The way people deal with problems, the way people protect themselves or their relationship from problems backfires and becomes a prison.
Hello and welcome. I'm Shane Parrish and this is the Knowledge Project, a podcast exploring the ideas, methods and mental models that help you master the best of what other people have already figured out.
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Farnam Street puts together a weekly newsletter that I think you'll love. It's called Brainfeeder and it comes out every Sunday, much like this podcast. It's high signal timelines and Mind-Expanding Read What You're Missing at F-stop blog newsletter. Today I'm speaking with Sue Johnson, a clinical psychologist and the developer of emotionally focused couples therapy. She's widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best couples therapist in North America. Sue is the author of Hold Me Tight, which is Hands Down the best relationship book I've ever read.
She followed that up with Love Science, which is also worth reading. And I must say, when my friends found out I was going to interview Sue, I was flooded with emails and questions for her. Everyone was interested in talking about relationships, which was a bit unexpected for me.
Before the interview, I was thinking about how is going to structured the interview to fit all of these questions in. And while I couldn't ask everything I wanted to, the conversation is structured around the arc of a relationship from first dating and love all the way to retirement. We talk everything in between, so we talk kids affairs, warning signs that your relationship is in trouble and even when to call it quits.
I want to preface this conversation with the fact that this is not relationship advice for you specifically as a professional and I am clearly not. You should seek advice from someone more close to the situation with context and specifics to you as an individual and you as a couple. This conversation will be hard for many of you, and I'm sure there's aspects of your relationship you're going to pick up on and say, see, I told you and your partner is probably going to do the same.
You're both right. So let's listen and learn how to make that conversation more productive.
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That's Mudie WCR Dotcom and enter the code Farnam for ten dollars of. I was telling you before we started recording that this interview has prompted more unsolicited questions from friends and colleagues than any other interview, and I was trying to think of how to incorporate a variety of different situations into our conversation.
And I think I landed on let's walk through the life cycle of relationships from start to finish. So I think well, let's start with the stereotypical younger couple falling in love and let's go through the whole arc until death in terms of we'll go down some path and in terms of talking about infidelity and children. And she's sort of like empty nest and retirement and these big sort of markers in relationships.
And I think like let's start with based on what you know about love and how we're brought up, how do we choose a mate? How do we go into that decision with just I'll leave it there.
How do we choose a mate? I'll leave it as broad as I can.
Well, of course, there's lots of issues there and sexuality comes in that, you know, I mean, we we are drawn, especially when we're young adults. We're drawn to what we see as sexually attractive. I mean, that primes are approaching. People know it primes our desire to get close, but I think we focus on that a lot. But there's a lot more to it than that. Who you're attracted to, it won't just be, you know, as my daughter says, who's the hottest man in the room?
Right. It's but it seems to me that she can walk into a room and almost every man in the room is hot. That's kind of the stage she's in right now.
So, you know. Well, how does that help you differentiate then? But we bring our histories with us. You know, I ask couples when they come in, I don't say, have you ever had any secure attachment?
Because that's a bit abstract.
I say things like when you grew up in your family, could you if you got upset, could you turn to someone in your family and do what they reliably come and hold you?
And some people say, oh, yes, yes, my my dad would come and other people say, hold me.
When I cried, just listen to the voice, you know the answer, right? This is foreign territory for this person.
So I think people who've experienced safe connection with a parent have a big advantage. And research says that they're more likely to have friends in high school. They're more likely to have better be better friends themselves, and they're more likely to be empathic with any person they're dating.
Right. They're more likely to find happy dating relationships. Well, of course they are, because they've got a model. They know what a good relationship looks like. They know what it feels like to be vulnerable with someone right.
To be vulnerable with someone and to have that person respond. So they have certain it's more than expectations.
It's almost like a visceral map for what this is supposed to feel like.
Expectation sounds cognitive, you know, so it's it's a visceral map of what relationships look like and what's allowed in relationships and what you're supposed to do.
So folks that have had secure attachment in childhood are in an advantage now. It's like love is a gift that keeps on giving.
When you know what it looks like, then you're better at putting your hand on it in the world. Right.
So, you know, if you come from a securely attached you know, for example, I give you example, I talked about my dad. Well, my dad always treated me with the most amazing respect. I can't imagine one time when my dad ever implied that because I was a girl, I couldn't do anything or that my views weren't OK. It's bigger than expectations. You have a template. You have a show of how you expect to be treated and what you're looking for in relationships.
So if you if you are loved in childhood, you know what that feels like, then you can go out and you can you can tell when that's a possibility.
Even when it isn't. Many of us have no idea.
We don't know what we're looking for. We just don't want to be lonely anymore. And we want somebody to have fun with and we want someone to have sex with. And, you know, we're caught up in the society thing of, you know, girls are supposed to look like this and guys are supposed to, you know, look like they're, you know, and and we get all caught up in that. But the bottom line is, I think that people people are seeking out people to connect with.
And what I've always tried to tell my children is you can be attracted to lots of people in a very superficial way. And, you know, you can you're going to experiment with relationships. You are because because you have to get to know this dance. Right. And you're going to make mistakes.
But you know, what you really need to do is listen to yourself and listen to when you feel safe and when dancing with someone is easy and makes you feel good and when you can be vulnerable for a moment and that person tunes in and cares about your vulnerability, that's the person to go with.
Are those the little sort of bids that you're putting out there that people are receptive, supportive? That's a lovely word you're using.
It's a bit. It's a bit. And people don't realize what they're doing, you know? I mean, I'm tuned into relationships, so I watch them all the time in airports and among my friends. And I'm I'm turning on a different level than most of them are. I can't help it.
You know, it's my job at this point. But people are making bids and you're even watching people. I fly a lot.
So even watching people on a plane, you know, are you sit down next to somebody and you might make a comment and they don't look you in the eye. They turn their head away. They and you immediately get that they're close. They don't want to connect with you. And then you might make a little bid for a connection with somebody else. And they turn towards you. They turn in their seat, they give you eye contact, they look at you, they smile, they make a comment.
They respond to what you said you are.
This person wants to do what's right. And then the point is, most of us haven't been taught to tune in on that level.
You know, I don't want to in tango.
And the fascinating thing about that is that for the first three years, it's Argentine tango is very difficult.
It's a nerd dance, basically, OK?
And for the first three years, I, I sort of thought I was learning it. And then one night a stranger came and I started dancing with him and he broke all the rules. You're not supposed to do this. He stopped in the middle of the floor and he said, What are you doing?
I said, This is incredibly rude, right? I said, I'm dancing. I'll go with you. He said, No, you're not. I said, I'm sorry. I said, you're not. You're in your head. Predicting what you think I'm going to ask you to do and doing the steps in your head, I said, are you not with me? I said, Oh. He said, forget all the steps in your head.
