5 Relationship Insights to Inspire You to Add This Resource To Your Library – Stat!

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In honor of Valentine’s Day, Potentia’s featured book this month is all about relationships: You Are The One You Have Been Waiting For: Bringing Courageous Love to Intimate Relationships by Richard Schwartz 

While this book is geared towards married couples, this lens can be beneficial for all relationships. Truly. As a child of divorce, what makes relationships work and not work has fascinated me and terrified me all at the same time.

And if I have learned anything in my years as a therapist is that there is not just one way to heal. If there was, we would all be doing it. At Potentia, some of our our main lenses on healing and change involve EMDR Therapy, systemic approaches such a Bowen and Structural Family Systems Theories in additional to, Shame Resilience Theory, Interpersonal Neurobiology, and various action methods like Psychodrama.

Over the last year, we began really digging into an evidenced-based therapeutic approach which has been around for over 30 years called Internal Family Systems.

This approach is non-pathologizing, client-led and effective. The language and lens of IFS moves us away from a place of blame, shame and overwhelm to integration and clarity in our actions.

I have seen Richard Schwartz speak at conferences over the years which always led to fruitful insights on how I approached my clients struggling with immense shame about their story and how their were managing their shame and pain.

Instead of trying to ‘get rid’ of the parts that were causing clients distress, I started to help clients get curious about these parts and see that they were there for a reason – to protect. Though the protection often led to hurting self and/or others at times.

This was pretty radical for clients because they had such deep loathing for parts of their stories and inner lives. By identifying this inner conflict with their various parts and developing compassion for them, the charge and reactivity around their choices decreased their internal spinning so there was space for other ways of responding to self and others.

Below is a description of the internal parts Richard Schwartz refers to in this approach from his website selfleadership.org:

“Most clients had parts that tried to keep them functional and safe. These parts tried to maintain control of their inner and outer environments by, for example, keeping them from getting too close or dependent on others, criticizing their appearance or performance to make them look or act better, and focusing on taking care of others’ rather than their own needs. These parts seemed to be in protective, managerial roles and therefore are called managers.

When a person has been hurt, humiliated, frightened, or shamed in the past, he or she will have parts that carry the emotions, memories, and sensations from those experiences. Managers often want to keep these feelings out of consciousness and, consequently, try to keep vulnerable, needy parts locked in inner closets. These incarcerated parts are known as exiles.

The third and final group of parts jumps into action whenever one of the exiles is upset to the point that it may flood the person with its extreme feelings or make the person vulnerable to being hurt again. When that is the case, this third group tries to douse the inner flames of feeling as quickly as possible, which earns them the name firefighters. They tend to be highly impulsive and strive to find stimulation that will override or dissociate from the exile’s feelings. Bingeing on drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or work are common firefighter activities. 

In You are the One You Have Been Waiting For, Richard Schwartz offers a provocative approach to our relationships.

The following are five nuggets that will hopefully encourage you to add this resource on relationships to your library:

1. “You will no longer expect your partner to make you feel complete, worthwhile, elated or safe  in other words, to be he primary caretaker of your parts. While your partner may elicit all of those feelings in you at different times, you know that you can help your parts feel that way, too, so their welfare does not depend on your them.” p. 209

IFS supports your agency in how to care for yourself and reduces feelings of helplessness when a partner cannot show up for you emotionally in ways you need.

2. “Attachment re-injuries are events in which you experience your partner as having betrayed, abandoned, or humiliated you, reaffirming the original message to your exiles that they are unloveable.” p. 85

IFS reframes those people who trigger our protective parts as ‘TOR-mentors’ – often beloved ones who help us learn and grow.

3. “Our culture, and many of the relationship experts in it, have issued us faulty maps and improper tools. We’ve been told that the love we need is a buried treasure hidden in the heart of a special intimate partner. Once we find that partner, the love we crave should flow elixer-like, filling our empty spaces and healing our pain. When that love stops flowing, even momentarily, we get scared…” p.6

Learning to respect your story and be responsible for healing the pain in it – instead of putting someone else on point for that role – is a powerful and challenging mindset switch to move from getting relief only from others and instead learn how to stay calm and connected when confronted with triggers.

