something that goes back past my kidnapped answers, and you know, ancestors, like I feel this long, long, long arc of the work that I'm in right now where I'm like. Almost everyone that came before me was trying to work towards some joy some freedom some sense of safety for their children themselves. And now I am awakened so like I am aware of all of that and I have an option in front of me to be resilient across time and space right. And that feels very exciting. You know, I think as hard as it is to live in this age of hyper connectedness because I think it is really hard. My friend angel Kyoto Williams talks about this, that like, we we are given access to so much more information than we've ever had access to before but we're not given the tools to handle it all, right? Like we're not taught here's how to meditate. Here's how to pass what's overwhelming back to the earth or back to God or back to whomever you trust with it. We're not given those those technologies, right? So we kind of flailing a lot of the time of like, I'm receiving all this, I'm trying to care about all of it and we find ourselves stretched so far but I also think the really beautiful thing about that is like we can see how many people believe what we believe, how many people are trying to practice what we're trying to practice so we can find each other. You know you and I would have never found each other if it wasn't for this modern state of connection. And to be able to say like, "Oh you're out here in Maine fomenting these ideas and I'm out here in Detroit fomenting these ideas and we have very different lineages. And yet we both have arrived in this place where it's like this is a path. This is a way to move forward it's important. Paying attention to relationship is important." And so that you know, that gives me hope inside of the the struggle of this overwhelming moment where there is so much that is hard. It's also there's so much that is overwhelmingly beautiful and overwhelmingly good and there's so many ways that you know also we live on such a resilient planet. So, I often think about this that I'm like, you know, and I feel like I'm trying to remember whoever first said this idea, because I was a Oh snap! That's a game changer! It's like, the Earth is gonna be OK. 

Neil Sattin: Yeah. 

adrienne maree brown: Right? Like the earth is gonna be OK. Like, it might be, she might go through an Ice Age or something, but like if we're not here she'll still be OK. And like if we're not here she'll recover from whatever we've done. Like how we've remixed her nature into other kinds of things. And, I don't know if you saw this story came out last week about the white-throated rail, did you see that? 

Neil Sattin: I hadn't but I saw you wrote about it on your on your blog. Yeah.

adrienne maree brown: I was so moved by this. So this like little bird...:The debate is basically this bird re-evolved, right. Like it went extinct at 136,000 years ago, roughly. Because like,  these things are hard to track but like... Now this bird has has re-evolved has come back into existence. The same little -- it's a flightless bird. There's something about that that just I, I read it and I really was like moved in a way I was like, I didn't know I needed to know that that was possible. But, I was like, I need to know that that level of resilience is possible, like somewhere down in the programming of this planet. There's there's some code that's just like white throated rail.: And just because we can no longer see the creature, it doesn't mean that it's, it's disappeared like there's some aspect of it that DNA that's in there. And yeah, it made me feel like OK. Like there's mysteries on mysteries on mysteries when it comes to this planet. And there's so much that we can't understand. And so inside of that I'm like, you know, I love thinking really big grandiose thoughts. But then I try to bring them back down into very small tangible practices. Small ways of being with each other because I'm like, I can't imagine how we'll get through the climate catastrophe that we're in right now. But I can imagine being in right relationship with the planet around me and making better choices about this local place that I'm in and being place based and loving. Even though I travel a lot but I'm like rooting myself into the soil in Detroit in all the ways that I can. Like this is where I bury my compost. This is where I play with children. This is where I go find like where's the Detroit grown foods every summer and I am really cautious now. I've made a major shift in my life around how I produce waste. Like what kind of waste I will put out so that I tried to really shrink down my garbage waste to the, like the very very you know, it's like if I can rinse it and I can clean it off and it can be recycled. It's gonna be recycled if it's food if it can go into compost it goes into compost like I used to have a massive garbage bin that I was putting out. And I'm like I live alone. You know all of that with stuff that like other things can be done with. And now it's like you know a huge portion of what comes out of my home is gonna be recycled and reused again. And, I'm aiming at zero waste. I'm constantly trying to figure out where is and where other places where I can... I just bought this new set of like ziplocks reusable kind of Ziploc thingies, that so you know because I'm a, I'm a fan of Ziploc bags like I'm like you've put anything in a Ziploc bag. You can go anywhere you have it I carry like in my suitcase there's always like five Ziploc bags just like folded just in case because you just never know what you're gonna need a Ziploc bag for. And so I'm like, oh that's a next frontier that I need to like, you know, figure out a way to advance through and I'm like, oh I can do this, right. So anyway all of that to say to me I'm trying in my personal life to get in right relationship with nature and my body is a huge part of that. Like if I'm not in right relationship and respecting the miraculous, like, Stardust nature of my body then how can I even begin to be in my relationship with the rest of the living world. 

Neil Sattin: Yeah. 

adrienne maree brown: Yeah. 

Neil Sattin: So, OK. So first, I'm so moved when I hear you talk about not really being able to read the code but seeing the expressions of the code like.. 

adrienne maree brown: Yeah. 

Neil Sattin: ...the bird coming back into existence from extinction and even when you were describing how you and I could be doing different work in different places and yet here we find ourselves together having this conversation. 

adrienne maree brown: Yeah. 

Neil Sattin: To me that is an expression of the power of something that's ineffiable, that like we can't understand but if we're willing to to follow that path and and follow the ways that it's growing and things are emerging then, then at least that inspires hope in me that there's like an antidote to disconnection, to destruction. 

adrienne maree brown: Yes. 

Neil Sattin: To... 

adrienne maree brown: Yeah. 

Neil Sattin: ...all the forces that were that were working against and in terms of relationship the ways that people are, you know, experience this desire for closeness and connection. You know part of our, our wiring as you were mentioning earlier is to be connected to each other. 

adrienne maree brown: That's right. 

Neil Sattin: And yet, it becomes such a source of pain partly because we either intentionally or unintentionally traumatize each other and then also because of the social structures and their impact on us. When you talk about pleasure and relearning pleasure, getting in touch with your body and and I like that stand that you take for for the personal being political that fractal nature of... 

adrienne maree brown: Yes. Yeah. 

Neil Sattin: ...transformation. I think about how many of us are just kind of following the script of romance and love and sex and pleasure and needing... 

adrienne maree brown: When did you become aware that there was a script? 

Neil Sattin: Oohh. Well that's it's been an unfolding for me, for sure. And I think probably I became most aware of it when I inadvertently hurt someone. And like had no idea that that was happening for them and found out later and then you know, thankfully we've had our moments of amends and talking and all of that. But, in restoring ourselves. That was probably the inception of it. And then all through college. 

adrienne maree brown: Yeah. 

Neil Sattin: And then in my current relationship, I'm so blessed to be with someone who's taken a strong stand for her own boundaries around her own healing, her own trauma. And it forced me to even go even deeper into like, "Well, what am I looking for in relationships?". 

adrienne maree brown: Right. 

Neil Sattin: What am I looking for in sex? Would it like what is this rejection, quote-unquote, that I'm experiencing in this moment and what is that really about? And and so that has forced me to ask deeper questions, and to get progressively more and more honest with myself and with her, to a point where fairly recently I feel like I've hit ground zero. But it's it's a process it's definitely been an unfolding and watching those layers fall away. And then once they do being like, All right well how do I replace this? If I'm going to do sex the way that I thought I should? Or you know I think it was an essay that you wrote where you mentioned a babysitter who was watching Porky's when you were... 

adrienne maree brown: Yes. 

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And the way those things inform our sense of, of what's what's erotic, what turns us on, all of that. Once I peel those things away and come back to, this moment and what's real. Well... 

adrienne maree brown: That's right. 

Neil Sattin: Yeah. That's what my journey has been like and I've, I've certainly tried to surface that a bunch here on the podcast and and I'm really excited to hear your thoughts about that unfolding for yourself and, and you mentioned meditation earlier. Yeah. What are the the pathways into, kind, of breaking down the, the unhealthy learnings? And coming back into right relationship with with ourselves as relational, sexual, erotic, pleasure oriented being? 

adrienne maree brown: Beings, right? I feel like... a couple of things. I mean I think one is, there was a period of time where I was, I was really convinced that sex didn't have anything to do with me or what I was feeling. Like, I was really like what is the other person feeling and like that's that's what's important right now. And like my job is to make sure that that experience is a whole good one. Right? And, and I feel like, I remember like, there's just moments in most of its relational right. Like most of it is like just other people reflecting something back. And it's like "Girl, it doesn't had to be like that." You know? People talking to me, reading stuff. I remember reading the work of Andrea Dworkin. Have you read her? Like she she talks pretty scathingly about marriage and pornography and like, a lot of things that I was just I took for granted, were like those are good things that you try to get to in life. And, I don't agree with everything, you know, I feel like there's a lot of brilliant thinking in what she said and I feel like there's also not a lot offered of like here are other true pleasures, you know, like here's the ways to get them. 

Neil Sattin: Yeah. 

adrienne maree brown: But there was something that blew open for me where I was just like, I want to be able to consider this. I want to be able to consider that everything I was told about where pleasure in my life would come from and, or,  was, was and wasn't allowed. That maybe all that is wrong. Right? And then Audrey Lorde's writing, Octavia Butler's writing. There were just all these different people who were giving me. It was never just about sex. It was never just about the body. It was alway, have a revolution about how you think about how things work in the world. Start to ask questions and get curious about who benefits from these systems. Right? So, I remember, I remember having a quest-, you know, a conversation with a friend about marriage and just being like, who benefits? Who benefits in marriage, right? And, uh, and being pretty like oh my gosh. No one should ever get married. I was like, "No woman should ever get married!" Like I felt very strongly like, Nope it's not, it's just not a good idea. Like you will work forever in a labor that will never ever get acknowledged. You will not be able to pursue passion, work, things that you actually care about. You'll not be respected in the process. And then you know, and then he'll cheat on you. Like this is the arc of  it, right? Because you know he'll need something younger and prettier and he's worked you out, right? And I remember having that conversation as like, NO! You know? Like, and then be like well no that's just one way that's a model that is... The system that benefits from that is patriarchy. And if I can understand that then I can be like let me target patriarchy. Let me... And like I, I'm very lucky that I came across the work of Grace Lee Boggs where she really is like: Transform yourself to transform the world. And this is something I say probably every day of my life. There's some place or some way in which I say this to someone else or to myself. So I was like oh Where is patriarchy in my own practice? Where is patriarchy is showing up in how I'm approaching a relationship? And some of the interesting places were how quickly I would be dishonest for the sake of connection. And I say connection in quotation marks there, right? That I was like Well I don't want to be alone and, like, being alone is a sign of someone who's not a good person or whatever. Right? You have to be like with someone to be like a part of the human experiment or whatever. First you know, that that is...  I no longer believe that, but like you know. But at the time I just like, ok, I don't want to be alone. So I would go out on a date or someone, you know, I feel like I was I feel like I came up like right at the end of dating, also. So it's like right at the end of like when you would actually say, "Let's go on a date to a place and get to know each other." For maybe three or four times we would do that before we are actually alone in either of our places. And you know something else would happen right. I'm like I come from what feels like almost a chaste time before the apps kind of popped off into, just your place or mine. Like what's good? You know? And I talk about apps as if I know what I'm talking about I've never really used that apps to, that's just not how I meet people. But, but, I know that the majority of people in my life that's now how people connect. But so you go out and you're having these initial conversations and my practice was to just kind of listen for what I thought the other person really wanted to hear and then delivered that somehow. And you know, I grew up as a military brat. I moved like roughly every two years, so you get really good at figuring out like what is the, what are the rules here, and how do I adapt to be safe within them? And it can be hard when you get good at that to also be like. And then what is what is fundamental to me like what is the me that I'm also carrying to each place that needs to adapt? And the same thing in dating like what is the me that's showing up? And like might adapt in some relationship but like why am I rushing to not just adapt, but like completely contort into something? Why am I so desperate for being in relationship that I won't even be there? Like I wanted it to be me that shows that. Yeah. So I feel like I had rounds and rounds of that and it never worked. I kept having this heartbreak, that was really almost never about the other person. But it was about facing how much I had contorted to get in the door, and then how little I actually wanted to be inside that house, right? 

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. 

adrienne maree brown: Whatever house it was. And so, I feel like I took... 

Neil Sattin: Which by the way is a super common problem that people have. 

adrienne maree brown: It's every, it's everywhere. You know when, I do a bunch of you know like you said coaching and mediation and stuff like that, and I find like that is the number one thing. That's the number one thing is that people are like you're just not who you've said were. 

Neil Sattin: Right. 

adrienne maree brown: And how could you not be who you said you were? And how could you not uphold the promises that you made? And it's just like I was lying. I was, I wasn't even there. Like I don't even know I'm sorry. You know. 

Neil Sattin: Right. And then there's that additional layer of oh wait a minute. Now we also have to deal with your shame around who you... around your truth. yeah. 

adrienne maree brown: Exactly. And it's the shame and the still absence of yourself. Right? So, so often. Now I've been doing a lot of support for people who are in their mid 30s to 50s and a lot of the folks I'm supporting are going through major breakups of fundamental relationships. And it's interesting because they're like who am I? Like, who am I? You know like so much was defined in relationship to this other person? And that's how so many people get trained to become themselves. It's like now, now I'm ugly, I'm half of something, and now that's who I am. And so much of the work is being like; "You're a whole something. You're a whole something." And I think the thing I'm always watching out for is not to send people all the way to the other side of the pendulum, right.:To me the personal is political only as it relates to being part of a collective effort to be political about what is personal, right? So I feel like this is you know someone was asking me I did an interview yesterday, and they're like what about the GOOP, like what about the like white women taking bathes, or whatever. And I was just like "Yeah. Like you know that so much of self care is about that. It's like white people with privilege go off to the spa and that's when you know, often, I mention to people they're like, I'm not about all that, you know? And I'm just like, "Yeah I I don't think that that's political, necessarily, either right?" I think it becomes political in relationship to your identity. I think it becomes political in relationship to the community you're a part of and how you're making sure that everyone has access to the beautiful good parts of life, right? And so you know I'm part of a community. I'm part of many communities. And there's a particular community I call the goddesses. And it's a bunch of women, we all went to school together. Right now everyone's like slaying dragons in all these different fields of life, and we have started to really, like, have each other's backs and hold each other down in a way that like we didn't know how to necessarily do back then. Right. But we've rediscovered each other and been like we need to like all you know like how about half of us, half of the people are moms. And so it's like we need to go places where like everyone here gets to relax and be taken care of. That we get to be part of something that's close knit and intimate, but that we get to have massages or we get to be in a hot tub or we get to you know just cook for each other or take each other out to the best places we can find to eat. And like, there's so many small pleasures that feel really important, like it wouldn't be great for me if I was just like I'm over here living my best life and all my sisters were out here struggling. Like, I don't think that that's a way towards freedom, right? For me it's very important that as I have access, I increase access for everyone else and I particularly increase access for those who have less access than me. Like that to me as part of the political commitment I'm in for my lifetime.:

Neil Sattin: Yeah. 

adrienne maree brown: Yeah. 

Neil Sattin: Yeah. There's... I'm just thinking here about the, uh, the commodification of self care and I think that's part of what you're talking about, right? Is that like... 

adrienne maree brown: Yes. Capitalism!

Neil Sattin: You actually have to... Yeah. There it is again. There it is again.

adrienne maree brown: it's always there. Yeah. 

Neil Sattin: One thing that popped up for me when you were talking about structures and like, I would never get married! And you know and then and then that sense of like well OK. It's just the system and who does it benefit and maybe there's a time and a place. What popped up for me was this question around the dance between safety and I think it was because you mentioned, you know, when going out on a date, like part of what's happening there is deciding, Am I safe with this person? 

adrienne maree brown: Exactly. Yeah. 

Neil Sattin: And. And then that because safety is right up there with connection in terms of something that we, that we require in order to function as humans. That's right. So and that's interesting as you start pulling apart the structures because one thing that marriage can be really good at... 

adrienne maree brown: Is safety. 

Neil Sattin: supporting safety. Exactly. And so how do you start to loosen those tethers in a way that still supports people being held. Because if you're not feeling safe, you're not growing in a way that's probably generative for you you're just like scrambling back to safety for the most part. 

adrienne maree brown: That's right. You know I think I love this question, Neil. I think this is like, this is an essential one. To me it's like, OK how do we balance these things. And a couple of thoughts leap to mind. One is that I think people feel like they have to choose between safety and like, being their whole selves or being their, being in their dignity, like all of it. And that first part, that feels like it's not true. Right, I'm like that's part of the lie that we've been told is that you have to choose. So you can either be safe in a marriage where you don't get to be fully realized as yourself or you can be fully realized as yourself. But like, you know, without that stability and I've seen it, I've seen the case more often than not be that you find that deep safety within yourself. It's a feeling not a story that you're telling about your life, right. Or a projection you're giving for someone else but it's actually like some, a felt sense, like I feel it in my life. Most of my life now, I feel safe right? And I can feel when that changes. Like sometimes I'll be in a space where there's just too many people, too much energy, something's off, you know? And I can feel it and it heightens my senses, it heightens my awareness, it makes me pay attention to what's happening around me. But then I think something like marriage, it's that kind of commitment, what I see so often happening is that people get into it and then they're like, "This isn't the safety that I thought it was going to be," right? Maybe it is for the first month or the first year or even until the first child or whatever, you know. But then there's some moment where that falls away because what you, what you thought you had, was like, I know you and you know me. And what's really happening is you're changing and I'm also changing and so I've officiated a few weddings and one of things that's been exciting is that the people asked me to officiate are like we want to commit to changing together, right. That to me is the kind of commitment that I can get behind where people are like I know this person again and I'm not going to change but I'm so curious about who they are and who they will become and I want to be there for that ride. And so it's not about marriage as entrapment and like catching you into one single identity, or any relationship, because now I'm like, you know I had to get married to be trying to trap someone in your web and I really like the model which I'm sure you've heard of of relationship anarchy. I don't think anything is perfect perfect thing that I really like it because so much of it is like, you know safety. You know, I think you were talking about with safety to me so much of that is rooted in trust. 

Neil Sattin: Mm hmm. 

adrienne maree brown: Right. It's like, Oh I trust that you're gonna do what you say you do. You say you're gonna do. And I trust that I can tell you my truth or whatever it is. And in relationship anarchy, which I think is like someone in Sweden, Andie Nordgren or something like that. 

Neil Sattin: Yeah I forget. 

adrienne maree brown: Yeah I have to go look at her name but there's you can look a bit like a "relationship anarchy manifesto." Right. And I love it because it's like trust is something that we build together over time, and like we start out with a default of trust like rather than starting out with the default of like, you've got it, you know like your trust is at zero and you have to like somehow bring it up to a hundred and never let your stuff like, never fuck up like never ever break my trust in anyway, or I'm gonna hold that against you for the rest of time. And I'm like instead you start from a place of like I have an abundant sense of trust for like my place in the world, for what I'm up to in the world, for like the work that I'm here to do, my purpose and then I meet you. And I'm just gonna offer you trust as a human being and what I am counting on is that if you break my trust, then we'll figure out how to recover together. Right? And sometimes that breaking of trust might be, we're not supposed to recover together. You know, like we're sometimes, the breaking of trust will expose something like, you're more committed to... uh... Like I see this happen sometimes where people are like in an open relationship, but still do cheating type behaviors. And I'm like, Oh, OK like great. That's good information, right? Like you're still very committed to a certain kind of secrecy. Maybe that's what turns you on is the forbidden. Something along those lines. And that's not compatible, right, with the kind of relationship that I'm trying to build or whatever kind of relationship this person is trying to build. And so I get really excited about stuff like that, because I like then you in a, you know, then it's like we just got clear about it and like we can trust each other to take the step back and transition into some other form of relationship. Versus, I think what happens now which is like, I offered you a false trust that you could never live up to that I was waiting for you to somehow live up to, you broke it and now I don't, I never want to see your face again. Right? Like you let me down so thoroughly, that I just I don't even want you to exist and I'm like I don't think we have enough people for that way of being with each other. Right? That we can just keep being like if you're not perfect, perfectly trustworthy then I kick you out of my community forever. And I say that you know the same thing you said is that you learn some of this from causing harm. And I'm like I learned from breaking people's trust. Right? 

Neil Sattin: Yeah. 

adrienne maree brown: There are people who I love and care about and I, I broke their trust and I have, I've had to do like a lot of work, a lot of work around like, Am I a trustworthy person? If the answer is No. How would I become a trustworthy person? Right. And again so much of that initial line of inquiry was just like about other people. Like how can I let them know how can I show how can I prove that I'm trustworthy? And of course the answer is I have to be trustworthy. Like I have to be able to feel in myself. And I'll tell you I'll tell you a little example of this. 

Neil Sattin: Sure. 

adrienne maree brown: I was in the airport like last week and I was running through and a lot had been happening and I went and sat down on a bench and there was this coat next to me and I asked around like, "Hey anybody is this your coat." And everybody was like no, you know whoever this coat is they just left this coat here. There's no bag there's nothing else around it. So I let it sit there for a little while and then I'm like Oh the nice coat. It's a nice coat. And so I picked it up to look at it and it's like a designer coat and it happens to be my size, right? So I'm like, This is a very nice gorgeous designer coat that someone just left here on this bench and like who knows if they're ever going to make it back, right? 

Neil Sattin: For you! 

adrienne maree brown: But, that, yeah part of my brain was like a gift from the universe! And I was like. And I picked it up and I looked at it and was like that would not be a trustworthy behavior to just take this coat and move on with life. Right. Like there's a chance that that person is still in this airport and that they're like running back here to get their very expensive, nice coat. Right? Or and, right. They'll call Delta. Like do you know where my coat is? Or whatever it is. So I took it over to the, um, you know where they check you in for the plane. I took it over to one of the guys there and I was like this was left over there. They're like, oh my goodness. You know like that's so sweet, you know. And it was just like, I felt the burden lift off my system that I'm like oh I was about to really just take someone's coat. But I didn't. And it is a small thing, like it's a really small thing that like no one would have known if I had done the wrong thing... 

Neil Sattin: Except you. 

adrienne maree brown: But I would have known. And like trying to get to that place in my life where like I don't make the mistake because it would hurt my integrity and my wholeness and my dignity outside of anyone else's. And even if I know it, that creates a shadow. Like how do I turned to my lover and tell this story? How do I walk into a room where I'm offering people, like let's be trustworthy people, and I'm standing there in a coat that I stole from some poor stranger, right? So to me it's that. It's like is my relationship with myself intact? And then from that place can I be in contact with another person and say, now this is intact? And if it gets harmed I commit to helping us get to intactness and sometimes that looks like a boundary. I keep repeating these words my friend, Prentis Hemphill, made this, made this, had this thought last week and then spread it all over the world basically, but its boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me, simultaneously. 

Neil Sattin: Mm hmm. I love that. 

adrienne maree brown: And I keep thinking about that that I'm like sometimes... Right? Isn't it beautiful. And sometimes it's like that. It's like sometimes in tactness is at a great distance. It's like we're good as long as you're two thousand miles away from me. We're fine. It's good. Like don't cross that boundary and it's all good. 

Neil Sattin: Right. 

adrienne maree brown: And so I think about that I'm like, you know that's one of the things I talk about in "Pleasure Activism" is like our "No,"  makes a way for our "Yes." Like the good boundaries are actually so crucial for the good relationships. 

Neil Sattin: Yeah. What seems contained too, and what you're offering, is the necessity for healing, like, to recognize like, OK if we're not in right relationship we're all each on a healing journey to getting there. 

adrienne maree brown: Yes. 

Neil Sattin: It's probably rare, the person who's learned, who's reached their 30s or 40s or more, you know, and hasn't experience some sort of disruption of their integrity. 

adrienne maree brown: That's right. 

Neil Sattin: So there's the healing component. There's also the compassion component. Like if I, if I expect you to be perfect and you fail me, and then that becomes this huge breach, then that's a much different problem than I'm trusting you. And I'm also wanting you. Like I'm, I'm willing to be okay with where you and I aren't perfect as long as we can be in full disclosure about that together. 

adrienne maree brown: Yeah. That's right. 

Neil Sattin: That's the honesty piece. 

adrienne maree brown: I like that. I like that. I feel like that', you know, because I also think about this. Like for people who are like, "Oh no you know I'm sure they're someone's not me I'm good. You know like I know what you're talking about. I don't lie to myself or whatever." Or like, so often the people who seem to be, who have it all together, who have it altogether. Are are in some ways damaging themselves the most like I feel like now I have stopped doing to myself the harm of trying to pretend I am perfect, right? 

Neil Sattin: Yeah. 

adrienne maree brown: And I see it. I mean I feel like that you know when people watch Beyonce's Homecoming, right? Like what was intriguing to me is that she was like I was pushing for perfection and it meant having to like learn all the stuff that I would never do this again. It wasn't perfect it was actually too much that I harmed myself. And but, I pulled this off, but I harmed myself and didn't... Like, there's even stuff like that. Right? I'm like, "Yeah, what are you denying of yourself. That's where you're creating a prison, right, for yourself. You're containing that part of you that wants to be alive and free and moving around. And I'll say I'm part of the generative somatics teaching body. And for me, Somatics has been the healing pathway that has opened so much. And there's a really beautiful episode of The Healing Justice podcast, that has a woman named Sumitra on it, as it was that, they basically the Healing Justice podcast, they do an offer and then they do a practice to follow up on that. And so it's a 30 minute practice something less than that but it's basically this, the core practice of Somatics which is just centering learning how to actually drop into your body and feel and center in real time. And the idea is that you don't center to feel calm or better you center to feel more. that if you can feel more... 

Neil Sattin: Yeah. To feel what is. 

: That if you can feel more, feel what is and feel more of it then you start to have actual agency in real time over the choices you make, over the connections you move towards, over the connections you can start to set real boundaries around, like I can feel when someone is not a good energy to have around me, right. That doesn't mean they don't deserve to have people around them. But it's not going to happen here, right. 

Neil Sattin: Right. 

adrienne maree brown: I'm gonna move towards those people who are like the right energy for me for, for me growing them. And for them growing me. Yeah. Yeah. So I want to offer that because when it comes to healing, I think it helps to be fairly tangible. Like, there's, there's some you know, I feel like that for me. Like I went to talk therapy for a decade or whateve, right? And I've been able to move so much more through being able to feel, because I feel like talk therapy I was still able to stay in my head and tell my stories and tell my lies. And like you know you know, you can do it if your therapist has to be on to you just move on to the next one like, here's my, here's my story, right, or whatever it is. And I just think there's something so beautiful about dropping in and being like I'm feeling, I'm in a community of people who hold me accountable to being able to feel myself. And even now like I've been touring this book I land in a new city, and I run into someone who's also a Somatic practitioner and they hold me and they're like Are you good? Are you centering? Are you good? How are you feeling? You know and I know that they really care and they want to know. And in that moment I can feel the connection and my aliveness just expand. 

Neil Sattin: So important. 

adrienne maree brown: Yeah. 

Neil Sattin: adrienne maree brown thank you so much for your words today for joining us. I know we could talk for easy another hour. You don't have the time, at least not today. Hopefully we can chat again at some point. That would be special. 

adrienne maree brown: Yay. Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate being a guest on the show and I hope it's of use to people. 

Neil Sattin: It is my pleasure and I just want to encourage everyone who's listening to check out all your work but especially your latest book: Pleasure Activism, Emergent Strategy. They're both written with such care and and I really felt them speaking to me and my unfolding and I know it would be a gift to any reader who's here with us. And it feels like a fun footnote that the friend that I met who introduced me to you and your work. 

adrienne maree brown: Yeah. 

Neil Sattin: We were actually both attending a somatic experiencing workshop with Peter Levine. 

adrienne maree brown: Yay. That's awesome!

Neil Sattin: So I love how it came back into Somatics here at the end. 

adrienne maree brown: Full circle. 

Neil Sattin: So far so important to find that truth of who you are and your experience in your body in this moment, and so much aliveness comes from there. 

Neil Sattin: Thank you Neil. 

adrienne maree brown: adrienne, if people want to find out more about your work, what can they do? 

adrienne maree brown: They can go to the website: allied-media-dot-org-slash-ESII. That's where you can get trainings, workshop, stuff like that. And then I'm on Instagram  @adriennemareebrown, and I, that's where I mostly post things into the world. 

Neil Sattin: Great. Well we will make sure there are links in all our stuff. And thank you so much for being with us today. And with me. 

adrienne maree brown: Thank you. Have a good one. 

Neil Sattin: Take care, adrienne. 

adrienne maree brown: All right. Peace. 

Neil Sattin: Same to you. 

Neil Sattin: And just as a reminder if you want a detailed transcript of today's episode, you can get that by visiting Neil-Sattin-dot-com-slash-AMB, adrienne maree brown, or you can text the word passion to the number of 3 3 4 4 4 and follow the instructions. And we will have links to everything that we mentioned here in today's episode as well as to The Healing Justice I think is what adrienne said the The Healing Justice podcast episode that she mentioned, as a gift for you. 

Neil Sattin: All right, take care. 


Jul 18, 2019

When things get challenging in your relationship, what's the best way to ensure that you and your partner can make it through? How do you avoid the losing strategies that come naturally in a moment of crisis - and, instead, choose ways of dealing that are more likely to lead to a positive outcome? Whether it's something small, or something that feels more apocalyptic, this week we'll talk about how to weather the storm successfully, with strategies that will help you navigate a painful moment without doing something destructive.

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! Or email YOUR recorded questions to questions (at) relationshipalive dot com.


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Jul 10, 2019

How would you know if there were experiences from the earliest moments of your life affecting you here and now? And if you are indeed being impacted by the distant past - what can you do to heal those early traumas so that you’re more free and connected in your current life? Our guest today is Peter Levine, creator of Somatic Experiencing, and author of many bestselling books on healing trauma - “Waking the Tiger”, “In an Unspoken Voice”, and “Trauma and Memory” - just to name a few! Today you’ll learn how to recognize the signs of these deep emotions, and what to do to regulate them, as well as how to help our co-regulate with your partner, to build a stronger, more resilient foundation for your relationship (and within yourself). 

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

Check out my other episodes with Peter Levine:

Episode 127 of Relationship Alive on Building Resilience

Episode 29 on Healing Your Triggers and Trauma


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Neil Sattin  Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host Neil Sattin. As always we are exploring both the relational skills and the inner healing that's required in order to show up fully in your life and in your relationships. Today, we are fortunate to have a return visit from none other than Peter Levine -- one of the world's experts on healing trauma and also the creator of somatic experiencing one of the world's foremost modalities on healing trauma of all kinds. This can be the big kinds of traumas that people think of, you know, with war, and assault, and things like that. Or, it can be the smaller traumas that that still have a huge impact on us, things that happen in our childhood things that happen in our day to day lives. So, today in our conversation with Peter Levine we're going to be talking about how our early attachment traumas affect us in our adult lives and what we can do about that to bring more presence to our relationships. As always we will have a detailed transcript of today's conversation which you can get if you visit Neil-Sattin-dot-com-slash-Levine-2. That's L-E-V-I-N-E, as in Peter Levine and then the number two. Peter has also been on the show a couple other times, so if you, if you check out Episode 127 you can listen to us talking about resilience. Or I used the kind of funny form of that word resiliency, and uh, way back in Episode 29 we were talking about the again the effects of trauma on our lives and how to heal it. So we're building a comprehensive library here for you to help you get present and free your cells as and your physiology as well as your mind and your emotions -- your mind body spirit from the pernicious effects of trauma on our lives. 

Neil Sattin  So as always Peter thank you so much for joining us here today. It's great to have you again. 

Peter Levine  Sure, sure. 

  So let's just without having to give the full picture because I definitely think that our listeners can, can go and check out those other episodes that the two of us have done together. Let's talk about what might constitute an early attachment trauma or an early attachment wounding. What kinds of things would be the kind of thing that might stick with someone into their adult lives? 

Peter Levine  Yeah. Well you know, I mean, so many things from our past from our deep deep long past do affect us. They don't affect, they don't affect us in ways that we're conscious of, I mean that's part of the problem. And. I think of attachment, probably a little bit different than than most people do. I look more along a developmental arc about what happens to us from womb to, to adolescence and and the memories we carry. Now I said the memories are not conscious. But what are they? Well, we have to just take a couple of minutes to understand, at least comprehend, the different types of memory. Basically that some memories are conscious, are explicit. Other memories are much more unconscious and those are called implicit memories. And our basic attachments have to do with implicit memories. It has very little to do with explicit memories. That's one of the reasons why I think probably therapists often struggle in working with the early attachment wounds because they're so deeply ingrained in the, in the body experience and and can only really be accessed through the vehicle of sensations and these sensations are very primitive sensations very old, very raw. So, if we look at an implicit memories there are basically two types. One type is emotional. And so for example if you're introduced to somebody for the first time and all of a sudden you feel anger or fear or revulsion or just wanting to avoid them. There's a good chance that this stems from earlier experience with somebody who had some of those same qualities, so they get triggered and then they explode in an emotional way. I mean we all experience something like that at different times. You know, as an example, uh, a couple that's riding in their car and the wife is driving and they make a wrong turn. And her husband starts yelling at her: "Don't you know where you're going?" And then of course he starts laughing and they both died laughing. But from that moment something in him something in not being to the party at time or being lost, triggered some kind of a.. an old engram, an old memory trace. I sometimes am a little hesitant to use the word memory because the memories are so different than the conscious explicit memories. Ok, then even deeper than the emotional memories, which again do have to do with our early experiences as well as our development over the lifespan, that the other type of memory is called procedural memory. And these are memories that happen in our bodies and they can be both positive and negative, depending a lot on what our early experiences were in the womb at birth and during the bonding process. 

Peter Levine  And procedural memories very often are long, longlasting, and I divide them into two categories. One are basic things that the body learns such as for example, teaching a child how to ride a bike. So the parent or an older sibling by the side of the child and has their hands on the bicycle and they walk together and then run together, run and then bikes goes a little bit faster and then just at that right moment the parent lets go of the bike because they sense that the child is being able to balance themselves and then the child rides off on the bicycle and wants to go on the bicycle every day for the next six months. Because they're thrilled at that accomplishment. They now have a new memory, a new procedural memory, a new body memory and that involves a lot of different things that the body does. So if the parent trying to explain to the child: "Well, if you, if you, if you bend over this way your center of gravity will go off that way. So you'll have to turn the bicycle in that direction." It's just impossible. 

Neil Sattin  Right. 

Peter Levine  The body learns that quick, quick, quick, and once it's there even with a memory like that a positive memory like that the child is - you never forget how to ride a bicycle. That adage is largely true. It really is. So let me give you an example -- and again those memories can be positive like learning to ride a bike or learning dance steps or they can be highly negative. But let me give you an example and it does affect - It does introduce the relationship between attachment and these memories. 

Neil Sattin  Ok. 