Just feel the movement in my body. Feel the momentum. Listen to the music and the beat. Feel it that the dance. Do you. Oh, my God.
So tango change that night into something totally different and magical. And I became aware of what was going on on a whole different level.
People who have close relationships are more able to tune a tune in that way. They tune into the relational drama that's going on in a relationship. Other people do what I was doing there in the head, predicting stuff, doing tasks, you know, say to people, why did you get married?
And some people say things like, oh, I don't know, like, you know what? We both like canoeing, you know? And my other girlfriend did like canoeing. And I wanted to canoe every weekend and she'd canoe. And I thought it was time to get married. And it's communion.
Yeah. It's like it's a deal. Right. And they're not tuned into the relationship aspect.
And I think I always have been. And I think it's something to do with growing up in an English pub and spending my childhood. I didn't spend my childhood watching TV. I spent my childhood watching adults get slightly drunk and and emote all over the place and fight and cry and tell stories and turn to my dad for support and tell their stories of the war. Some people would have thought it was very inappropriate for me as a child, but that's what I grew up with.
So I tune in to that level.
And so young adults who can tune into this emotional level and who know what love feels like and who've seen love in operation and felt it, they're better at seeking out.
They're better at tuning in on that level. They they want to dance with someone who will tune into them and respond to them and wear something. They feel safe enough with that person where they can play. And that's constructive bonding. Right. And so, of course, that's only the beginning.
You fall in love with somebody and then usually everything goes wrong because, you know, they're bound to disappoint you. Right. It's been kind of interesting with my kids to, you know, like, of course, my kids called me up when they have fights with their partner. Of course they do.
I really better to call really. Exactly.
But, you know, and of course, they things go wrong and they fight. They hurt each other. And that's a relationship. If you dance with somebody, they're going to step on your feet. They're going to go left when you expect to go right. That's just the way it is. The point is in a good relationship, you can recognize what's happened and you can tune in and you can repair it.
And I think my kids have found partners who are responsive to them.
It's emotional responsiveness. That's the basis of a secure bond. What is emotional responsiveness?
Emotional responsiveness is an abstract word that captures a lot.
It's the ability, the all the willingness that someone has to tune into emotionally and to allow themselves to tune into your nonverbal or your words and to allow themselves to feel what you're feeling and who respond to that in a way that you feel that you matter. That all sounds very elaborate until I say something like, you are a social bonding mammal.
You pick up the cues from if you're paying attention, that's a big issue. If you're paying attention, you pick up the cues from somebody's face and a hundred milliseconds. And if you're paying attention, the muscles in your face automatically imitate what you see on those the other person's face, the mirror neurons in your brain fire. And if you're paying attention, you feel in your body what you see on the other person's face.
Now, if you've had a reasonably good history of love relationships, you feel in your body and you have a sense of how to respond. So in a in a positive relationship or when we help couples heal the relationship, we see that the person isn't overwhelmed by that. I say, oh, my goodness, this person's angry at me. What am I going to do?
You know, they they they they listen to it and they see the hurt and the other person's eyes and they respond and they say they reach out and they touch and they say I'm. So sorry, did I hurt your feelings? I think I did. I think you're feeling bad right now. That's emotional responsiveness.
And whether you're a mother or child or an adolescent with your very best friend or your sibling or a romantic partner.
That's what makes for a positive bond.
That responsiveness, when you see distressed couples that's blocked, they're all caught up in dealing with their own, her or their own fears. You know, people think that conflict is the issue in distressed relationships.
Conflict is the virus. The inflammation is emotional disconnection, that you can't connect with this person. You can't get this person to respond to you. This person isn't responding to you. So emotionally, you're alone. The person is in the room with you, but emotionally, you're alone.
So are you escalating intentionally almost to provoke a response?
No, it's not that conscious or unconscious. Yes, it's in in distressed relationships. The most common pattern we see is one person is demanding and getting angry and criticizing. The other person is defending and distancing. And the way we understand the demanding is they can be talking about anything or can we talk about finances or sex or they can talk about anything or how bad this other person is.
Right. Then we talk about anything.
But if you listen to the emotion, you look at their face and we're pretty good at that right now. What they're really saying is, where are you, where are you, where are you?
And if the other person doesn't respond, they say louder. They say, I'll get you to respond to me.
Where are you? You're a bad partner.
Oh, that'll get your attention. Right. But unfortunately, not that I have to do to get your attention is threatened you.
And then you go with the threat and you say, I don't want to talk right now and then or you escalate, you escalate.
You think I'm a bad partner. And whatever this thing that you did. That's right.
You fight back, you attack back. So we look at all these negative patterns in relationships and we we feel we understand them at this point. And so we help the demanding, critical partner.
We say, could you help me?
You're talking to your partner about how you're just you're disappointed in them and that you feel like this relationship is empty for you and you're expressing a lot of anger and frustration. But then you turned and you looked away and your eyes filled with tears. Could you help me? This is very painful for you. The person says, well, of course it is. He's so distraught, she goes back to attacking him. But we'll just stay with what we just said.
We go into the the emotional channel and we stay there. And in the end, the people come. We say, yes, you're very there's something here that's very painful for you and you're getting very angry. And you push him to talk and she says, yes, I push him, you push him.
And if you don't push him and if he won't talk, no matter how angry you get now, critical you get, then her face changes and she goes back to what I saw the few moments before.
She says that I'm all by myself. Yes, you're all by yourself. And he doesn't care about me. And I'm not important to him and I don't matter to him and I by myself.
And then she weeps. And that's the desperation under the anger. But you don't have in this bonding situation, we desperately need the other person to respond to us. Emotional isolation is traumatizing for human beings. You're not wired for it. It's a danger cue for your nervous system. We desperately need other people to respond. And there really these dramas happen when we're very young. We don't have many strategies. We really don't.
And the one that ultimately comes to mind is that we yell and scream and we we push.
You know, I remember a woman saying to me, I Pokémon, Pokémon, Pokémon him anything to get him to respond to me, because if I don't if he doesn't respond to me, there's no relationship. And I've lost him and I'm all by myself and I'm in panic and loss. And she used the word panic.
And that's a reality that, you know, researchers have looked at. You can use fMRI machines. And Jack Panksepp was a famous researcher who's just died, who looked at the brain and he said, we're bonding mammals. We need connection with others, like we need oxygen. We're way too vulnerable without it. Right. And we become obsessed with danger. And when we feel rejected and abandoned by the person we most depend on, there's a special pathway in our emotional brain and it's reserved for attachment panic.
And he used that word and I.