4. “When each partner has courageous love for the other, many of the chronic struggles most couples face melt away because each partner is released from being primarily responsible for making the other feel good.” p. 4

This lens decreases feelings of helplessness because we cannot change anyone but ourselves. IFS helps gives couples a framework to feel relief and empowerment without relying only on the other person to make them feel better.

5. “Everyone is born with vulnerable parts. Most of us, however, learn early, – through interactions with caretakers of through traumatic experiences – that being vulnerable is not safe. As a consequence, we lock those childlike parts away inside and make them the inner exiles of our personalities.” p. 55

IFS integrates trauma and attachment theories in a way that offers sustained healing for both the individuals and the couple. It is nuanced and complex but well worth the journey.

Make sure to check out the questions at the end of each chapter. These questions will inspire powerful reflections for both the individual and the couple.

With love and gratitude –

Rebecca

NOTE: When a relationship is violent and uses physical, sexual, emotional, or spiritual means to manipulate and coerce, safety is the number one concern. The cycle of violence in intimate relationships does not always involve bruises and it can be extremely confusing.  Help is available and you are not alone. 

 

 

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5 Surprising Ways to Love Your Partner

Note from Rebecca: I am thrilled to introduce you to Brian Reiswig, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern. I first met Brian when he was a graduate student of mine last spring. His big heart, sharp mind, wisdom and calming presence inspired me to invite him to join the Potentia clinical team and I am so grateful he agreed to join us! He is digging deep in his training and supervision as he develops his clinical expertise to support couples, men with compulsive behaviors, trauma/EMDR and those struggling with food and body issues. I am excited so many will have a chance to learn from him via this blog in addition to his clinical work at Potentia. Welcome, Brian!
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I recently attended a training event for couples therapists from one of the true masters in the field, John Gottman. Known for his straight-forward and practical insight about why marriages suffer and tools for making your marriage great, he’s been a pioneer in the field for more than 40 years. I showed up expecting to learn some new and powerful ways of helping couples get past pain and disconnection and nurture a loving bond. What I didn’t expect was how much his 40 years of research has revealed some insights that are counter-intuitive to what I intuitively thought what made a good marriage. Here are 5 insights from the training that will probably surprise you and will definitely help you foster a deeper, happier connection with your spouse.
 
1. The heart wants connection but the brain gets in the way.

One thing that Gottman did in his research, that most researchers don’t, is he studied what was going on inside the body during conflict not just what was going on between the couple. What he discovered was that the physiology of the brain changes drastically during high stress conflict. When we get into a fight with our loved one, our heart rate speeds up. When it crosses the 100 beats per minute line, we go into a “diffuse physiological state” and our whole body changes gears. To make things worse, our bodies start secreting adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormones) which send the message to our brains that we are in imminent danger. So, when a conversation about dirty dishes with our partner starts to get tense, the fight or flight response is triggered. The part of our brain where we listen and problem solve shuts down – right when we need it most.

Helpful tip: When you notice yourself getting upset, don’t wait to take a time out. Tell your partner you need some time to calm down, you love him/her, you really want to hear their point of view and be able to take responsibility for yours. Then set a time limit on this break – less than 24 hours. This break isn’t a strategy for abandonment, but one for closeness. Then go practice a calming skill and take a break from thinking about the problem. If you keep thinking about the problem you actually keep your brain in an escalated state.

2. Solving all your problems won’t solve all your problems.

Another counter-intuitive discovery that Gottman made in his research is that conflicts are not resolved by solving problems. Gottman observed that over time, the majority of conflicts in a marriage (about 69%) are never “solved.” Ever. So, for example, the conversation you avoid every year about whose family to visit for Christmas probably isn’t going away. Most couples never finds a solution that puts their big issues to rest permanently. There can be ominous sense of impending doom that comes with unsolved problems between you and your beloved. The difference between the happy marriages and the unhappy ones is that the happier couples make peace with having some issues unresolved and continuing to work through them.