Peter Levine  God, I don't know. Twenty, twenty-five years ago or so I was visiting my parents in New York City, in the Bronx. And so I spent the day down in Manhattan going to museums and it was coming back in the train the D train and train was packed with men in similar suits with newspapers folded under their arms. And so. But there was one particular person I just I didn't even see his face. There was just something about his posture that had a strange effect on me and I felt a slight slight expansion of my chest and a little bit of a warmth in my belly as I paid attention to my body sensations. So unbeknownst to me in a way I was having a memory but certainly not a conscious memory because you know I hadn't been the type, who knows why I was having this attachment. So anyhow, he, we both got off at the last stop. The crowds thinned out. Two-hundred-and-fifth street and I walked up to him and the fact, the words came out of my mouth out of my lips. I wasn't even consciously aware of saying them. I touched his arm and I said, "Arnold." And he looked at me utterly perplexed and puzzled. And we just stayed there for a moment. And then I said, "Arnold, you were in my first grade class with Ms. Campini. And well I would say, I would say, he was astonished, we were both astonished. There is something that I knew him in this class many decades before several decades before. Yet there was some attraction to that person because I obviously I don't remember everybody who was in the class. He's probably the only person I do remember that was in my in my first grade class. I mean I do remember bullies and I was very bullied at the time because I came in I was younger I came in in the middle of the class time, middle of the semester, and I had my ears were the same size then as they are now. So kids tease me about and call me Dumbo. And so I was bullied a lot. And Arnold was the one child that seemed to support me that seemed to care about me and it wasn't even verbal support. It was some, I just felt him someway, somehow on my side. So that implicit procedural memory is something that I've carried forth, for the rest of my life. Hopefully our early attachment figures have something like that so that when we are meeting another person, for, in terms of cultivating or being in a relationship or navigating the vicissitudes relationship that we have these positive memories, which have to do with approach. OK. Keep that word in mind. Approach. 

Neil Sattin  Ok. 

Peter Levine  If on the other hand we have had neglect, abuse, confusion, in our early experiences, we have procedural memories that are primary avoidance. Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully, hopefully, the positive experiences, the approach experiences are much greater than the avoidance experiences because that's what we need for a healthy relationship. So. OK. So, anyhow let's look at some of the kinds of things that happened early in our experience of the world. 

Peter Levine  So. So as I was saying hopefully they approach procedural memories outweigh the they avoidance one. But again starting way way back our experiences in utero. You know, if the mother is in a relaxed state, which again is a good reason why hopefully, mothers are able to spend it. Certainly the later part of their pregnancy at home doing things they enjoy to do settling, resting, preparing, that, so, however if the mother is under a lot of stress, accumulated stress during that period particularly the later part of gestation, that stress through different channels is actually passed on to the fetus. It does this by certain chemicals that are released when the mother is under stress but also direct neural mechanisms that, that, that, that increase or decrease the blood flow to the placent-placenta itself. So the placenta increases level of carbon dioxide, less oxygen, which stresses the fetal nervous system and overstimulated it. And then, what often happens in these studies were done in animals of course, is that you have this tremendously increase in the activity of the whole brain. But then after a certain point it just shuts down. And so again here already, we're hopefully having positive implicit experiences, but we also might be having negative ones. 

Peter Levine  Then birth of course is the next stage here in development and my sense is that the, the utilization of midwives and doulas is a little bit starting to come back taking the birth process out of the realm of a, of a disease that needs to be dealt with medically. 

Neil Sattin  Right. 

Peter Levine  To part of a natural process. But anyhow. And so during that time again the fetus the newborn can be extremely stressed. But, here's the, here's the, the, the hopeful part because eh, that the parents, the caregivers can also soothe the distress of the infant after it's born, can really hold it, rock it, soothe it, patiently. So again it's getting a positive imprint a positive memory of being able to be helped out of the distressed state into a state of settling, of a relaxation because remember an infant can not regulate itself. If it's distressed, it has precious little in the way of being able to, to, to come down from that activation and that will -- and calm itself. It needs to be, the term used often is, co-regulated by the caregiver. So by holding, soothing, singing, gently rocking all of those kinds of things helps the newborn regulate. 

Neil Sattin  So. 

Peter Levine  And again. Yeah go ahead, anytime you want. 

Neil Sattin  So there are a couple things that are jumping out at me. One of them being that from the youngest moments of our existence, we're creating memories that are that are not the kind of memory that you would typically think about, you know, where you can picture a story in your head of something happening. These are actual body memories and emotional experiences that just live within us and can be evoked in the present. But they don't necessarily, they're not necessarily something that have a story attached to them that you would consciously remember. 

Peter Levine  Yes. 

Neil Sattin  And then the second piece that's popping into place for me is around how, so there are all these things that are just kind of happening to us when we're in the womb. And then when we come out and are born there's this additional component where we're associating these really intense visceral experiences in our neurobiology with our primary caregiver so with our primary attachment figures, and I can already see this kind of setting up what plays out in, in our future selves when we are actually entering partnership with others, so we create attachments as adults with the people who are, who we can be most vulnerable with, most cared for most caring to, et cetera. But it's like --. 

Peter Levine  Or the opposite. 

Neil Sattin  Exactly. Good point, good point. And memory being what it is, just the presence of these people will naturally evoke some of these early memories. And then if we're not aware that that's happening, it's clear that that could create all sorts of problems because you might think that it's something specifically about your partner that is evoking this particular sensation, you might not know you're having a memory you might think whatever they just did is absolutely disgusting, and revolting and whereas you're really actually having a memory and I'm wondering as an adult how do we begin to tease apart the two or is it not even really important to do that? Maybe it's more important to just think about how we process those experiences so that they're not impacting us quite so profoundly?

Peter Levine  All right. Well actually let me go back to, to baby time. 

Neil Sattin  Yeah. Let's go back. 

Peter Levine  Before we go to adult. And this is and this is actually an example of work with a 14 month old and the session is all, is described and along with photographs in, in my most recent book, "Trauma And Memory: Brain And Body In A Search For The Living Past." So again it's how the past lives within us. Anyhow Baby Jack was born of an extremely traumatic birth. The cord was three ti-- it was around his neck three times, at the last minute he turned breech and he had the more mother tried to push, the more that Jack tried to propel against the uterine wall. He became more and more wedged at the apex of the uterus. In other words, oh! Maybe some people don't know that actually the birth process itself is not just about the mother pushing the baby out, but the baby actually pushing itself out. So the more Jack pushed the more he got wedged, the more he got stuck in, you know in the new apex of the uterus, and so they did an emergency caesarean his, his heart rate was starting to go down significantly. And even so they still couldn't pull him out. So they use suction to pull him out. And use it -- this is a very traumatic birth. And he was suffering from some physical symptoms which would have required that they do endoscopes and also looking into his lung, uh, a procedure which would have certainly really add a tremendous amount of traumatization to this fourteen, to this infant which has already been highly traumatized. So the baby has been highly traumatized. So I start to work with him. And again and you'll see that the pictures in the book. But I take some wrapped rattles that were made for me by a Hopi person and I wrap them a little bit to get his attention and he's he's an alert person but his mother says he never will, you know, uh, stay still. Never just stay her lap and mold into her. She never had that experience of him. So she say "He'll maybe come over. But then he is off to the next thing again." And she says, "Oh and he can be okay when he is alone." So again you see this thing in relationships, when we're alone where we do we perceive ourselves to be OK, but then when we're in a relations with somebody, we can lose all of that. So anyhow he reaches for the rattle as I hand it towards him. And then he retracts his hand his arm and just, it goes limp. And so he is now having a memory. He cannot talk about this memory because he doesn't really have words and even if he could they wouldn't be the words that could, would work. So then I give the rattle to him again and this time he pushes against the rattle. And I say "Yeah that's great, Jack." You know because he had all, he was taken away. All these tubes all these procedures that were done, and he felt, he was helpless. He was this little teeny baby and all of these, you know, giants were doing these things towards him. So anyhow we continue with this and at one point I put my hand on his middle back, because I see that's where he stiffens when his mother starts talking about needing to, the doctors wanting to do an endoscopy. So anyhow this time he pushes against her leg really pushes any propelled, as though it was propelling himself through the birth canal as though it really was. Anyhow after that he just starts crying and crying and crying. It's just birth cry sounds. And his mother is just astonished. She said, "I've almost never heard him cry and I've never seen tears coming down." His tears coming from his eyes. And you can see it's both a combination of amazement and relief and she doesn't even quite know what that relief is about. 

Peter Levine  Then at, at the end of this crying there is deep spontaneous breaths, deep spontaneous breaths and he just positions himself so he can mold into the mother's shoulder and then she knows exactly what to do now. 

Peter Levine  She put her arm around him and gently holds him and you see them attaching. So it wasn't that she was a bad mother that prevented the attachment. That wasn't the case. It was that they got disconnected at birth. She was definitely a, in Winnicott's terms, a good enough mother, very caring mother. But again you see in youth, and you can see it in the pictures, her complete delight at him doing this and then they come in the next week for a checkup. And his mother says, "Oh, when, when we got home Jack went to sleep, and then at one o'clock in the morning he called out, 'Mama! Mama!' And she she came in and picked him up and he molded again right into her arm, right into her shoulders."

Peter Levine  So this here is a, is a definitely implicit memory. And it turned out to be positive. But what if nothing had been done at that, had been done at that time. Then you can certainly project ahead and probably have a pretty good guess that he is going to have difficulties in relationships, that he's going to have difficulty in getting really close and bonding and attachment. So I'd be able to change that memory from the timeframe of this birth that really made it much more possible for him to have secure attachments in other later relationships. There's one thing I like to say about that. Oh OK. So even in this case, in a case, like this where there has been trauma, er, around the birth and around early attachment, we are still able to work with those memories. They may not be as accessible as they were with Baby Jack. But, but at the same time we can use language and imagery to help the person connect with those procedural memories and to transform them, to transmute them, from negative ones which were dominating Jack to positive ones of approach. And again we want a relationship -- a relationship is not going to be able to really survive, unless there is much more approach memories than avoidance memories. But again these things can be shifted even in our adult life, but they will come up in close relationships. And if we have had those difficulties experienced negative experience if we were neglected... You know, when I was born, the medical wisdom at the time was, first of all, give the mother all kinds of drugs and then do not breastfeed because breast-feeding was unsanitary. I mean, can you imagine how archaic that was? 

Neil Sattin  Oh my god. 

Peter Levine  And to add insult to injury they also instructed parents not to pick, not to pick up their babies when the babies were crying because the babies would just use that to manipulate them. 

Neil Sattin  Right. 

Peter Levine  I mean think about that, that, that's abuse. Frankly, as we understand today. But that was the that, was the that was the understanding of the time the wisdom at the time. 

Peter Levine  So anyhow when people from my generation were crying and upset we weren't held. And so that's the memory that we carry, that when we're upset we will not be able to calm. So we're, if we're upset in adult relationship we do not expect to be calmed, and we won't even allow ourselves to be calmed. So we either avoid the relationship or become over dependent in the relationship to soothe us because we're unable to be soothed. And again one of the things that we teach in somatic experiencing, is to help people learn this is part of working with these procedural memories, to have people learn to be able to regulate themselves. And for couples to learn how to regulate each other, because there's a pretty good chance that if you you're dysregulated you find a dysregulated person to, to be in relationship with or, or opposite. 

Neil Sattin  Yeah. So, wow, there are so many things jumping out at me right now and I definitely obviously we're not going to go through the whole body of work of somatic experiencing right now. I do hope that we can offer our listeners a few things they can do when they notice these things coming out. All your books that I've read have been such a revelation to me and in particular when it comes to applying your work, there is a rather thin book called "Healing Trauma," that we've spoken about before, that I think is just so great because it offers like a whole sequence of exercises that people can work through that, that take you on this journey of of uncovering these implicit memories and and unearthing them and being able to resolve them in the moment like you were describing resolving or the resolution of your work with that with baby Jack. When you were describing the ways that your generation was or that your parents were taught to to care for your generation when you were born. It made me also think about the way that trauma is passed from generation to generation because what I think happened to a lot of people in my generation was that their parents were, you know, the product of this whole you know don't, don't breastfeed the baby, don't pick up the baby, and then when when they were presented with a baby that was crying or inconsolable, even if they had a different sense maybe of like, "Oh I'm supposed to be doing this differently or differently than my parents did." It's evoking all of these implicit memories for my parents. Um, and which makes it much more challenging for them to show up as a regulating force for their children. 

Peter Levine  Yeah yeah yeah. Or sometimes the parents will try to do the opposite of what they had experienced. And so there's another key feature here which is also important is, that absolutely you know for the first several some months after birth the child basically has to be held and rocked, eh, when it's upset. But then you know starting after several months like nine months or so, it's also important that, because once the child has had enough solid procedural m-memories, experience of being calm, being settled then it is important to at least allow for the child to be upset for some amount of time, so that they can also bring in their capacity, their gradually learned capacity to self regulate. And often parents who come, where they were not picked up, and where they were just left in this, this, this swamp of distress, they may have trouble to not immediately pick up their baby when it's crying and then immediately hold it. 

Peter Levine  So, sometimes those children don't develop a full enough capacity for self regulation, which can also can be problematic in later relationships, because of course we're going to be upset with things that our, that our spouses do, our partners do. And... But the question is do we have tools so that we don't just go into profound distress and despair every time something happens that upsets us. So we do need to have both, I think, I just mentioned this, the capacity to regulate and to co-regulate and to get some of these skills that the book that you mentioned, book-CD, actually by "sounds true" called "Healing Trauma," something like, "A pioneering program for healing trauma." I don't know but anyhow... 

Neil Sattin  "A Pioneering Program For Restoring The Wisdom of Your Body."

Peter Levine  Ah. That's it. OK thank you. So again, some of the exercises where we learn to regulate states of arousal, of fear, of anger -- so that we don't have to constantly rely on the other person. But at the same time a healthy relationship also involves co-regulation. Particularly, hopefully, when we're able to say and this may this is, a kind of a higher state, "Dear. I'm really feeling so unsettled and anxious. Could you please just hold me for a little bit?" And, then if the other, if the other partner is in a relatively grounded, calm place themselves then they most likely will want to offer that. 

Peter Levine  So again it's a combination of co-regulation, transmuting into or developing into the capacity to self regulate. And then as adolescents and adults to be able to switch between self-regulation and co regulation. So again we are in a sense transforming these procedural memories where we did not have positive experience of being co regulated or we didn't develop the capacity to self regulate, to self regulate. 

Neil Sattin  So, how would I know if I'm having an experience where, where it would make sense for me to check in with my partner let's say and ask for some co regulation? What kinds of experiences would I be having within me that might be an indication of like, "Oh wait. That's..." So when when someone hears this, they'll be like, "Oh that's the thing that Peter Levine was talking about. And look I'm experiencing that right now. Maybe I should go ask my my partner if they'll hold me for a minute and see what happens."

Peter Levine  Right. Well guess what. It's absolutely not... It's not going to happen at once, at once. It's a skill that one has to really, really build. But the basic idea is that when we become upset, become emotional, become angry, become fearful, become sad, that's out of proportion to what's happening here in the present, then that's a almost certain guarantee. It's a certain guarantee that we're dealing with some kind of imprinted procedural memory a negative, in a word, memory. And so while we're in the midst of it it's going to be harder to ask for help. But if we know how to co-reg, uh, how to self regulate ourselves, even a little bit then we can realize, "OK, I'm upset but I'm upset so much more than you know then my partner saying “you know I'm not going to be able to get together tomorrow because I have to work, for dinner. I have to work later at work." OK. So really upset. But if that child had been abandoned as an, as as a baby, then all of a sudden that abandonment comes in, and for an infant being abandoned would cause death. If if the baby is abandoned for enough time. 

Neil Sattin  Right. 

Peter Levine  And so we will experience this, this perceived rejection as a life threat. OK, so again if we know enough about our implicit memories we can then be able to kind of soothe ourselves, and I give exercises for that, to soothe ourselves and then to be able to enter back into the relationship. But it's a skill that really needs to be developed and good therapy, both couples and individual therapy, can really help to facilitate this kind of cooperation, between, between our relationships, our primary relationships as adults. 

Neil Sattin  Yeah, no, I've mentioned it on the on the show before and I think when when you were on... Maybe the first time you were on, we, we went over the "Voo" exercise and that's something that Chloe and I we do together all the time when we notice one or the other being in a dysregulated state to help us come back into balance with each other. It's super helpful. 

Peter Levine  Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean there are a number of exercises like the Voo exercise, like the self holding exercise, where it is bringing one's awareness to the parts of our body which are not feeling horrifically. And so that could be our, our hands or our feet even. So again there's a number of different exercises that we can learn from and learn how to self regulate enough. You know there's a Motown song that goes something like: "It takes one to stand in the dark alone. It takes two to let the light shine through." So I think again it's this combination of being responsible for our own implicit memories, our own emotional and procedural memories. But also to be, to be cognizant about them enough so that we can enter into co-regulation and that co-regulation really enhances the attachment, the adult attachment and secures that relationship, solidifies that relationship, build it into a positive experience. So you know, again a lot of times all these things that happened to us can have these different effects that really will disrupt the relationship. Let me give you one example. I was working with this woman, young woman, who was abused by a sports coach when she was 13 years old, and because she is a teenager, she thought that he was in love with her. She certainly was in love, whatever that means, with him. And then she was rejected by him. Anyhow, those were really, eh, procedural memories and so when her husband would try to touch her. She would go into anger or revulsion and just want to push him away. So. And of course he was deeply deeply upset cuz he had no idea what to do. So I had worked with her to do a few sessions and then suggested that they would come in together. And they were sitting as far away as possible from each other and they talked about their resentments. That he never gives me eye contact, she never gives me eye contact. So they were talking about wanting to make contact but they couldn't do it. So after this went on for 30 minutes where they were basically blaming each other I asked if they would be willing to try an experiment. And I said, "This is, there's a risk at this. I mean hopefully this will help but it might not. Are you willing to take that risk?" And they both said yes. So then, he, I had him where he was sitting and then I had her going to explain this both to them sit with her back towards him and kind of having his knee a little bit like touching her shoulder. So she could feel this contact but it didn't demand eye contact and it was touching in a relatively, in a relatively safe way. And so at first I could see they you know they felt very awkward and I encouraged them just to keep noticing their body sensations and maybe just report them out loud and they did that for a while and then for the first time she could say that she felt some safety with her husband. But otherwise it was all threat and confusion the confusion of this 13 year old adolescent. So, again all of these things will affect our attachments profoundly. But the good news is there are things that we can do about that. So, again I hope I'm not pitching too much, but I, I really do recommend that people, even if they're not therapists, read "Trauma and Memory," because it really helps to explain the nature of all of these memories that we have a better idea of the map of where we are, and also the understanding of when we're hyper activated or when we're shut down, which I cover deeply in, "An Unspoken Voice." So. And then of course the one that you mentioned. So all of these really talk about a map to know where we are. What is it, if we're, if we're angry with a person, there's energy in that we can more easily work with that. But what happens if when with the person our whole organism shuts down and goes into a protective shell, where we can't easily be reached then we have to help the person come out of that shutdown into a more activated state, and then learn to regulate... co-regulate that state and then to learn to self regulate that state. I know that's a mouthful. I'm putting in it at the end but... 

Neil Sattin  Yeah way to drop the bomb, Peter! You know I'm curious when maybe you could offer something then. So because I think it's so common for a partner when they feel their beloved shutting down in some sense to not really know what to do in that moment to not know how to how to speak to them or how to respond in a way. So, what would the invitation be there? 

Peter Levine  So sometimes you know instead of like being like confronting each other, uh, indoors, to, or at least I mean even indoors but hopefully outdoors if the weather is clement, is to just walk together, side by side and talk instead of trying to face each other, which is bringing up a lot of those difficult emotions. And when you're walking you're less likely to shut down. So, that's the first thing I would recommend. Don't, if you, if if things are stuck just walk together side by side because there's something just in that gesture side by side which is supportive which is caring. And caring that the person can actually experience. 

Peter Levine  Then I'll suggest doing some of the exercises like the "Voo exercise", you know the long easy sustain "voo" directing it from the belly. And that's one way of helping people both come out of shutdown or if they're in a hyper state, to calm the hyper state. So, I would suggest that they do the exercise and maybe especially do them together so that they feel more settled and in this more settled place they're able to engage each other, much more in the here and now, rather than in there and then. So, again that's why I use the term brain and body in the search for the living past, how the past lives within us and what we can do about it - how we can change the past so that we can be in the present. 

Peter Levine  And when two people are in the present with each other who care about each other that solidifies the bond and takes that out of the realm of things like adaptations, like codependency. 

Neil Sattin  Right and gets them into that space where, they can, they can re-experience those memories but metabolize them into something positive, where they're feeling like, "Oh I'm experiencing that, but my partner is here to support me like now I know what it's like to actually feel supported in this... 

Peter Levine  Exactly. Exactly. And again when we're able to cultivate in the relationship to the degree that we're able to do that, we're solidifying the relationship. Because difficult times will happen. I mean there is no -- I don't know of any relationships where, where crises have never occurred. Some kind -- it can be a small crisis but it can also be a really big crisis. So the question, is are we fortified enough have we built the foundation of our relationship somatically, so that when these things do occur we're able to weather them and co regulate each other. And I'm thinking sometimes of something that's really devastating. Like when a child dies or gets seriously ill, that's the time really that the parents need to co-regulate each other. 

Neil Sattin  Mm hmm. 

Peter Levine  But that's also the time where there's a tendency to distance. Or to blame. Rather than to connect. 

Neil Sattin  Right. Right. Those are the moments where you need each other more than ever really. 

Peter Levine  More than ever. But again if we've solidified that, up to that point then the chances of us getting through that are greatly enhanced. 

Neil Sattin  Yeah. It makes perfect sense. Makes perfect sense. And, and I could see you know, for instance even just with something as simple as taking a walk and doing the "Voo” together. That doing that in times that aren't dysregulated. That it's setting the stage for that just becoming something that you can rely on in a challenging moment. 

Peter Levine  Yeah yeah. You know many people, many couples, many individuals are reported when they did that with their partner, did the walking, the "Voo"ing that kind of thing -- they were really angry and fearful and blaming and they just walked for a while did the "VU" and then both of them started spontaneously laughing and laughing and laughing and crying and laughing. And then just kind of both seeing the ridiculousness of those, of that reaction but also their appreciation for the other. 

Neil Sattin  So yeah I can relate. And it's so important too, I think because when you're stuck in an old memory, that translates often into thoughts, the kinds of thoughts like that, "You're not safe with this person or that they're out to get you." And, and but the feelings actually precede the thoughts. So if you're able to tackle your somatic experience that feeling in your body, then the thought shifts. 

Peter Levine  Yeah. Right. The emotions precede the thoughts and the procedural memories come... uh, procedural memories are what's also evoking their emotional memories. 

Neil Sattin  Yeah. 

Peter Levine  So again and in somatic experiencing, we do a lot of work from the bottom up from sensations then to affects, then to new meanings. And so that couple had the new meaning like, "Oh my gosh. I don't have to feel so alone when I'm feeling angry or fearful I just need to ask for some kind of connection such as what we were just mentioning. Yeah. So again these are tools I hope that couples all know and practice a bit so that when they really, when it's really called upon that it'll be there. And again, my experience is that can really determine in a crisis time whether people, whether couples stay together, work together, stay together cooperate together, or where they split. 

Neil Sattin  Right. Yeah. Well, Peter thank you again for all your time and wisdom and you know, the years and years of dedication to unearthing ways to heal from traumas that happened to us before we even were aware of them. And your work is so important, I think to finding ourselves again and again in the present, especially when we're in partnership and you know evoking each other's deep emotional experience all over the place and hopefully, hopefully healing together as well. 

Peter Levine  Yes, yep, that's the idea. 

Neil Sattin  Before I go there's some work that's a little tangential to this conversation but I just wanted to give you an opportunity to mention it because it's so important that has to do with the ways that the effects of stored trauma, unprocessed trauma, in our bodies results in chronic illness and I know, I know you've been hard at work on ways to help people through that. 

Peter Levine  Yes. 

Neil Sattin  Would you mind taking a moment to just talk about what that is and...? 

Peter Levine  Oh yeah yeah yeah. No, gladly because that's something that really really excites me really turns me on. It over the years some 40 plus years. Um, I've probably worked with thousands of people who have had what would now be called conditions like fibromyalgia, irritable bowel, chronic fatigue, severe PMS, migraines, urinary problems and so forth. And working with them, with SE, has been quite effective. And these are conditions that don't have a medical diagnosis. There are now calls sometimes in medicine MUS, medically unexplained symptoms. MUS. And there's no help for many of them, some people do have something organically wrong of course and that has to be eliminated. But many of these people are just thrown from doctor to doctor, specialist to specialist, with you know, with no help. And you know even after the diagnosis of fibromyalgia, I think in 1980 to 94, 84... Still very very few physicians understood that but certainly almost nobody understood that it was not something that was just in a person's head. But these are functional disorders involving our stress responses basically. So you know thinking about that. There are probably at least 10 or 20 million people suffering in the US alone with those kind of symptoms and there's no amount of therapists. I mean that could really help all of these people and many people can't really afford therapists and so forth and they really need something that they can use even if they are doing therapy to be an adjunct of supportive therapy. So along with, uh, a project manager, an entrepreneur and an M.I.T. specialist in computer human interaction affective communication. And then three other programmers, we've been working in the last two and a half years on this program, be a program or an app, that people can use at home to help them heal those kinds of sick, uh, symptoms. And we'll be finally testing the first version of that in the next couple of months. So I'm both also I'm excited but I'm also a little bit, like, anxious... A little trepidation you know like putting in all this work. And I bet and I know it's going to help. I mean we did a proof of concept at the very beginning. And, it had very powerful effect but anyhow that's that's really where my a lot of my energy is right now. It's in, in, in continuing to develop that as we start getting feedback from the first... or, actually the second test group. So if you want to be glad to let you know when we're up and about. 

Neil Sattin  Definitely and we can we can send a blast out to everyone on our email list about that. And, and your assistant Melissa who is such a blessing, she also wanted me to mention that if if you send an email to Ergos-Levine-at-gmail-dot-com and that's spelled E R G O S L E V I N E at gmail-dot-com then then they can let you know and there's maybe even a chance that that those people can get involved in the testing of that app as well it sounds like. 

Peter Levine  Yeah. 

Neil Sattin  So. And of course you're always out teaching and people can participate in your public courses. There are some on the East Coast in the fall. There's a course in London in June. And if they visit is it, Somatic-Experiencing-dot-com? Then they can sort of see everything that you’r e doing. 

Peter Levine  I believe so. I believe so. Yeah some of the stuff I'm doing yeah.

Neil Sattin  Well Peter. Peter it's always a pleasure to chat with you. And I've so enjoyed your generosity of time and wisdom over the years. And thanks so much again for dropping in with us here on Relationship Alive. 

Peter Levine  OK. Take good care. 

Neil Sattin  You too Peter. Take care. 

Neil Sattin  And as just a reminder if you want a transcript of this conversation and also the relevant links and things you can visit Neil-Sattin-dot-com slash-Levine-2. That's L E V I N E, and the number two or you can text the word passion to the number 3 3 4 4 4 and follow the instructions where you'll be able to download the complete transcript of our conversation. All right thanks again. 


Jul 3, 2019

Do you want one surefire way to know if the way you're interacting with your partner is something that they're into? Get their consent! Is there a place for getting consent even in a long-term relationship where you're pretty sure you know what your partner wants (and doesn't want)? Absolutely! It turns out that getting consent is a pathway to deeper intimacy and presence - for ALL relationships. In today's episode, you'll learn how to re-introduce the language of consent into your relationship in a way that's empowering for both you and your partner, and you'll discover exactly why your "no" creates even more relationship health than your "yes". Along the way, you'll strengthen the trust and fuel the passion in your connection. 

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! Or email YOUR recorded questions to questions (at) relationshipalive dot com.


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Jun 25, 2019

Beneath anxiety, depression, guilt, and shame, are core emotions that are hardwired into our circuitry. When you’re able to tap into the core emotions - and move through them - you’ll feel a new sense of freedom and empowerment - with the ability to handle anything that life sends your way. Our guest today is Hilary Jacobs Hendel. She’s a psychotherapist and the author of the new book, "It's Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect to Your Authentic Self,” which will definitely be a game changer for you. Today she has some practical tips for you on how to identify and work through these core emotions, so that you don't get stuck in the secondary emotions that can get in your way.

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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Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host Neil Sattin. It's been my mission of course to give you the best tools that I can find to help you have an amazing thriving relationship. And some of those tools are relational and how you interact with other people, and some of those tools are all about the inner work and how we can come to understand ourselves better and experience life more fully, shine more brightly and to get past the obstacles that stand in our way. And today, I hope to synthesize both of those things for you. Though, we're gonna start with the inner work as we unearth how to get to our core emotional experience and just why that is so important. And along the way you're gonna learn how to identify when you're in a core emotional experience and when you are not and learn exactly how to handle that situation. We are diving more deeply also into the work known as AEDP: accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy. Which is a mouthful but if you listened to Episode 176 with Diana Fosha, or episode 189 with David Mars then you're getting a sense for how this way of working with people can be so profound in its ability to create positive change.

Neil Sattin: Today's guest has taken the model even further in showing us how we can apply it for ourselves. So, it's great when you're doing it in, in therapy it's great when you're doing it in couples therapy. And this is going to show you how to do it on your own so that you can experience this kind of change in your daily life, using what's known as "the change triangle.".

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Our guest today is Hilary Jacobs Handel and her recent book: "It's Not Always Depression: Working The Change Triangle To Listen To The Body Discover Core Emotions And Connect To Your Authentic Self," is, I think, a game changer for you in terms of deepening your experience and being able to bring that fully into your relationship with your spouse, your partner, and your relationships with others in general. As usual we will have a detailed transcript of today's episode. You can get that if you visit Neil-Sattin-dot-com-slash-triangle, because we're talking about the change triangle, or as always you can text the word passion to the number 3-3-4-4-4 and follow the instructions. So let us dive in to the change triangle and discover how to get even more in touch with who we are at our core and how to bring that into the world. Hilary Jacobs Hendall, thank you so much for being here with us today on Relationship Alive.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Thank you Neil. I am delighted to be here talking about my favorite subjects, of emotions and relationships.

Neil Sattin: Perfect. Well we're on the same page then, definitely.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yes we are.

Neil Sattin: And I do want to mention before we get too deep in, that if you are a visual person and need a visual representation of the triangle that we're talking about then that's also available both on Hilary's Web site, which will announce in a little bit, and also at Neil-Sattin-dot-com-slash-triangle, where we have the transcripts. You'll be able to to see it in front of you if that's required. But we'll do our best to to make it, make it real for you as we're talking about it.

Neil Sattin: So Hilary, why, why is it so important to get in touch with our core emotions and and how do we distinguish core emotions from just that emotional wash that can come, come at us or come over us throughout our day?

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Well, it's, there's many reasons why it's important to get, not only get it, well understand the different types of emotions and to get in touch with emotions and to be able to discern what you're what you're feeling and what you're experiencing. Because most of us live up in our heads. And thoughts are fantastic and we need them. And I love my thoughts but it's half the picture of knowing who you are and what you need and what's good for you and what's bad for you. And core emotions are these biologically wired survival programs that really tell us, at the core, so much about what we who we are and what we need that if we're not listening to them and our society really teaches us to avoid them and block them, which I think is responsible for the epidemic we're seeing in depression and anxiety and so many mental health issues, that, and we don't learn anything about emotions, that, that without knowing about emotions and understanding how they work, we're really at a huge disadvantage to thrive in life.

Neil Sattin: Right, when you're able to identify the emotional experience that you're having, it gives you clues as to how you need to best respond to the world in the moment with whatever is going on in your life.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Exactly and I think what's become more and more important for me, just to say from the beginning to the people listening out there, is that this is not about wearing emotions on our sleeve. This is not about looking for an excuse to act out or behave badly, to rage or to cry, experiencing emotions is a wholly internal process it has nothing to do with what we actually then show to others, or, or enact. It may, but I'm, we're always trying to think about what is constructive for us, constructive for the person we are with. It's not about an excuse to behave badly and I think we live in an emotion phobic culture partly because people don't understand that, they think "Oh my gosh, you know, if we're all into our emotions it's just gonna be you know not good. It's just, it's..." I'm only thinking of curse words now that would come out and explain like a shit show, but I'm just you know that type of a thing. And this is a very thoughtful process that I am talking about that only helps us. There, there is no downside to getting in touch with emotions the way that I am thinking about it and the way that I try to educate others.

Neil Sattin: Right, what you just said is such an important distinction that we're talking about a constructive way to meet your emotions and to metabolize them into something that's beneficial not just for you but for the other people in your orbit or for life in, in general. And you know we had Harriet Lerner on the show to talk about her seminal work, "The Dance of Anger," and turning anger into, into a constructive emotional phenomenon. And I love how in your book it's not always depression you talk about each of these core emotions and we're talking about emotions like sadness and fear and anger and disgust, and we're also talking about emotions like joy or excitement or sexual excitement. Lust I think is the way that Jaak Panskepp talks about it. And we're talking about all of those core programs that you just mentioned and looking at how they lead to our common good. The common benefit and also ways to know when, when something's coming at us that really isn't healthy and and how to respond effectively to that.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Exactly right. In particular with using anger to set limits and boundaries and to assert ourselves without being aggressive.

Neil Sattin: Right. Right which you're able to do when you've figured out "Wow I'm, I'm really angry. And here's why I'm angry right now." And so it becomes less about telling someone that you're angry and more about setting an effective limit with them.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yes, and I would add an additional piece: it's, it's also working with that anger internally to to discharge some of that energy that causes us to, to act too quickly, and act, and say mean things or do hurtful things, so that there's techniques to work with the energy that, that most emotions have and that grip us into impulses right and these impulses have to be thought through very, very up, down and sideways, before we decide to say something or do something that we really want to be thoughtful about ourselves and the action that wants to come out.

Neil Sattin: Right. Yeah.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: It's hard work too,  this is a lifelong process.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So important to name that and, and for you, listening, we're going, we're gonna get to some of these techniques of how to really integrate and and process your emotional experience in the way that Hilary was just naming. And I want to say too that well, as you know I read a lot of books for this show and I love the ones that just right out of the gate, I'm like, "This book is gonna make a difference in my life." And I definitely felt that reading your book it's so practical and in some ways the title is misleading because I think people see it and they think "Oh this is a book about depression. I'm not sure that impacts me." And so I want to encourage everyone listening that this is really a book about what we're talking about: how do you encounter your own emotional experience and chew it up in a way that's beneficial for you and then bring that into how you how you interact with the world around you.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah exactly. And I think you're right about the title. I guess if the title was exactly what it should be, it would say "This is a basic emotion education that you should have received in high school," and hopefully one day people will. But it's something that every, everybody knows that the title came from the article that I wrote for The New York Times back in 2015 and because the article went viral and so many people responded to it, that Random House said let's just name the book that. And you know it's not always depression what is it? It's really life, and how surviving our childhoods and all the adversity that life entails affects us emotionally and what happens when you block those emotions and what happens when you embrace those emotions and learn to work with them. And it's it's it's a fork in the road. And it matters.