I believe that research, because the number of people that I have sat and talk with from all cultures and all genders and all over the world and all classes, the number of people that I have talked with who will actually come up with that word, who will say, well, I don't know what it is, I don't know what it is, but it feels really bad, you know, and I can't breathe when I'm talking about it. And it feels awful and I just feel agitated.
It's almost like, you know, it's like it's like a kind of panic.
And I say, yes, you know, it's we panic.
We can't get the person to respond to us because, of course, the other craving that attachment, that craving that connection.
And we don't know how to talk about it in a way that pulls our partner close.
And when we push and criticise and complain and demand more and more dangerous to our partner and they their favorite strategy that they probably learned when they grew up right, that I was the only one that kept them safe was to shut down.
And one thing people don't understand is they don't understand the impact of shut down. You hear people say in all relationships, in families, all they say, well, I stop talking because everything I say is wrong and it's only going to make things worse. And I stop talking because I don't know what to say. And I just get the message that I'm disappointing. I've failed already. I'm never going to please this person. So I freeze. I just say the best way to stop the argument is to not talk.
I stop talking. I stop talking to protect myself because I don't know what.
There's all amazingly good reasons, OK? We have good reasons for what we do.
What they don't understand is that in an intimate relationship, if I cut off emotionally and I shut down, I shut you out and if I shut you out.
And you're a bonding mammal and not a lizard, and you care about me, I trigger danger cues and fear in your brain, that's just because that's the way you're wired.
It doesn't you can do different things with it, you can try and shut it down or, you know, you can get violent, you can deal with it in different ways. There's a there's a range there. But the bottom line is what I just said isn't negotiable.
Our emotional life is structured, your nervous system is structured to avoid danger and to move to what will fulfill your needs to survive and love is structured. The way we dance with other people is structured. Your nervous system is structured.
And, you know, we we need to understand that these things are not social conventions.
They're not made up in New York Times writes articles about how our romantic love is changing.
And, you know, we're all going to be polyamorous or we're going to have hookups until we're 60 and it's all going to be great. And, you know, it's going to be lots of freedom and emotional, a sexual whatever.
Well, no, no, there isn't. Sorry, because it's not something we make up and decide on. It's structured by your Mimili and brain. We can do social experiments until we're purple and some of them will work and some of them will work better than others. But bottom line is that say there's a structure in your body and your body has limits.
This is structure to our emotional life, is a structure to a nervous system. There's a structure to your intimate relationships.
You said in one of your books that were actually meant to be monogamous. Yes. And that's an interesting point of view, highly unpopular in many places in the world these days. I've been accused of being, oh, what was the last lot?
Did you know that I'm a naive conservative Canadian? Uh, uh, sorry.
I'm not conservative, actually, at all. If you're near me, I'm terribly liberal. I am Canadian. I'm very proud of it.
And I really take objection to the word naive because I may be many things, but I'm not naive.
I am very good at what I do and I know an awful lot about what I do. So I'm not naive, you know. But yeah, I was because this lady told me on a big listserv, which will be nameless, but basically she said, you know, your ideas about monogamy are disgusting. I said, I'm sorry, but that's a very emotional word. So let's take the emotion out of it. I can give you six scientific arguments as to why we're we're wired for monogamy.
Would you like to find me one science study that suggests that it's better for would you find me the one study that says that people thrive more and where, you know, most people will thrive more if they have many, many sexual relationships.
And even in terms of sex, the best survey research in North America is by a man called Loughman at the University of Chicago. He does fantastic.
I hate surveys right there. They're so biased.
The questions you ask, you're going to get the answers you were looking for. But he's he's good. And he he's written these books like Sex in America and he's fantastic. And what he basically said is just in terms of sex, the people who have report having the best sex have it most often are most satisfied with it and find it most thrilling.
Are people in a long term, stable, stable, connected, exclusive relationship?
Yeah, you know, I mean and I can tell you all the reasons why I think that's true.
But the Zygi start in the world is we're looking for freedom. We don't want to be repressed. I agree repression doesn't work, but we're looking for freedom. And, you know, we're looking for let's all you know, somehow marriage is a prison and or never. My marriage long term is a prison. And, you know, we we have to have lots of sexual partners to be satisfied and not sex is about novelty.
This is excuse me, this is cliche number 34. I'm very sorry. Let's talk about that one. But, you know, what's the evidence for that? You know, I mean, it's we've got all these. Revolutionary ideas that aren't revolutionary, I gave a talk at a big conference recently and I said, you know, we think these ideas are revolutionary, but if you if you look at even things like the adulthood of Ernest Hemingway in in you know, in Paris, you know, when he was in Paris, you know, he was round, round, round the area of the Second World War.
People in Paris were doing all the things that we're doing now. We didn't call them hooka. They didn't call them hook ups. They just weren't slept with lots of people. They didn't you know, they'd have the same language. But they were trying to have lots of relationships. They were trying to open relationship.
Now, people have been doing this forever. But bottom line is, for most people, most of the time, you know, serial monogamy seems to be the most natural way that it works because it's all about it's not just about sex is about attachment and attachment tends to be hierarchical. We can love more than one person. But in terms of who you turn to when you really need, in terms of where you take your vulnerability, it's usually hierarchical.
We have our special one. Hmm. And most people want to be the special one for somebody else. And most people want a special one, you know, and that's the person that you turn to.
So let's explore that a little bit in the context of our hypothetical couple who have now fallen in love, gotten married, and they want to deepen their relationship.
What does it mean to be the person that somebody turns to? What are the obligations and the skills of anything that you need to learn? And what is it what does it mean to be the person deepening the connection? How do you deepen that relationship to the point where it's trusting and it's loving and it's caring, but you want to explore it more and through exploring it, you're really exploring yourself and your partner?
Well, that's a huge question, but it's we'll have to go, OK? There's no simple answer.
Yeah, love is simple, but it's not easy. But that's what I always say. Anyway, if you would focus on the science, love isn't that complicated, but it's not easy. There's lots of different ways it can turn out. But the bottom line is you're constantly building trust in what I would call constructive dependency. You're base, you're constantly building trust. And how do you build trust? You take risks with each other. You show yourself you're you're open and accessible and you take risks with each other.
And when one of you takes a risk, the other one responds. And by respond, I don't always mean like does something magical like the movies. OK, like, that's not I mean, you just stay emotionally present, securely attached.
People know the power of emotional presence. You know, the parent who's helping a child in pain. The parent doesn't have the solution to the pain per say men.
Husbands always think they're going to problem solve and solve their worst problems. They don't understand that. Usually their wife's looking for just them. They are the answer to her problem, that she just wants their emotional presence. I shouldn't keep doing this gender thing. Sometimes it goes the other way.