Helpful Tip: Remember that all marriages struggle with unresolved conflict. When you and your partner can’t find a comfortable middle ground to a longstanding conflict, the struggle can grow and grow until if feels like the relationship hangs in the balance. Unsolved problems have a way of feeling like a bad omen, foretelling the demise of your union… unless you remember that all couples have unanswered problems. Just knowing that this kind of struggle is normal takes the emotional charge out of the problem and allows couples to approach their problems from a not-so-catastrophic point of view.

3. Conflict isn
’t the problem.
The day after I proposed to my wife, Sarah, we took a 7 hour road trip to visit family and celebrate the engagement. On that road trip I had a very specific itinerary that we would take advantage of the face time and discuss our vision for our married life together. One of the goals that I had for our marriage, which I had gleamed from endless hours reading self-help books and listening to inspiring speakers, was to never fight. And yes, I was serious. I’ll never forget her face when I explained my expectations, like she was looking at a little boy who wanted to be superman when he grew up. She smiled and gently said, “That’s sweet, but I think we’re probably going to fight sometimes.”  If you just read my reflections on my engagement story and thought my marriage vision was a bit ridiculous – congratulations! You’re way ahead of where I was back then. But it illustrates a myth that I think many buy into and that the idea of conflict is inherently bad.

Helpful Tip:
At it’s core, conflict is healthy. Conflict means you’ve discovered a part of your partner that you don’t yet understand. Conflict is an opportunity for new depths of intimacy. Conflict is an opportunity to know your partner better. But you can get derailed when you bump into those opportunities and mistake them for threats. According to Gottman, conflict is all about listening. Instead of listening to understand, many often speak to be understood or to prove a point. Some just speak to shut down their partner. It is an absolute game-changer if  – in the moment  you realize have entered into the misunderstanding zone – you can remind yourself that all you have to do in this moment is listen. The understanding that comes with listening will ease the tension, even if you do not find a solution to the “problem.” 

4. Friendship is more important than love
As it turns out, the Beatles were wrong. Love is not all you need. If fact, its not even the most important thing you need. Many ask me what could be more important than love for a happy marriage. The answer is friendship. If love is the strength of your commitment to your spouse, than friendship is the strength of your connection. There are a whole lot of people that I love, who I have no interest in spending time with, no sense of safety in sharing my heart with and no special inside culture that is just our own. There are people in my family who I love but I am not really friends with. On the other hand, within my sacred group of people I consider my dear friends, there is no one I do not love. Friendship is the substance of healthy intimacy.

Helpful Tip:
Gottman has discovered that the average U.S. couple with school-age children spends about 35 minutes a week in actual conversation. And most of that time is spent discussing who is going to do what, when, etc. With that sobering statistic in mind, it is no mystery many struggling couples report they love their spouse but when asked about the status of their friendship, they are not as positive. Perhaps a more useful benchmark to the health of our marriages is not “how are we keeping the romance alive?” but instead “how are we keeping the friendship alive?”

5. The landscape is always changing
Building on this idea of friendship as core to marital health, Gottman urges couples to think of their partner as an ever-changing landscape. Just because you got to know them in a deep and personal way while you were dating, or before you started that new job, does not mean you your sense of knowing them is the same today.

Helpful Tip:
Gottman proposes thinking about your knowledge of your spouse as a “love map” that you must constantly update. Building a love map is not a task that you complete. Instead, It is a task that is an ongoing practice. Building a love map is the process of rediscovering who your partner is, what are their values, their beliefs, their preferences, what makes them laugh and what keeps them up at night. Ask open-ended questions and listen to the answers.  Asking questions every week about life, goals, dreams, fears and disappointments gives you and your partner a chance to be known and you can show each other that your love is not based on the bond you shared years ago but the one you share today.
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I would love to know which Gottman insight resonated with you the most? Which one surprised you?

Please share your thoughts, reflections and questions in the comment section below. I would love to hear from you.
– Brian
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