Neil Sattin: Yes. Yeah. So let's start with talking about "the change triangle," because I think identifying the three different corners of the triangle will be really helpful for everyone in understanding what we're talking about because why is it a triangle, why isn't it just like well you've got to have your core emotional experience, and there, there's more to it. And this was where your book was so eye opening for me in many ways, was getting to see oh these kinds of things that I experience< they're happening because I'm, I, I'm trying to I'm trying to protect myself from a core emotional experience as an example. So, I think as we as we dive in this is going to make a lot more sense for everyone listening. So, where's a good place to start, Hilary?

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: I think just a quickly, describe it and and what I, I'll try to bring it to life a little bit.

Neil Sattin: Great.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: So for everybody listening you want to imagine an upside down triangle superimposed on your body. The point of the triangle is in your core, you know, somewhere between your stomach and, and your, under your ribs. And that's because, and that's, at the bottom of the triangle is where core emotions are and they're in the body and that's why I'm asking you to imagine them in your core. And they're, the core emotions to say them again are: fear, anger, sadness, disgust, joy, excitement, and sexual excitement. And each of those have their own unique programs and they're very simple in a way, you know, when something, when somebody hurts us... Well let's just take anger because it's something that we all struggle with in our culture. And there's so many myths about anger, but anger is there basically to protect us. Anger and fear. And when when somebody attacks us. And I always think about how these were designed to be sort of, hundreds of thousands of years ago, if somebody wanted to kill you, and, and had a threatening pose or gesture you would evoke anger in the middle of the brain, like where all core emotions are evoked, and then it sends out a myriad of responses to all organs of the body to ready the body for an action and that action is meant to be adaptive for survival. So anger will make us kind of want to make a fist and put up our dukes and get ready to attack. And it come, it's visceral. We all know that experience of when someone we care about insults us or doesn't do something that we really needed to and there's energy in the body and our, and we get tension in the body and we really feel like we want to lash out. So it's a full body experience and each of the core emotions have their own program that has an, uh, an uh, group of physical sensations that we can learn to recognize and name, and each of the core emotions has an impulse to action that we can learn to recognize, and, and explain and name, and, and an impulse to action, that we are, that it's pulling for us to do. And it's that whole experience that we want to get really good at recognizing and that is really just a part of knowing ourselves. The, the emotions react similarly in everybody. But there is nuance in everyone. So the way that I experience anger will be differently than the way you experience anger, Neil. And that's the same for all the core emotions.

Neil Sattin: Great.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: So that's the bottom of the triangle. Does that make sense?

Neil Sattin: Perfect.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: OK. Now there's uh, there's three corners of the triangle, which I'm going to explain. But there is a fourth point here and I'm just going to share it real quickly now because when we have a core emotion, we're at a fork in the road and there's base likely two ways it can go. We can bury that emotion and push it away and block it and then we're going to be moving to the top of the triangle. Or, we can validate it, name it, and work with the experience that it's evoking, in which case we get to this place that I put on the bottom of the triangle. That's called the "open hearted state of the authentic self." And what that is basically, a more practical way of saying, is it's a regulated state of mind and body and that when we are with our core emotions, and we let them process through, and we are allowed to experience them, and again nothing has actually happened yet in the outside world it's wholly internal, it's a way that comes the body back down. Because core emotions come up they kind of cause an arousal of the nervous system like a wave. You ride the wave and then they come down. And if we don't block them the energy kind of naturally will dissipate over time, and in ways and techniques that we can help with that, and then we come back to this kind of calm state, where our mind and body feel relaxed, and in that state good things happened, and there's a bunch of c-words that I borrowed from Richard Schwartz with his permission, where when we stay in this kind of calm regulated state, we are more curious, we feel more connected, we have a greater capacity for compassion for ourselves and other people, we tend to feel more confident because we can deal with our own emotions and we feel more courageous in life and we have more clarity of thought. So you obsess less. So this is where we all want to spend more time.

Neil Sattin: Definitely.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: And it's not that it's the goal to spend all our time there, right? That's impossible because life happens but that's where we want to spend more and more time. And so working this change triangle to get back to core emotions and to go through them down to this calm state is the whole point of this.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I think it's important to mention that too, that we're describing this, this static image but it implies a process that you can go through in order to get to the openhearted state of self energy that that Hilary's just described.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Right, because we're moving around this triangle all day every day many times and it's what we do that matters and then we're also kind of moving around in this triangle in life on a macro level spending less time in our defensive states and more time in the openhearted state. So. So that's sort of a sort of a micro and a global way to look at it.

Neil Sattin: Great. So then when you have that core when you're when some core emotional response comes up, you said you're at a fork in the road and you can head, you can ride the wave and and get to that core self state or...

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Or like most of us do, because that's what we're taught to do in our society, is we tend to block them. And so the top of the triangle if we move to the top right that corner is labeled inhibitory emotions and the inhibitory emotions which everyone will recognize are anxiety, guilt, and shame. And again what they have in common is that they all push down, and block, and bury core emotional experience, in purpose for the purpose of pretty much getting along in our society. There are more social emotions, so that if the core emotions are the selfish emotions what's good for me the inhibitory emotions are, "How do I curb my own impulses and desires, so that I stay in the good graces, good graces of initially my mother and then my father and my siblings, my family, then my peer groups, my uh, by then you know as you broaden into society, my religious groups, my, oh, my collegial groups..." That we it's so important for human survival to get along. So in a way there's a fundamental conflict here. So, so the inhibitory emotions when we it's the way that we block our core emotions. And so what we end up doing is noticing that we have anxiety, for example, and if we have anxiety we know that we're on the top right hand corner of the triangle. But what that means practically, is that we also know that we are inhibiting some core emotional experience that if we can get to and name, and, and, and use, we will likely feel less anxious. Feel much better and I can give an example of this, but, then the way we do this is with muscular contraction, all sorts of maneuvers that anxiety, shame, and guilt block these core emotions and for different purposes. And some of us will feel more shame, some more anxiety. You know, we have to mix in genetics and disposition here, and then the environment for why we end up feeling ashamed or guilty or anxious.

Neil Sattin: Right and something that feels important to name right here is the way that you can feel those inhibitory emotions from a core positive emotional experience as much as a core negative. And I'm kind of putting those words in quotes because I think what we're getting at here is that they all have the capacity to be positive but one might not think like, "Oh you know, I'm, I'm experiencing shame because I'm feeling too much joy right now," or "I'm too excited. And so my anxiety is coming in to to block that, or my guilt about being excited about this thing.".

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: That is so crucial and the more that I do this work in psychotherapy and just observe the people that I'm with, the more I believe that it's the larger emotions. I wouldn't even say so... I think you're right, that people block joy and excitement and pride in the self and anything that makes us feel physically bigger. It's kind of fascinating you can almost reduce all below the neck deep experience into emotions that have energy that makes us feel larger, which is dangerous when we take up more space and we feel bigger, we tend to experience some inhibition either anxiety, guilt or shame. And so people tend to stay small and in a way people go negative... I'm not so sure anymore, which came firrt, err, do people kind of move into negative thoughts to keep them small? Because there's some core fear? Or is it that it's a it's a way not to feel big? I dunno if it gets sort of too complicated. But you can start to think of everything as almost like amoebas like am getting bigger or I'm getting smaller? And to begin to understand one's experience as, "Is this an expansive emotion now, that I'm feeling, like, joy and pride, and anger?" In which case it's going to make me feel vulnerable and then I'm going to come down on myself with some anxiety or shame or guilt. So that's just getting to what you were saying about people struggle with feeling good.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah. So it could go either way. And, and what I love is this sense of, "Oh. When I notice shame or anxiety or guilt that the problem isn't the shame or the anxiety or guilt." That's, the I don't want to spend all my time there, because they're indicating that there's a deeper core experience that's happening and that's where the the gold is.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Exactly. That's where the gold is. Now. I think it's also important to mention that that, we're talking about kind of detrimental levels of anxiety, shame and guilt here, that the shame has a purpose too. Guilt has a purpose. Like when we do something that hurts somebody else it's good that we feel guilty. That means that we're not a sociopath and so we want to listen to the shame. Listen to the guilt. Listen to the anxiety. And we also know that we have to look for our core emotions. So, it's, it's both because the inhibitory emotions are going to bring us to the relationship piece. But we also need to know what we're feeling so that we can express ourselves to, to yourself and to others.

Neil Sattin: Yeah and I will say just as a side note your, your chapter on dealing with anxiety shame and guilt. I think it's also super helpful along with creating self compassion but for understanding the other people in your life and what might be motivating certain behaviors that you experience from them. That was, in many respects, worth the price of admission for the book because that's part of what's going on is not only understanding yourself but being able to see these things happening in other people and to, and to recognize how it might be impacting them as well.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yes. So we can understand ourselves and others and I've had so many people read the book and tell me that they thought it should be in the Parenting section of the bookstore because we also want to understand our children's emotions so we don't unwittingly cause too much shame and guilt and anxiety when it can be avoided just by the education and emotions.

Neil Sattin: Yeah yeah they should have a "self parenting" section in the bookstore.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah. Self parenting, and parenting though, there's so much you know parents mean well, I made so many mistakes. If I had had this at this book in my 20s that would have spared me and my children a lot of heartache and I know most people feel that way. Most people have intent to do good. And if you don't have proper information, and you're just basing things on what you sort of intuition and how you were raised and what society says then it's easy to make mistakes anyway, easy to make mistakes, and we're not free that you know there's no way not to screw up your children on some level but you just want to know what's going on in the emotion department. It's really, really helpful.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So we've covered the bottom corner of the triangle the core emotions, and the top right which is these inhibitory emotions that are are meant to block or suppress the core emotions.

Neil Sattin: What's up with the with the other corners triangle.

: So and again if we go back to that this is superimposed on the body. The point is of course in core emotions as in is in the gut area and then we're coming up. So anxiety and defenses are kind of sitting above the shoulders, is how I imagine them because they're out of, they kind of take us out of our body, they take us up into our head. And so because emotions, core emotions feel so at best they feel weird and new if you don't know what they are, and, and at worst they feel awful emotions and core emotions, and inhibitory emotions when they come in, in large doses and they come, many at one time and they're all mixed together... It's a horrible experience and a horrible feeling. And so we then tend to want to avoid the whole enchilada and we move into defenses and that's the topped, top left corner of the triangle. And defenses are basically anything we do to avoid feeling something that we don't want to feel and I don't even mean it in a pejorative sense I always say that that defenses, as I learned in AEDP training, which was so helpful, are really these brilliant creative maneuvers that humans can do to spare themselves pain as opposed to in my psychoanalytic training... I don't want to sell psychoanalysis down the river because I got a lot out of my studies there, but there was always this negative sense of bad, that you're doing something bad, and you're resisting and that defenses are bad and I think that defenses really need to be appreciated for one when they hold up. They get us through life. And two, when they don't hold up and we break through and start to have symptoms of depression or anxiety or many other things that we needed them at one time those defenses and now they're not working so well and then we need to embrace other ways of being that bring us peace and calm.

Neil Sattin: So defenses are like toward the, the last stop on the on the train. They're, they're, they're meant to help you not feel anything.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yes. Exactly. Or to for, to exchange one emotion for for something else like defenses... Emotions can be used as defenses. For example, I would, you know, my whole younger life, if I felt scared or vulnerable I sort of had a more of an irritable, crusty armor and I would get angry and I would try to curtail it a lot because I had a really sweet, gentle mom and a really sweet, gentle sister and I was kind of the, the, the, the tougher one in the family. So I was always working hard to be quote sweet like like my mom. But I felt it. I felt it and I really didn't understand. I would beat myself up for you know, Why, why do I feel angry?" And it was really a big defense against fear.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: I had no idea I had no idea even I was the one that I was anxious when I was younger because it was just kind of covered by this kind of this kind of tough armor.

Neil Sattin: Right.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Or how many people do we know that might be feeling fear but instead go to like humor or lightheartedness, instead of instead of being able to go to that place.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Exactly. And so there are so many ways we can use defenses can be emotions. They can we can use behaviors as defenses. Self-destructive behaviors like, like cutting just behaviors like joking, making, being sarcastic, eye rolls, shrugs this is like body language defenses, not being able to make eye contact. There is, there is a myriad of defenses and I list a ton of them in the book and on my website. And you can try to recognize your own defenses which is probably one of the hardest things to do. It's much easier to see other people than ourselves and so you could probably much more easily recognize the defenses in the people in your family. But it's good to begin to recognize our own defenses so that we can loosen them up a little bit and know what the feelings are underneath them and then it kind of, gives us more resilience, more choices for how to be.

Neil Sattin: Yeah if we wanted perspective from an outsider that we more or less trusted about our defenses what would you say is a is a safe way to ask for that from another person?

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: That's such a wonderful question. I think it's not only the safe way to ask for it, but I think you're saying to make sure that person is safe is a safe person to be vulnerable with. Yeah, because what we really want to spare ourselves, as much as possible, is the excruciating experience of being shamed or humiliated. So, I think I would say and I do say this to my to my husband and my children, even friends sometimes: "Please let me know if I do something that..." I mean it's not so much as a defense, I would say, "Please let me know if I do something that you don't like or that hurts your feelings or that doesn't feel right." And then I guess if I was asking it I think I would just leave it at that. I'm concerned for the people out there listening who might say that to somebody they care about who doesn't have a lot of therapy background or understand emotions that might not be so gentle. So, I think you could always say: "But, be please be gentle with me." You know and I believe in using humor and lightheartedness in relationships a lot, but you know be be gentle. But I do want to know.... Yes.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. No, I think that's great to name that desire for for gentleness or just to point out like, it's, "It's kind of tender or vulnerable for me to even be asking you this but I know that you may see, something that I don't see." Yeah.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: That's it's such an interesting question Neil. No one's ever asked me that and I think it's because most people get feedback from their family, when they're, when they're acting in ways that are are not pleasurable and they they might not all be defensive maneuvers some may be just like self care. Like I don't want to do this. Setting a limit or a boundary and then somebody reacts badly to that. But some of it would be defensive. So again, it's sort of interesting to think about.

Neil Sattin: Right and I think if you're not inviting someone into that conversation, then the feedback that you're getting is most likely not coming at you either at a moment where you're truly receptive to it, or in a manner that's that's constructive.  

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Mhmm. Exactly. Constructive being the operative word.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So we we found our way up to the top. And let's talk about what the process would look like if I noticed, "Oh I'm about to do that defensive thing that I always do." So maybe for someone like I'll just kind of out myself here, I might go to a political blog or to Facebook or something like that. I'm doing that, it doesn't serve any real constructive purpose in my life. So, even though, you know, you could argue about being informed or whatever but when I notice that I'm doing that, what would be the steps that I would want to take to help bring me into identifying whether or not there was a core emotional experience at work? And I think, especially because we as adults... Like these patterns are pretty well developed for us. So, so it may be a bit of a journey to find your way down into into your core, but what's, what's the map look like?

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah. Yeah but I think very possible, and, and I like your example, which I'm going to address. And you know, we could also use the example of reaching for a snack when you're not hungry or reaching for a drink right after work. Right? These are all these kind of they're just sort of automatic defensive behaviors and they don't serve us. So what I do is, you know, for all these examples is the first thing we have to be able to do is notice, right? If we don't notice what we're doing then we can't work the change triangle at all. And the way you get good at noticing is really by slowing down. We can't really notice much about how we're feeling if we're moving fast, it just tends to obscure or we just stay up in our head and our thoughts are churning and it kind of numbs us out below the neck. So, I when I'm teaching new people this you know you can just set aside, you can write in your, in your inner, in your, in your calendar, in your phone, you know, just set aside three times a day and remember to kind of check in and observe what you're doing. Meditation, obviously, is a great practice for this. So, let's say you actually notice that you're about to go check, what did you say Facebook or the political blogs?

Neil Sattin: Right side or more or more likely I'd, I'd be you know five or 10 minutes in, and I'd be like, "Wait a minute here I am. You know here I am on Facebook again.".

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Good. Good. OK. So before, or during...

Neil Sattin: Just being, just being honest.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah of course. You know, join the rest of humanity. That's great. So what you would do is stop what you're doing. And you would, kind of feel your feet on the ground like you instructed me to do before this, and, before we started, and maybe take a few deep breaths to kind of set the stage for noticing. And then I personally especially in the beginning would ask myself I would kind of scan my body head to toe, and toe to head, and just kind of see what I can notice about my physical state. Am I tense? Am I anxious? I might even go through all of the emotions and ask myself, "OK Hilary,or Neil, you know, do you notice any anxiety now check? Do you notice any shame? No, not right now. Do you notice any guilt? No. OK, so we've got some anxiety. What else? Let's see if we can get below that anxiety and see what else we might be feeling". And you may want to bring in the context of what's going on in your life also and what might be affecting you. So let's say, uh, this is the day my, my, my kid goes off to kindergarten. What else is happening today? I have work stress, what not. So then I might ask myself, "Is any of these things in life causing me fear? Check." And then we want to go through all the core emotions, do I feel angry? No. Do I feel sad? Check. And you want to name all the emotions that you possibly can but kind of holding them all together like, as I tell my patients, try to hold all the emotions but imagining them with lots of air and space between each one, because we have to, we have to attend to each emotion separately. Another way that I say it, is don't say "I feel afraid but I also feel sadness." I want to change the "but" to an "and." "I feel sad, and I feel afraid, and I feel excited, and I feel happy." And once we get a lot of emotions going at the same time it's a lot of energy. We can automatically push those down because we don't know we can handle it all. Feel some anxiety and then boom. Reaching for a political blog. So, that would be the idea to try to start to name the emotions and then just by doing that just by naming emotions and taking that time to slow down and do that, you might feel much, much more relaxed and in fact it gives you space to think, "OK do I want to continue with the blog? Because this is a good distraction that I need now." Because defenses aren't bad by definition it's only if they're hurting us or if we rely on them all the time. So you may continue to read or you may decide, "You know what. I'm going to go exercise instead or I'm going to go tell my partner how I'm feeling about everything going on." That type of thing, and that's the last step is to think through, what's the best thing for me right now? If I don't feel better and I'm trying to change my state what are some things that, that helped me feel better where I can take better care of myself. Or you may want to work with one of these emotions using some of the techniques that I, that I outline in the book. Staying with them in the body or imagining using fantasy to discharge some of the energy.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I definitely want to talk about fantasy, but before we go there, I, I just want to name that for me even though I knew this to be true it was really a revelation to stop and think about what that's like, that we can be experiencing fear and disgust and joy and sexual excitement that we could be feeling all of those things at the same time.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yes.

Neil Sattin: Each one calling out for potentially a completely different kind of response.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yes.

Neil Sattin: So, no wonder we get all bound up with anxiety or overwhelm or feel any any of those things that just kind of paralyze us in a moment. Or if we, if we name one and we just kind of go with the first thing, "Oh, I'm feeling sad right now," and then you neglect the others, how you could feel incomplete in terms of actually processing the experience that you're having.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Exactly. Exactly and that's why it's so important to keep sort of searching when you notice one particular emotion to just keep looking around. What else is there? And to, it really helps to kind of run through that checklist. I still do that I've been practicing this a long time and I, I run through the different emotions and once you name them and search for them you know you might even find them. I say to my patients, "Even there's you know just check for like a little molecule of joy there, or a little molecule of sadness, and then if you find it you know, Oh maybe I need to actually make space for this particular emotion I spend so much time, you know, really orienting myself towards my anger, that I'm missing out on what the sadness or the fears telling me.".

Neil Sattin: Yeah. I was I was searching for a good acronym while, while I was reading the book, I was like there must be a good one for those core emotions to like help people just kind of do the, do the checklist.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah. Did you find one? Because I looked hard also.

Neil Sattin: Not yet but I'll let you know if I can.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah. Yeah.

Neil Sattin: And there's not a good one for all those C's when you're when you're... But I do like how you also offer that as an example of looking for you know am I feeling calm, right now? Am I feeling clear? Am I feeling compassionate? To be able to go through that list to find the nuances of your experience right now and to highlight, "Okay here are ways that I am feeling courageous even though at the same time I'm getting all this, this tremulous fear going through my body.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yes, exactly. And I think even sometimes you can bypass the whole thing and just really try to shift into those states if you don't like what you're feeling right now and it's a particularly a great idea when you're about to have a conversation with somebody important to you, to before you do try to, try to just see if you can shift into a calmer, certainly more curious standpoint, more state, where you can try to take a couple of deep breaths and access some curiosity, so we don't make assumptions about another person's motives because they're often incorrect you know we make up our own stories and then we believe them without checking them out. And to try to lean into connection, so that, let's say you know again your partner really pisses you off. It's important, and the brain doesn't naturally do this, you have to push, put energy behind this idea of remembering the good things somebody has done to kind of take the steam out of the uh... You know, we can rev ourselves up with anger and start to think it's like chaining, you then, everything that someone ever did to hurt you comes back with a vengeance. Unless we really pull the other way and say, "OK, what is why do I love this person." Or if I can't remember that I loved him at one point, you know what is it that I used to love about this person and try to conjure those that part of it as well. It takes energy. It's not easy because we're really pulled to tough places and we have to use mental energy to pull ourselves back and it doesn't feel good at first, always.

Neil Sattin: Yeah yeah. Wow so many different directions that I'm going in at the moment. I think first I just want to name, it's really lovely the way that you show the integration of AEDP work through the vignettes, vignettes that you offer in your book, and also internal family systems and working with different parts of you, younger parts. If you're a listener for, and you have been for a while then you've perhaps heard the interviews we've done with Dick Schwartz, the most recent one is episode I wrote this down episode 140, where so you can you can get a sense of how the two modalities work really well together, fit super well together. And so all of that work to get to understand and process and metabolize your emotional experience, and to learn how to show up for yourself can come through what we've been talking about today and can also be helped by getting to identify the places in you that are stuck in a past experience. And the reason that I wanted to bring that up is because you were just talking about like the the possibility of skipping to connection and calmness, or doing what you can to to get to that place especially if you're going to reach out to someone that's important to you. And I liked how you also bring in the work of Peter Levine and talk about how all of this energy that emotions bring up in, in us when they're not processed when, when that energy isn't metabolized, then that is what creates trauma in our bodies -- that, that stuck energy that never quite got released. And so some of those stories in your book are just were so moving to me, as I, as I read them and got to see like oh right there's another nuance of how this could apply to me or to my clients. And so really beautiful, I think, to to see it written out like that but let's get into a little bit more of the...

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Thank you by the way.

Neil Sattin: Yeah yeah you're welcome. Let's get into the metabolizing and in particular let's talk about fantasy, because that use of the imagination and how it can help I think can be so powerful for us when we, when we're wrestling with that question of: "Well, I feel so angry or I feel so sad or bereft or whatever it is, and I don't know like I want to bring it to that person I want them to feel my anger. I want them to see the depths of my sadness." How can we do it in a way that's actually going to be more productive and give us the satisfaction of truly handling and, and, and giving our body some relief from those unfulfilled impulses?

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah. That's, that's, that's, that's a question that has many levels because I think what I'm first responding to is this idea of wanting someone to see and wanting to really be seen, in with one's emotions. And so I think that is legitimate. And, and then there are times when that's all somebody sees and they get weary. So it's it's really... you have to keep a lot in mind. So, I thought you were just going to kind of ask me about working with child parts and releasing stuck energy as a sort of either, either as an alone process or with a therapist and then you surprised me when you brought in this idea of, if you bring it into relationship and that makes it all sort of like it, I think we have to deal with one and then the other.

Neil Sattin: Yeah let's start with a first part.: Yeah, let's start with the first part...

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: ...which would be that the inner process that we might go through, and then and then we can bridge into bringing that into relationship.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Great. Great. So, I now I really consider myself a trauma therapist and I now think of trauma as something that everybody has just from surviving their childhoods. And so then we were changing the definition of trauma. This is still very controversial. You hear the word trauma, which most people still think of as a, as a some major catastrophic event happening, that is trauma. I'm adding on to that something that is also called small-T trauma -- which many people in the trauma field object to because it's it's sort of putting a value judgment on trauma. That one is smaller or bigger, which is, I want to say, that, that's not the case it's just some way to to differentiate different types of trauma. And small-T trauma is really what I believe everybody has, and small-T trauma is really, um, can be from so, so many, so many things that actually happened in our childhood. But the bottom line is, and I'm sure Diana Faucheux and David Marr spoke about this in the other episodes, that whenever we have too much emotion which happens a lot when we're children because our brains are full of emotion and very powerful emotion. So when there's too much emotion and too much aloneness at the same time, then the mind figures out a way to kind of block it. So it's not overwhelming. And then once that happens a lot where we're kind of blocking whole parts of ourselves and whole experiences and those are these little kind of child parts that we all have that are alone these kind of child parts of us exist alone because they had to be kind of cordoned off. So this, this happens you know if you have... In most families there's a parent that doesn't tolerate a certain emotion and so when you feel that emotion you are really told, you know, to put it away or get over it or you're yelled at or it's not acknowledged. So that kind of thing, on a small level, becomes big because when we have to exclude parts of our experience then they are literally excluded in the mind, they're not integrated. They're not connected to other parts of the... of us. So these are the the parts when I use the word parts from Richard Schwartz or in psychoanalytic literature they were called interjects. That we might have absorbed parts of our parents in us. It can be many, many different things but these are the parts that sort of live on with us, within us and they can get triggered and then we can start to react. The reaction is, is not really commensurate with what happens in our adult relationships. So, I think everyone can relate to like just when somebody pokes you in that just wrong place and you felt the feeling many, many times before and you can kind of track it back into fourth grade when you were bullied or ostracized, or you can track it back to sixth grade when you started to know that your sexuality or gender wasn't the same as the people around you or you were punished too severely, yelled at, you know all these or somebody you loved died when you were young or got sick or there was substance abuse, active substance abuse in the family, all these type of things and then these parts of us hold... They have their own triangles in a way and we need to be with those parts and liberate those old emotions so that they don't fire off and cause havoc in our adult relationships and inside us and make us feel bad all the time.

Neil Sattin: Yes. So we can, so you can get related to in a particular moment. The part of you that is feeling, that is having this emotional experience and to what was happening at the time and the way that you portray that in the book, I think is, is a great illustration of how to go through this process for someone and then talk about if you could, that, taking it to that next level of where you incorporate fantasy as a way of helping either a younger part or just helping yourself in the present with an emotional feeling how you could actually kind of burn off some of that energy before you're bringing it out, into how you connect with the world.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah I guess I'll use the, we could take any emotion and you can change this, but I'm going to, I'm going to go with these big energy emotions that are common like how you burn off as you say anger energy and also kind of feeling good about the self prideful energy both of these create a lot of anxiety and depression in people when they're blocked. And so I really like to, to harp on let's liberate this, this energy and how can we do it in a safe way. So one of the the the most effective ways to work with anger is, and I use this a lot myself... And I'm sort of pausing here because as people listen to this, it may seem kind of crazy. But we begin with the fundamental idea that the brain doesn't know the difference between fantasy and reality in certain, in emotional ways. And we know this from experiments where somebody imagines running and they're hooked up to an FMRI, that they imagine they're running. And there is movement in the in the parts of the brain as if they were actually running. So... And we see this every day in clinical practice. So, let's say I am angry, I'm going to take my sweet and wonderful husband John as an example here because I use him all the time. Let's say John does something, and he really doesn't anymore, we really get along quite well. But let's say he did something that really, really threw me into a rage. What I have learned to do and practice many times is before I go talk to him about it, I will, I know I will be able to identify that I am angry, right? And rage is sort of all emotions are on a spectrum from a little irritation or annoyance to outright rage. I will know, I will be able to say to myself: I am enraged. I will be able to feel that deeply in my body a burning energy in my stomach and a, and a movement of energy that wants to come right up and out, and I will not do anything, but I will focus in on that energy, listening to it with a kind of curiosity, kind of tuning in like a radio receiver feeling it deeply and seeing what that energy wants to do to John and it might want to just, so I and then I try to make it into a fantasy. So the idea is I'm noticing that if that energy could come up and out of me in a fantasy or a movie like, let it play out in a movie I would see myself just like punching the crap out of him. Like that's how angry I am that I really want to hurt him. And then I will allow myself in a fantasy to imagine doing that. And I do this in sessions for people that have a lot of pent up energy from being abused as children and neglected and various very hurtful things that were done to them. So I can see myself actually doing what this anger wants to do and trying to really even feel it as I see myself making contact with skin. And just let it... Imagining it and imagining it, watching it and watching it and watching it, and doing it and doing it and doing it in fantasy, until it feels done. Like the the energy will discharge and will drain out. And then when I tune back into my body, I'll feel probably tired and a little more calm so that I can then gather my wits about me and go back and say, and say, "We need to talk about what you did. I was so furious because you hurt me so badly when you did this this and this. And I never ever want you to do that again." That type of thing as opposed to storming out, I wanted divorce, you know this isn't working or attacking him you know verbally abusing him for everything that he's ever done, and which isn't going to help, it's going, it may feel better in the moment. And then I'm going to feel guilty afterwards. He's going to withdraw. It's going to escalate a fight and it's going to increase our disconnection.

Neil Sattin: Yes. .

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Does that make sense?

Neil Sattin: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. And one thing that I think you mention in the book is how often you can go with that initial like you're feeling all that anger and rage and seeing that. And then when that is finally discharged through imagining this scenario, that it leaves room for another core emotion to rise up. So it may not end there, it may be that after you experience your rage, you then experience your sadness or your fear.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Exactly.

Neil Sattin: And so there's there's a lot there to be processed and what you named so beautifully was the problem not only with having those experiences, but, or emotions but having them and feeling alone and how showing up for yourself in this way also undoes that aloneness. I think that's such a powerful aspect of the work as you describe it. It's also so powerful in my experience of Dick Schwartz's work in IFS, that it it's kind of undoing aloneness with yourself not that you don't want to get to a place where you're inviting other people in. But, it also just builds such resilience knowing that in a moment like that, a powerfully charged moment, you actually have the capacity to to do something about it. Just you.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Exactly. And in that sort of reminds me to say that when you are connecting to yourself in that way, one has to have the utmost compassion and empathy as though you were relating to your own child or pet who you love or someone that you really cared about that you would never hurt. It's really unconditional love and positive regard, and not shaming yourself not judging yourself. Right? Because fantasy is so fabulous it doesn't hurt anybody. Even though some people get scared you know, when a lot of people that have a lot of trauma or even a little trauma, and I first kind of try to teach them how to do this. They... Guilt comes up and they're like," Well I don't feel good about myself. You know good people don't do this," and and I was like, "Well I'll explain. You know, you don't do it out in real life. That's what we're trying to to prevent." But, the capacity to use fantasy is very, very healthy and that's why it's so important when you have little children to use imaginative play and even as parents listening that when you're one child let's say wants to hit your other child, when they're young, because it's not always easy to have a sibling. Just use this as an example. You don't kind of block the anger and say no you have to love your your sister or brother, and, and we don't hit, you have to find a way to, to accept and to channel it, like we don't hit grown ups and we don't say mean thing -- we don't say we don't hit people and we don't say mean things to people. But here's this doll you can imagine it's your sister. And we can beat it up together and have a good old time. And that way the kid is learning to sublimate -- how to use emotions and play at the exact same time and that it doesn't have to be a toxic experience that the emotions are validated and they have to be released. And it doesn't have to be with again beating up like or even a fantasy of beating up like I just shared about myself. It could be writing these things out, unedited, just writing what you want to say to someone drawing a picture of what you want to say or do to someone. The idea is to just get it out, and it has to work so we not only have to get it out but you have to sort of the next step after this is do I feel calmer. Do I feel better. And if the answer is no, there's either more to be done or there's inhibitory emotions that are getting in the way and complicating it or other emotions that need tending. And it may be that you need to bring it to someone who is a professional to help you do this.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I was going to say this could be a good place to get support. Especially at something. If you're like, Oh, that feels like a big river of rage or grief or whatever it is. Well great. Like it's awesome that you identified that and sit with someone who knows how to help, how to hold you in that.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Exactly. Exactly.

Neil Sattin: Well what a rich conversation. And before we go today, Hilary I'm wondering if we can just take a moment to bring this back into the relational realm and, and talk about how, like, if you identify something going on with your partner or something is going on with you and we've talked about taking this space so that you can process and metabolize, is there a way to bring what you now know about the change triangle, maybe into your connections so that you and your partner can now be on the same team with seeing how this dynamic is at work as the two of you come together? What's a good first step, I think, for people to bring this into their relationship?

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yes. Well, what what I would say as a, as a good first step is to make sure that both of you have the exact same information. So when possible, I really wrote the book to be used in many ways as a, as a workbook and to read the book together with your partner and to go through the exercises gives you just that, you're on the same page. And even though it will take practice over a lifetime to work it together. That at least you have the same bit of knowledge and you've gone through the same exercises which are pretty simple and, and, and, and, and just to say why I put case examples is because emotions have to be experienced. How do you help somebody get a sense for an experience? And that had to be through the stories. So, I would say just to make sure that the person that you're wanting to connect with has some basic emotion education. And...

Neil Sattin: Perfect.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: And then after that established ground rules. I wrote a little blog on this for, for, for how to find your life partner on medium that you want to establish ground rules that you won't be mean that nobody is going to attack or retaliate in ways that are dangerous and hurtful and that you don't abandon, so that if a conversation has to stop because it gets hard, and one person gets too anxious, then you then you have to be able to say to each other. I'm overwhelmed I'm not able to really think as I'm talking to you, anymore. Let's take a break but we'll come back and finish this because really in relationships all there, all there is is talking. You have to just keep talking. And then lastly I would say is you want to try to use the change triangle to make sure that, that both people are relating as much as possible from a core place. Either from that openhearted state or from the emotional state of the core emotions where you're saying, you're using I statements like, "I'm afraid," "I feel anger about this," "I feel sadness about this," as opposed to you, you, you, you, you. And that, when you're, when both people move to the top of the triangle, when you're either you're they're anxious or ashamed or guilty or defensive, you really have to stop. Like, I make a time out motion when I'm working with couples or even working in my own relationship, let's stop and then I say let's rewind to where we were going fine and then somehow we went off the rails and then it's usually a miscommunication, or let's stop and take a break and calm down and let's come back tomorrow again sit and have coffee or tea and begin again and see where did we go wrong, where, where, literally if you sort of track moment to moment: You're having a discussion. Everything is going fine. I want to talk about you know, why we, we don't have more fun together and then all of a sudden one person starts to get anxious or you start to, one person starts to get angry then you can literally stop and say, "Let's rewind to right before you, like I felt like I was with you we were connected and then all of a sudden I said, 'Well I don't really you know. You know, you're no fun anymore.' And then I noticed you got defensive." And then that's where you have to work because the person might say, "Yeah. When you told me that I wasn't fun anymore it hurt my feelings. And then I, I went up into the top of the triangle. I started to get defensive."