Right. But, you know, it's the emotional presence that's key. So, for example, you might take a risk and share something with your partner and your partner doesn't know what to do with it, isn't quite sure how to respond. So I've seen people at the end of VDT turn to I've seen a man who before would just shut down because I don't know what to do with that. Right. And he chose his partner. He says, I see that you're hurting and I don't really understand it, but I don't want you to be alone and I want to be with you and I don't know what to do.
She burst into tears and she says, you just did it. He said, What did I do? Should you just came and met me. You just came and met me. That's what I need. You don't have to solve my problem. You don't have to create magic. You have to be with me. And a good relationship grows from moments like that.
A good relationship, you know, and a fights in a way can help a good relationship grow because you hurt each other's feelings. And then what you're going to do. Well, what is secure attachment? You know, and this is beyond romantic relationships.
If you watch a mother and an adolescent, we have research on the fact that insecure attachment the mother and the adolescents have. And I always think of my son in this case, but the mother and the adolescent will have a big fight because we have big fights and we have fights. We have big fights. And when he was 17, we had glorious fights for.
So but the issue is we can turn back towards each other, you know, and we can we can tune in and we can repair and, you know, the fights are going to be the end of that relationship.
You're secure in the fact that it's going to. That's right.
I know. We know in the end, we are there in son. We are bonded forever.
The question in relationship to stress relationships is always the same all over the world at every age. Where are you? Where are you? Do you care about me? Do I matter to you? Will you respond to me? Will be there when I'm vulnerable. Am I safe with you? Where are you. Where are you?
And when the answer is I'm here, you can deal with almost anything you can deal with. You can. You can deal with anything. You can fight. You can be different.
You know, people say, oh, relationships are based on being being not too many differences. I said, are you joking? Everyone's basically incompatible.
You know, it's like we're all different, you know, like we I've been married for 35 years. And, you know, my husband likes hiking up bloody great Canadian mountains.
And I hate if it walks slightly up a slope.
I get ticked off, you know, like we're you know, we're we're all different, you know. But this emotional responsiveness is what grows relationships. And you can see it. Here's the thing.
It's not I'm not talking about something obtuse and abstract. We just don't know how to tune in. You can see it at airports. When I'm at airports, I watch people, OK?
It's easier to watch a mother and child because the emotions are also clear. As adults, we sort of fudge them and disguise them.
But, you know, I'll watch one mother and child and the child is trying to get the mother's attention. The child's going.
And she holds out her toy and the mothers look at her cell phone and the mother says, what, you're fine. She's not looking at the kid emotionally. She's absent like people might say, the mothers with the child. She's no emotionally she's absent. She's not looking at the kid and the kid saying, respond to me, are there? Where are you? Respond to me. And the mother's going, no, I'm not. I'm sorry. I'm tuning you out.
You're secondary. You know, you're not that important. Right?
There's huge emotional, significant messages in these interactions that we don't turn into and we get them on a visceral level. So then the child gets really upset and the mother still looking out for the mother says, oh, you're fine.
And she picks up a bottle from her bag and she hands it to the kid.
There's no connection there. So the kid this I remember this kid particularly because the kid's been getting quite upset and then the kid gets the bottle. The mother's given her food. Right. She should calm down. The kid goes into this vacant stare. She lets the bottle drop on the floor.
The mother doesn't even notice and the kid starts staring into space across across the room, the big foyer, you know, the airport foyer.
And the mother says, that's better. Now you're fine.
And I feel like dashing over to the mother saying, no, no, no, your kid just shut down into freeze. Do you understand? Your kid just gave up on connecting with you. Your kid's gone in to freeze. Your kid's freaked out. She's just spaced out. She's shut down because she you are responding to her fear and there's no other way of dealing with it. We don't have many ways. We don't have many options in this basic emotional dance.
And then you watch another mother.
It's a whole different bag. You watch the kid get upset and the mother's busy. And the airport agent is saying, ma'am, I need your passport. I need you. I need. And this mother said to the agent, sit just a minute, please.
She turned to her kid and she said, He's OK, sweetie. Oh, you've lost your bear. You've lost your bear. Look, he's there. We'll go get him. Shall we go? She made the agent wait. I thought, look at that.
She picks up the bear. She gives us the keys. They go, she picks. And all she says really is, there you go. But listen to her voice. Da da da da da da da da da da da da.
That a lot of this is the emotional music we're playing. People pick up on the emotional music. It defines it defines the dance. So that mother said to the kid, Oh, you're there, I see you. Your pain matters to me. I'm here. I'll respond to you. I'll put you first. You matter. I'm here. You don't have to be afraid. You're safe. I'm here. And the kid goes, Huh? The kid's fine.
And then she turns back and says, Now what? What do you need? You need my passport. So that's two ends of the scale and give you straight.
Right. I'm giving you extremes. But ah, most of us go in the middle where we, we don't always hear our kids, but then we do and we turn and we respond.
What effect his kids have on the relationship, the bond attachment between the parents.
That's a really interesting one because suddenly two becomes three. Not only that, but sadly for most couples, there's some real factors that impact things like much more work and fatigue. You know, often their sexual relationship goes straight downhill and we can make all kinds of funny meanings about that. But the bottom line is your sexuality shuts down when you're sleep deprived. Duh. It would be dysfunctional if it didn't, wouldn't it?
So, you know, like, you know, you just don't have the energy for a glorious orgasm because your nervous system is already said, I want a holiday. Thanks very much. I'm done.
You know, it's for like so, you know, all kinds of changes happen. And people also feel often when a woman's had a baby and she's gone through childbirth, she suddenly feels responsible for the little person, but she'll tune into her vulnerability. And so she wants emotional support. And sometimes the husband is into, oh, my goodness me, I'm a father. My goodness me, I better not lose my job. My goodness me. I got to work harder.
I got a I got. So the husband gets into tasks right when the woman needs his emotional connection. Right. And the woman is fatigued and she doesn't have much bandwidth emotionally.
So she's more labile and she's more vigilant for disconnection and they're both trying to take care of this little tiny demanding bonding mammal.
And so there's a lot of stress involved and a lot of change and a lot of transition. And when people don't know how to create these secure, safe bonding scenarios and support each other emotionally, everything starts to go downhill and people step into these negative cycles. I call them demon dialogues because a demon comes and takes over your relationship. And in my book, call me, I call them Demon Dialogues because that's how people experience them.
They say, I don't know what happened to us. I know we started having horrible fights and, you know, we were fine until the baby came along. And then a demon comes in and takes over. Right. And suddenly everybody's irritable and suddenly everybody's somebody's shutting down and somebody is demanding. And you're caught in the usual demand withdrawal dance that destroys relationships and nobody's taking any time for themselves. Some of it is, I really think, in our society.
Why do we when a woman has a baby, leave her alone in a little box called an apartment and take her away from all her social contacts and off after she doesn't live in the same city as her mother and her sisters, and she doesn't have social contacts and her husband's at work all day. So she's taking care for this baby tuning into vulnerability. Right. And she we make sure she's alone in it. That's ridiculous. I mean, really, in most tribal societies, when a woman has a baby, it's a signal for the community to come around and support her, support the parents, help them become parents, you know, give them social support, take care of the baby.
Sometimes, you know, it's it's just an instinctive thing, right?
There's a new life. It needs protection. It needs care. Let's all come around and do it. This is a tribal thing. We completely lost that.
We've totally lost that. And, you know, often what happens is a woman's alone with a baby all day and then her husband comes home.
Well, he's exhausted, right? He wants a bit of a break.
She's hungry for connection. She's had a baby throwing up on her and yelling all day. And, you know, it's like, talk to me, somebody talk to me.
And he says, why are you so demanding? You know, can't you even let me get in the door? Basically, she says, no, I need you to talk to me. And he says, you know, so then it starts to go wrong. But but if you know how to have these what we call hold me tight dialogues, if you know how to if you know how to understand when you get in conflict, if you can if you know how to contain that conflict by by sort of recognizing what's going on.
Hey, we're caught in a dance. We're caught in a dance here. It's not that you're a bad person or a terrible husband or a mean man or a mean woman is that look at what's happening to us, what's happening to us.
If you can take that kind of perspective and you have enough trust then to turn into talking about your emotions and helping each other with them, you can deal with that transition. You'll have bad times, but you can deal with it.
But often what is it like?
Reveals the stress, reveals the cracks in the in the relationship, you know, where people don't trust each other and the sexuality disappears, which people often rely on that those moments to create connection, that everything starts to go wrong, everything starts to go wrong.
What role does sex play in a. Happy, healthy marriage, sex plays an important role. I think the tricky part is, I mean, sex can be different at different times. You know, sex can be many things at different times.
Sex can be purely about the release of tension.
Sex can be erotic play. Sex can it can change in a relationship. There's flexibility. You can you can it can mean different things at different times. Right.
But in general, if you listen to people in happy, healthy relationships, they'll talk more about sex as a bonding activity.
It's not just about release. It's not just about orgasm. It's not just about eroticism. It's we make you know, human beings make love face to face, doesn't have to be face to face.
But you get the idea. We make love face to face.
And there's certainly there's a huge bonding element. It's not accident that an orgasm we're flooded with oxytocin, which is a bonding hormone, you know, and if you look at securely attached folks, they'll say, oh, well, sex is fun. And it's it's about eroticism and it's about, you know, being pleasured physically and sensation. But it's also about being close to my partner. I like being close to my partner.
The interesting thing about that one is the cliche out in the world is men only want an orgasm. Well, if that's true, you know, I mean, masturbation is a much more efficient path to that.
And it's simpler. And I have to deal with anybody else. And I kind of what pornography is teaching us that.
Yes, basically pornography teaches us that. But if you listen to men and I've listened to a lot of men who listen to men talk about in a more emotionally open level, what men talk about is not that different from what women talk about.
Men in the end will. I can't tell you how many times this has happened. Men will say, well, you know, I can give myself an orgasm if I really want an orgasm. What I want is to be desired. I want to be desired. And the most concrete way of feeling desired is for you to desire me to come close and for us to make love. I want to be desired.
And, you know, our society is a bit insane about sex. I mean, I feels insane about sex. We have one discipline called sex therapy and another discipline called relationship couples therapy. How ridiculous is that? I mean, that's ridiculous. Or more I'm talking about is actually attachment science helps us understand sex and relationships. And for goodness sake, you know, we need to put those two things together. It's ridiculous that sex therapist don't really think about relationships.
That's ridiculous. You know, and it's ridiculous that relationship therapist don't learn anything about sex is like, are you kidding me?
Know, it's like so but sexuality is important. And for a secure couple, it's a bonding activity and it's about closeness and connection as well as about, you know, the release of tension or pleasurable sensation.
The the world out there tells us some very funny things about sex.
One of the things that I really object to that really annoys me because it's like misinformation as far as I'm concerned, and it can hurt people, is that people say things like, well, long term relationships, you're bound to lose your sexual charge to sex as a best before date.
You know, familiarity is deadening and secure. Connection makes, you know, is the enemy of eroticism. And what you need to keep your sex life alive is is novelty. You either need lots of strange positions or you need lots of sex toys or you need other people. You bring other people in. And this is very popular point of view out there. All kinds of journalists are pushing it. All kinds of people are making money on books, pushing it.
And it annoys me not from any moral issue or any not from any stance of coming from shouldst.
OK, I don't have any issues around that, OK? It annoys me because it's not true. It annoys me because it's misinformation. It annoys me because it's not what I see and what I've experienced in all my years of working with couples. And and Loman's research basically says the people who have the best sex are the people who feel safe and connected with each other and who have exclusive relationships. And that makes sense to me.
It makes sense to me on lots of levels. All of which come out of bonding science, what is passion, and I think we should all be asking ourselves this because Hollywood gives us nonsense and porn gives us nonsense. And journalists who say they're experts in relationships give us Nazis. What is passion? Well, as far as I can see, you know, passion is the longing for connection. There's a longing in there. You might not say it's for connection, but there's a longing right to be with this person.
This person's desired. It's a longing. There's an emotional component.
And then it's put together with the ability to play, to play erotically, to be unpredictable, to have a safe, to turn going to bed together into a safe adventure. It's put together, you know, and that fits for me when I talk to securely attached couples. They're not in love all the time, but over a lifetime, they can fall in love again and again and again because they know how to love. Hold me tight conversations.
But, you know, sexuality, if you're going to really get into it and let yourself go into it and let yourself fall into it and let it take you over and let it take you to different places and let it be thrilling and unusual. And you play with somebody and each dance time you dance is different. You have to feel safe. It's the opposite of novelty, actually. You need novelty when you're numbed out and shut down and you need more and more novel sensation to have you get turned on.
That's the way I see it. Novelty is about how we've numbed our sexuality, not how. No, it's not about freedom.
So, you know, the way I always say it to my students is imagine that you're going on a zip line and you test the zip line before you let go and the zip line strong and you're not belted in and you feel good.
Then you let go and the zip line you go with.
It is exciting and thrilling and interesting, and you're not quite sure you're going to end up, but who cares because you're OK? That secure attachment. I can let go and be with you, we can play, we can be we can be open and erotic with each other, we can tell each other our fantasies, we can play as lovers. And then the next minute we can hold each other and be safe haven secure base for each other, which is what a secure bond is.