Neil Sattin: That's great. And, and I see to this opportunity for couples who really start to get this together to like, in a state of shame or anxiety or guilt those inhibitory emotions to learn how to show up for each other in those moments to help, settle whatever is going on or to help navigate their partner back into a place of like feeling understood or seen, and that might be a good, a good return visit for you on the show to talk a little bit more about how how they can collaborate in a moment like that to bring themselves back to a core emotional state.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah I would love to.

Neil Sattin: Hilary Jacobs Hendel, thank you so much for being here. If people want to learn more about your work where can they find you?

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: I have a website with tons of free resources all about emotions and that's Hilary-Jacobs-Hendel-dot-com. Or you could just google "the change triangle" and you can also get there by going to "the-change-triangle-dot-com," and there's articles that I've written for major media outlets. There's my blog which the titles are pretty explanatory of what they're about. And then there's a tool box section that has a lot of resources. So that would be the best place. I also have a youtube channel, so I could go over and explain certain aspects of this and I do something called 1 minute videos on emotional health, because everybody's so busy and nobody has an attention span anymore, so that's "The Change Triangle" YouTube station and then my Website. And then of course the book is the whole enchilada because it was what I did is it's got exercises so that you work The Change Triangle along with me as I'm working The Change Triangle with the people in my practice and then there's little bits of no jargon science to explain what's going on because I wouldn't have been interested in any of this had it not been deeply grounded in current neuroscience. That was really important to me. So, that's really gives you the whole kind of flavor of what's going on.

Neil Sattin: Great. And again the book is called "It's Not Always Depression" and we will have links to all of that on the page for this episode where you can download the transcript. And that's Neil-Sattin-dot-com-slash-triangle or as always you can text the word passion to the number 3-3-4-4-4 and follow the instructions. Hilary...

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yes. Can I just say one more thing?

Neil Sattin: Yeah of course.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: The book just won two book awards that won the 2018 Best Book Award for psychology and mental health, and the Nautilus Award for personal growth. So I just wanted to share that because I'm hoping that people will read this book and that eventually the, our entire society will be very well educated from an emotional standpoint. I think it can really change things for the better.

Neil Sattin: Absolutely and congratulations on those awards. They are well-deserved. You definitely have a gift from taking all of this information and making it really practical for people who read the book. So, big recommend for me.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Thank you. Thank you.

Jun 4, 2019

As much as we don't like to admit it, we all hold a vivid image in our minds of our partner at their worst. When things start to go a bit off the rails in our relationship, this negative image can sometimes be all we see. And the bad news is, your partner also holds a core negative image - of you! Thankfully, we also have a core *positive* image - which is part of what keeps us in relationship when things get challenging. Based on the groundbreaking work of Terry Real, the core negative image is an important tool in elevating your relationship. In today's episode, you'll learn why it's so important to get to know the core negative images that are at play in your relationship - and also how to use these negative images to help improve your relationship. Don't deny that they're there - know them and use them as a force for good!

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! Or email YOUR recorded questions to questions (at) relationshipalive dot com.


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May 23, 2019

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!


Want to experience a Luxury Suite or VIP Box at an amazing concert or sporting event? Check out to score sweet deals on a special night for you and your partner.


Visit Sue Johnson’s website to learn more about her work.

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 to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Sue Johnson.

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


Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil 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, 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, 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.


May 15, 2019

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

Click here to get tickets to Relationship Alive...LIVE on June 6, 2019 featuring Terry Real and musical guest Katie Matzell

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

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 -- 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.”

[Everyone laughs]

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 And, as a reminder, if you want to download the show notes, and the transcript of today’s episode, it’s, 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.

May 9, 2019

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.

Also, announcing that tickets are on sale for Relationship Alive...LIVE! featuring Terry Real. We'll have a musical guest (Katie Matzell trio), and you'll also have the chance to ask YOUR questions. The show will be on June 6, 2019 at One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine. Limited seats available. Click here to buy your tickets now!

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! Or email YOUR recorded questions to questions (at) relationshipalive dot com.


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May 1, 2019

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!

Also, please check out our first three episodes with Keith Witt - Episode 158: Loving Completely,  Episode 80: Bring Your Shadow into the Light and Episode 13: Resolve Conflict and Create Intimacy through Attunement.

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


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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 '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.

Apr 23, 2019

Are you worried that your partner might not like you for who you truly are? And if you notice that you've been not entirely "you" in your relationship - how do you shift gears and create a context that supports more authenticity? Sometimes we discover something new about ourselves. Other times we knew all along that there were aspects that we've been hiding. Or we might act one way when we're trying to attract our partner - only to then feel trapped into being that "super-enticing" version of ourselves...forever. In today's episode, I show you exactly how to bridge the gap into truly being yourself - and how to invite your partner to be more authentic with you. In the end it will be a relief for both of you to be who you are - and to set yourself free from the shackles of society's expectations!

Also, announcing that tickets are on sale for Relationship Alive...LIVE! featuring Terry Real. We'll have a musical guest (Katie Matzell trio), and you'll also have the chance to ask YOUR questions. The show will be on June 6, 2019 at One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine. Limited seats available. Click here to buy your tickets now!

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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Apr 16, 2019

How do you actually heal old attachment wounds in partnership - so you can create passionate, secure attachment with your partner? Today you’ll learn how to connect with your partner powerfully, in the present moment, to rewire your brain, break unhealthy patterns, and find the joy and wonder that’s waiting for you just below the surface. Our guest today is Dr. David Mars, the creator of AEDP for Couples. He specializes in helping couples heal attachment wounds and traumas, find each other again in the present, and create a joyful, passionate vision for their future together. His work can help you if you’re in a new relationship, or if you’ve been with your partner for 30 years. David integrates more than 30 years of experience as a couples therapist with today’s cutting edge neuroscience - and you’ll see exactly how that allows you to get into really deep touch with your own experience, with your partner’s experience - and how to bridge the gap between you. I’m so excited for you to experience David Mars’s work, and to see how AEDP for Couples can offer you something new in how you show up in your 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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Neil Sattin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. It's been my mission to bring to you the most powerful healing modalities, the most powerful ways for you to find yourself in a deeper state of connection, with the people in your life that you're closest to. And of course, this can travel into all aspects of your life, but nowhere is it more important than with our partners, our spouses, our beloveds. And so it's been really important to me, not only to bring you what I consider to be the best of the best, but to also be uncovering new avenues that we haven't explored yet, because as fun as it is to have John Gottman on the show over and over again, he's a pretty cool guy, at the same time, there are so many modalities available to us that are effective and powerful.

Neil Sattin: And you may have heard my episode fairly recently with Diana Fosha, which was all focused on AEDP, Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy. And even though that's a mouthful, in its most basic form, it's about helping us heal the attachment wounds and traumas, the things that get in the way of us having the richest experience of life that we could possibly be having. It's important stuff. And of course, my goal for you is that you can not only access that, but that you can also bring it to your relationship.

Neil Sattin: So you get to overcome what it's like, not only to feel alone in you sometimes in some challenging experiences, but also what it can be like to feel alone as a couple, or alone in your couple. How do you bring connectedness in a powerful way to your experience of being with each other, in a way that deepens and leaves you feeling safer, more connected, more passionate, etcetera? So in order to dive more deeply into this topic, today we have an amazing guest with us, his name is David Mars and he is the creator of AEDP For Couples.

Neil Sattin: So it is the application of this work for therapists, in... So in a therapeutic setting, towards bringing couples into deeper connection with each other, and bridging the gaps of disconnect, bringing them into a more of a sense of peace and justice with each other, and also how they enter the new phase of their life, like that new phase that happens after the work that they do together, so that it can really be a powerful send-off into this new phase. And in preparing for this conversation, I've had the honor of being able to watch David work with couples, and it has been amazingly powerful.

Neil Sattin: So I'm really excited for you to be able to experience him here with me today and to get more of a sense of how this approach to healing some of our deepest wounds can actually be this amazing, life-giving, joyful, burst of experience that you can then bring into your relationship. That might sound like a lot for an hour-long conversation but I'm pretty sure we'll get close. So as usual, we will have a detailed transcript of this conversation, and in order to download that, you can visit, M-A-R-S, as in David, Mars, today's guest. Or, as always, you can text the word Passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. I think that's it. So David Mars, welcome to Relationship Alive, and thank you so much for joining us today.

David Mars: Thank you so much, Neil. I'm so touched by your introduction. And I'm just so aware of your dedication to watching all four of these three DVD sets of video training, and just so happy to have this honor of talking with you and with our audience as well.

Neil Sattin: Well, it's great to be here, and I appreciate your generosity in giving me access to your work. And as people who are regular listeners of this show have hopefully come to know, it's so important to me to be able to have that level of familiarity so that we can dive more deeply. And otherwise, we could talk for an hour about how you came to be an AEDP therapist, but I want to go more deeply into what you do, in ways that also are in the context of other conversations that we've had here on the show. So for example, we spoke to Diana, so you don't need to give us the full run-down on AEDP. We may do...

David Mars: Yes.

Neil Sattin: A little bit of that just to bring people up to speed. But if you're watching or listening to this, then I invite you to also check out the interview with Diana Fosha, which is really powerful, and where this, the AEDP, part of the work originates.

David Mars: Yes.

Neil Sattin: And David, you mentioned to me that you were a couples therapist for 30 years before coming into the AEDP realm.

David Mars: Yeah. Yes. Starting in 1975. So it's 43 years. It's hard to believe [chuckle] but that's true.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that's amazing and let's just say that I was one-year-old when you first started. [laughter]

David Mars: I should say that my beginnings with psychotherapy and couple therapy were really also working with families and with the groups, and it's a lot of aspects of work that was beyond couples alone. But the couple therapy has always been my strongest affiliation and connection, and my favorite work to do, partly because it's so darn difficult to do well, so it keeps me growing through these four and a third decades and continuing in my personal relationship also with my wife of 35 years, it's so wonderful to be with her and to see how what I learn and she learns because she co-teaches the work with me. Karen Pando-Mars and I teach together and being married together with a 19-year-old daughter and a 46-year-old daughter, from a previous marriage, really gives me a sense of the meaning, a deep meaning of how it is to be alive, how it is to have love be a guiding force and a guiding principle for how to be making decisions and how to exist even in conversation.

Neil Sattin: So David you were saying that you have been in, you've been a couples therapist for 30 years, and I'm curious for you, in terms of, as we think about the landscape of what's possible in the couple's world, what was it like for you, even having been a therapist for 30 years to discover AEDP and just can you give us a glimpse of what that brought to you and what that's brought to the way that you've seen your work unfold with couples?

David Mars: Yeah, I want to give a little context. In the decades before finding AEDP, which was 13 years ago, that I came to AEDP, I had done work that was very related to AEDP in process work through Arnold Mindell, and in respiratory psychophysiology, meaning the knowledge of how the breathing and the body co-relate and I would... For two decades plus would use monitoring equipment, computerized and very accurate monitoring equipment to look at breathing, heart rate, hand warming, muscle tension etcetera of the couples that I worked with, so that I could see how they're being affected by each other, but even more important, they could see how they were affecting each other, and realize that, for example, if I'm a man who speaks to his heterosexual wife in a way that's very firm and strong and sharp and clear and as expected of me at work, but when I see that her hand temperature drops her breathing rate increases. Her heart rate increases and becomes more agitated.

David Mars: And I find out that, wow, that's strong masculine... How I'm speaking actually turns her off rather than on, [chuckle] except for stress arousal gets turned on. But not her closeness to me, if I'm that man, I can learn to speak more kindly and softly and firmly in a way that's more meaningful and sourced by my own experience rather than my judgments, very powerful. And in these decades that I'd worked before finding AEDP, I also was very much oriented toward positivity and would have to be kind of apologizing sometimes because people would find that over the decades, that positivity wasn't really regarded yet as being optimal for psychotherapy.

David Mars: Many people felt that going darker, going more into the harsher aspect of life or a scream therapy or whatever it would be [chuckle] in the 80s, for example, or 70s, was really more important than the attending to love, to kindness, the feeling of really modulating harsh impulses and speaking even when angry, about what is really meaningful, what you really want to be understood about where I don't take my "Hurt" and hurt someone else with it, but rather maybe choose a more vulnerable side of feeling sad which is a part of hurt, feeling sad that I'm hurt and angry that I got hurt, but I go with sorrow, then the partner is much more likely to come close to me.

David Mars: So, that preceded AEDP. What was different with AEDP, in 2005 for me was that in meeting Diana Fosha, within the first 20 minutes of her presentation, I knew I wanted to study with her. And work with her and come to New York and get trained by her and by the morning break...

David Mars: I decided on that first morning break to come to New York and study with her, with my wife Karen Pando-Mars, and in going to New York, I found that I was able to share video of my work even during the first five-day training called an immersion course, and had that thrill of experiencing the cohesion of how I'd been working with AEDP, but also the organization of AEDP's scientific principles, the effect of neuroscience in particular, the understanding about attachment research which has been immense in my life since, to understand how attachment research informs me, and helps me as a person and as a therapist, and also Diana as a person, her remarkable intellect and, genius really, and kindness and humbleness, an odd package to find in a person, [chuckle] and it was so inspiring to me, that within a few years of study and intense work, I was able to become a faculty. I guess it was four years or so, of really intensive study and supervision with Diana.

David Mars: And so the quality of, the felt experience of love that I already started with, got more deepened by understanding how the work of AEDP, Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy, holds out for individuals and then transfer that understanding into the couple work and adding to it my own background in bio-feedback and understanding how the heart, and breath, and mind correlate with each other, and how we can enhance that loving vibe, which is literally a pulse wave from the heart that can be felt, that that power is so gratifying to be part of an institution. The AEDP Institute in New York is so moving to be a part of. All the people in it, the 24 faculty plus Diana, are so resonant with the values that I hold, it's quite, quite a joy.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I mean, if you get the sense of like... I was watching these DVDs of you working, and found myself moved, moved to tears so many times and laughing and, or accessing even in a really sorrowful moment, we'll talk about this in a minute. But, so tapped into my own experience that I would be starting to cry and then, I'd notice "Oh my goodness. The person in the video is also on the verge of tears right now."

David Mars: Yes, yes.

Neil Sattin: So it's all about developing that. And so this is just watching DVDs. So imagine the power of bringing that into how couples really learn to experience each other.

David Mars: Yes.

Neil Sattin: So it's not like glimpsing that level of positive effect, but also living there.

David Mars: Yeah, I so agree with you. And I just saw a couple last night, for example, where the couple came in with the dynamic actually, like the one I described, of the harsh speaking pattern in the male in this heterosexual couple, and the woman being quite well-meaning, quite dear, very sensitive, and not used to being talked to harshly. And how she was raised, for her it's shocking to be disrespected, but for him, he grew up with a lot of disrespect, and a lot of challenging behavior from his elder brothers, and lack of protection by the parents, so for him, harshness, is part of a defense structure that is survival-based, and as he lets go of it and becomes kinder and loving with her...

David Mars: I was able to say to the couple, "You know I just see how much progress you're making between sessions, how many great examples you've given me today of how I see you becoming more loving with your wife, and she's responding so warmly. My thought is, let's just shorten the session today, I could see you doing the work in between sessions, and you can see this recording of the session and rehearse it at home," And he said, "I'm so glad because I'm exhausted, I would love to go home early." [chuckle] It's a very unusual situation of knowing their work is between sessions right now.

David Mars: With their two-year-old son, and that's a joy from me, that that work comes home, and shows up in the next session, as evidence of the work, really, I mean, part of the natural lived life of this couple.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that's an interesting feature of your work. And my understanding is that obviously, it's not a requirement for couples to have their work with an AEDP for couples therapist videotaped, but that is something that you do encourage as... And it gives them the opportunity to see themselves...

David Mars: Yes.

Neil Sattin: In these, sometimes less than ideal states with each other.

David Mars: Yes, yes.

Neil Sattin: And also to witness their transformation moments and...

David Mars: Yes, absolutely.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that seems really powerful for the couples that choose to do that, and choose to watch the videos that are taken.

David Mars: Yup, yeah. It is true that in the therapists that I supervise and train, most do not videotape all their couples. But all videotaped some of their couples, a couple, so they can get trained. And for me, I videotape all the work that I do, and I'm so joyful that my couples that call, I let them know over the phone, that's how I work. And for me, my first experience of video being used with me was in 1970, and I got to see myself several times a week, on video as part of my undergraduate training interacting with others, trying to solve problems and seeing how my brilliant idea when expressed in a certain way, would shut down the conversation. In another way, I could be more humble and come forward in a more soft way, a more relational way that would bring the conversation up, and all of us would rise together, like the tide rises, lifts all boats.

David Mars: So, I got to see in 1970, how that is, had that blessing. So for now, all the way from to then, I have this continuous relationship to video as a way to enhance learning, into how people understand, how the reflective function can increase, and the capacity to reflect on oneself accurately is a direct relationship to secure attachment and developing more earned secure attachment. If I know actually how I am being, and I'm aware of myself, I can be aware of you, and by being aware of you and me together, I can become more attuned, and this attunement is so precious because, without it, it's like driving a car around with newspaper glued over all the windows, not knowing where one is going. It's so important.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that reminds me of really learning any skill, and the process of myelination, and how important it is to slow things down in order to get to a new place. And I think particularly around self-reflection, that's something that, it's not easy to, a lot of us don't learn that as we grow up. So I can see that video-ing, process as a way of actually slowing down the circuit, and bringing people into that cycle of self-reflection in a way that would eventually accelerate and become just part of how you operate, from practicing it that way.

David Mars: Yup thank you for that. In attachment research, it's very clear that when babies are reflected by their mothers or their fathers, and they are shown that they exist and are recognized in a harmonious way that's reciprocal, that goes back and forth and it's contingent, where the baby's response and the loving parent's response are in harmony with each other, and there's a conversation called the proto-conversation before speech, that baby learns, "I am safe, I am loved, I am delightful, and I'm with delightful people who delight in me being delightful." It teaches that love is a guide, as opposed to fear being the guide, and it's a powerful, powerful example of reflection.

David Mars: I'm going to mention something else, Neil, that you mentioned about a couple seeing themselves when they're in these regulated states and realizing how they unconsciously and habitually, they drive their partner away rather than bring their partner closer. What I also really enjoy, is couples seeing each other in love. Pinking cheeks, reddening lips, eyes becoming more vivid in color, bright like shining light, and seeing the light in each other and the love in each other and learning to enjoy love. For many people, love was not something that they had joy with. It's loved mixed with fear, love mixed with danger, love mix with avoidance and dissociation. And so to find that love is safe to soak in, safe to send and receive, and visualize it on the video, visualize it and see more clearly how I can see love in my partner, and feel love for my partner by choice. These are immense, immense powers to possess and to cultivate.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I noticed over and over again as I was watching your work, the refinement with which you were able to notice what was happening in a couple, and then to draw their attention both the person who may be having the experience to, their own experience that they were having, and then to bring their partner in, to invite them into the experience.

David Mars: Yes, yes.

Neil Sattin: In a way that kept them in dyad with each other.

David Mars: Yup.

Neil Sattin: Can you talk about that part of your process and why that's so important?

David Mars: I'm having such an experience of delight that you've seen these videos, and they're so dear to me, I've seen them so many times in the process, [chuckle] of doing them, creating the workshops etcetera. For me, there's something of great, great delight in being a bridge of consciousness, somatic consciousness, and to see the best in people, and reflect the best of them back to them, and for them to see, hear, feel, sense, even knowing their own movement, that they are vehicles of love when they want to be, with increasing skill, with increasing pride, because it is such a deep deep shame for people and deep sorrow to feel not competent to love.

David Mars: It's such a feeling of loss, that I can feel I'm speaking of it. And to be able to love, to be able to be loving, and to be lovable, being loveable, is a skill that many, many people did not learn to do. Survival is not enough in my point of view, and thriving in this world to me, actually, it really requires people to love and be loved. And that's really, I think one of the core elements of how I can help couples to see the best in each other, and to see the moment of a smile before the frown appears to cover it, and just to be there as an open channel for the couples to see, and hear, and feel, and sense each other more vividly in each session.

Neil Sattin: Now, if I'm listening, then the question that comes up for me is, "Okay, but how do you address problems then if you're so focused on finding the goodness," I mean the goodness sounds great. Yeah, sure, right. So if you're having this kind of question, maybe one thing to ask yourself is, how open are you to the experience of love, like David was just talking about? And at the same time... Yeah, because people come in right with big, big stuff. "You cheated on me, you're always negative, you're... " right?

David Mars: Absolutely. One of the parts I really enjoy about couple therapy is the challenge of having a couple come in, who already is coming in with a dryness, with an anger, with a revenge impulse, with feelings of bitterness, hopelessness, deep, deep, deep even rage, about, let's say, betrayal. And the challenge for me as a therapist, to find the sweet spot with them, in the first question I ask them, which is, "What do you want with each other?"

David Mars: What do you want to develop with each other, not for each other or to get from each other? What do you want with each other to experience, should this therapy be successful? And the couple might say I just came in, we have just came in from an argument. I can't think about that right now. I said well I understand this is a transition that's difficult to make. I do see this intention between you, but all the more reason in this therapy, to choose to remember what you want with each other. Because that's our purpose in being. We can certainly talk about what happened in the car before you came into the waiting area. But I would rather have you approach that in a place of loving each other and valuing each other and feeling that you are worth working this through to each other. And from this place we can do great things, working out your conflicts, but only from this place of love can we do it successfully.

Neil Sattin: So you're grounding them in that sense of, why are we here? And if this could work, what would we want with each other. And how would you help someone who, for instance, is really landing in a sense of, "Wow, I'm struggling. I'm struggling to even want to answer that question for you".

David Mars: Right, so in that case, I might say. I wonder there's a part of you that wants to want to know what you want with your partner and find that part of you that wants to want to be close to her, and just to suspend for the time being the doubting part of you, or the angry part of you that is here. I understand that's a real part of you, but for the time being, to practice a mindful choice to occupy the place of choosing her, just to take the moment. Now, if you will please just see her right now. As you see your partner, "What do you love about her? Just set aside all the rest, just find that 10% of you maybe that really is willing to do this and occupy this part of you".

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

David Mars: What would I find Neil is that it may be almost unbelievable to imagine people can do this the first session, but it is true. I have video to show it. What I have permission to teach from videos, is very clear that people can choose love over revenge and love over aggravation or love over dissociation because they want to, they get better and better at it. Yes, more, more complete at it, yes.

David Mars: Some people can get out one phrase of what they love about their partner, what they want with their partner, and the next Non sequitur is what they're mad at them about. I just need to say, "Wait wait wait, so that lasted 20 seconds. On the positive side, please would you go another minute, just stretch to go a minute of being positive with your partner what you want with your partner. Just one minute." And they go another 14 seconds, another complaint, and I say, "Wow okay, 14 more seconds we're now 34 seconds in, see if you can go another 26 seconds and just be with this that you really want something with your partner, and just hang in." And I'm smiling when I'm saying this, I'm really getting how difficult it is, particularly in contentious couples who come often, at least one of them comes from argumentative family systems. Where learning to argue and have conflict was a skill. And to set it aside, you could hear the armor clinking on the floor, to release that armor is scary, it's downright, terrifying.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And what I love about what you're offering is the way that love and tapping into that energy gives people the strength, and safety to then visit harder places.

David Mars: Yes.

Neil Sattin: Because I definitely saw that in your work, that there were times when one member of a couple would get to this really vulnerable place and offering something and then the other person just like... And as you're watching it, you're like, "What do you think is going to happen right now?" And of course what happens is it's like, is that love received? No, it's met with some harshness, or disbelief or doubt. And something that I'm curious about is your ability to hold the love and the vulnerability that one person offers and I think this is a valuable skill as a therapist, and also in relationship to be able to...

Neil Sattin: For instance, hold that you're offering something that's vulnerable, and at the same time to be met with a no from your partner, a refusal, and to allow them that experience without it necessarily sending you into a shame spiral or a dorsal vagal response. So yeah. How do you hold that dynamic as a therapist? Because I was impressed by how powerful it was to honor, like, it's okay that you're resisting this love right now, I'm not going to force you to accept it.

David Mars: Absolutely.

Neil Sattin: In this environment, even though that, it's probably what you think. I want you to do...

David Mars: Exactly. That's very well put, Neil. Yeah, it isn't about compliance, it isn't about love your partner because I'm saying you should. It's much more really to remember for example in the... That volume one volume two from New Jersey the 30-year marriage DVD set that is a two-part set, when Joanne is refusing Mike's overtures to being loving and at a point, she says I've had 30 years of difficulties with you. I am not going to simply just collapse with my upset with you just because you're nice to me in this session, I'm not, I'm still mad at you. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

David Mars: And I have a right to be, and I'm not going to... I'm not going to just set it aside. I'm really, really hurt and lonely. And you haven't gotten it, and I want you to get it. Of course, the way she does it, puts him into dorsal vagal again, but I just love that her assertion is so clearly based in her sense of her rights to be a person who has truth with self as the first prerogative beyond behaving herself with a partner and complying with me or her husband and her ferocity I think is really an essential response to being deprived of having rights all through her life growing up.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

David Mars: So, it was such a... She taught me something there in that. Because it went on. [chuckle] It was like a 13-session series of sessions. It wasn't a super long treatment, but it was one that sometimes felt long to me because the setbacks were almost every session. There would be some part of her that just needed to be mean to him and, thump him one, not physically, but with contempt. And I would just go, wow, okay. [chuckle] Ouch. That actually hurts from over here. And that kind of transparent response that often bring humor to her. She said, "Oh that was really sharp. I don't want to be that aggressive 16-year-old right now, I'm sorry". And she'd apologize to him sometimes. It's that subpart of self that really wasn't quite in her conscious knowing, that would sometimes reach out and do something of an ouch to him.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah.

David Mars: In the sweetest, most vulnerable moments. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So much here to unpack, first I love that you incorporate that notion of multiplicity and parts that are operating. We've had Dick Schwartz on the show to talk about internal family systems and also Toni Herbine-Blank, which is her incorporation of that into couples work. So I find that to be so helpful in people being able to give a voice to the more challenging aspects of their experience, but in a way that keeps a healthy distance from it, while at the same time honoring it, so that they are not becoming it. So I love that you've incorporated that into your work. And I also just want to give some context, to everyone who's watching and listening to that... So David is talking about this two-part DVD set so it's actually six DVDs that are this couple's Conference and in it they show video of David working with a couple, and this couple had been together for 30 years and they were on the brink, the woman partner had had enough, she was done with things being the way they were, and so...

Neil Sattin: And I often get emails from listeners like I've been married for 30 years. Is there any hope for me? I think I literally got that email, like three days ago. So one, yes, there is hope for you. And then we get to watch over the course of 15 sessions how they progress together. So it's not like an instant fix and it's also not an un-enduring length of time that it took for them to achieve a lot of progress as a couple.

David Mars: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: So, just setting some context. The DVDs are amazing. And if you're a therapist or a healer, that immersing yourself in the approach like that is one way that I think would be super helpful for you.

David Mars: Can I add something to this Neil?

Neil Sattin: Please yeah.

David Mars: I'm thinking about how Joanne and Mike, and they had given me permission to use their first names.

Neil Sattin: Great.

David Mars: In discussing their work, they're very, very joyful about being of service in the world. So that their couple experience can inspire other couples to grow and develop past traumatic ways of interacting and deadening ways of interaction, to ones that are really truly conscious and enhancing. And the couple was on stage with me, and in the... In showing their videos. So they were being interacted with the audience of about 100 therapists in using language, I-language like I use with them, like they use with each other, with the channels of experience, which are sensation, emotion, energy, movement, auditory, visual, and imaginal and using these seven channels along with I-language. They can communicate about their internal experience, what's moving in them, what they sense in their bodies, what emotions are coming up, what kind of energetic experience they're having.

David Mars: And the intimacy of that speech with the audience of 100 therapists gets combined when the therapists are also speaking level, not speaking and pontificating, giving ideas or advice but are actually being moved and speaking from their own experience of their own hope that's being opened in them by Joanne and Mike and speaking from that hope and that joy and that honoring of Joanne and Mike for their struggle and for their breakthroughs, and for their being present with us. They flew all the way from San Francisco Bay Area to New Jersey to be there at that conference, and [chuckle] it's just quite a statement of their dedication to wanting to transform.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. Joanne, just to revisit something, we were talking about a moment ago, she mentions that one of the most powerful moments for her to witness was the moment where you... To say called her out isn't really exactly the right phrase, probably, but you highlighted how she was coming at Mike in a very cutting way and the beautiful way you said it, it was something like, "Are you perhaps mocking him right now?" but you said it in a way that wasn't at all talking down to her, it was just like, I'm inviting you to ponder, was that maybe mocking him? And she spoke to just the impact of, "Oh my goodness! Right, I am doing that. And that is, as you mentioned, not what I want to be doing."

David Mars: Yeah, that's huge, that's huge. And I love this part about tapping in the middle of my forehead, the orbitofrontal cortex, the third eye in more mystical traditions. The orbitofrontal cortex is the senior executive that chooses how to be relational, how to be conscious or it can lay relatively dormant.


David Mars: If we're really actively choosing our partners in an atmosphere of love, choosing to want to be with them or even to want to want to be with them, as I mentioned earlier, to find the parts of us that are really open to moving away from argumentation and toward really saying, "What do we want to be understood?" As opposed to going for revenge or for an impact, to go instead for understanding is a major, major shift in consciousness and is an invitation to be recognized for the depth of what one wants to say and to bring the partner closer, even though it could be in the context of conflict. It does not have to be in the context of conflict, because I can speak about the part of me that wants the closeness.

David Mars: I can also say how I feel saddened that I'm not reaching that, and particularly for a male in this world that I live in, to be soft, the one that I grew up in, in my family it was not such a wise strategy. To be tough, to be resistant rather than resilient, a lot of what I learned, and now in these many years, decades really of practice, how to be soft and responsive, is such a joy in marital relating, because it's so conducive to being understood.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. For me, what comes up is this vision of true responsiveness.

David Mars: Yes.

Neil Sattin: Like the more... What I particularly love of the many things in AEDP for couples is, how you're bringing people more and more online into their present moment experience and all the different channels, you just named the different channels of experience, we can maybe talk about that a little bit more.

David Mars: Sure.

Neil Sattin: But as a way of enhancing how you show up in the moment. So when you say softness, what I feel is my own like, "Oh yeah. It allows me to take in the world, to take in my partner."

David Mars: Yes.

Neil Sattin: And to not be bowled over by it, but also to really respond to it. I don't have to push back at it, I don't have to react to it, I don't have to shut down typical fight-flight responses. I don't have to do that because I'm learning how to feel that in the moment.

David Mars: Yup. I like that.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. I wonder if you could give... Just because I'm noticing we've been talking a little while without naming... I would love to hear from you what you feel are the unique features of AEDP for couples and how people learn to experience each other, and how therapists learned to work with couples and bridge, be a bridge of consciousness, as you were mentioning earlier.

David Mars: Sure, yeah. I'd be happy to talk about that. I want to spring from what I heard you just saying about when a person knows they don't have to do anything, they're not required to do anything, but it's simply a choice. That's the key to me about AEDP for couples, it's about choosing, about the freedom, the liberty, the liberation from feeling constrained. I must do something for you. For many people already brings up resentment and a hardening inside, to submit one's own wishes to do the wishes and biddings of another. Part of the control struggle that is phase two in marriage. First stage, falling apart... [chuckle] into love, kind of disassembling into love, merging into love, being, kind of losing our senses into love. For many of us, it is how we fell in love, not all, but for many. And that merger state moves into the next state, which is control phase. Who's in control?

David Mars: Who's driving this bus? "It's me." "No. It's me. I drive the kids and you drive at work." How do we actually have a life with two steering wheels in the vehicle and not have it be a battle? There's something about the quality that for me is in AEDP for couples, that is symbolized by a marriage ritual where there are three candles and that the two lit candles are the candles that represent each of the couple members, be they same-sex or heterosexual, and they come forward and they light together. The middle candle represents the marriage, but they don't blow out their separate candles. In some ceremonies, the individuals blow out their candles and the union is always left.

David Mars: This is a major problem. It gives me chills to think about the fate of that couple that gives up their individuality to become merged into one, and for me, it's a mess that's invited, where one couple gets absorbed... One couple member gets absorbed into the other perhaps and submits to the other and the dying of the self is a tragedy that does not go well, for most couples in my experience. So when all three candles are lit, both individuals are thriving and bringing light into the world and to each other and the middle candle of their marriage is also doing this, that the children that come from that marriage can be, if there are children that come from it, can be loved and loving, and feel the joy the parents share with them as well. As part of that AEDP for couples model, that if the guiding light of love, the consciousness of love and the guiding principles of the whole body.

David Mars: Mind, heart, and gut helping the couple members to discern what is right action, what is the correct and wise way to be right now with you my partner, my beloved, my chosen one? How do I be with you in a way right now because my habit right now would lead me into another direction, that I know is going off a cliff of sorts. I'm going to run into a brick wall of sorts. That habit is not my friend right now. How do I, in this moment of activation, of anxiety, of pressure, how do I find myself? Of exhaustion perhaps. How do I find myself freshly, consciously and be guided by my own body to do the un-thought known.

David Mars: That's something that I haven't given thought of yet, but it suddenly springs to awareness. I can be like this with you. It's an actual creativity, and that creativity and living is so much part of how we humans, in fact, all sentient creatures can be creative, and I'm thinking about hummingbirds, for example, who are so, to me, remarkable in their durability, and resiliency to get through storms, and cold and rain and to still be there the next day at the hummingbird feeder at the Mexican sage getting sap from the flowers. How they do this is a miracle of their, to me, divine nature to be following their own guidance. They know how to raise a family, how to be directionally wise to go where it's warm, to go where there's food.

David Mars: This is part of what the research of Northoff and Panksepp brought forward before Panksepp's untimely death this last year, the trans-species, neuro-biological core self, and this is a consciousness that's in living beings that is not just the high brain, but it's in some cortical areas as well, that guides us toward wise choices and it's tapping into this that AEDP for couples is specialized in, tapping into sentience and the knowing of the self, is biologically corrected and overrides early defenses and early habits that are not necessarily helpful. They're just habits.