That's that secure attachment. The other kind of sexuality is like, imagine how much you're likely to really let go and totally get engaged and absorbed and completely enjoy it. If you notice just before you kick off that there's a crack in that in the line.
Well, you might get a little thrill.
Oh, my God. There's a crack in the line. Oh, wow. But in fact, you know, you're you're not really going to let go and enjoy the ride. That's how I see it. I mean, it's securely attached. People report better sex. So sex is a way of connecting. It's a bonding behavior. It's it's I think of what people do during sex. They stare into each other's eyes. They touch each other. For most adults in North America, that's the only place that get touched, which is something we should look at.
I can't remember who did the research, but it's in one of my books for the public.
But basically, this lady did this recession. She said we are the least touching culture anywhere on this planet. In North America, we don't touch each other.
Is there a correlation between couples that I think it's called like PDA, public displays of affection, like handholding and sort of kissing? Does that correlate to happier?
Yes, I think it does, because you're you're reaching for each other and your physical touch is the basic way we have with human beings of soothing each other.
You know, I look around me and people touch the children, but that even that can be different. I went to a little I went to Assisi in Italy for a while and I was watching fathers with their children. My God, it was so different from North America. I mean, everywhere you looked, there was this Italian men picking up their children, caressing their children, holding their children, reaching for their children, stroking their children's arms, touching their children with eyes.
Really, really interesting. So, you know, culture has a certain amount to do with it, but touch is so powerful. And if you watch a couple who have just bonded or are feeling close, they touch each other.
You know, it's so interesting because I talk to all these big conferences and and sometimes I have this flash.
I mean, my husband comes with me to a lot of these conferences, and I really appreciate him coming.
I appreciate the support. And before a big talk or after a big talk, he usually takes my hand. He's got very big hands.
So my hand feels kind of small inside his.
And I had this flash several times that I'm walking down this hall at this huge conference and everyone knows who I am. And I suddenly feel sort of shy about the fact that my husband is holding my hand on this big expert. Right. My husband and I feel sort of shy about it.
But the truth is, yes, my husband's holding my hand. That's right. You know, and because because that's what our relationship is.
You know, it's and I think people are starving for touch in our society and they turn it towards sexuality.
Whereas I've heard men say a number of times, I just want to be held.
I just want to be held, you know, I just want to be close. But, you know, our culture doesn't encourage men to say that men our culture, but in tells people a lie that somehow you're not vulnerable and you don't have a need for that connection when you're male.
I say such nonsense. But yeah, I think touchers plays a big part. And sometimes when a couple when they don't know how to connect emotionally, explicitly, emotionally, when they don't touch very much outside of sex, when the sex goes wrong, deep trouble.
You know, I can remember one particular couple where he was, um, he had a pretty horrendous childhood. And he he had a adulthood full of being of all about power. He's very powerful man, very he had a lot of control in the world. And he was used to that. Right. And he basically didn't like to be touched by his wife. It accommodated to this for years.
And, you know, he liked to be in control and not touched and their relationship worked while they were making love. But then he got a little bit older and he got erectile dysfunction and he found that amazingly humiliating and his way of dealing with the humiliation rather than talking to his partner, letting her. Help him with it, which I have seen work really well, his way of dealing with it was to totally shut down. So then there's no physical contact between him and his wife and there's not much emotional contact either because he's shutting down.
And suddenly this marriage, which has been viable for years, is in deep, deep trouble. And he's enraged because he's used to calling the shots. So he's enraged like, you know, this is what's comfortable for me now and you must accommodate. And she's basically saying, I'm starving to death. You won't talk to me about your emotions. You don't touch me. I can't touch you. There's no I'm starving to death. Help me. I'm starving to death.
And he basically says, well, suck it up.
Well, you know, and my response to that was a therapist is she can't and it's not about how much she loves you or how mature she is. It's about the fact she's a bonding mammal. She can't suck it up.
What are some of the other reasons that sex stops in relationships?
So we have sex stops for lots of reasons.
Sex stops. It's like every other dance you do with your partner. Things get in the way and block it. And if you can't talk about it together and help each other with it, it gets stuck. You know, sex stops because a sexual problem comes up. And if the couple can't deal with it together, the classic one that I talk about and hold me tight is erectile dysfunction.
As a man gets older, you know the man. And it's not the erectile dysfunction itself that's often manageable.
What isn't manageable is the way people deal with it.
You know, the way people deal with problems, the way people protect themselves or their relationship from problems backfires and becomes a prison.
Right. So, you know, men are humiliated. I'm not a man anymore. I remember we did do a lot of work with heartattack couples. We have a program called Healing Hearts Together, which is an educational program, which we did with the Heart Institute in Ottawa. Right. That we we did.
And I remember working with one couple when the man said, well, he was very big. He was a manly man, you know, like. Right.
Well, you know, since I had the heart attack, you know, my penis doesn't always work, and so I'm not doing it. Because I'm not a man anymore, and this is and he's just saying this is just this is too difficult for me, I'm not I'm not doing it right. So then, you know, his wife feels shut out and he's not talking to her about whether she misses his. She's irrelevant. He's basically saying, I'm not doing it.
And he's all by himself with all this. Right.
And so that cuts off sex. What you see is that when people can get together and help each other with their vulnerable feelings, that shifts.
And my favorite one is a man that I got in the whole B type book, which is a delightful conversation with a guy.
You know, we talk about his shame and how he doesn't feel like he's a man. And we help him have conversations with his wife where his wife comforts him and he's able to take that comfort in because she starts to try and comfort him and he knocks it away.
He says, no, I'm I'm I don't want to talk about this because I'm not a man anymore. So, you know, that's how people also block comfort.
Sometimes they block it. They say now, you know, I I can't take it and I don't know what to do with it. I don't need it. There's something wrong with me if I need it. Right.
So but we help him take it in and we start talking about the fact and we normalize things. When you can talk about something with somebody and make it specific and get support, everything calms down and you can sort of look at things in specific terms rather than big general catastrophic terms. Right. So we talk about the fact that never mind his personal thing, which is he's had a heart attack and he's on certain drugs for most men of a certain age if they are going to try and make love to their partner for, I don't know, forty minutes, basically, he calls his penis George.
OK, George is going to take a nap occasionally and.
A lot of it is about process, not about how the problem starts, it's what you do, what's the problem started and whether you do it alone.
And we talk about how George takes a nap, and that's normal. And he says, oh, I said, it doesn't matter, we've had a heart attack. What is normal is normal. Yes, normal.
You just have this big idea that you're supposed to be heart with a penis with, you know, as long as, you know, some monument and as hard as a rock like you did when you were 19. You think you should stay that way till the day you die, you know, and that's not normal.
So it doesn't usually happen as normal. And so we take the sting out of it in that way. And they start talking about the fact that sometimes George is going to take a nap.
That's very different from the shame, huge shame thing. And they start talking about how when George takes a nap, she knows how to wake him up. Mm hmm. And it becomes a playful conversation.
Right. And then they tell me a wonderful story about how they start to make love and everything goes wrong. The kid comes home early and bangs on the door. Their dog gets into the bedroom.
I come in, although some point the candle starts to set the curtains on fire. So they, like everything, went wrong. And George kept taking a nap. Right. And then they went they gave up and they went down, had coffee.
See, they went down, had coffee. They were together. Right. And then they start joking and playing over coffee. And then the play starts to turn into eroticism and then they go out and make love. So again, it's about whether you shut down with this kind of when you get caught in shame and fear and turn away from your partner or whether you stay with your partner and your partner is able to help you.
Bonding is all about giving people their emotional balance.
When you're not alone, when somebody is with you and supporting you, you can deal with so much with your you have your emotional balance. Problems are solvable. Scary realities are manageable. That's what secure connection with another person gives you. And the same happens in sex. So lots of things get in the way of sex. But the main thing that gets in the way of sex is emotional distance. People say if you're in New York journalist, you always ask me, you know, what's the best recipe for great sex life?
Boring question for me, the best. And they don't want they don't want my answer.
They want to hear something like, oh, it's the new sex position from the joy of sex wailing monkey climbing tree. You know, if you if you can do that, you'll find this is such nonsense.
So I say what they don't want to hear. The best recipe for a great sex life throughout your life is safe. Emotional connection. Practice makes perfect. If you're good at dancing with somebody and you're good at tuning into the emotional and physical music that they play, the dance is endless. Every time you dance is different, it can change and you can deal with stuck places in the dance and it can always be a safe adventure. So the best recipe for great sex is emotional connection.
When emotional connection gets lost, when people get angry, resentful, they feel hurt, they feel rejected. Their ability to really physically engage and be erotic just goes away.
You are not wired to deal with threat and to be turned on at the same time. By the way, now that ended years ago. Those of us in the mists of time who saw a saber tooth tiger coming through the bush as a big shadow and stopped to masturbate or to get turned on, we got eaten, OK? We didn't pass on our genes, OK? We just didn't know if those of us that sars-cov-2 in the bush and forgot all about how design, how we were lusting after this woman in front of us and ran, we survive.
So, you know, when people are getting anxious and scared and feeling rejected and abandoned, they're not good lovers and they can't focus on their partner and they can't tune in. They can't dance together. They're just self obsessed with sex. So often what happens is women will say in a distressed relationship, you don't want me, you just want an orgasm.
I'm instrumental. Right? Right. And the man doesn't know how to connect. He doesn't know how to create emotional connection. So he says, you want to make out.
And she says, no, not really.
And what they've done is they've both freaked each other out at that point. You know, it's that's what they've done. I mean, lovers scare the hell out of each other. Of course they do.
You're more vulnerable to the person you love than anyone in the world. Right? That's part of being in love. On the other hand, if it's a good relationship, you're safer with this person than anywhere else in the world.
So that's the kind of paradox of love. But, you know, things interfere with things, interfere with sex. And as a society, it's fascinating to me.
We seem to be obsessed with sex and we separate it from relatedness, which is bizarre to me.
I would imagine a lot of people come to you having had affairs.
So I have a lot of questions around Affairs', why do they happen and and maybe after that we can start talking about what you can do about them or how you can talk to your partner about the miss out there in society, in the magazines, and is that we have affairs because we're a massively sexual beings and that one person can't possibly be enough for us. And da da da da da da da da da. Right. So one way that attachment science is revolutionary and one reason it was so popular, unpopular for so long is because it is revolutionary.
It challenges us. Our thoughts was that John Bowlby, the father of attachment theory, said sex is not the most important motivation in human beings and neither is aggression. Freud was wrong. The most important motivation in human beings and the one that carries the huge clout is the need for connection with another human being.
And so right there, he he basically says there's something more important than sex. Actually, you know, we can get obsessed with it at certain points in our life. But it's there's other motivations. And that really plays out because when I talk to people about why they have affairs. I would say in all my 35 years and I supervised lots of therapists as well, in all my 35 years, I've maybe heard one or two people who are a certain personality type, high risk taking needs to climb Everest three times, drive fast cars is obsessed with high stimulation.
Right. And we're not let's not talk about what that's about, but it's a whole personality type. I've heard those guys say, oh, well, you know, I just had the affair because I'm just into different women and I just got to have this. I just got to have this this adventure. And I got to, like, write very, very avoidant. People who don't trust people at all say things like it wasn't an affair.
I just had a one night stand. It's no big deal. That's just what I do. It was just sex. OK, there's nothing. And there are some people who totally cut themselves off during sex. And it really is just a form of mutual masturbation and they don't understand why their partner is upset with it. So there's different things here.
But in general, the overwhelming thing is people do not have affairs because of sexuality or sexual frustration, and they have affairs because they're emotionally disconnected and alone.
They feel rejected or abandoned by their partner. They're getting in terrible fights. They feel alone and scared. They feel unloved, unwanted and helpless.
And they and the secretary brings them a coffee and she smiles at them and they suddenly notice how pretty she is. They've worked with her for three years, but they suddenly notice it's terribly pretty and they notice that she seems to like them.
And when they take her for coffee, she listens to them and she she acts like they're the most important person in the world and their whole nervous system starts to respond. It's like the sunshine. They've been in the dark and this is a sunshine. And they start to respond.
They're having a need for filled. That's right. And it's it's about deprivation, not about, you know, the whole lust takes us over all the time. And that's just a big story. And it's true of a few of us, but mostly it's not. That's a big story. And so people turn to other people because they can't get their attachment needs met with their partner. And that's the truth. And they're hungry for that connection. Can relationships heal from.
Yes. Always or is. No, not nothing is always in relationships.
What's the difference between relationships that heal from affairs and relationships?
Well, it's a lot of it. I think a lot of it has to do with the level of trust that you had, you know, in the relationship and how important the relationship is to you and how much you're willing to work at it.
We've done a we have a whole thing about we call it relationship injuries, they're not necessarily affairs. That can be other injuries in a relationship.
What are other examples? Oh, I'm going for my chemotherapy the first day. And I say, you will be there, won't you? And you say, of course I'll be there because I'll be there. And then five minutes before I'm going, you say, listen, you'll be fine. I know your sister's going with you. You don't really need me there. I'm going I've got to be at this big meeting.