David Mars: And I want to say one more thinking about this, part of my joy is seeing couples take the best of each of their lineages, the best attributes what they learn through modeling through their parents through being raised, and surviving in that home their, true strengths, but they simply don't need to be all the space junk of everything else that their parents brought through their unresolved trauma that can be moved out of the back yard of this couple's lives and just cleaned up. It does not need to be that the replication of traumas with the couple has to endure together, but rather the healing of trauma through kind firmness. There's a clarity of mind and heart that are really dedicated to having a life that really thrives. That's really the core of AEDP for couples.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I'm thinking of a couple things one like a really kinda broad concept and one like a very specific thing. The broad one being, what we spoke about in the very beginning of our conversation, that the work is about accessing those core states of being and how we bring them to each other. And along with joy and sadness is your lust and sexuality. This is the work you were just referring to and your ability to bring all of those things online is related to your ability to shed your defenses and your defensive states, not in a like laying yourself bare kind of way, but in a practicing new habits of interaction, new habits of handling big emotions, which also seems like something that AEDP and AEDP for couples is really strong at helping people with.

Neil Sattin: And then the specific thing that popped into mind is, when you ask people, "How do you know that you're having this experience?" Can you talk a little bit about that question because I think it's such a lovely invitation to bring people more into their awareness and also, to combat the projection, that so often is happening.

David Mars: Very well put Neil. Yes, and rather than operating by projection which is... Projection is necessary if you don't have sufficient information of what's going on and projection is not a bad thing, it's just that it's sort of inaccurate often, its approximate and often has our own stuff laced into it or it very confusing and sort of it condemns the other person if we follow projection as our way of understanding our partner, it condemns them to having our internal material put on them rather than really seeing them truly for who they are. Its very lonely to live like that.

Neil Sattin: Right.

David Mars: So for me, one of the beauties is when couple members have an experience of discernment. I'm noticing, oh, my gosh, my partner right now is smiling at me. I could have totally missed that had my therapist not pointed it out. She's smiling at me and I love her smile and I suddenly realize that her eyes are bright, she still has a light in her eyes even though it's just being disassociated, just that I lost track of where she was in the room even. Lost track of the fact she was actually here. And I was just talking to myself in a way and that moment of seeing more clearly in the foreground awareness that my love for her is in my heart, and I can actually feel heat in my heart. And then this is a quote from a session where the man says, "This is weird, there's heat in my heart. It's so weird." And she says, "I've been waiting for you to say that for 23 years."


David Mars: "I am so glad to hear you have heat in your heart looking at me when I'm smiling at you." And then he says, "It's actually more like warmth. It's so weird." And I could just... It brings tears to my eyes to imagine a lifetime of his life before meeting her then 23 years later, that she's still waiting for him to feel a warmth in his heart and know the warmth is real and he can trust it and therefore he can trust her and relax his defenses against her hurting him or being less than. And there's something so liberating that that moment changes everything.

David Mars: Once the feeling heart isn't just a pump, is actually a heart that feels and knows that sentience of being is with him. This is not a man who studies consciousness. He's a businessman. It doesn't matter, he could be a military person, he could be a dentist, it could be a doctor, whatever it is, we all have hearts of knowing, particularly if we can train ourselves to listen to them, and hear our whole bodies how they can speak to us and get this tingling in my fingertips, I'm having right now, as I'm speaking with you, as an energetic state that relates to the excitement I feel in this conversation and that if I can relax myself a little bit and slow my speech I can feel a heart movement.

David Mars: I can start to notice how my muscles can start to relax. I can start to let my excitement tone down some, so I can feel more of the sense of grounded-ness in my chair, the sensation of my chair seat and my chair back behind me and the floor beneath me, supporting me, I can feel I'm really here more grounded with you. I can begin to hear that in my voice, so the auditory channel, come online. I can feel the deeper resonance of my voice coming in. The quality of this self-reflection in this moment that is so much about the sensations, the movement, the auditory, the visual, the whole imaginal field that come alive in me when I imagine the possibility of this being heard by so many of your listeners and just there's something about that awareness and any moment for any couple member's life, any therapist's life, to know I can choose right now to get more grounded and connect more deeply with myself, simply because I want to, is a great freedom.

Neil Sattin: So this is so powerful and I want to spend just a little bit more time here and the invitation for you listening or watching, if you're watching is to tune in to each of these aspects of your experience, because at any given moment, you can bring your awareness to them and that will help do what David has been talking about, to bring you more into a sense of presence with your partner and more of a knowing, "How do I know that my partner trusts me, right now, how do I know that I'm safe with them? How do I know that I'm angry? How do I know that they're angry with me because I might be interpreting something that isn't actually happening?" So and to be clear too, you use these channels of experience in a therapeutic way as well, because as a therapist being able to tune in to what's happening in your experience and the overall field experience of what's happening between you and your clients, you're able to wake up in them, all of these dimensions of their experience with each other to things that are happening in their body that they may have not even been aware of.

David Mars: Yes. Thank you for that Neil. I'm aware of this two-part way, that I can interact with a couple. One is, how do you know that right now you're feeling sad, or I could even say, how do you know that the wetness on your shirt, the wetness on your cheek is saying something to you and the person literally says, "Really. Oh, right my cheek is wet right." I guess I'm sad. Oh, I am, I'm sad". And then he says to his daughter... Sorry his step-daughter, who is on a video monitor, cause it wasn't really safe for her to come into the session. Cause they had such rancorous exchanges with each other, she's on a video monitor instead, on Zoom, as we are in this session, you and I. And he says, "I'm sorry that I hurt you. I'm sad that I hurt you."

David Mars: And she's so shocked because his boarding school in Britain didn't train him to be this way, the beatings that he got from age seven on taught him to never cry. And the tears are leaking out unbidden unknown until he sees them on his shirt and he feels them on his face, and suddenly it brings chills into my legs and my back to feel the power of his being able to apologize for that totally shocks his wife, that totally shocks his wife of 22 years.

David Mars: Totally shocks his step-daughter and she begins to weep just weeping and he's weeping and she's weeping and her mother's weeping in this couple session with the daughter there, who's 43, and we're all with tears and the feeling of the mercy of his breakthrough based on him for seeing the tears on his shirt. Answering the question, what do the tears want to say? How can you tell what the tears want to say? And suddenly his apology comes completely out of the blue. And a man who does not apologize particularly not from the heart. I could say as him, "I'm sorry you feel that way." Which, that's not an apology. But in this case, that dearness of his true self, the true core neurobiological self of him breaks through the defenses and suddenly his face is soft, his eyes are loving and his wife and daughter get to see him. At this moment she's his daughter, not his step-daughter, she really is in this united experience that she wants to be in with him as part of family. And the reunion happens this way. It's just so touching.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I can feel that, that that is an example of how we transform in an instant.

David Mars: Yes.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

David Mars: This is very true.

Neil Sattin: And can you highlight because you've gone through them quickly, but can we just spend maybe 10 seconds on each of the channels of experience so we can all really take in what they each are?

David Mars: Sure.

Neil Sattin: Yeah?

David Mars: Yeah. So sensation right now, probably I'll just say, the sensations I can notice are a fine hum that I feel throughout the surface of my body, the sensations of the hairs of the back of my neck, the sensations of my muscles becoming more relaxed, the sensations of my vocal cords and my voice again slowing down. The sensations of resonance in my chest as I'm speaking.

Neil Sattin: Great.

David Mars: And the auditory channel linking with the sensations that validate that what I'm feeling in my vocal cords and in my chest vibration is related to the pitch of my voice dropping and the quality of hearing my own breath coming in, the friction of my breath is part of that auditory channel that helps me to pace myself in my breathing which is central to self-regulation as a therapist or a partner in a marriage, and the quality of the tonal, the slight raspiness of my voice, the gravely-ness of my voice, the drop in for me is part of the feeling of gratitude for the grace of being with this couple that I just spoke of from last Thursday and to think of the channel of emotion. Mad, sad, glad, scared, disgust and surprise are the six categorical emotions.

David Mars: Many of us have one emotion that we specialize in that we can really access and regulate quite well. Perhaps there are other emotions that we don't do quite as well with that are very difficult for us to regulate. But to be regulated in all six emotions is part of the goal of AEDP for couples and AEDP. To be able to be with surprise for example and say, "My gosh, I was surprised you said that. And now I'm still surprised you said that and I'm still feeling the delight in surprise that I'm having this experience with you right now, Neil, I feel so joyful and so connected.

David Mars: And to feel surprise is not a fleeting moment, but one that I can continue to experience again and again as a surprise of the enlightenment of moments that are so... Are so precious and dear because they are literally unbidden, they just come sometimes. And if we go on... Surprise really is one of the categorical emotions that is most often missed by therapists because it happens and comes and goes so quickly. Present tense experience of surprise can remain for a lifetime.

David Mars: A surprise for example, when I'm 13 years old and I'm really asking for a sign that God exists and suddenly I feel, and see, and sense energetically I'm filled with this purple energy in my... Above my solar plexus, just between my heart and my gut, and it stays with me today at age 67. I was 13 years old, I am 13 years old in this hand dug cave and I have this energy of response and this powerful, powerful combination of imaginal seeing the purple energy, the body sensation of the energy filling my whole body as light, the body sensation throughout my body still now feeling a head to toe experience of being occupied by a sense of some deep surprise, that also is something that was so deeply longed for and wanted as a sense of validation that I'm not alone. So when we think about the emotion of this, for me, it's a combination of the gratitude and the sadness of having missed that in the previous 12 and a half years of my life, and now to feel that joy and connection with still having this as a presence.

David Mars: So in terms of what we've covered now, are sensation, energy, emotion, think about movement, as I'm giving these, counting these out my fingers are involuntarily showing automatically showing a counting of four, and these movements are moved by the anterior cingulate in the brain unconsciously, but they inform what I'm saying as I move from my heart out to you the audience to be able to know I'm really wanting to come from my heart and speak, knowing that I deeply, deeply care about, about AEDP for couples and about love and the healing power of love and how hand gestures can also be involuntarily showing push away or put down, or harsh measures of threat that are unconscious, and seen by the other more clearly than by the self often. That is part of the value of tracking movement channel, to my mind its the most unconscious of all channels because it's also clearly visible that it's happening to others but maybe not to us.

David Mars: So we have sensation, emotion, energy, movement, auditory, and imaginal. Let's speak about the imaginal channel. The imaginal channel contains the other six channels. I can have imagined emotion, I can have imagined experiences of moving of being free when I'm feeling stuck and I can imagine my couple member and I being joyful, my partner Karen and I being joyful, and in that imagining of joy I bring the biochemistry of joy into my body, the oxytocin, the dopamine, the citicoline come into my body and my brain cells. All the neurons of my body are affected by the imagination of love, being pure and true, and reliable and resilient.

David Mars: So for me, it's an upwelling of a combination of energetic thrill and emotional gratitude that it's possible to be 35 years into a marriage and be joyful about it and feel tears in my eyes, the sensation of tears in my eyes that we have this. Not that it's a permanent... That could be just uncultivated because marriage always has to be cultivated. In my mind, either a marriage is improving or devolving at any moment.

David Mars: This is not a guarantee. Oh yeah, we're set now. There's no set part of it for me. It's a living organism. So for me that's the channels of experience. I'll just say them again sensation, emotion, energy, movement, auditory, visual, and imaginal. I didn't overtly say the visual part. I just want to mention visual channels are essential to us humans, to see eye expressions, to see facial coloration, to see markers of tension, in ourselves and others, and to be very conscious about our own peripheral vision of our movement. So I'm aware of what I'm actually signaling. It's a great gift to know what I'm actually signaling to my partner or just someone else in the grocery store, whatever, I'm actually showing myself.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Perfect, thank you for giving us the rundown, and I like too in terms of the imaginal, I love that it contains all of those, and I also find that they're such a gift often in those images that come to us. I often offer those in my coaching sessions with clients and Chloe and I, that's part of how we interact with each other, my wife. This image just came to me of blah, blah, and so often that has a really positive and deepening impact on our interaction.

David Mars: Absolutely. What a transcendent function to have, to share between you and Chloe.

Neil Sattin: We're lucky.

David Mars: Absolutely.

Neil Sattin: And we practice it, as you were just alluding to. It requires attention. David before we go, this has been such a rich conversation, I could talk to you for another hour easily cause this time has flown by. Hopefully, we will have the chance to talk again.

David Mars: I hope so.

Neil Sattin: First, I do have a question for you, but I'm wondering... Let's just talk about how people can find out more about your work and if they want to work with you, or if they want to train with you, what's available to then?

David Mars: Well, there's a website, the Center for transformative Therapies website, which is, the URL is C-F-T-T site, so it's, and also the AEDP Institute site, A-E-D-P Institute, both have programs and training that I'm giving. A five-day program in Cape Cod that will be happening this summer and also in July and also one in Vancouver, Canada will be happening, another five-day training in Vancouver in June, and also other workshops that I give that are local and international and ongoing that'll be on their websites. Also, I give intensives for couples that want to fly in to have a weekend intensive, and also group work. Where a group work can come together and decide they want to fly in to work with me or fly me out to work them to facilitate group work that's transformational.

David Mars: And that's direct delivery to people that may want that, couples groups, for example, can fly me in or religious organizations, church organizations can fly me in. And the power of the work is so joyful to deliver because in a day or in an afternoon or two days so much can happen that really changes lives in a forward-moving way. You mentioned coaching, Neil, I'm so glad for that because it's something that's so important in the world to have this capacity, not just psychotherapy to work deeper but also coaching to work deeply.

Neil Sattin: Thank you, and we will have links to your sites on the show notes for this episode, and as a reminder if you want to download the show notes and transcript you can visit NeilSattin.Com/Mars, M-A-R-S, which is David's last name, or you can text the word passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions, and David, I'm curious, do you have time for one more question?

David Mars: I do.

Neil Sattin: Okay great.

David Mars: I do.

Neil Sattin: There are actually so many more, so it's challenging for me to pick one, but I'm curious so many couples who listen to this show, so many are married, many are not married.

David Mars: Yes, yes.

Neil Sattin: And I'm wondering, there's something about being married obviously that elevates our levels of commitments to each other, most of us. How do you work with couples who aren't married, and who are in that dance around, I'm not even sure... You know they could be asking the very same questions that a married couple would be asking like, "Are you the right one for me, do I still want to be in this. Wow, this is really hard, part of me has a foot out the door." Is there something extra that you bring, or that you would invite for a couple that's not hitched as a way of helping then actually stick with the work that's required in order to figure out maybe those questions that they have about each other?

David Mars: Yeah, I appreciate the question. You know the DVD set called Infidelity that is about trauma treatment and a case of infidelity, was of a couple that was not married, and they are still not married. They're still very deeply connected and committed, in having a joyful experience of relating, which I just saw one of the couple members just in a restaurant just recently and she was quite radiant and very grateful for the work, which happened five years ago. We're not doing the work anymore, but it's still living in their lives. So the marriage part isn't required, but it certainly does help from my point of view for many, many of us to have a commitment of marriage, to have that knowing my partner is with me in a way that has some kind of a substance beyond our decision making unto ourselves.

David Mars: And for me, a couple I'm working with now that is actually not married and they have a child and they're in the process of dissolution of their living together due to some pretty ingrained issues that are not, they're not remedying. I've only seen them twice, but they came in really this direction of unlinking with each other but keeping, of course, the responsibility of parenting. And for me it's a major joy in my life and a major piece of meaning to see that even couples who have never married can be deeply committed, even couples that have a child and who end up not continuing to be in a relationship can be loving parents of that child and can be wonderful co-parents even without living together, even without being married, but can still be in that place of that child coming up with a strong and secure attachment. If they haven't gotten that secure attachment already, they can develop that secure attachment over time by living with parents who are growing and transforming themselves.

Neil Sattin: And so for a couple who's let's say, there may be a little bit more in. So they're not actually dissolving but they don't have the, we're married to rely upon. Is there something, is there a way that you invite those couples to find safety, the safety that's kind of inherent in a marriage vow, because I know, as you just mentioned, "Okay, we're in this. We got married". And divorce as common as it is hard and challenging and requires a lot to make happen. So yeah, how to deal with the paradox of safety in a relationship where they haven't spoken vows with each other.

David Mars: Yeah exactly. And for me, I want to give the example of polyamory, which is funnily one of the most challenging ways to be in relationship that exists on the planet. I know many people are very keen on that. It works for them but the couples that I've known who have done that work on polyamory, it is a very, very complicated process, and for me, the safety experience is really, in many cases about how securely attached is this person to themselves? There's a recent song lyric I was listening to of an old song, "And I know you won't let me down because I have my feet so firmly on the ground".

David Mars: In truth, we're all vulnerable to having our heart broken, no matter how strong we are, and it's one of the greatest agonies that can be, to have a lost love in my experience, and also in research as well, but to be able to feel the truth of one's words is real, that one's actions and one's words match to me that's part of the integrity of married or unmarried, whatever it is, that can help couples to feel truly safe and truly believable and believed is to really make sure that our actions and our words match. That our apologies are followed by corrected action, not just words that sound good, and actually a commitment to live differently.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and a commitment to be in that process of the experience of earned secure attachment with your own being, and I've seen how that even changes what people ask for in relationship. I've experienced that myself, I've seen it in others, so yes, that I think is a great way of confronting that, I'm always safe in me and then I can bring that into however complicated this situation is to try and resolve it for the better.

David Mars: Yeah. Wonderful.

Neil Sattin: David. It is such a treat to have you here. I really appreciate your time, your wisdom, your work. AEDP and AEDP for couples is such a powerful modality and I'm really delighted that you were able to be here, to share with us, and I hope that for those of you watching and listening, that your curiosity is peaked and you're going to seek ways out of experiencing this for yourself. But, David, I have such appreciation for your work in the world and the way that that's rippling out from here and from the other ways that you're training people and working with people, it's super powerful.

David Mars: Thank you so much. What an honor to be in this conversation, with you and to be asked questions I've not been asked, before.

Neil Sattin: Oh. Good. [laughter]

David Mars: Yeah. It was a joy to be with you and I hope we get to speak again in another podcast another time.

Neil Sattin: Great, great, we'll make that happen for sure.

David Mars: Okay, bye. Bye.

Apr 10, 2019

We’re all talking about attachment style now, and how it relates to the way that we show up in relationship. It can be enlightening to learn about your attachment style, and to see how it plays out in your relationship. see your partner’s attachment style - it can explain A LOT about how the two of you interact. But how do you avoid being victimized by your attachment style? Is there a way to get beyond the unhealthy ways that we related to each other and break the cycle? And, if you’re a securely attached person, how do you avoid being pulled into the potential challenges when your partner has an insecure attachment style? Of course you could write a book about this issue, but we’re going to cover some of the finer points on today’s episode.

Also, announcing that tickets are on sale for Relationship Alive...LIVE! featuring Terry Real. We'll have a musical guest (Katie Matzell trio), and you'll also have the chance to ask YOUR questions. The show will be on June 6, 2019 at One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine. Limited seats available. Click here to buy your tickets now!

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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Apr 2, 2019

Have you ever wished that you and your partner could communicate better with one another and avoid conflict? Communication can feel very complex - but today we’re going to show you some very specific and practical exercises you can do with your partner that will improve your communication, mindset, and relationship satisfaction. This week, our guest is Jonathan Robinson, the author of many books including More Love Less Conflict: A Communication Playbook for Couples. Jonathan Robinson has worked with many couples and has been featured on TV and media - most notably he was on Oprah several times! By the end of this episode, you’ll have some new, practical ways to approach communication that will have an immediate impact on your experience in a relationship.

Also, announcing that tickets are on sale for Relationship Alive...LIVE! featuring Terry Real. We'll have a musical guest (Katie Matzell trio), and you'll also have the chance to ask YOUR questions. The show will be on June 6, 2019, at One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine. Limited seats available. Click here to buy your tickets now!

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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Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. Today we're going to get really practical and we're going to get really practical about communication. But not only are we going to get practical about communication, we're also going to get practical about communication in a way that will bring you closer to your partner. And we're also going to address this from the perspective of things that you can do with your partner, structured exercises that will definitely take you to a new level of understanding and intimacy and vulnerability. And on top of that, we're going to get some tips about how to do things on your own, kinda renegade style, so that if your partner isn't necessarily signing up for communication exercises 101, you can still make huge progress in your relationship and your connection. And in order to have today's conversation, we have with us yet another esteemed guest. His name is Jonathan Robinson and he's the author of the book More Love Less Conflict: A Communication Playbook for Couples, among many other books. Jonathan has worked with many couples, has worked with Fortune 500 companies, and has been featured on TV and media.

Neil Sattin: Notably, he was on Oprah several times. And as you'll see his words are practical, applicable to your life. And they make a lot of sense, but they're not necessarily the kind of thing that you would automatically think to do. They're the kinds of things that once you hear them, you'll be like, "Oh yeah, of course, that's the way I should have been doing this all along." So I'm excited to have Jonathan here with us today. We are going to dive in momentarily, but before we do, just a reminder that if you want to download a detailed transcript of today's episode, you can visit That's the word more and the word love kinda squished together. And along with the transcript, Jonathan Robinson has also generously offered to combine with that his 50 desires. It's a list of things that are these universal desires that can, as you'll see, help you really get more in touch with what it is you're after anyway in your relationship and in any given moment. So that is also free for you when you download the transcript. And again, that's at

Neil Sattin: Or you can simply text the word Passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions which will lead you to a page where you can download the transcript, the bonus desires, worksheet, and a lot of other goodies as well from our other episodes. I think that's it for now. Jonathan Robinson, thank you so much for being here with us today on Relationship Alive.

Jonathan Robinson: Well, thank you, Neil. This will be fun.

Neil Sattin: I sure hope so. Let's see. How can we make it fun? Let's just start right in with something super fun. One thing that I really appreciate about your book, as I just mentioned, is how practical it is not only for people who have a partner who's willing to sit down with them and go through something structured but also the way that you're always offering these helpful hints that allow someone to just kind of incorporate it into their lives on their own and change the steps of the dance. And I'm wondering, obviously, ideally our partners work with us on the project of our relationships, but I'm wondering what you've seen as far as people taking some of these plays in your communication playbook and putting them into practice on their own, and what kinds of results you've seen them effect in their relationships.

Jonathan Robinson: Well, in fact, it's pretty rare to have two partners that both want to work on a relationship. If you have that, usually there's not that much of a problem. So mostly I get couples who are basically on the verge of divorce where one person is dragged in kicking and screaming. And even in those situations, if you have the right method, the right technologies so to speak, you can still get to a place of love often in like 20 minutes. So I use the analogy, if you're trying to go from where you are in Portland, Maine to California, well, if you have a plane, you can do it in six hours. If you don't have a plane, it's going to take you a couple of years. So some of these tools are really amazing technology that helps us get back to a place of love very quickly.

Neil Sattin: And some of them I noticed, okay, that kind of reminds me of Imago or that reminds me of something I've seen in the Gottman's work. And have some of those things just been trial and error on your part or what's that process of discovery like for you in coming up with these ways to help people in their communication?

Jonathan Robinson: Well, I use it in my own marriage, but also with my clients. And what I notice is that when people are upset they can't remember Imago stuff or Gottman stuff necessarily. They're too complex for most couples. So I tried to make it so that anything I taught in my book could be pretty well done in 20 seconds or less. Now, there's a few exceptions, but I know when I'm really stressed out or upset, I don't remember all the theory. What I remember is maybe I can say three words or maybe I can complete a sentence. So I tried to find the best and easiest methods that can be done usually in under 20 seconds. And that's usually what people actually can do, but the good news is, if they do it, it does lead to a transformation. My wife and I, when we first married we argued a lot, and I was looking for a way that even though we were upset, we could avoid arguments.

Jonathan Robinson: So I came up with a method called the Yellow Light Method, which just involves saying two words and if I can remember to say those two words we avoid arguments. And in the last five years, we've only had one argument. And basically, the method is if you're finding that you're upset or your partner's upset either you can say yellow light, and that's a signal to take two minutes out and take some deep breaths and then restart the conversation. And when you interrupt that momentum of upset, usually you don't go into an argument. So those are the type of methods I like the most. The ones that are so simple yet work pretty much 100% of the time.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, it's so important, too, to have something reliable that you can turn to that doesn't require a lot of thought, because as we've talked about here on the show a lot, you're not even really able to think. That part of your brain that accesses creative problem-solving thinking, it tends to go offline as soon as you start to feel your heart beating a little more quickly and get into that disconnected angry or hurt wanting to escape, angry wanting to fight, whatever it is. When you're in that mode, having to think it through is probably one of the most challenging things you have to do.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, I can't do it, so I can't expect other people too. [chuckle] That's why they pass... These methods have passed the most severe test possible. Do they actually work in my life?

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that's super important. And I like, too, that you offer examples in the book of things that happen with your wife. It's kind of a new theme here on the show because I think it's easy to get the impression that when you know all this stuff about relationships that things are smooth sailing all the time, and it's never challenging. And people like the Gottmans, they must just never fight. It's always bliss. It's always cherishing. And so lately, I've been asking my guests to name some of their own challenges just to make it real. And so I like that you offer that in your book, as well. These are challenges we've experienced and how I've used this particular exercise or how my wife and I have used it to help ourselves in these moments.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, that's been a way to keep it on us, because we all face challenges in relationships. It's just a matter of whether you have ways of getting around those challenges or if you resort to the time tested tried-and-true method that most couples work or use, which is blame. And as you know, Neil, blame never works. Never once have I blamed my wife for my annoyance or blamed her and telling her what she does wrong where she then came back and said, "Oh yeah, now I see where you're talking about. I'm going to have to change that." I bat zero for 500 on that one. So that got me looking for other ways to do it.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, and it's funny how ineffective so many of our innate strategies are, and yet without a new repertoire that's just what you do over and over again. Even though if you were to step back and look at the evidence, "Did this work? Did anything change? Do I feel more connected?" Any of that, the answer would probably be no for most of those things people just do. Blame, complain.

Jonathan Robinson: Shame.

Neil Sattin: Shame. Yeah, exactly. Criticize. Yeah, all those kinds of things.

Jonathan Robinson: Well, most of us, most couples don't even have 15 minutes of communication education in their life. And I think of a marriage or communication is something that we're doing all the time. We should have a lot of practice at it. If you even had 15 minutes on how to fly a plane, you would have a chance of not crashing, but if you don't have those 15 minutes and you have to take over a plane in mid-flight, you're probably going to crash. And that's an experience a lot of couples have is that they just don't have any other methods they've been taught other than blame, shame, complain. And therefore, that's what the habit they fall back into when things get tense.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, well, fortunately, we don't just have 15 minutes now. We have a good 45 minutes where we can help you who are listening come up the curve a little bit more. We're going to give you some cool exercises and things to try. And then, I'm just thinking about the study that... I just had John and Julie Gottman on the show and they were talking about this study where there were these married couples, I think they had children, both worked and they figured out that basically, these people had 15 minutes of communication time period, over the course of a week. That that was it. And of course, that time was more or less about the bills and logistics. And so if we can save that for you so that that 15 minutes can be something truly special and hopefully you have more than 15 minutes with your partner or with the people closest to you, then I'll feel like we did a good job here today, Jonathan.

Jonathan Robinson: That sounds good.

Neil Sattin: Awesome. So where's a good place to start? I know that I mentioned the universal desires when I first was talking about what we're going to talk about today, and maybe that would be a good place for us to just kinda drop in. But I'm open to your influence here about where do you like to start people out on this journey?

Jonathan Robinson: Well, you mentioned the Gottmans and they've done some great work. And one of the things I liked about them is they said that probably the best predictor of how happy couples are is the amount of appreciations they give to each other or the ratio of appreciations to criticism. So a very simple method, and I like simple, is that I have couples complete this sentence, "Something I noticed today about you that I appreciate is... " and you just complete that sentence. I have couples do that once a day and people are often hesitant like, "Oh, that's too simple or too mechanical," but it really does make a huge difference. And I'm a typical guy, so I actually have my iPhone remind me to do this every day, otherwise, I forget. And it's amazing how that can really help bond couples. Or if I did it with you, Neil. Something I noticed about you that I appreciate is that you're very clear in your communication. We had to do some scheduling stuff, but you were always very clear and helpful and before the show, during the show, it just makes it much easier to be a guest when I know where you're at and what you're thinking.

Jonathan Robinson: So I'm already thinking that thought, but when we say our appreciations, it helps to more bond, whether it be a couple or friendship. And that's something that's so easy to do that most people are missing out on because they don't make it a habit.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, and when I think about for a lot of us that can equal love or feeling loved is it gets conflated with appreciation, and so it's like you don't really feel like you're being loved by your partner if you're not getting that kind of acknowledgment from them about how you shine in their eyes.

Jonathan Robinson: Exactly, it's probably the quickest way for couples to feel emotionally connected.

Neil Sattin: And I really like the sentence stem approach, "Something I noticed about you today that I appreciate is," I think that's good because it gives us a way to focus our attention rather than being lost in the sea of all the possible appreciations. It's like pull something out of today, out of this moment. because I can imagine even just sitting down with my wife, Chloe, and what it feels like to have her attention. Even that in the moment would be something I would really appreciate, I'd probably want to reflect that right back to her just like how good it feels to experience her listening to me.

Jonathan Robinson: I like the method of sentence stems because they're so simple and yet can be so effective. I'll put out a couple more of the ones I really like. One is, "Something I've been hesitant to talk to you about lately is... " That helps bring in the difficult things that we sometimes avoid. Or how about this one? If you're in a disagreement and you're both trying to blame each other to use this sentence stem, "A way I see that I contributed to this upset is... " You say that and it immediately changes the energy of the conversation because now you're taking some responsibility which then leads to your partner doing that. So there's a lot of sentence stems in the More Love Less Conflict book that work really powerfully and immediately. And they only take 20 seconds to complete.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and that one you just named for diffusing conflict, I experienced that just the other day where Chloe and I, we had an argument about something. Oh, I remember exactly what it was. Sometimes our lives get a little busy and I think I've even mentioned on the show before that there can be dishes in the sink. And we each could be responsible for doing more dishes, I think. Our dog sometimes does more dishes than we do. And so there were no dishes, I was in a rush, I was making a meal. And we have a stack of special dishes that we're really not supposed to use. But rather than use a dish... I actually, come to think of it, I had just washed a bunch of dishes, but they were still wet and I didn't want to dry the dish with a towel, so I just reached for the special dish from the pile of special dishes. And Chloe got really angry at me. "Don't use one of those dishes. You just washed all of those dishes. I've asked you not to use those dishes." So innocent enough, I'm reaching for the dishes, and it would have been so easy for me to just get really angry and in fact, I did get angry. I was like, "Don't tell me what to do."

Neil Sattin: It was really a glorious moment for us of conflict. And we each stepped away for a minute or two, because we had been under a lot of stress that day, a lot of pressure. And then I came back, and I said something like, "I'm really sorry that I just yelled," or "I just yelled at you just then. I see that I went to use one of those dishes, and I know you've asked me not to use them a lot. And even though I feel like it's my right [chuckle] to take them, I recognize that you asked me not to, and I did anyway, and I can see how that must have felt like I was slighting you or not really paying attention to what you've asked me to do in the past."

Neil Sattin: And I will say that it didn't sound exactly like that when I said it to her. But it was along those lines. And it was really hard and painful for me to say that, because like you mention in your book, my ego just wanted to be right and wanted to make her wrong for having spoken up about it or tried to control me or whatever it was, that was her part in the dance. But I did have my part in the dance, and through owning it, right afterward Chloe said, "Yeah, I really... The way that I said that I'm really sorry, I know that must have... You must felt like I was really coming down on you or talking down to you," or something like that is what she said. And that was it, argument over, [chuckle] and we went back to just being connected and loving, and it was a really quick transformation. It's amazing because that gap from Maine to California that you were talking about earlier, that can feel like it's going to take two years, and it really can be as quick as making a shift like that.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, yeah. And one of the things I like about the sentence stems is that it can be hard to figure it out the right thing to say on your own, but if you have the first part of the sentence memorized like, "I see the way that I contributed to this upset is... " then it becomes relatively easy and easier on your ego to just say that sentence and then the shift happens. So I always try to take these big ideas like taking responsibility or being more appreciative and turn them into a method or a technology that's so simple that even me at my worst can do it. And it seems like that's really what people need because we often know the theory, we often know what we're supposed to do, but when the rubber hits the road, we don't have that keyword to say that is really going to turn it in a new direction.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, are there other magical sentence stems that come to mind?

Jonathan Robinson: Well, there's 30 of them in the book. [chuckle] I'll spread 'em out through this interview. One thing that I like as a sentence stem is just saying, "Right now, I'm feeling... " Whatever you're feeling, and then, "Right now I'm wanting... " whatever you're wanting, because saying what you're feeling and wanting is really key information for your partner. And normally, we're very indirect, we're very not good at saying that in a way that our partner gets. So during the day, if I'm spending time with my wife, I'll think that sentence stem "Right now, I'm feeling like I want to be more connected with you. I guess I'm wanting a hug right now." And that helps point me in the right direction.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, and I think it's important, you talk about this in the book, in the chapter where you're covering that sentence stem in particular, how important it is to identify what you're actually feeling versus, "I'm feeling like you're being an idiot right now," [chuckle] which is what people sometimes tend to do, which is to take an I feel statement and attach a judgment on the end of it, as opposed to just owning what they're actually feeling in that moment.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, that's why I have, in the book, a page of just feelings. Here are 30 feelings. You're probably feeling one of these, you're not feeling... Even if you're thinking I'm feeling like they're an idiot, what you're probably feeling is I'm feeling annoyed or I'm feeling frustrated. And to some extent, that's a learning process because a lot of couples don't have that practice where they say, well, this really isn't a feeling. What am I feeling? So having a list in front of you can actually be very helpful that way.

Neil Sattin: Right, yeah, won't that be great when... I think you talk about this in terms of languages and communication, but to be able to Google how am I feeling right now? And get an [chuckle] Oh, turns out that I'm feeling annoyed right now. That makes sense, actually. Thanks, Google. Yeah, and then the second part of that stem, I'm feeling this, and what I'd really like is... And I think I'm not getting it quite right, but that last part of really being able to identify what it is you would like and what the desire might be underneath that seems so important for people to get clear on.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, there's really two things that people want. They want... And usually, it looks like I want them to give me a certain action like maybe a hug or I want them to do the dishes. But underneath that, we think that if they did those things, we would get a certain desire fulfilled. Like if they gave me a hug I'd feel more connected, or if they did the dishes I'd feel more respected or something like that. So knowing what the ultimate aim is the ultimate desire or need you're trying to fulfill can be very helpful because they might do the dishes in a way that is throwing the dishes around and being upset while they're doing it, and the dishes get done, but you don't feel more respected at the end of it.

Neil Sattin: Right, right, and how useful is it for you to be clear about that with your partner so that the underlying motivations are the realm that you're dealing in, not trying in this roundabout way to get your needs or desires met.

Jonathan Robinson: And in fact, most partners are much more open to satisfying our underlying desires than they are to satisfying our other requests. If you said, "Well, I want you to do the dishes," they might have some resistance, but if you said, "What I'm really wanting is I'm wanting to feel more respected and more connected to you." That tends to be more vulnerable, and vulnerability is a real key to intimacy. If you look at the word intimacy, the instructions are there, into me see. So when we reveal what we're really wanting on an emotional level, that tends to open up our partners' hearts and makes them more connected and more open to doing what we want.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and then does it make sense to you to follow up with once your partner's offered vulnerability like that to ask, "What could I do that would help you feel seen and respected."

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Neil Sattin: And then they'll say, "You could do the dishes."


Jonathan Robinson: Actually, probably just asking what can I do to help you feel more respected would help them to feel more respected.

Neil Sattin: True.

Jonathan Robinson: But the dishes might be another way as well.

Neil Sattin: It might be, but what occurs to me is that it's more likely that if the dishes were kind of a surrogate for that feeling seen and respected that now that the true desire is out in the open, that on further reflection someone might be like, "Well, the dishes would be nice, but what would really help me feel seen and respected would be if I could talk to you about my day and have you just listen with your undivided attention."

Jonathan Robinson: Right, you're getting to a place where you're much more effective in satisfying your partner's real needs. And that's something that's really critical, because a lot of times partners don't even know what their partner's real needs are, and even if they do know what they are, which is unusual, they may be very ineffective in satisfying them. Take the issue of sex, which is a good example. A lot of couples don't ever directly say what they most enjoy in bed, so they find that they put up with their partner doing things which is not really what really does it for them. So here's a good sentence stem: Three things I really love that you do in bed are... And three things that I really don't care for much are... Just completing that sentence can improve your love life 50% in five minutes.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and I'm curious for you when someone hears three things I love are blank, that's going to feel really good. Three things that I don't particularly care for, it seems like it would be really easy for the person receiving that to, if nothing else, just kind of feel bad about it, but maybe even to go into a shame spiral, or it could be really bad. So what do you recommend people do to help create a safe container for offering more negative feedback?

Jonathan Robinson: I have a lot of suggestions for that in the More Love, Less Conflict book. One example is always end on a positive note, either something you appreciate or something that you like. But sometimes what's necessary is just a time out, like if you're going to give some kind of feedback that's negative that the other person can't respond for, say, 12 hours, because a lot of times we have an immediate reaction and then after five minutes we realize, well, that's actually useful feedback, or it's no big deal. So creating that safe container can be either ending with something positive or creating a time period where neither person can react to it.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and during that time period, what do you suggest people do to take care of themselves if they need that?

Jonathan Robinson: I actually do make several suggestions, and I have a list from watching funny YouTube videos to calling a friend to going to the gym. But I find that if couples are feeling connected and they feel respected and appreciated, and they're doing all those other things when you get a little bit of "negative feedback," it doesn't overwhelm them. What happens normally is that people aren't getting any positive stuff, so when they get another piece of negative feedback it can overwhelm them, and then you get into problems. So as long as you have love in your emotional bank account, so to speak, a little bit of feedback that tells you how you can do something better usually is not that big of a deal.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so important to probably to put your focus on some of the things we were talking about a moment ago, like offering the appreciations, and all the ways that you really do appreciate or resonate with your partner the things that you love about them, or the things that you see in them, so that when it comes time to offer something a little bit more discerning, let's say, [chuckle] it can soften the blow a little bit.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, and there's other ways, too, for example, sometimes I have couples give what could be called negative feedback in a written form, while ending with a positive thing, and it can be easier to just read it and take some time on your own rather than have that person right there, which might be more triggering. So there's a lot of different ways to create a safe container, and people's job is to find what works for them because different things can work for different couples.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, I'm thinking, too, you offer an anecdote in the book More Love, Less Conflict during the exercise about withholding and couples being able to give a voice to the things that they've been holding back from each other. And that's something that could be really edgy or scary depending on what's being withheld, but even there you talk about wanting people to end on a positive note, something maybe really good or a deep desire that they've been withholding. And you mention this one couple that talks about how in trouble their marriage is, and how one is feeling hopeless, and the other has been flirting with someone at the office, and these are coming out in the withholdings, but then they end with these statements about really wanting to feel connected with each other and how much it feels like that shifts the dynamic for them, even though they have also offered some incredibly vulnerable and hard truths to each other.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, you know, one moment of vulnerability or appreciation seems to be able to overshadow even years of negativity. Now, I've had couples who come into my office, they've been arguing and screaming each other for decades. And sometimes I'll have them do a couple of positive things, like saying what they appreciate or being vulnerable through certain sentence stems, and 10 minutes later they're holding hands and loving. And I find that is like a miracle because they've had years of negativity and yet their hearts really want to have that connection, they just haven't had the simple, reliable way of doing that. But once they do have that way, the bonding can happen very, very quickly, and I think that's a real testament to the human heart and spirit.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, the light it shines is much brighter than the darkness we can find ourselves in at times. And just to be clear for you listening, the withholding sentence stem, I just happened to have it in front of me right here: There's something I've been withholding, would you like to hear it? So again, important that your partner actually know that they're about to receive something. And then this is one of those cases where you mentioned, Jonathan, that it's helpful to create a container that says we're not even... We're not going to talk about this for 24 hours, and what is being offered is held sacred in some way, which is a great spin on it because I think so often when something is revealed that's been withheld, it can, just in and of itself, no matter what the content is, feel like a betrayal of some sort.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, yeah. And that's probably the edgiest exercise in the book, and it's not something that one starts with, you kind of build to that, because if you're going to deal with difficult stuff, it's good to have some love in your emotional bank account because those types of things are like a withdrawal, and you don't want to withdraw into bankruptcy, so I encourage people to have some connection, and when you have to deal with the hard stuff, then you'll be able to weather that storm, because you already have a bunch of connection banked, so to speak.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, and that, for some reason, is making me think of two other things that you mentioned in the book, one being the higher self-exercise. And I think I like that because we so often want to be able to give advice to our partners, or fix their problems, or tell them how they should be that will make our lives easier, and the higher self is a bridge into that in a way that's actually really connecting.

Jonathan Robinson: That's a fun game.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, could you talk about how that one's done?

Jonathan Robinson: Well, you do want to sometimes give your partner advice, and sometimes they see you, they know you better than you know you sometimes. So something my wife and I might do is I'll say, "Do you want to play the higher self-game," and she'll say, "Okay," and we take turns kind of being each other's guru, so I might say, "Well, I'm married to this woman who gets self-righteous really quickly. Dear guru what would you suggest I do when she gets really reactive and self-righteous quickly?"


Jonathan Robinson: And then she has to answer as like a relationship guru. Well, it sounds like you might want to try this, this, and this, and it's kind of fun because rather than going back and forth and trying to prove that we're right, or you should do this, it's kind of like a game and it sets it up in a fun way where I can hear what she has to say. And a lot of times her advice to me about her has been right on because she knows what I'm doing that might make it better for her. And it's just kind of a fun way of being with each other where you can temporarily go into the role of advice-giver or a teacher without all the normal ramifications of that.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and you mentioned an important aspect of that often being that the advice giver, guru, person sit with their eyes closed or blindfolded.

Jonathan Robinson: Yes, because that changes the normal mechanical way that you might be with each other. When you close your eyes and you're trying to give advice, it tends to help you to go deeper within and it also shuts you off from whether your partner is reacting to your advice. You get to really tune into, "What do I have to say to this question?" And that way it can be more pure and more truthful rather than a mechanical reaction to maybe how you think they're going to take it.

Neil Sattin: Got it.

Jonathan Robinson: I must say, Neil, I think you know this book better than I do at this point. I'm very depressed.


Neil Sattin: Well, it's fresh in my mind, so that's helpful, but don't worry, there will be no test. Nothing more than what we're already doing, I guess.

Jonathan Robinson: Okay.

Neil Sattin: It seems important to clarify, too, that if you're not doing that one as a structured exercise, one thing I noticed was that the simple practice isn't an offer to give your partner advice, it's asking them for advice. Can I get your best advice about something? So if you were going to sort of surreptitiously engage their higher self that's how you come at it when you're doing it more renegade style?

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, and people love that question, "Gee, honey, can I get your best advice about this?" And that's usually that asking for help in that vulnerable way usually leads to a lot more intimacy.

Neil Sattin: When it comes to knowing your partner better, we touched on this earlier when we were talking about the desires and wondering whether or not we actually know what our partner's deepest desires are and that's something I appreciate about that list of 50, I'm sure there are more than that, right? But 50 is a pretty good start and it helps you I think access the nuances of how these desires are slightly different than each other And I think it's also important, I loved your exercise on the perfect partner, and how we can share information with each other in a safe way about what we wish we were experiencing from the other person as a way to help them. It's like I'm helping you help me.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, it's kind of like painting a picture. Sometimes the best way to learn is through an example, and somebody can tell you what Yosemite looks like but one picture of Yosemite and the game's over. You don't need to say anything more. And the same thing with what we want. So, writing out what my perfect partner would do, or what my perfect partner would say helps me to get example of what my wife is really wanting because I always thought that she wanted me to fix her problems and then she wrote out, "Well, my perfect partner would say this, this and this," and she never mentioned fixing her problems, she really wanted somebody who was incredibly empathetic. And when I really understood that she's not wanting my advice, she's wanting my empathy, my understanding, it helped me to change how I was with her, and now she has said, "Wow, you're really good at being my perfect partner now." And of course, that leads to more love.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I did an episode a while ago on writing the user manual for you for your partner. This is kind of my guide to me and how that can be such a sweet offering to your partner. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on how to do that in a way that doesn't come across as a criticism.

Jonathan Robinson: Well, one sentence stem that can be a very simple way of doing it is to say something like three things that tend to trigger me are, so you're talking about you rather than your partner or three things that almost always lead me to feel more loving are... Because a lot of times we'll say that that person really pushes our buttons. Well, it's good to tell your partner what your buttons are. So that they know to avoid them, but we not only have upset buttons, we have love buttons. If my wife gives me a shoulder massage, I love her. A Gorilla could give me a shoulder massage, I'd love that gorilla that's just how I'm wired. Whereas, if I speak to my wife in a certain tone of voice, that she finds very loving, that is her love button. So just knowing what really triggers your partner towards upset or towards love in a very simple way is very valuable information. A lot of couples really don't know that information.

Neil Sattin: That just feels like how helpful would that be in general if we just knew that about each other. I've heard Dan Sullivan, who has, he leads this company called Strategic Coach, he talks about that in the context of the work environment and giving the people who work with you like, "This is the recipe. If you want to piss me off, these are the things you can do," and basically listing all the kind of triggers that he has and if nothing else, once you know what triggers your partner, you gotta think twice before doing it or after you do it, maybe you'll think again like "Oh, I just did that thing that I know triggers them."

Jonathan Robinson: Right, right. One thing that people often ask me about attitudes towards their partner, and if you can have an attitude of gratitude in your heart for your partner, I find that that makes love flow much more easily.

Neil Sattin: Oh my goddess, I love that anecdote that you talked... Did you actually go to India for that, is that story true that happened?

Jonathan Robinson: That story is true. I went to see another guru as well while I was there but... So the story is that this friend comes back from India and he says his guru gave him a magical mantra to help him to feel more grateful for both his life and his wife. And I'm always interested in very simple methods. So I said, "Well, what's the mantra?" He said, "Well, you'll have to go to India to get it." and I go "damn but India is a hard place to get to, it's 18,000 miles away" but I make a trip, because I wanted to visit this guru and another guru. So I get there and I have to wait in line five hours to talk to the guru for a minute, but I do that, I'm kinda pissed off because I didn't get this mantra from my friend. I told the guru I wanted this magical mantra for feeling more grateful towards my wife and such, and he says, in an Indian accent, "Ah, yes, my mantra is the most powerful mantra on earth." He leans into my ear to whisper it to me and he says, "Whenever possible, repeat the following words. The mantra I give you are the words thank you." While I look at him, I think he's joking with me and then, but he's not smiling, so I go, "Thank you, that's it? I traveled 18,000 miles to get 'thank you', that's it?" So he looks at me, he says, "No, no, no, 'that's it' is the mantra you have been using and that makes you feel like you never have enough, my mantra is 'thank you,' not 'that's it,' 'that's it' will take you nowhere."


Jonathan Robinson: So I'm totally pissed off at this point. And so I look at him, I kind of sneered him, I say, "Well then, thank you." And then he sneers at me, he says, "Thank you is not the mantra, you must say it from your heart many times a day, so when you wake up and you see your wife, say thank you from your heart and when you eat breakfast together, and you're enjoying talking, say Thank you from your heart, and when you see your child, say thank you from your heart and soon you will be filled with gratitude." Well, because I traveled so far, I actually did this and I found that to my amazement, it actually worked just taking a second, connecting with my heart and thinking and feeling thank you. My wife literally knows the days that I'm doing that without me saying anything. She says, "Your energy changes and I just feel so much more connected to you." Gratitude is like a secret back door that allows love in. And it's one more method that just seems to work that once you have that technology, it's almost like a superpower.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, I have a good friend who was going through a really stressful time in his life and came through it and when I was speaking to him about it, I asked, "What did you rely on when you were going through all that stress?" And the number one thing he said was, "I developed a gratitude practice and every morning when I woke up, I just spend five minutes basically in silent prayer thinking about all the things that I'm grateful for in my life, and that in and of itself pretty much turned things around for me." So it's so powerful.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, and the other thing I like which I think is so underrated is the power of good questions. On my website, I have what's called the 12 questions of instant intimacy that people can download for free. And if you ask the right question even if you're with a partner who doesn't want to do any communication, doesn't want to do any counseling, if you ask the right question, it opens up a magical door to intimacy. And I found that these 12 questions pretty much work with everyone. They work with your lover, your child, your co-worker, they're like secret weapons, so to speak, in the battle to have more love and less conflict. So I really like asking good questions, like an example might be, "What's been the highlight of your week or what gives you your greatest sense of joy in your life right now?" More people like talking about that, it makes them feel good. Or you ask, "What's one of the most amazing things you've ever experienced in your life? And people love these questions, but we don't ask them. And in this day and age, there's a lot of business, there's a lot of superficiality, but people really want deep connection and these types of questions help to open the door to depth and intimacy very, very quickly.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, I like one of the ones that you offer and you also have a separate exercise, that's kind of similar to this question, but it's what's something that you really want me to know about you?

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah. Because if you can get people to feel they understand each other that is a real key. I never had couples come into my office and say, "Jonathan, we really understand each other quite well, that's why we want a divorce."


Jonathan Robinson: But I do get the opposite, "We don't know, he doesn't understand me, I don't understand her," that can lead to trouble. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Well, in case you didn't get it when Jonathan just mentioned it, the full list of the 12 questions that lead to deeper intimacy is available on his website for this work, and that website is And if you go to that site, right on the front page there, you'll be able to download the 12 questions for deeper intimacy and we'll have a link to that as well as anything else that feels relevant especially a link to Jonathan's book on Amazon, on the show notes page for this episode, so you can visit, again,, all squished together as one word. To see the show notes, download a transcript, you'll also get, as a bonus for downloading the transcript, the 50 universal desires worksheet, and then on top of that, we'll point you in the right direction to access more of Jonathan Robinson's work, which is I just love it, it's so imminently practical and useful, really usable. So I hope that you're able to practice some of the sentence stems that you've heard today and then put them to use in your life.

Neil Sattin: So Jonathan before we go, I'm wondering, I'm trying to think now through because there are so many... And we've covered so many in this conversation together, and there are so many more in your book. So it really is, I feel like someone could get the book and kind of open to any page and be like, "Oh yeah, I'm going to try that tonight." It has that kind of flavor to it. So I'm wondering if you can talk about the process of when you actually do want something to change in your relationship, what have you found as a good way to help couples navigate? Like well, this really, this isn't okay the way it is right now, and I really want this one particular thing to shift if we could make that happen.

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, that's a really big area. And of course, I talked about that a lot in the book. I think if you have the right ingredients then you can make it happen, if you don't, blame never works. You don't shame people into changing but if couples really are feeling close to each other and they make a request for something very specific, and then say, "How can I support you or what can I do to change something that bothers you, so we both are working on something that will benefit the relationship." That has a much better chance of success than the blame, complain, shame, method of changing which basically never works. So having good communication, saying something very precise, very specific, being willing to change something about yourself at the same time that your partner wants, that can be a really good method for couples actually making the difficult effort it requires to change something about yourself.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, and I love that, too, because in there, I feel like there's also an acknowledgment of how often we actually do know what would be meaningful for our partners, we may not know exactly what their deepest desires are, and that's why I think those conversations are helpful, but just like you could say, and you mentioned this in the book, if you ask someone, "Would you know how to piss off your partner?" They could do it, they could probably list 10 ways to do that. If you get right down deep into what you know about your partner, you probably also know something that would really light them up or make them feel super special, or loved, and I think it's great to offer those kinds of things. I mean, why not, right? If you can make someone's day, why wouldn't you?

Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, yeah, and the other thing is, I think a lot of partners have to be focused on what feeds their soul, what feeds their sense of peace because when you feel peaceful and loving on your own, you probably make a better partner. I do a podcast called Awareness Explorers in which I interview spiritual teachers and I mentioned before like Dalai Lama, Adyashanti. Yeah, various people. And I'm always asking them, "What are your suggestions for going back to a place of peace?" Because I think the two most important things in life are peace and love and there's other ways to get them. You could have world peace, but what's the chance of that going to happen? That's not going to happen. So, how can you find inner peace? Now, with love, if you're lucky, you find a partner and you learn how to communicate that leads to a lot more love in your life, but there's also an inner way to love, loving yourself, having a connection with a higher power. But our mission in life should we decide to accept it is to find different paths to greater peace and love because when we're in touch with those things, we're at our best and we make a better partner, and we're better and more effective in the world, as well.

Neil Sattin: Totally agree, totally agree. Although I'm struck by your cynicism about world peace, I think it's possible, maybe sometime in...

Jonathan Robinson: Okay, maybe.

Neil Sattin: Our children's lifetimes, our children's children. I'm holding out the hope for that. One thing that I'm wondering before we go is whether... So many couples... This is so ironic, I think they come into... They're in that moment of struggle and often really not knowing if they should stay in the relationship that they're in, especially when they're in the midst of big conflict. And then it can get confusing, right? Because if you have some technology that actually helps you get along and connect, well then it can feel like, "Well, do I want to leave this person or don't I?" And I'm wondering if you have... And I recognize this could be a whole another hour's conversation so I'm not entirely being fair to you and just asking for your quick take on this, but is there a place that you go that helps a couple be resourceful or maybe an individual who's contemplating that? Should I stay or should I go question, that makes that practical for them like a sense of like, well, even if you can get along, maybe if this is happening, you're not right together, or maybe this is the kind of thing you don't want to tolerate. Yeah, how do people make that call for themselves?

Jonathan Robinson: Actually, I think that's really simple. What I find is when couples fully communicate honestly and vulnerably, one of two things will happen, they will either very quickly get back to a place of deep love and connection in which case, of course, they want to stay together or if they're very honest and communicating without blame and letting out all the things that they've been withholding, they may get to a place where they realize they want totally different things, and then they would naturally want to separate because we're not going after the same things in life anymore. But the key is really good communication. It will create the clarity that often is not there when couples are not so honest or so clear and vulnerable in their communication.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. And I think it's important to qualify that, just because you want two completely different things or 10 completely different things that doesn't necessarily mean you’re doomed, but if you're communicating clearly about it, then you get the opportunity to discover if you can navigate each other's vastly different desires and that feels good or generative or does it feel like there's just no way, in which case you're dealing with a deal-breaker.

Jonathan Robinson: Right, right, and you're right, that you can want different things and still have a happy marriage. It's just a matter of whether you're able to navigate those things in a way that is agreeable to both people.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, it makes total sense. Well, Jonathan, it's been such a pleasure to talk to you today, and I'm glad we finally made it work with all those scheduling issues that were totally on me. Just so if you're listening, you're like, "What's up with Jonathan and his scheduling?" No, it was me. And so again, I appreciate your patience with that. And it was well worth the wait, so sweet to talk with you. Jonathan's book, More Love Less Conflict, a communication playbook for couples is available from a bookseller near you or online, and you can visit Jonathan's website or you can check out his podcast that he just mentioned, Awareness Explorers, which is fascinating conversations with pioneers on the edge of consciousness. And Jonathan, is there anything else you'd like to add about ways people can find out about your work? I know you have a totally different body of work that you do, as well, and so, there's anything you'd like to add right now, this would be a great time.

Jonathan Robinson: Just that people should download those questions at and keep exploring stuff. I'm not naturally good at this stuff, which allows me to get good at teaching it, because by finding methods that worked for my wife and I really made a huge difference. I also want to say Neil, you're a great interviewer, I see why your podcast is so popular. It's really fun to go into some depth about some of these issues and hopefully help some people.

Neil Sattin: Well, thank you so much for saying that. I appreciate it.

Jonathan Robinson: You deserve it.


Neil Sattin: Okay.


Mar 27, 2019

How do you figure out your truth? In a loud world full of distraction, chaos, and uncertainty, there's a simple way to get to the truth within you - that you can do in a mere 15 minutes (or less). In today's episode, Neil Sattin will go on the journey with you, to discover the truth that's right there within you, waiting to be known. You'll also get a break from overwhelm and information overload by getting in touch with your own stillness, the inner guidance system that's waiting there with wisdom for you to access.

Also, announcing that tickets are on sale for Relationship Alive...LIVE! featuring Terry Real. We'll have a musical guest (Katie Matzell trio), and you'll also have the chance to ask YOUR questions. The show will be on June 6, 2019 at One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine. Limited seats available. Click here to buy your tickets now!

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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Mar 19, 2019

What if you had a way to improve your relationship in just 20 minutes per week? Working on your relationship doesn’t have to be heavy and time-intensive. It does require time and attention - but today we’re going to show you how you can utilize simple strategies in just 20 minutes per week to make marked relationship improvements. This week, our guest is Alicia Muñoz. Alicia is the author of the new book No More Fighting: The Relationship Book for Couples: 20 Minutes a Week to a Stronger Relationship. Her work with couples, extensive training in Imago and AEDP, and research has helped her craft fast and effective strategies to overcome common relationship problems that you can do in just 20 minutes per week. After today’s episode, you’ll have a sense of how to improve the quality of your time with your partner - and worry less about the quantity.

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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Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. It's funny, we kind of fall into relationship a lot of the times. Sometimes it's when we're looking for someone and other times it can literally just fall into our lap, the spark of attraction or who knows what circumstance that brings you into connection and partnership with someone. And as we've talked about here on the show, often, though not always, in those initial moments things are easy, things seem to connect without too much trouble. You have the kind of sex you want to have, you have the kind of fun you want to have, and it sets you up for a potentially long future together. And then you commit to a long future together, only to find, sometimes not long after, that there's a little more to be reckoned with in order to actually be fit for long-term connection with another person. And that's okay, it's part for the course, it's just what happens. And of course, what we're focused on here on Relationship Alive, are the kinds of skills and awarenesses that you need so that no matter what stage you're in, you have resources available to you. So that you can get past whatever growth challenges you're meeting in the moment and take your relationship to the next level.

Neil Sattin: And so today I'm really excited to share with you something that feels like a really practical manual of sorts, to help you in your relationship, written by someone who clearly knows what she's doing, knows her stuff, and also you can just tell by the words in her book that she has, kind of like me, an insatiable curiosity about what makes us tick and how to find lots and lots of resources and pull them together in a way that make them accessible for you. Her name is Alicia Muñoz, and her book, No More Fighting: 20 Minutes A Week To A Stronger Relationship, just came out. And I have to say, like I just mentioned, I've really enjoyed this book, both because it is full of practical ideas and wisdom for you as someone in relationship, but also because it covers such a wide range of possibilities. It's set up really so you can do one thing a week over the course of a year and we're going to dive into some of the contents, you get a sense of what we're talking about. But it starts with things that are a little easier and by the end, you might get to things that are a little more challenging, but in a good way. In a way that really helps you thrive in your relationship and push your edges a little bit more.

Neil Sattin: As usual, we are going to have a detailed transcript of this episode. In order to get it you can visit, all pushed together as one word. So, and just click the download the transcript button. Or, as always, you can text the word Passion, to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. And as a special treat, we are going to also have a book give away. So to one of the lucky people who downloads the transcript in the first week after this show has come out, you will receive a free copy of No More Fighting signed by Alicia Munoz, the author and today's guest. Alright. I think that's enough from me. Alicia, thank you so much for joining us today here on Relationship Alive.

Alicia Muñoz: It's such a pleasure to be here, Neil. Thank you for having me.

Neil Sattin: You are welcome, you're welcome. And, as I was just saying, I was so impressed by the range of topics that you cover in your book, and I'm wondering if you could talk for a moment about... Just help give us a little context for where No More Fighting... Where that came from in your practice and in your life.

Alicia Muñoz: Sure. Well, I've been wanting to write a book for many, many years and there's never really been enough time, but gradually through various opportunities that have come my way, this one presented itself and I just dove right in. I still didn't have time, I was still busy, but it really, in a sense, I feel like it almost wrote itself because I had so many... Well, like 13 years of experience working with couples under my belt, and just so much that I wanted to condense and share to help people get these bite-sized doses of support in order to work through challenging issues in their relationships.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And so 20 minutes a week to a stronger relationship. You're not saying that all people need to give to their relationship is 20 minutes a week, obviously.

Alicia Muñoz: No.

Neil Sattin: But you're giving them this 20-minute long infusion that they can bring into the week that can give them a little extra. A little extra boost, a little extra thing to consider, a little extra way to connect.

Alicia Muñoz: Absolutely. And it is a little bit of sort of a carrot that we're dangling with that 20-minute promise, but if you do the 20 minutes, it can help you exponentially. So if you really invest that 20 minutes of time a week in sitting with your partner and following some of the guidance and some of the container tips that I give at the beginning of the book, then that will potentially help you connect in ways that you just wouldn't have a chance to connect had you not invest in the time.

Neil Sattin: Right. And 20 minutes to a couple that feels super busy that can feel like a lot. Well, hopefully not too much, because 20 minutes, it's better than an hour, right? I can find 20 minutes. That's between flossing and brushing. I think I've got 20 minutes in there. But on the other hand, I think it also works out that if you're able to find that 20 minutes and carve it out in an especially busy life, or in a life where you're sort of missing your partner, that it's kind of like when you set a timer for five minutes to work on cleaning your living room and before you know it, 30 minutes have gone by. I think it has that same kind of impact where so many of your exercises will bring people into a kind of connection where they might hear the buzzer go off at 20 minutes and be like, "Well, let's set that for another 10," or something like that.

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah, yeah. That definitely can absolutely happen. I think it's also important though, because with people that I've worked with, and well, with my own husband also. Having a time limit and having a container, can really be soothing to partners who have a low tolerance for extended dialogues or extended intimacy. I talk in the book about intimacy tolerance and that we really do all have different tolerance levels for intimacy. And this idea that, well, it's always good to have a high tolerance for intimacy doesn't really take into account the reality that it's neither good nor bad, it's that we have different tolerance levels for it. And so the 20 minutes is really there to protect both the person who gets flooded from too much, and to give enough of a dose of connection to the person for whom 20 minutes feels like 20 seconds.

Neil Sattin: Right, right. That's so important how it creates safety in both directions. Yeah. And maybe that's a good place to dive in because I think so many people, they might find themselves in circumstances like that. And I know as your work, with your Imago training, that you're no stranger to couples who somehow find themselves in relationship with someone who seems exactly like the wrong partner for them.


Alicia Muñoz: I'm not sure I've ever met a different kind of couple, but maybe that's just part of being a therapist, but people who come in, really have the sense of, "Wow, we're so different. How are we going to make this work?"

Neil Sattin: Right, right. And there's this illusion, especially when they find out about your Imago match, that, "Well, why don't I just ditch this person and find the person who's not my Imago match?" But of course, it doesn't really work that way, does it?

Alicia Muñoz: It doesn't. I think one of the humbling aspects of relationship is, I'm sure you yourself have experience perhaps at times is that we have an unconscious, so it's not so just...


Neil Sattin: I was like "Yeah, we do actually."

Alicia Muñoz: We do. That one took me many years to grasp, I really thought I was running the show and in control and could be in control and it was just a matter of being even more in control of everything, but I've gradually come to accept and surrender to the reality that I can't control everything. And that my unconscious makes choices or is drawn to things that I may not consciously be drawn to. And I would say drawn to, and certainly with my husband and previous partners, I think that plays a huge part in our love relationships.

Neil Sattin: Right, right. How many times have you had the conversation with someone where they're talking about the person that they've met that probably isn't their Imago match, that there's someone who's perfect in every way, except they just can't bring themselves to actually be attracted to them and want to be with them.

Alicia Muñoz: Yes, that is something I think we've all heard or maybe even experience, where it's like, "This is the perfect person and she's so generous, she's so kind. He's so thoughtful, and I'm just not into them."

Neil Sattin: Right. But let's also protect our listeners from feeling like it has to be at the other extreme too. I think what we're advocating for is that blissful gray zone, somewhere in the middle where you are attracted in that unconscious cosmic sort of you could never have made it a happen way, but on the flip side, there are relationships that are so problematic or fraught with turmoil and abuse or lack of safety that they shouldn't be followed through or you don't necessarily need to stick with those people.

Alicia Muñoz: Oh absolutely, yeah, that's definitely... It's a balance. And like you say, it's really that gray zone that we have both the conscious factors that draw us to somebody, and then there are these unconscious factors that through an alliance and through awareness, we can gradually work through and certainly learn to be more in collaboration with our partner around those.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that's a great word, collaboration. And getting to that place where you're on the same team with your partner. Do you have any special exercises that come to mind for you, that are about... What's coming to mind for me is something like when a couple comes in to see you and you can tell that they haven't yet figured out that the other person isn't out to get them. Like they're still operating in that paradigm where it's like they really don't feel safe because the other person maybe is actively undermining parts of them or they've introduced... You bring up in your book The Four Horsemen that John Gottman talks about. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling. So maybe there are some things that are undermining the safety of their connection. Where's a place that you like to start with a couple to help them feel that alignment or feel that sense of, "Oh, we actually... We're going to get a lot further if we collaborate like this with each other."

Alicia Muñoz: Well, in Imago, and I think in a lot of other frameworks, it's pretty common to try to begin, even the initial couple session, with gratitude and appreciations. So from the get-go really trying to open the container of connection by helping partners focus on what's working and focus on what they appreciate. And that can be challenging when there are a lot of frustrations and there's a lot that's not working, and there's kind of a mental cash of negative assumptions about one another. But being able to bring to mind the things that you appreciate is one simple but effective way of resetting people to see each other through this lens of positivity. And so that's one and I have many others I could share with you if you wanted.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, well, we'll maybe be able to bring them up spontaneously as we go through today's conversation.

Alicia Muñoz: Sounds good.

Neil Sattin: Let's set the groundwork for people though around... You mentioned already creating a space and carving out time. And this 20 minutes a week program that you have in the No More Fighting book, what is the context that's going to help people make the best use out of those 20 minutes?

Alicia Muñoz: I think that really agreeing on a location in your apartment or your home or wherever you are and beginning to develop associations with that place, whether it's two chairs that are facing each other in your dining area or you're sitting on the ground in the living room on cushions, and lighting a candle or some sort of associations that you can develop with the location that help it be pleasurable for both of you. So I think that that's helpful. And then also the time containers, so agreeing on the 20 minutes and agreeing that you're both going to take up more or less 10 of those 20 minutes and share it. And then, if there's a point where you want to renegotiate the... Extending the container, then being accountable to each other for doing that, not kind of blind-sighting each other or just talking over that time limit. So I think it's really important to be intentional and conscious about the boundaries that you're setting, whether it's the location or the amount of time that you're going to be talking. That's going to create a sense of safety and, "Okay, this is going to be too much, and this is going to be a positive experience." It's really valuable and important to cushion this whole process in pleasure.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And then you also talk a lot in true Imago fashion about being responsible for who is the one who's actually speaking in a given moment, who's the one who's listening in a given moment. And I'm going to ask you a question that I haven't even asked Harville and Helen about, which is: Is there a way that you think is the best way to choose who goes first in which role? I always think it's kind of amusing when I'm... I probably shouldn't say this, but when I'm working with couples to just say, "Okay, this is what we're going to do, who's going to go first?" And you learn something obviously from watching that negotiation process between a couple, and yet there is a part of me that wants to help people out. So if they're sitting here and wondering like, is there an ideal way to determine who should?

Alicia Muñoz: That's interesting. I would love to hear what Harville and Helen have to say about that.


Alicia Muñoz: I actually learned somewhere at some point, probably in my Imago training or maybe from my Imago supervisor, or might have heard it in a workshop. But this stuck in my head that at least for the initial session, it can be helpful to... Whoever called and made the appointment. So whoever was the initiator, sort of the motivated one to create the session, that asking them to go first or saying, "Would you like to open?" Or, "Since you were the one who called, I'd love to hear from you first." That that can decrease the anxiety of the partner who's the... What we call in Imago, the draggee. There's always a dragger, I shouldn't say always, but often there's a dragger and a draggee. So, the person who was the initiator tends to be the person who feels more comfortable, at least breaking the ice. It's not always the case, but that's one way that I do it with the initial session.

Alicia Muñoz: And then I think after that, I'll often say... And it's sometimes true, often true that I can't quite remember who may have started the last time, so I'll just say, "Whose turn is it?" Or, "Which of you would like to start?" Or, "Did we start first with somebody else?" And that way it gives them a sense to, if there's a feeling of inequity in terms of who speaks more, who starts first more, it gives them a chance to speak up and claim that space, that space to speak.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense too, just like there's safety in creating a time boundary, there's safety in knowing that, "Well, if I'm not the one to start today, I'll be the one to start next week." And knowing that that's going to be true. And before we go any further maybe we could talk for a moment too, about two little nuances, one being a good way to listen and the second being the sender, the speaker responsibility, in terms of being the one who's communicating.

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. Is that a question in terms of the good way to listen? [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Yeah. I think it would just be helpful for people who are new to this conversation and haven't heard the episodes that we've done with Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt to talk about Imago. We don't have to give them the whole structure, but just that sense of like, "Okay, this is how I know that I'm being a good listener. And these are like the little things to look out for and this is how I know I'm being a good speaker and things to look out for."

Alicia Muñoz: Absolutely. Well, with the listening it's helpful to do the first step of the Imago dialogue, which is reflective listening and that's when you just take in the words, your partner's words, and reflect back, paraphrase back in your own words. But also using your partners words, what you hear them say. So, that's a good way to ground yourself in active listening, it's really focusing on the words and then paraphrasing the words back. And then just keeping in mind a neutral body posture, as neutral as you can voice, neutral to warm. And yeah, it sounds easy, but it can be quite challenging. So those are some tips for that.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And as the listener, if you find yourself starting to think about how you're going to respond to the person, then you've probably stopped being a great listener. And what about when you... Do you have any particular things you like if you as a listener notice, "Oh, I am starting to get a little judgmental or I feel my defensiveness coming up." Or, "I want to refute the things that my partner is saying." What are some ways, just that within myself or maybe I introduce it into the conversation, that I could bring myself back online into active, empathic, non-judgmental listening?

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. It always helps to agree on these things with your partner before hand, like these signals and just let them know, "This is what I'm going to do when I feel myself starting to go into my own judgments, my own agenda." To gently raise your hand or come up with another signal where you're letting your partner know, I need you to pause while I reflect back what I heard you say. So actually having a hand signal or some other visual signals can be helpful. It's also good to have your own ways of self-soothing, and that could be anything from just taking a very deep breath, exhaling, closing your eyes for a moment, or wiggling your toes around in your shoes or just bringing mindfulness to your body for a second or two. And those can all be good reminders to just get centered and refocused.

Neil Sattin: Right, right. And just as a reminder, as Alicia said, you're going to do your best within the 20 minute confines of this time that you've allotted to take turns. So you'll be listening for 10 minutes and then you'll have your 10 at the end, but hopefully you're going to stick to the script in terms of... It's not like, "Well, that was horrible and now I'm going to blast you for 10 minutes." But you'll have a chance to also give your perspective and be heard. I think that actually makes me think of another good aspect which is, if you remember that your goal as the listener is to help the person who's speaking feel understood and feel like you really got them, like you really heard them, then there's a natural reciprocity that happens. That you can even ask for, because if you've done a really thorough job understanding your partner and they agree that you got them, then you can follow up by being like, "Well, now I'd appreciate it if you would really hear me, hear my perspective about this thing." And it gives you a chance to make the conversation also about that reciprocity.

Alicia Muñoz: Yes, yes. I love that word. That's a beautiful word Neil, and I think that's the foundation, incrementally as you are generous with your presence and with your listening and with sitting on or just back-burnering your own stuff. It's something that really opens your partner's generosity and opens their heart and makes them much more willing to also hear you when it's your turn. So, it really will build the more that you... Well, it doesn't always happen, but ideally the more that you can stretch out of your agenda or your comfort zone, the more your partner can also do that as well, as they see you modeling that.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. I like that word generosity as well that you use, that you're in the position of modeling what you hope to receive from your partner. It's one of the hardest things, especially if you get to a place where you're feeling like, "I don't want to be the one who always has to give or at least not right now." [chuckle] "I just want them to get me for a change." Next time you should be the one to speak first then, that's all I'm going to say.


Neil Sattin: And speaking of speaking, let's just talk for a moment too about the responsibility of being the one who's communicating. And this could be about a full range of things, your needs, your experience, your past, your present, what you hope for. But what are some ways to communicate that are the most likely to be generative and get you to some place new with your partner?

Alicia Muñoz: I think that really getting clear on your intention before you speak is one of the biggest things that I would suggest people try. I have to do this for myself all the time. It's really important to be honest with yourself about why you want to say what you're going to say. And if you're in these 20-minute containers with your partner, taking a second or two or five seconds to take a deep breath and remember that you're in this process because you presumably love your partner and want to expand and grow as a couple, then that's really going to put a little bit of a buffer. It's going to help you resist the pull to get maybe couch a criticism in a seemingly neutral statement or it's going to help you to really say what you want to say in a way that's not blaming or judgmental.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Let's talk about that for a moment, because Imago has that process of the behavior chains request. Because I could already feel like the sticking point in me even though I know the answer to this, but it's like, "But wait a minute, what if?" Like, "The reason that we're here is because I've got some complaints about my partner." [chuckle] "If I didn't have anything to complain about, we wouldn't be here, all would be good." I want to be able to deliver these complaints in a way that it's actually going to create some change.

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. So the intention is the starting point and then actually operationalizing that requires accountability, which means that you can say something to your partner when you arrive 10 minutes late at our romantic dinner date I feel angry, I feel frustrated. And the story that I make up is that your work is more important than our relationship. And then, I protect myself by ignoring you and spending the whole dinner scrolling through Facebook and texting friends. It's like, I didn't say anything blaming right then, but I did get my frustration out. So it's kind of breaking it down in a way that you're identifying the trigger, when you do X, or I feel such and such a way when this happens between us, but then taking ownership for the different parts, the different components. So trigger, emotion, mental interpretation, my coping mechanism, and that's really a way to just get clarity around what's going on for you internally versus just saying, "You're so inconsiderate. I'm never going to arrange a date night like this ever again."

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So let's just go into that break down for a moment because I think that was really helpful. So where you listed out the trigger and etcetera, etcetera. Can we identify what each of those things are? It sounds to me like a way for someone to really take responsibility for how they're feeling in the moment, and get at the crux of what their intention might even be when they're trying to communicate with their partner about something that's coming at them crosswise.

Alicia Muñoz: Right, yeah. And this takes practice, so I don't want to give your listeners the idea that, "Oh, this is just going to easily come out of your mouth this way." It does take some inquiry and self-reflection and using your relationship as a kind of zone to experiment and learn about yourself. But each of those points, often we feel our feelings and we're so busy and maybe we're not aware of what triggered it, and how did I interpret that trigger and then what feelings came from my interpretation. And then, how did I then sort of defensively respond to my own feelings? So, we're not aware of all that. Often we just, we're going through life and we're just like, "Oh my God, he pissed me off, she pissed me off, this is upsetting me. That person is rude or... " So, it's really, with our partners, it's important to think about all those different domains and slow down enough to be able to consider what your experience was based on even just one moment between you.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. And I like that, how it opens someone up to that process of figuring out how their own story about what happened is what contributes to how they're responding to their partner, which also seems so important in those moments. So, I'm wondering now, this is making me think of... You have so many amazing little chapters in your book because it covers a whole year's worth of work. And I'm going to read through some of the larger headings just so our listeners can get a sense of what I'm talking about. It starts with things like self-care and communication, and getting your partner's world and intimacy issues. Now, I'm just giving you section heading, so each of these has two or three chapters within it that give you a vignette of a couple that's going through this particular issue. And by the way, I just want to say as a side note, your vignettes were really fun and instructive to read. And that is not always the case. I read so many of these books and often I just get lost in the vignettes or I'm like, "Why did you even have to tell me that?" But the way that you laid this out, it just makes sense.

Neil Sattin: So you read the vignette and you're like, "Oh, okay. I totally get what Alicia Muñoz is talking about." And then there's some sort of meta level, like this is the exercise that we're doing and then there's the actual exercise with a little example. So it goes from those categories that I was talking about into, now I'm skipping a few pages, attachment issues, power and control, ruptures in your relationship, repair, money, parenting. I particularly liked the little chapter on blended families, which we have in our household. All the way down, and in the intro I said, "Yeah, it gets a little challenging at the end." So, at the end you cover relationship records, like addictions and dishonesty and wanting other people outside of the relationship and different takes on monogamy, so it really runs the gamut. What you were just making me think of though was the way that we take responsibility for ourselves and that also gets wrapped up in projection, which is one of those things where until you like... It's like when you notice that you have feelings and then suddenly you realize you're feeling all over the place like, "Oh, my God, I thought I was just like this rational automaton or whatever and going through life and it turns out I'm feeling all over."

Neil Sattin: And then that might get enhanced once you figure out, "Oh, and actually I'm getting triggered all over the place." Once you know how to recognize signs of sympathetic arousal in your body, fight or flight, you're like, "Oh, okay, I get it. This is happening all over the time." So for me, projection was another one of those things, where I was like, "Wow" At first it was, "I guess I'm projecting all over other people all the time." I had to really think about that a lot. And then experiencing other people's projection all the time. So let's dive in there for a moment, if you don't mind.

Alicia Muñoz: Sure.

Neil Sattin: And what wants to come out, I think from my perspective, is I would love to hear your take on how do you get a sense of what's real and what's projection? And if you know what your partner is saying to you, is just so obviously them projecting their stuff onto you, how do you respond in a way that's going to actually be helpful in that moment?

Alicia Muñoz: That's a great question. How do you know? Let me just start with, how do you know. Was it how do you know when you're projecting or how do you know when your partner is projecting onto you?

Neil Sattin: Yeah, let's just pick one, because I think that either direction will be instructive.

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. Well, our partners are really the perfect people to help us understand our own projections. I think it's one of the benefits of being in a relationship is that they are going to feel as projecting onto them and they're not going to like it, and they're going to have a response to it. I'll give an example from my marriage if that's okay. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Yeah, great.

Alicia Muñoz: So initially, when my husband and I were dating, I was never angry, I was always spiritual and I always felt very loving towards people, and I just... Anger was beneath me. So, I remember that at one point... But my husband was very angry, my then boyfriend was very angry, and I was always complaining about how angry he was and if you could just be less angry. And this made him angry.


Alicia Muñoz: So I remember a moment when he calmly said to me, "You know what? I think you're the one who's angry." And when he said that I felt this almost like flood gate of rage just... I felt it in my body and it was this visceral sense of almost wanting to throw up, it was just so foreign, first of all to be called out and then to actually feel it in my body, and it just kind of turned my world upside down a bit, that moment. We had these moments where... And I think what made the difference is that I'd done enough work and we had built enough safety, and we were in couples counseling at the time, to be able to at least consider the possibility that he was right, that I had this anger inside me that I was projecting out on to him.

Alicia Muñoz: And then being able to consider that, gradually helped me to make more and more room to experience my own anger and to take more ownership and more responsibility for it. And then, of course, to begin looking at why I have such trouble feeling anger, owning anger. So it's a process, but I think being able to consider... Notice when something makes you very defensive and that's usually a sign that there's some piece of it inside you that you can take ownership of. It doesn't mean that your partner might not always or might not also... You might not be a little bit right about your partner, but to be able to kinda look at, "Oh, when I point my index finger at my partner, there are these three fingers pointing back at me, and how am I this thing that I'm blaming or accusing them of being."

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, that feels like... Not that I do this, but now that we've had this conversation, I'm going to make a practice of this, which is, any time I think that my wife Chloe is doing something, I will ask myself, "How do I do the very thing that I'm sensitive about with her right now." And that becomes, I think you're right, an access point to just deeper truths about ourselves and to bring those parts of us online in a different way.

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. That's really brilliant. I think that's really a great tip and it reminds me a little bit of Byron and Katie's work, where you identify the thing you believe and then you turn it around, you flip it around to its opposite and consider that. So my husband is so angry, so the turnaround would be I am so angry. So it's that ability to look at the belief and then as you just said, you would do with your wife to be able to flip it around and consider how this lives inside of you.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Now, do you mind sharing in taking that on, and you can say I pass on this question if you want, because maybe your husband will listen and he'll be like, "That's not how it happened." But I'm curious, what did you discover about his anger in going through that process, because I'm guessing that he was angry at least at some things, right?

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. Oh, yeah, yeah. Well, it was true that he had a lot of anger and a lot of frustration and exhibited anger in a much more visible way. And of course, there's the whole gender part of this, where men are generally socialized to be more expressive of their anger, but not of their softness and their vulnerability and their tenderness, and whereas with women it's often reverse. What we discovered was that as I own more of my anger, he didn't have to be so angry and he didn't have to carry as much of that in our relationship. But he also gradually... And takes time and took time, but gradually he could be more vulnerable and could be more tender and the softer, more typically feminine parts of him could come out and live and be a part of our dynamic. So things got more fluid, there was less rigidity around our roles and our emotions and how we express them.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. We did have Harriet Lerner on to talk about the dance of anger, so I encourage our listeners to check that out. It's one of our earlier episodes, if you get a chance. And I think you're bringing up such a valuable point, which is that there is room for a healthy expression of anger for both people in a relationship. And the anger is so often sourced from something else, like a hurt or a fear or something that's being aggravated and being willing to be vulnerable can often get you to the exact same place. But in a way that actually brings you together with your partner.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, actually I'm curious about that, because I know you've done a lot of work with AEDP, and we had Diana Fosha on and in fact, I'm going to be speaking with David Mars in a couple of weeks, to talk about AEDP for couples, which I'm super excited about. But I'm curious from your learned perspective about this, what is the AEDP take on anger? Because I know it's listed out as a core emotion, right? What's the nuance there between anger as a core emotion and anger as sort of a secondary piece that comes after you've been hurt?

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. Well, I'm not sure I can speak to it even close to the way Diana Fosha would or David Mars would, but my understanding is that it can be either a defense, hiding, sort of an underlying emotion like sadness or helplessness or fear, but it can also be an enlivening resource, feeling anger can be part of this core affect that we need to experience. And another emotion like sadness could be the cover for it or the outer coating of it that we use to avoid feeling the anger. I think it has a lot to do with how it's used, whether it's used defensively or not.

Neil Sattin: Got it, got it. So you might look at your anger and try to diagnose it a little bit more. Am I trying to motivate change with this anger? Am I trying to protect myself with this anger? Am I trying to find a sense of power when I'm feeling powerless?

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. I think that's one way to try to work with it is to... I think also to really see how it works in your relationship, so is it... And how it feels in your body. When you're accessing anger that is more of a core emotion, and I'm not talking about acting out on the anger, but when I say accessing I mean more like you are able to feel it in your body, you're able to let it kind of run through you. It's something that will be like a release or it will open up new possibilities, it will help shift your sense of yourself as somebody with agency in the world. I think that that's really an important piece of it, is to look at how is how does this feel in my body and is this something that's helping me connect to myself and also connect more authentically to people in my life.

Neil Sattin: Right. Because just hearing you say that I think back to that conversation with your husband, who is your boyfriend, I guess, at the time, that on some level there was probably a certain place that you weren't accessing in your connection with him. So having that moment of truth around your own anger enabled you to access something that you could then feed to your connection. Like here's more of me.

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah, right. So it's about the authenticity and being able to access more parts of yourself, more authentically. Often we get locked into a limited range of our experience of our own selves, because so much of ourselves have been labelled or gone underground through conditioning or family conditioning or social conditioning. So I think one of the imperatives or one of the goals of our life force is just how do we feel more of ourselves within our body, how do we experience what it means to be fully alive, and anger is a part of being fully alive, and it can be part of what gives us access to our life force.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And we were chatting a little bit about that before I hit record, and now I'm super intrigued to hear more about your view on how we access more of that life force and bring it into our own lives, bring it into our connection with some... And you were talking about it earlier, now we're talking about it in the context of anger. Earlier we were talking about it in the context of pleasure, which is maybe a happier place to be talking about life force.


Alicia Muñoz: Yeah, yeah. It's so funny, I was just like, "Oh my God, I wrote this book, No More Fighting, and here I am talking to him and I'm like, "Yeah, access your anger."


Alicia Muñoz: I think it helps to have examples because all this stuff can get very heady.

Neil Sattin: Great.

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. So what was the question again?


Neil Sattin: Give me some examples of ways that we can bring more of our life force online with our partners, but maybe it's first within ourselves.

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. Yeah. I think that it's easy to get caught up in adulting. And I think one of the dangers of adulting is that we start to gradually live for others and for roles and for tasks and accomplishments and sort of serving. And I think that our life force is... There's no reason for it, it just is, it's what children often have, they just have this joy and bouncing around and using, playing and creating and making noise and being original in the things that they do and being creative in the thing they do. As adult, I think it's very easy to lose touch with that. So, pleasure for me is one of the big ways that we can access our life force. And pleasure is that sense of like, I'm in the flow, I am laughing, I'm alive, I'm connected, I'm enjoying nature, I'm reading poetry, I'm savoring this food, I'm in the moment, just being this channel for joy and aliveness and presence. And I think that finding the things is not necessarily easy to do, but finding little things that make you feel that way is really the foundation of self-care.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So that makes me go in two different directions. One being, I know for myself, I have a sense and it's even connected in some ways to childhood, because I have vivid memories of the things that delighted me. And in fact we even had Julie Henderson on the show, she has this whole body of work around embodying well-being. And so much of what she talks about are these simple exercises that literally are things that kids do, but spelled out for the adults who are so busy adulting that they've forgotten how to blow bubbles with their lips or how to do crazy stretches or talk in gibberish or whatever it is. It's really fun work. I'm wondering for you... So there are these glimmer of like, "Oh yeah, I remember these things when I was a kid that used to light me up." And maybe that's a place to start for some people. I know I talk to some adults who are so overwhelmed with adulting, I like that word, I don't like the word overwhelmed, but adulting is kind of amusing to me. That they really can be in that, like, "I don't even know what brings me pleasure anymore."

Neil Sattin: Or I think of an extreme example of someone who's been through some trauma, where they are shut off to their pleasure because they have to get through a whole, say wall of shame in order to get to the pleasure. So Alicia, crack open the door for us. If I were stumbling in the darkness, I'm so disconnected from my pleasure and maybe the only way I feel alive has been through fighting in my relationship, how do I get more at something that's more blissful and more sustainable?

Alicia Muñoz: That's a great question. And trauma is so pervasive and there's so many different forms and ways that we experience trauma, and I think becoming an adult often is almost a form of of micro traumas in itself. I think that having a witness or witnesses, whether that's a coach or a therapist or even this podcast, it's a way of developing this community and bringing mindfulness and awareness to another way of being. So I think that if there is that, if there's a lot of fighting and there's trauma and you can't even access pleasure, it's important to find a connection or multiple connections, where you can safely be held as you process your grief, as you show up in the truth of your numbness, your regret, your sense of loss, your sense of feeling lost. I think that finding... It's very important, the connection piece is really important, the connection in the community. So being able to know yourself well enough and invest in yourself to create the community through resources like your podcast here Neil or books or a group, and also having coaches, therapists, if you have resources to do that or a group that you create locally. It's really important to be held through the difficulties that get in the way of being able to feel joy and to be witness in wherever you are.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. So I'm hearing you name things that might be those initial obstacles to getting to your joy, is that there could be some painful things that you're avoiding or have numbed yourself to. And as far as I understand, you don't get to just selectively be like, "I'm never going to feel sad or I'm never going to feel grief, I'm just going to feel happy." Like it doesn't...

Alicia Muñoz: Right, no. That's bypassing. Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Right, right. And you probably meet people like that, where they are happy, but there's something that feels... It doesn't feel very grounded in who they are. I'm thinking of times where I've been in experiences where there has been someone who's been like, "Oh, I'm so happy right now. Aren't we having such a good time?" Where I'm just like, "Are you having a good time or are you just talking about how we're having a good time?"

Neil Sattin: And I love your listing of different options, different ways for people to get connected with support and identifying that connection is so much at the heart of a lot of the healing that needs to take place. It doesn't happen when you're isolated. And that, of course, can be why some relationships are so painful, because we feel isolated in them, even though we're with someone and yet we feel isolated. And that's another reason why your book is so powerful because it gives people just 20 minutes around a particular thing that brings them into connection with their partner around something, so that definitely is contributing to the healing conversation. Another thing that popped into mind too is, and it sounded like you had something to say there, but is the ability to just choose an accountability partner. Like just someone where you're like, you show up once a week and you agree like, "Okay, this is what I'm going to do over the coming week to honor my joy or my grief or whatever it is." And then you show up the following week and get to be accountable to this other person, helps you at least stay in conversation about and in process around those things.

Alicia Muñoz: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, it helps. It helps you to really have that human connection, somebody to bounce your thoughts off of, and to really have that attachment relationship, that can be so lacking in a lot of our histories, is just that kind of sense of even the secure attachment. So you're really kind of getting as an adult, you have the opportunity to get these doses of secure attachment. You can't do that in isolation, so it's really important to create those opportunities for yourself. I was going to mention that Amir Levine's book and Rachel Heller, their book Attached, that I really love one of the quotes in the book about this myth of independence. There's so much pathology, or there's often, we kind of talk about, "Oh, you don't want to be codependent." And I love the way that Amir Levine and Rachel Heller write about it, that when two people form an intimate bond, they actually regulate each other psychologically and emotionally, and that we are dependent, we are interdependent. And so, even if you're not in a relationship, it's very valuable to have those friendships or those bonds with other people where you can experience love and secure attachment.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And so just hearing you say that, I'm thinking that might look like finding the friends that you feel safe with to say like, "Hey, could we just get together and attune to each other?" And literally calling attention to that, that that's what you're doing. Like, "Can we just be together and meet each other's gaze and breathe together and then maybe we'll each share something about what's going on in our lives? I could see that being really powerful and super vulnerable for some people, so.


Alicia Muñoz: Yeah, yeah. Well, we do it a lot anyway. So whether we call it out or not, I think it's being aware of yourself that when you call up your friend or you meet them for coffee and you're discharging frustration or you're excited about an accomplishment or you're feeling vulnerable about a new connection you've made and you're just talking and you're sharing and you're a friend. This person, even if you're not romantically involved with them, is listening and taking you in, that that is a healing moment and those healing moments are supportive of you. So I think it's good to just kind of see where that's happening and acknowledge it.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. And let's circle back around to the pleasure. I think that I don't want to lose that thread, because I'm curious, from your perspective, let's say, okay, I hung out with my friend Jerry the other day, I vented all my grief and I'm ready, I'm ready for some pleasure, but I'm still feeling a little alienated from me and what makes me tick and what feels good and how to grow that in my life. What would be a next step for me?

Alicia Muñoz: That's a great question. This is a little bit of self-disclosure, but I engaged in this program called Mama Gena's School of Womanly Arts, for a little while. And her, Virginia Thomas Howard writes a lot about pleasure, and she writes about it more in the context of women claiming and reclaiming their own pleasure. A lot of it really... Pleasure is so shamed in our culture and many cultures, and productivity is celebrated, and her sort of hypothesis, her theory is that women are literally built for pleasure. We have more nerves, more availability for pleasure than men. And so, to shut down, to be shut down to pleasure is really to be shut down to our aliveness as women. And then of course, the more shut down we are to that, the less we can take other people around us higher. I kind of see it through that framework, but I think it's also relevant to men, especially when you think about the fact that we all contain the masculine and the feminine within ourselves, no matter what gender we were born as.

Alicia Muñoz: So I think that in your case, or what was the case of the hypothetical person, it would be about really connecting to your body, and not necessarily in a sexual or erotic way, although that could be a part of it. But to really connect to your senses and whether it's music or whether it's something visual or whether it's breathing or smelling, it's this idea that making time to enjoy life through your senses is an act of pleasure and it is kind of a revolutionary act because it's not anything you're going to get promoted for at work or people are going to slap you on the back for, or people are going to envy you for. It's sort of really approaching pleasure as a whole new paradigm.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. I got a little lost in what you were saying because I was just like, "Yeah, my senses." And I was taking a moment to just enjoy like what does this world smell that I'm in right now? And I was just touching my hands with... One hand with my other hand and just feeling what that felt like. And noticing how much actually is available just in the moment to me, while we sit here on Skype together, and I'm not violating the boundaries of my monogamous commitment to my wife, by sitting here and just breathing the air and touching my own hand. Yeah, I'm reminded of when Betty Martin was on the show, this was back this past summer, I think. Are you familiar with her work at all? She talks about the wheel of consent?

Alicia Muñoz: No, but I will go back and listen to that.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, you might want to check that out. And one thing that she talks about is this exercise where you literally just hold a rock in your hand, and just touch the rock and wake up your hands, your fingers, to the gift of sensation. And I'm not really doing the exercise justice by describing it here, but it just reminded me of that. And you're also reminded me that I wanted to have... What's her name? Mama Gena?

Alicia Muñoz: Mama Gena. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Yeah. I wanted to have her on the show, so I gotta reach out to her for sure. Great. Well, and you're also reminding me of one of the exercises that you talk about in your book that made me really chuckle, in a good way, which was the love catch.


Neil Sattin: It reminded me a little bit of the positive flooding that Harville and Helen talk about, but can you describe how that game works?

Alicia Muñoz: Sure. Maybe I'll tell you about the origins of it first and that'll explain a little bit. So I have a nine-year-old and we have ruptures, of course, around things like bedtime and homework and food and all kinds of other fun stuff. But one of the things that I discovered would help us work through a rupture was more physical. Sometimes we can do a little bit of talking, but we would go outside and just throw a football or kick a soccer ball and then my husband would join in. And so, we kind of brought this into the living room, because it's too cold to go out or it's snowing, we can't always do it outside. And then, gradually, my husband and I would occasionally do it where we would just try to add motion and movement to whatever we were doing, if we needed to process something or if we just needed to get a jolt of energy or connection, we would just pick something up and throw it.


Alicia Muñoz: Throw it, throw it! Hopefully you're not too angry and not throwing it at each other's heads, but just throwing a ball or an orange or maybe not a shoe, but a pillow and then speaking words. Saying, "I celebrate this or I love this about you." Like the flooding in Imago. It really changes your body chemistry, so that it's not just an intellectual exercise, but you're getting into that pleasure that we were just talking about. You're getting into doing something that moves your body and helps the connection, not just be this intellectual exercise, it helps to be fun.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And I could see that just there's something about the mechanics of tossing something back and forth that is going to invite you into that playful space in your brain.

Alicia Muñoz: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So just in case people didn't totally get it, what is the love catch exercise?

Alicia Muñoz: So the love catch exercise is finding something that is throw-able and throwing it at your partner, towards your partner, maybe not at your partner, and saying, "I celebrate our life together. I celebrate the amazing dinner we just had. I celebrate your gorgeous smile." And every time you say something, you're kind of tossing this orange or ball or pillow at your partner, towards your partner, and they're catching it and then tossing it back. So it's a way of reconnecting to that playful, young kid energy that we all have inside us.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. I'm hearing the kid energy, the playfulness, the pleasure, the appreciations that we spoke about way at the beginning of our conversation, and also developing that resonance with your partner to help you feel connected.

Alicia Muñoz: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Well Alicia Muñoz, thank you so much for being with us today. We kinda covered the gamut and I hope that's okay, I asked you some challenging questions, but I felt a little bit of licensed to do that because your book covers some many different areas. And I was like, "There's no way, I can't just single... Just dive into one thing here." But I hope that everyone listening got a flavor for how you operate and the gifts that you offer and your ability to synthesize so many different things. And I mean this sincerely, that as you read through No More Fighting, you'll see, "Oh, there's Dick Schwartz in Internal Family Systems, and there's Harville Hendrix in Imago, and there's Emily Nagoski talking about erotic energy and the brakes and the accelerator. And it's all in there and I love that. And so for you, if you're enjoying Relationship Alive and you're looking for a book that makes a lot of the wisdom on here practical in bite-sized chunks, then I definitely suggest you check out No More Fighting: 20 Minutes a Week To a Stronger Relationship.

Neil Sattin: Tammy Nelson wrote the foreword to the book, she was also here on the show not too long ago. And yeah, it's so valuable and I appreciate the way that you're able to take all these things and make them accessible and actionable for people. As a reminder, if you want to download a transcript, just visit, where we will also have a link to Alicia's website, which I believe is Correct?

Alicia Muñoz: That's correct.

Neil Sattin: And a link, of course, to the book. And if you're one of the people who downloads the transcript in the first week, then you will have a chance at getting a signed copy of No More Fighting. And Alicia, you're also on Instagram, you were talking about how you're diving into that as a way of helping connect to people and also giving them, again, really kind of bite-sized morsels to help them in their relationship.

Alicia Muñoz: Yes, yes. I am on there, my handle is Alicia Munoz Couples, and I post there almost every day, and I've actually started to post one minute quick tip videos. So I really encourage people to check that out.

Neil Sattin: Cool, I will definitely check that out.

Alicia Muñoz: Awesome.

Neil Sattin: And we should link up there. I'm Relationship Alive Official on Instagram. Someone poached Relationship Alive and put up my logo and everything.

Alicia Muñoz: Oh no.


Neil Sattin: I know, it's horrible. Some interloper. But anyway, Alicia it's been just such a pleasure to have you here with us today and thank you so much for your contribution.

Alicia Muñoz: Thank you so much for having me, it's been a pleasure to be here with you today.


Mar 13, 2019

The Five Love Languages only tell part of the story. It's just as important for you to understand the "Four Fear Languages" because they actually come into play all the time in your life - not only in your relationship, but also as you simply move through your day. And just like the Love Languages, the Four Fear Languages are universal - we all share them, but experience them in different ways. In today's episode we'll pick up where Gary Chapman left off, and you'll discover how understanding your core fears, and your partner's core fears, will help you create more love and connection in your relationship. And, most importantly, how to keep yourself and your relationship safe no matter which one of your Fear Languages is being spoken.

Also, announcing that tickets are on sale for Relationship Alive...LIVE! featuring Terry Real. We'll have a musical guest (Katie Matzell trio), and you'll also have the chance to ask YOUR questions. The show will be on June 6, 2019 at One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine. Limited seats available. Click here to buy your tickets now!

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


Along with our amazing listener supporters (you know who you are – thank you!), this week’s episode is being sponsored by an amazing company. is a USDA certified organic company, with a wide variety of meal plans to make having healthier food easy and convenient for you. And they’re offering you $50 off your first box to give them a try! Just visit and use the coupon code “ALIVE” at checkout for $50 off, and enjoy the delicious recipes and fresh ingredients that GreenChef sends your way.


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Mar 5, 2019

What if there were a guide written to help you not only communicate better with your partner, and experience love more deeply - but that would also heal the triggers that keep creating conflict between you and your partner? As it turns out - that guide exists! This week, our guests are Harville Hendrix Ph.D. and Helen LaKelly Hunt Ph.D, authors of the classic book, Getting the Love You Want which was just updated and re-released. Both are internationally-respected couple's therapists, educators, speakers, and New York Times bestselling authors. Together, they have written over 10 books with more than 4 million copies sold, and created Imago Relationship Therapy, a leading tool for helping couples bridge the gaps and deepen their connection. In addition, Harville appeared on the Oprah Winfrey television program 18 times! This week, hear them reveal how they have put Imago into practice in their own relationship - which will give you some helpful direction on making this work practical for your life and relationship as well.

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


Our sponsor today is Blinkist. Blinkist is the only app that takes the best key takeaways and the need-to-know information from thousands of nonfiction books and condenses them down into just 15 minutes that you can read or listen to. Go to to start your free 7-day trial.


Visit Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix’s website to learn more about their work.

Pick up your copy of Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix’s book, Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples

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Visit to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix.

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Past Episodes:

Please check out our earlier episodes with Helen and Harville:

Episode 22: Essential Skills for Conscious Relationship

and Episode 108: Creating Positive Intensity in Your Connection


Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. Here on the show, we are having conversations with the pioneers of what makes relationships work well. And today's guests are celebrating the recent re-release of their classic book, Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples. And along with celebrating that re-release, we are so excited to have them back here on Relationship Alive to take an even deeper dive into their work so that we're not going to reinvent the wheel. If you want to know more about things that we've talked about, well, we have two other episodes that you can listen to. But we are going to cover some new ground today and also, hopefully, get some personal insights from our two esteemed guests. Their names are Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix.

Neil Sattin: And like I said, they've been here on the show before, and it's... We, Chloe and I, have actually taken a workshop of theirs at Kripalu in Massachusetts. And it's just always such a treat to have you back, especially to be able to celebrate with you the re-release of your groundbreaking book, Getting the Love You Want, which has created a difference for so many people. In fact, I posed the question in my Facebook group, "Does anyone want to ask Helen and Harville anything?" And I had a couple of people who said, "Their book changed and saved my marriage. Saved my marriage." So I know you probably hear that all the time, but I just want to tell you, there are at least a couple more people for whom that's true.

Harville Hendrix: Good. Thank you.

Neil Sattin: So as per usual, you can download a transcript of today's episode by visiting That's I-M-A-G-O. And it's imago3 because imago2 and imago are other episodes, episode 22 and episode 108, where Harville and Helen have joined us previously to talk about their work. And you can always text the word "Passion" to the number 33444, and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode. And we have show guides for their previous two episodes. I think that's it for me. So Harville and Helen, thank you so much for being here with us again today on Relationship Alive.

Harville Hendrix: Thanks, Neil. We are delighted to be here with you. Thanks for having us back on.

Neil Sattin: It is...

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Yes.

Harville Hendrix: We're becoming a regular.

Neil Sattin: You are. Yes. And it's a pleasure. I couldn't think of two people I'd rather be regulars with.

Harville Hendrix: Aww.


Harville Hendrix: Thank you. How kind of you.

Neil Sattin: So I'm curious, for you, what... Let's just start by talking about when you were surveying Getting the Love You Want, which is such a classic. You were on Oprah 18 times to talk about Getting the Love You Want. What needed to be revised in the book? Why the new revision? And what were some of the main things that you felt needed to be updated, from your perspective?

Harville Hendrix: Basically, what is in the new book, as a revision and update, is a first chapter, which is a contextualizing of the book in today's cultural environment. The first chapter sort of brings us up today's... Sort of speaking to today's audience and making... And acknowledging how a relationship, culture has changed in the past 10 years or some, but certainly a lot in the past 30 years. And obviously, the thing everybody is concerned about is social media, and iPhones, and text, and what is considered to be the dissolution of connecting and as replacement with technology. And so that the audience reading this would know that we are speaking to, with some self-awareness, a new market. So that's the major thing, is to... The major first thing is the social context. And the second is that, since 19... Since, yeah, since 1988, especially, and even since it came out a new issue, but not too modified, 10 years ago, at its 20th anniversary, we have made some, I would think, two major shifts.

Harville Hendrix: One has been a clarification that connecting is the code word for Imago. Connecting is the code word for human yearning, how that connecting is the sort of... Misused everywhere by everybody now that even tech people and telephone people do sales and all that, you'll see connecting everywhere. But we posit that connecting is the nature of nature, and that we are living in an interconnecting universe of which we are participants, and that we have moved out of a universe set up by Newton in which individuals were in... Were separate and independent and isolated and in competition with each other, to a new universe in which we are not individuals and cannot live outside of relationship. So we made really clear that there's a... Quantum physics has given us a new view of what humanity is, what nature is, therefore what humanity is, and we tried to bring that into an understanding of marriage.

Harville Hendrix: The basic yearning, we think, with couples is to be connected, and to feel connected, and to know how to sustain connection. And so we brought that into consciousness and gone all the way through the book, removing the vestiges of the individual, isolated individual that was there in 1988 because that... That was the... The foreground in 1988 was the self. And now we're saying the self is a derivative of context, of ourselves conscious enough at the time that we were simply espousing what was ordinary in the culture. Although, behind what we were doing, was this un-languaged awareness of that... Of interconnectivity, but now it's languaged. And then we have some additional exercises at the end of the book. The part three is basically exercises that help people work with that. One of them is the removal... One of them is the addition of a process we call zero negativity. And Helen wants to comment about that.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Yeah. Could I please mention then...

Harville Hendrix: Please.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: In addition to what Harville has said, may I mention three things?

Harville Hendrix: Sure.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Absolutely.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: To add, we have a new definition of the self that typically... I'm sorry, a new definition of a relationship. What is a relationship, people think, "Well, Harville and I have a relationship. The relationship is Harville's and me talking to each other in our history or whatever." But our new definition of a relationship is, there's Harville and then there's me, but there's a space between us. It's a space, and it's actually that space between us that determines... How we steward that space between us that determines the quality of our relationship. It's sort of a whole new definition of what is a relationship. And second, we bring in ideas like zero negativity.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: And you all know the dialogue process that helps the space between become safe, so that when you're talking, you know who's talking, you take turns talking, and there's a structure, but also zero negativity. And then third, we used to have a process that, oh my goodness, we thought was going to be the best process for Imago therapy, which... This is way at the beginning, that if people could express their anger and not keep it locked inside, just let it out, like express... Take turns expressing your anger. And it was called the Container Exercise, where one partner would contain the anger of the other, and not only did we recommend it to couples, but Harville and I did it all the time... And...


Neil Sattin: Oh, yeah. I know where this is going.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: We had a horrible marriage. And that was before neuro... The neurosciences say that with neuroplasticity and all the brain, what you focus on is what you get. And Harville and I looked at this exercise and went, "Uh-oh. I think this wasn't the right thing for a couple to do practice being angry to each other." And this is where we tossed that out and we've put in exercises only that creates safety between the two and help focus on what our partner is doing right instead of all the things they're doing wrong, even if there are many, many, many. You just try to focus more on what your partner is doing right. And we also then had that process of what to do about the things you'd like them that you wish they did differently.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah, and that's... It was important not to say to people, "You can't have your anger." What we had to say to people is, "You can't abuse your partner with your anger. So here is a way to talk about it so that... " And it's not the Container Exercise, it's more of a behavior change request process. Here's the way to talk about it so that the need behind the anger gets expressed, rather than the anger becoming so toxic, too. Because the other thing Helen and I have discovered, it was really interesting, because psychotherapists always work with memory. But somehow, there was like, "Well, all the memories you have are in the past." And one day it dawned on us that we're making memories all the time.

Harville Hendrix: And since our partners look at us, and cannot not look at us through the veil of memories they have of us, it's really important that you decide what memories you want your partner to have of you, and then create those memories. And if so... If you have a, even a therapy exercise in which there's a screaming face, your amygdala doesn't care whether this was in therapy or not, it just remembers the screaming face. And you may have regulated it. So we've gotten tremendously focused on this space between being the domain where safety is there so that you can deal with difficult issues without hurting each other, and that way you maintain connection while you're dealing with the difference.

Harville Hendrix: I think the other last thing is that we have emphasized more now of the need for affirmation, and that affirmation has become not just a, "Thank you, that was nice," but affirmation, sort of like Martin Buber long ago in the I-Thou relationship talked about, to affirm another person in their being is the function of the I-Thou relationship. And that has impacted me again, and many years after reading Buber, that to affirm another human being... But what we've added to Buber is that, "When I affirm you in your being, I simultaneously experience my being as affirmed." That the brain is a twofer; what you do for and to another person is simultaneously experienced by you. So that I think nature set it up so you couldn't cheat, because if I hurt you, I hurt me; If I care for you, I care for me. And that it works that way, that principle of simultaneity. So we've done some stuff like that in the new book.

Neil Sattin: Wow. There's so much that we just covered, so many directions to go. In reflecting upon what you were saying, Helen, about anger and realizing its effects on if you were giving it full expression, and also what you both were talking about, in terms of how we've evolved from a very self-oriented theory of relationship to a very... A more relationship-centric orientation, a relational orientation with the space between. I'm thinking about how going through the dialogues, in particular, how that helps everyone get to the hurt that's beneath that anger, and how that creates safety to be able to identify with your partner, the wounded part of your partner, as opposed to be identifying with a part of yourself that's really angry about whatever it is they did. Or for them, identifying with their angry part instead of by really getting in touch with, "Oh, this is how I've been hurt." And from there, it's a much more generative place. It would be like if your relationship space is a garden, to borrow maybe an overused [chuckle] metaphor, if you find a little plant that has broken in places, you want to tend to it. You wouldn't just necessarily yank it out if it was what you were trying to cultivate.

Harville Hendrix: Right.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Right, right. And so what I think we try to do is stay away from anger as much as possible, because it releases cortisol. And you know who feels horrible when cortisol is in their own body, and that's the person being angry. You think you're hurting someone else, you're also hurting yourself. So we do as much... What I appreciate about Harville is he has people more and more, in a simple way, circle what my wound was from childhood, just circle it, and not necessarily re-experience it. The cathartic thing that in the '70s and '80s, psychology said to get your feelings out about your parents, what they did wrong. Like if you express it, then you'll be getting it out of your system, and you don't have to carry it locked inside anymore. Well, guess what? That theory was wrong. [chuckle] Do you remember primal therapy by...

Neil Sattin: Oh, yeah.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Yeah, okay. So you would buy therapy or books to lay down on the floor and scream, and express your anger to your parents, your pretend-parents, to get it out. Well, so we are realizing that that's really damaging for the brain and damaging for the person expressing it. Harville has ingeniously headways a couple can identify the wound by circling it on a piece of paper. This wound is then a challenge from the past that they've brought to the relationship. And then they circle what is the need that they have from their current partner now, and changing an anger and frustration into a need and making a request. So we quickly accelerate someone on that path of something that your partner did wrong, well, you gotta name it. You gotta name it and maybe say how that made you feel, but say as quickly as possible what your partner should do, so you'll never feel that way again. And so the whole emphasis is making a request of what you want instead of telling your partner of what you don't want.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah. And in the dialogue process then, what we do to operationalize that is that we'll give people the sentence stem. Which when they say what their frustration is, then Helen is very adamant about moving from frustration to, "What do you want?" And then we're giving a sentence stem as when I have that frustration that reminds me when I was little, and people then go to the hurt. And that hurt that I go to when I say, "It reminds me when in childhood my dad was not there," or, "My mother yelled at me," or whatever, that hurt then triggers in Helen, as my listening partner, empathy for me instead of judgment about me. And that revealing of the safety to reveal my hurt is created by the structure of the dialogue process, because I... By the way, the dialogue process works. We finally figured out is something that Dan Siegel said one time was, "Do you know why meditation works? Meditation works because the brain needs to know what's coming next."

Harville Hendrix: And in meditation, the brain knows you're going to breathe in and then you're going to breathe out, and there won't be any changes in that. And the brain doesn't care what you're focusing on, whether it's God, or a mantra, or your breaths, or whatever. The predictability of what's coming next helps the brain relax. And in dialogue, when I heard him say that, I thought, "Oh, so that's why dialogue works." The brain knows that when I talk to you, you're going to say, "Let me see if I got that," instead of, "What in the hell did you mean when you said that?" Or, "No, you shouldn't say that." So I can predict, when I talk to Helen, that she's going to say, "If I'm getting that," rather than, "Why are you talking about that?" So, that predictability. So in the dialogue process, you know that your partner is going to check and say, "And that reminds you in childhood of?" And I'm going to say, "Well, it reminds me, blah, blah, blah, when my mother wasn't there," and then she's going to mirror me.

Harville Hendrix: So what's happening is that she's regulating her prefrontal cortex by holding me in the dialogue process. And when she asked me, "And what did it remind you of?" and I tell her about my hurt, she is then going to experience, in the amygdala, an emotion called empathy. And so she will get empathy at the same time that I'm feeling safe with expressing my vulnerability with her. And when we shift that, we then move into curiosity rather than judgment, and when we go to curiosity, we've been deep in safety, and therefore, we can talk about vulnerability without fearing that somebody's going to say, "Well, that sucks, it's just too bad. You need to get over your childhood", which is kind of what is interesting, is what the message underneath psychoanalysis is, is that you finally have to go to adulthood and give up that fantasy that you ever... I remember my therapist now, nearly 40 years ago, when I was in analysis, saying to me, "Harville, you are never going to get what you want from Helen."


Harville Hendrix: "You must come to terms with that."


Harville Hendrix: I was like, "Oh, let me give you a book." I think we had... No, I think this was after Getting came out, that I was working with that therapist and I said, "Could I bring you a book?" [laughter] "Getting the Love You Want, in which I take opposition to your point of view." And he said, "No matter what you wrote in the book, it is still an illusion."


Harville Hendrix: What we have to say is, I got it from Helen. I didn't have to give up. You can't give up the desire, it's connected to your survival. It has to happen, but it has to happen with somebody with whom you are engaged, who will be present so that you can have your vulnerability and they stay in the curious and empathic place.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: And partner isn't going to do it unless their partner asks in a respectful way. Like Harville has brought his needs to me, explaining what it was like in childhood, and thus exactly what he needs from me, and he and I actually work on this not just once, but over time. Because I'll say, "Honey, I just still want to know exactly what you wish. If I did it perfectly... And tell me exactly what it is you need from me." And he'll say it to me kindly, instead of saying, "You never do this and you never do that." Well, that... What is it? Squelches my motivation. I get discouraged when all I hear is what I'm not doing.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah. It disempowers you.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: And so the power for a couple just to shift from judgment to curiosity and wonder to each other, and shift from being critical to asking for what they want with sender responsibility.

Neil Sattin: Right. And when you say sender responsibility, you're talking about, as the sender, the one speaking, the one making a request, taking responsibility for how you are making that request?

Helen LaKelly Hunt: How it lands.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Such as your partner sticks their fingers in their ears and goes, "La la la la la."


Helen LaKelly Hunt: Let's say... And then you could ask your partner, "Could you coach me in how I'm asking for what I want? Could you coach me so that I could ask for what I want in a way that might make it something that we could have healthy dialogues around?" And just be curious about your partner, when they do shut down, were you part of the reason they shut down?

Harville Hendrix: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and I'm thinking back to what it feels like when there is anger, or disappointment, in the room, and how disconnected. I can feel that cortisol and maybe the powerful anger response happening, but in the end, what I really want to get back to is connection with my partner. And so I love how this process creates that shift back to the ways that we open to each other. Curiosity, understanding, compassion, versus staying in that shut-down place where you might be making demands or levying your judgment of the other person.

Harville Hendrix: Yes. Right.

Neil Sattin: I appreciate, too, that you're using yourselves as examples a little bit, and that makes me curious, and you can pass on this question if you want, but I'd love to know, for you, what are the things that... If you could name something that you continually have to revisit? Because I think a lot of people have this illusion that we who are talking about relationships all the time and writing relationship books, we have perfect relationships, meaning there's never conflict, there's never negativity. None of that. So I'm wondering if you could share a little bit with what that journey is like for you, and what is the thing where you might revisit, you might find yourself revisiting over and over. "Oh, right, that's my thing that I'm working on."

Harville Hendrix: You want to go first?

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Right now, it's easier for me to share something that I always do wrong, or get feedback that I'm doing wrong. So could I start with that?

Harville Hendrix: Sure.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Because I am so great at multitasking. Oh, I am awesome at it.


Helen LaKelly Hunt: But when Harville is talking to me, that is so insulting to him. Like my great gift is making him feel invisible. And I get that, and I love that when he speaks, and especially if he's excited about something, excited positive or excited negative, my job is to stop what I'm doing right there and then, and turn around and be as excited as he is about something, or as frustrated as he is, and just be present for him as he's experiencing his feelings. And I used to try to fit that into my schedule, but I was doing important things, and he would understand if I wasn't looking at him while he was saying something important... Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And no, if he wants me to stop, "Wow, your... " What's more important, or what's more holy than getting to be present for Harville's experience of life. So over time, I've gotten clear that, "Wow, that's my number one job." So that's what...

Neil Sattin: And just I'm curious, Helen, is there something that you've done to remind yourself so that when you find yourself... Harville is sharing something with you, and you're in the middle of 20 things which you excel at, do you have a way of bringing yourself into presence in those moments?

Helen LaKelly Hunt: I do. When you came to our workshop, do you remember the video, the Still Face experiment?

Neil Sattin: I do. Yeah.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Okay. If anyone listening would look up, Google online the Still, S-T-I-L-L, Still Face experiment. A lot of psychiatrists at Harvard and psychiatry schools all around the country conducted this experiment, and Harville had picked that three-minute video to show in our workshops. And when the mother was present for their child, when the child was looking at the world, boy, was the child happy, but the moment the child... The mother had a still face that is not animated with the child, but just still, not angry, not distant, but just a still face, the child would try to get their caretaker to respond.

Neil Sattin: Engage. Yeah.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Engage. Engage and resonate with what the child was feeling. And in this little three-minute video, the child begins to go into shock that the mother has a still face and decompensates and starts screaming and yelling, even though the mom is about five inches away. The mother is right there, but it's the look in her eye that the child is missing. The mother is present but doesn't have presence. And so after watching that video for some years, I woke up to the fact that, "Oh, my goodness. Why don't I practice being the mother in the still face that is resonant face?" It's like... And it's a whole lot of fun to do that. I am having so much fun doing my best to when Harville might need me to drop everything, turn around, and just practicing presence.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah. And what's interesting, and... But ordinary, is that you can imagine, therefore, that I grew up with a mother who had eight children plus me and no husband, he had died on a one-horse farm, and she was always busy. I have no images of her paying attention to me. None.

Neil Sattin: Wow.

Harville Hendrix: She died when I was six, but I, in that six years, I do not have a single picture. She was a wonderful woman. When I talked to my oldest sister, who at the time was an adult when I was a child... She is the most wonderful woman you can imagine. She was kind, loving and caring, and you look at all my family. They had to have a pretty good mother, because nobody went crazy and did drugs, and nobody killed anybody and so forth. But I was the last, and my primal memory of her is trying to get her attention and failing. So when I walk into the room and Helen is busy at the stove, at the fireplace, doing what my mother did, but hers is on the... Usually on the phone. That memory pops in, like I'm not going to be able to get her attention. So Helen has a practice of when I walk into the room, she'll take the phone away and check and see if I want to talk to her or... Or the other thing is, on Helen's side, is that asking her, "Is now a good time to talk?" is a way of establishing her availability, and she can say no. So we've moved out of, "You gotta always respond to me when I walk into the room," to, I can ask, "Are you available for a question right now?" And she can say no, and come back to it later.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: And the key thing for me in terms of being vulnerable is, a big request I've asked is if you would coach me before presentations.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah. So it's that...

Helen LaKelly Hunt: So that's a childhood thing.

Harville Hendrix: That Helen did not grow up being empowered by the people around her to function.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: He's such a great speaker. Oh, wow. He just is so good, and I don't mind not being as good, I just want the memories of him coaching me. So that's been our thing.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And when you say that, I just... I get the feeling of what that must be like to be supported by him, to have all that attention and encouragement coming from him.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Exactly, exactly.

Harville Hendrix: Except that right now, she's so good on the stages that people... There is a line up with her at the end of the workshop, and I'm over putting away my computer and nobody's talking to me. Everyone's talking to her. [chuckle] That's how good my mentoring has been.


Harville Hendrix: Yeah, but I get that. But that was you were not empowered as a child. And so to say, "Here's how you could do that, practice projecting, clear up this concept, make eye contact when you're talking, move around," anything that makes it charismatic, because speakers who had done it on stage a long time know how to hold an audience, and you don't hold them by standing there lecturing out of your throat. You engage them. And so she is... You do that with such magnificence. Well, you saw her do that with such magnificence, so... But the thing that's important is, we have talked about the new book. I think we finally clarified that healing is a medical term, and that it applies to the body getting well of a wound, but psychic healing, memories are not healed ever, that they are always resident in the... The emotional ones in the amygdala, and the event ones in the hippocampus. They're always there and can be activated by a behavior. So that what we work on is creating a relational environment in which we don't trigger the memories. And if we do, we have a repair process, in which we'll quickly put those memories back in the background, but they're not going to go away.

Harville Hendrix: We used to think, when we were working out of the medical model for psychotherapy, which came from Freud and he was a physician, so he did what he knew how to do, that all emotions were a disease and had to be treated, and now we know that emotions are triggered by memories and that those memories will always be there. And what you wanted is... When we talk about creating new memories to replace the old memories, but when the old memory is triggered, that you move quickly in and all old memories are triggered by the absent caretaker. Whether they are missing in their bodies or missing emotionally, although they're in the room, they are not present to the child, and like that baby in the Still Face experiment, not being able to get the resonant face is terrifying. So if we... We know that all the time we have to live with that kind of conscious intention that we want a play... Our relationship to be safe enough that we don't trigger each other's painful childhood memories. And when we do, we move to repair quickly.

Neil Sattin: Can you talk for just a minute about... And I want to make sure we don't lose sight of you also offering if you have something to share about your own personal thing that you revisit in the relationship, that you've been working on, Harville. But before we do, I'm curious, how do you encourage reciprocity in a relationship? I think, particularly in processes that require a lot of generosity of really listening with intent and being present and helping someone through a hard moment and being willing to come back to the table and repair, all of these important things. There's a danger that people perceive, which is like, "Well, I'm always giving and/or I'm always willing, but my partner isn't necessarily." So I'm just wondering if you have some guidance to offer around how to encourage partners to both be able to come to the table.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah. Do you have a comment about that?

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Thank you.

Harville Hendrix: Well, I'd have to think about that because I'm thinking that I'm not associating that with us.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Well, actually... We actually did when we were in a low point.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: We created a calendar of on-duty and off-duty days where before going to bed at night, one person was in charge of making sure that they and their partner were connected before they turned out the lights, and the next day it was their partner's job to make sure they were connected. And that was something that really brought us both in charge of participating and making sure the relationship was healthy. Because in most relationships, one person might be a little bit more active doing that. And if one person is more active, the other might go, "Well, it's their job to do that," [chuckle] or withdraw. Every relationship has a turtle, as well as a hailstorm. So these on-duty... This calendar that invites a couple to co-create accountability for reciprocity is a beautiful way that, no matter what, you have to be connected before you go to bed. The other person on their on-duty day has to figure it out.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah. And I think we've talked about that some. I'd say that was a really good training process, but I don't experience now, you and me saying, "Well, I did five things that were positive and you didn't do any," that we're not in the tit-for-tat consciousness. We do have a ritual every night that, before we go to bed, we give each other three appreciations, and rather than point out three things that we did wrong in dealing with the zero negativity calendar, that we moved that out and...

Helen LaKelly Hunt: We both are really responsible for the relationship these days.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: But if someone... If it's one-sided, that's a suggestion.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah. And so that really is an amazing structure, that you have a day on which you are the one who is going to contain whatever is chaotic, and the next day you're off-duty. What we discovered, though, is we like the days on-duty better.


Helen LaKelly Hunt: It felt better to be on-duty than off-duty.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah, because you're working out of your prefrontal cortex and you're not into your reactivity. And if you do feel reactive, "I'm on duty, I can't drink."


Harville Hendrix: So you go and do the other piece, and you wind up feeling better because you have not gone into your negative emotions. And then after a while, we were both feeling better so that we kind of made that we are both on-duty every day for the quality of our relationship. And given that, we don't have a whole lot of things to clean up, and when we do, I think the thing I would say about that is we have got this repair process down so that if one of us does miss out, we just go fix it in the next five or 10 minutes.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: So that's the zero negativity process.

Harville Hendrix: That's the zero negativity process.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Which Harville could talk about for a long time. We do a better job at that, but...

Harville Hendrix: Let's see what Neil wants.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Well, I would definitely love to have you share that, but is there something, Harville, in particular, that you'd like to share about something that you've had to revisit in your relationship with Helen that's kind of your thing, that you've been working on, and maybe a struggle that is less and less of a struggle over time?

Harville Hendrix: Well, I'm thinking about that. I think that my growth edge is to listen until Helen finishes her sentences. That I interrupt her, and then that triggers her invisibility vulnerability. And to... Because my brain quickly is listening and has something to say to add to it, or an alternative, and I rationalize it by, "Well, it's a conversation, it's not a dialogue. We're playing tennis, we're not having a dialogue." But all interactions are and should be dialogical. And I still work on, as the co-creator of all of this, implementing it all the time. I would think that's... Would that fit with you? Your view of my growth edge? What else would you see as my growth edge?

Helen LaKelly Hunt: I think me finishing sentences.

Harville Hendrix: Finishing sentences, not being interrupted and deflected.


Helen LaKelly Hunt: Mm-hmm. And I said the coaching.

Harville Hendrix: And the coaching. Because I think when you were little, nobody listened to you in the household, the family, the parents.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: I didn't talk. I didn't even try.


Harville Hendrix: Well, and you didn't talk because nobody was listening. That was not cool. [chuckle] So interrupting her, but... And also appreciations, to notice what excellent things, more than just the ritual at bed time, that during the day I'm trying to grow into awareness that the way she just handled that phone call was amazing, and to say that instead of, "Well, we got another task done." That's the affirmation process, to be engaged in that. Because I grew up on the farm, and where I grew up on the farm was people didn't spend much time thanking you. It was like, "Did you milk the cow?" And then they didn't say, "Wow, what a good cow milking you did." [chuckle] It just was, "Did you do it? And did you feed the horse before you came in?"


Helen LaKelly Hunt: And all of those affirmations...

Harville Hendrix: So appreciations was not a part of that, and affirmations.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Appreciations and affirmations create safety, and that's bottomline.

Harville Hendrix: Yes, absolutely. And they then empower you, you know what you did that made a difference. And if you do something, like you did feed the cow or milked the cow real well, and nobody noticed it, then you don't know whether you did it right or not, or if you even want to do it again. But if somebody says, "Good milking. Wow, see the horse was fed. Good job." That's the kind of affirmation, appreciation, that becomes spontaneous rather than just the ritual at the end of the day.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and that reminds me, too, of John and Julie Gottman's work around having that ratio of 20:1, positive to negative, interactions in normal day-to-day life. They were just on the show talking about the importance of cultivating cherishing in their relationship as well, so...

Harville Hendrix: Yeah, I like them.

Neil Sattin: It makes sense that you'd be on the same page.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah, yeah. John and I were talking one time at his home on the island, in San Juan Islands, where he lives, we'd gone out there to visit him. And at the time, there was some kind of... We're not sure we're on the same page and so forth, but he pulled me aside and he said, "Having been here for two days and talking, so forth, I think we're basically all doing the same thing, we just phrase it differently." And I thought, "Good! That means we pass your approval."


Neil Sattin: It does feel good.

Harville Hendrix: And I love the word "cherishing", that... I love that word, "cherishing". And I think the repair process, we prefer to call it the "reconnecting process" because repair seems so mechanical, but the methodology of that, the quickness of repair as a sign of a healthy relationship is another thing they threw into the world that we have picked up and said, "That's really important," is how quickly you get this thing fixed and get back on the road.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about your approach to repair that you've brought up a few times?

Harville Hendrix: Well, yes. The zero negativity is a pledge that you make, and we know that because of the wiring of the brain to be paranoid means that to change your brain to affirmations, goes... Is by changing the evolutionary patterns so big, so that when you commit to zero negativity, you gotta blow it. And we say to people, "We're telling you a great thing to do, but we know you gotta have difficulty doing it. So let's just say that upfront. But it's okay if you blow it, if you repair it." And because when you blow it, you'll disconnect, and what we want you to do is reconnect, which we like the word "connecting". So what we... There's a range of repairs, and one is to say, "Could I just do that again? Could I send that again?" Or Helen might say, "Would you be willing to send that in a different way that doesn't sound negative to me?"

Harville Hendrix: So, the re-do process. And then a sort of parallel to that is, if I'm not clear what you want, I could say, "Will you model it for me? So I can see how you want me to look, the tone of voice you want me to have, the words that you want to say." And the agreement is that we will let our partners teach us. Then the third thing is that we discovered some people don't need to do all that, they just need an apology. "I'm really sorry that I had that tone of voice." Helen likes apologies. I like behaviors, because when I grew up, people who apologize just hit you again. So apologizing means nothing to me. But if, stop hitting me and do something different, so then I will have to ask her how something she wants. A hug? We both respond to hugs, sometimes, "Just hug me," or, "Look me in the eye." A connecting behavior of some sort may repair it quickly.

Harville Hendrix: And then if, however, the memory that was a real sensitive one, we have the option of going into a full dialogue and talking about how that negative thing I experienced from you, triggers this memory for me, so that she can know or I can know that, then get curious, can know that I need to go to empathy and to holding that. And then we have a really complicated one. If it's really difficult, I may need more than empathy. I may need an actual request for behavior change, and we call that the behavior change request process. And that means we go through a process to arrive at a behavior that I need to have from you so that I can predict my safety with you. And then Helen will agree to initiate that maybe, or if it's on my side, I will initiate that behavior, so that the repair... But that's when it's really deep.

Neil Sattin: Right. I remember, in going through that dialogue in your workshop, how nice it was... I believe you have us come up with three or four options.

Harville Hendrix: Right.

Neil Sattin: So it's not just like, "This is my request, honor it. Please honor it." But, "Here are a few options for you. And any one of these things would satisfy me, or would feel like a step in the right direction." And I feel like that's important.

Harville Hendrix: It really is important because if it's just one thing, "Here's my hurt, here's what I want," it sets up a power struggle instead of a collaboration. But if they're, "I'm hurt. Three things, any one of three things would help with that," then I get a choice about which one of those I can do, which one I will do, and which one will not stretch me at all if I did it, and so I'll pick one that's challenging because I want to grow. But if I have choices, then I can participate. But we found that if I don't give you a choice, it's going to trigger your resistance. Then even if you did something, it wouldn't matter, because the psychological energy of a generosity is not there. But if I have a choice, I can be generous; If I don't have a choice, I'd be resentful. We don't want a therapeutic process that creates resentment.

Neil Sattin: Speaking of, I'm curious about the way that Imago handles shame. I could see, for instance, you take the zero negativity pledge and one person or the other dumps something toxic into the relational space. It happens. So how would you want to handle the shame that one might feel from having done that? Or we're in the Getting the Love You Want conversation, a lot of people have shame attached to their desires and to the very thing that they want to ask for. It might bring them shame to ask for it. So I'm just wondering if you have a way of holding that?

Harville Hendrix: Well, to me, the shame is dealt with by holding the request or holding the failure, so that you... I think the reparative or the healing or the reconnecting process always is that if it's guilt that you mirror back at, so you're feeling guilty about that, so shame... So that felt shameful to you. I'm getting that, there's some more about it, so then don't shame back or guilt back. But once a person has become... Has had their... And you know those emotions are all connected to developmental processes. If you're always into guilt, you're probably not into shame, you're into... You did bad behaviors. But if you're into shame, which is an earlier developmental issue, you're into not being a good person. And so...

Harville Hendrix: But in either case, they are all created by the parent who does not hold the child's behaviors and experiences at the time. And when those are held without judgment but with curiosity, that for us is what restores connection, whether it's shame or guilt, is it's... I don't end up... Haven't been able... I know there are shame books and guilt books and all kinds of things, but as I have read the literature for the past 40-50, nearly 60 years now, underneath all of those things, there's something that repairs everything. So it's not a shame repair. And what repairs shame and guilt and anger and all of that is presence. If I can be present to you without judgment, and hold you with curiosity, something will happen inside of you around that transaction, whether it... Whatever it was, guilt or shame. And it will be mitigated by the fact that it's not repeated in our interaction.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I am so appreciative of your time and wisdom again. I just want to remind everyone that if you want to download a transcript of this episode, we've had so many valuable action items and takeaways from this conversation, you can visit That's I-M-A-G-O 3, after their Imago therapy and Imago dialogues. And I also encourage you to listen to our first two episodes together, episode 22 and episode 108, where we go into more detail about how to do dialogues in the structured way that we've been referring to today. And also, we talk a lot in episode 108 about creating lots of positive force in your relationship.

Neil Sattin: Before we go, I just... I want to mention something that feels super important to me, and it's kind of funny that we waited until the end to chat about it, but one of the most important changes that I noticed in the book, along with all of the wonderful updates to the content that you mentioned, is that now, Helen, your name is also on the cover of the book as an author. And I just want to acknowledge that you write about it beautifully in the preface, both of you, about your process of how that came to be. Do you want to give us just a quick snapshot of that now? Because I know a lot of people ask about that and why, for so long, Helen, your name wasn't on the cover when you so clearly were involved in creating this work.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Well, thanks for asking, and maybe I'll go first.

Harville Hendrix: Okay.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: I look back now and am surprised at my own disassociation of the idea of being on the cover. At the beginning, I vehemently fought against it because I had a prominent last name and was from a family that had sort of, not world recognition, but in certain industries, world recognition. [chuckle] My last name is known around the globe and in certain places, certain industries, and Harville was a sharecropper's son and both parents had passed away by the time he was six. He was the youngest and was almost sent to the orphanage. So while I saw his brilliance, I didn't think his last name... Well, I just wanted this chance to have the theory so powerfully presented in this book, I just felt like it should be his name. It was his idea to focus on this book and so much of the content was him, and I was the ideal number two for him, we both think, but I wanted his name on it.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: But I just kept... Once he became so famous, I really missed that I wasn't recognized very much at all, but I dreamed I would be on the cover, and that was Harville's idea. But from the very beginning, there was some sort of dissociation that women have that I was a part of, that I had been, and that I recently wrote a paper on all of the things I did to prepare myself as a therapist before I met Harville. I got a master's in counseling psych, went halfway through a PhD in clinical psych. I love this stuff, but I just sort of dissociated from it. And it's a tremendous, joyful, beautiful thing that Harville had the idea of including me, and that I get to be visible as his number two.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah. Well, and the reason her name is on the cover is that she is the co-creator of Imago. The first few sentences in the first year, in 1977, when we met, the conversation led to Getting the Love You Want, and Helen facilitated finding a writer and facilitated the research, all kinds of things, plus the conversation about content was there and the contribution, like Helen invented dialogue, it was her idea to do that structured process. Zero negativity came from Helen. And so I pick up a lot of things that she would say, and since I'm a systemic thinker, I then build that into the system, but... So a lot of pieces in the system... I take full credit for the structure of the system, but not for all of the limbs on the body of the system. So it was clear that we are co-creators with equal and unique contributions to it, and that Helen refused to have her name... That she was offered to have her name on in 1988, then she said no. But after a while, it began to agitate both of us that there was something wrong with this public recognition of me, part of which could be explained, because I was on the Oprah show.

Harville Hendrix: But that was also part of the problem that Helen, not being on the cover, didn't get on the Oprah show. So I'm the visible person, and she is the supportive housewife, even if she does have a famous name. I suddenly became as well-known, if not better known than her last name. So it began to just look like that. So when we got to the 30th, it occurred to me, and then I had this epiphany that it's not like a deserved thing. She deserves to be on it, or I want to be generous. It dawned on me one day that I colluded with the cultural devaluation of women, and that I'm married to one of the most powerful women in the world, who was a co-creator of a book and she's invisible around one of the things she loves the most. Helen colluded, too. She's a feminist, she is probably ranked as the second most influential feminist in America in terms of her contribution to women. But somehow, she disassociates herself from... Not from that work, but from our work.

Harville Hendrix: So it dawned on me, as we were getting ready to write the preface to the new book, that, just like an epiphany, "Wow, look at this. Can you imagine, if we colluded with the cultural trance, how could we understand everybody else's collusion with the cultural trance? No wonder it's so hard for women to get the right jobs and break through the glass ceiling, and be pastors in churches and bishops in Catholic churches, and everything where women are unequal. It's just wrong, and it needs to be righted." So we did it to cleanse our own souls and to make a statement to the culture, that gender inequity is basically a pathology. And hopefully, we have awakened from that trance and into at least a smidgen more health as a result of that. So her name is where it belongs. And another thing, it's a justice. Social justice is when equity shows up. And so this is a relational justice or partnership justice, in which we are truly partners, and she's not my helper. She's a partner, and we are equal in this project.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Well, and for me, I was known for being in the Hunt family and getting dividends. I started using dividends and I'm known as a donor, and my work in feminism is my head, but Imago is my heart and...

Harville Hendrix: Yeah.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: That's who I am at my heart. And so it's a beautiful experience, getting to have my heart seen more and being more of a partnership. So thank you for asking.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And just, for me, it was super powerful to pull the book out of the wrapper and to see both of your names there. I had a visceral experience, so...

Harville Hendrix: Are you...

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I did.

Harville Hendrix: Yeah. Great.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Harville Hendrix: Oh, we're glad. And I think, as it occurs to me, while we're talking, is you cannot really become without the resignating other. And so it's really helpful to me, and I think probably helpful to you, that people can say, "Yes, you all are equal partners. And Helen is an equal partner with you." Makes her an equal partner. There's something about the resonance of you and the public to that, that helps Helen integrate it. Otherwise, the disassociation is hard to overcome for both of us, because I was disassociated too.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And for me, this is a reminder too, for everyone who's listening, to just think about what you, in your relationship, what you are creating together, and to acknowledge that the ways that we do create things or support each other, but even in the support, it's truly a co-creation.

Harville Hendrix: Yes.

Neil Sattin: Things wouldn't be possible without... And that's the beauty of it, right? Is we get to create amazing things that wouldn't have been possible otherwise.

Harville Hendrix: And you're co-creating each other all the time, just like you create a baby together, then you co-create each other as parents, in where every interaction changes us. So we're constantly co-creating, but we don't know it, but it's so subtle. But it is the primary reality, we think. So thank you for asking.

Neil Sattin: My pleasure. And thank you both for being here and being willing to talk about the theory, the mind stuff, and the heart stuff, and to share some of your own personal journey. It's super powerful and such a treat to be able to talk to you again here for Relationship Alive.

Harville Hendrix: And for us, Neil.

Helen LaKelly Hunt: Thank you.

Harville Hendrix: Thank you. We love talking to you.

Neil Sattin: My pleasure.

Harville Hendrix: We read your newsletters every time they come out.

Neil Sattin: Do you? [laughter]

Harville Hendrix: Yes.

Neil Sattin: Well, hopefully, you've been entertained lately. [laughter]

Harville Hendrix: We keep up with you. Yes.

Feb 27, 2019

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

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


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Feb 19, 2019

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

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


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

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

Michael Yapko: My pleasure. Thank you, Neil.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neil Sattin: Yeah, thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

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

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

Michael Yapko: Yeah, go ahead.

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

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

Neil Sattin: Awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neil Sattin: Great.

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

Neil Sattin: Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neil Sattin: Kinda like dating.

Michael Yapko: Kinda like dating, like any relationship.

Neil Sattin: Exactly.

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

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

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

Michael Yapko: Right.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, aggravating the situation.

Michael Yapko: Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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


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