And then when I come home, the extra bit is when I come home and I try and talk to you about that. You say, I don't know what you're talking about. You will find what you find in others. I dismiss it. We can't heal it. I can't when I come to you to try and repair it, you don't tune in to me.
You just miss my need. That's an attachment injury. It won't go. People say people say things like time will heal, that it will not.
Your brain holds onto it. It's significant survival information. When you needed your partner wasn't there.
They're no longer safe. You can't count on them. Your brain will hold on to that. And the next time you have the opportunity to risk with that part that you won't, you'll hold back. You'll keep them out. So these injuries redefine the relationship and affairs can be like that.
Is that the beginning of the end when you stop reaching out or is that still salvageable at that?
It's salvageable if you work on it and often you need help because you're lost at that point. And we don't educate people about relationships. We teach them trigonometry in school. But heaven forbid we teach them about the most important thing of all, which is relationships. So people get lost and they start to protect themselves and it gets worse and worse. But if they come into therapy with us, people say, you know, can we heal this? I say, yes, you can heal this, but you have to work at it.
It's not going to be easy. You can heal it. And we know how to do it. And we've done research study on it. We we know how to do it. And we know that the effects last three years down the road. Right. It's but you have to work on it. Healing an injury is a special kind of hold me tight conversation focused around the injury. You know, you have to go look at that. You're your negative dance's that you get caught in the demon dialogues.
You have to understand how you got so distant from each other in the first place, how there wasn't safety and connection in the relationship. You have to be able to at least create some safety and balance in the relationship. You have to create some Social Security. That's the end of stage one of FCE. You deescalate the negative patterns of disconnection and conflict in your relationship.
You create certain safety and then you have to be able to go into risking and creating positive cycles of connection, which is bonding situations. And most couples need to do that around the injury.
So they go back to the injury.
And what we see is that the really difficult thing is people try to apologize. And in times I think I've got a list of ten apologies that don't work. You know, people say things like, I'm sorry, OK, no, that doesn't work.
People give long reasons why it happened. That doesn't work. We've only seen one thing work, and it's a form of homicide compensation.
What works is that I have to be able to really speak my pain in a way that you that impacts you, that I have to I can't fudge it and be vague. I have to be able to speak my pain in a way that moves you OK, that you connect with. And then you have to be able to help me understand how come my pain didn't matter at the time, how what was happening for you. It's not about giving me reasons.
It's about being predictable. Again, you have to be able to give me a coherent narrative of what happened to you so I can start to tune into you. And you can be predictable, just not the enemy where this can happen again any time. Right.
And then I turn and I, I tell you my pain and you and my hurt in a very clear way and what I need from you to help that her. I tell you how you can help with that hurt and you respond. It's an antidote to the original injury. You respond you and you respond to me. I have to speak my pain. I have to look into your face and see that my pain hurts you. This is not a cognitive conversation.
This is an emotional trauma. It has to be in the emotional channel or it doesn't work. And I see that my pain hurts you and you express care and remorse for hurting me in a way that moves me.
And this. Shifts everything, it's an antidote, and it's it's not just about forgiveness. Forgiveness is the booby prize. It's about forgiveness that leads to reconciliation. It's about forgiveness that turns into the willingness to risk and trust again.
And it's a bonding conversation. It's a bonding and it's highly emotional.
And when people have it, they can forgive injuries. They can forgive all kinds of injuries. But the only way I've ever seen it happen and work and last is the way I've just described. People try to stay in control and stay out of the emotion and heal them. You can't you can't have a cognitive conversation and heal them. They don't heal. Right. People try to put them on the shelf for years and have a less close relationship. And then somebody needs to take a risk and they come roaring out of that.
They come it's like you start to take a risk to create your closeness and your your brain says, wait a minute, don't you remember this was damn dangerous last time you were vulnerable.
And people say never again. Often this conversation starts with, well, we've talked about it a thousand times. But basically, you know, now when I start thinking about risking with you and trusting and putting myself in your hands, really, really, I'm going to do that. I promised myself never again you're going to get the chance to hurt me like that again. That's how the conversation starts. Never again. And there's good reasons for that.
You know, if you understand the drama in a relationship and certainly if you understand as a therapist what you understand, you can shape. If you understand love, you can shape it. If you understand the attachment drama, you can shape it. Most of us see love as something random that comes along, hits you in the head and then disappears. And we don't understand. We don't have a concept in our society that you can shape the most important relationships in your life.
I mean, just think about that as a shift.
We it we say you fall in love and then you fall out. It comes, you know, it's like you don't have any control. Whereas we see in therapy and even in our hold me tight, we run hold me tight weekends all over the world. It's our educational program and you know, they blow us away. The reason why therapists are left is because it blows their mind. It still blows my mind. After 35 years, it blows their mind.
Right. And you see these older couples, for example, whose I've had couples come and say, oh, we have a pretty good relationship.
But, you know, we just thought we'd come to hold me tight. We can just do a little tune up. And just for interest, because you're an interesting speaker and I say, oh, jolly good. And then they come to me at the end of the weekend and say, thank you so much.
We just reached a whole new level of closeness. We've been married for 35 years and we've never touched that. Thank you so much. I didn't even know that I could feel this for my husband. And so you can grow and shift and shape a relationship and you can repair it when it goes wrong. If you understand the drama, if you don't understand what we just been, we just dance blind. We're just dancing blind. We don't even know the music we're listening to.
We don't even understand our emotions. You know, it's time for this to end. It's time for us to learn how to connect. Surely if we can go to the moon, we can. We have the key to love relationships. Now, I do hope that we're going to put it in the damn door and open the door. You mentioned earlier that we create our own prisons.
A lot of people seem hesitant to tell their partner that they've had an affair, in part because they don't want to hurt their partner.
Yes. Does that create a prison in the relationship that affects the closeness?
Yes, achievable. It's very hard because I think in images and I always think of it like you're holding the secret to your chest, you're careful. You're keeping you're making sure you don't tell the secret. You're keeping this part of you out of the relationship.
And that means that you're not fully engaged and your partner's going to feel that, you know, it's deception and secrets are very toxic and love, relationship, accessibility, responsiveness and engagement.
A.R.T. are the the variables in research that predict the safety of a bond, any bond between any two people of any age. Right.
And accessibility is messed up by secrets. No, I'm hiding basically I'm hiding from you and I'm being careful around you. And there's a part of me that I don't want you to know and I'm always worried that you're going to know it.
And I'm that takes energy. Glucose go into your brain to hide. Yeah, right.
And I'm always trying to manage. How you see me and what you see. I'm sorry that I can dance with you and listen to emotional music and tune in and let myself be carried away in the interaction with you. Of course I can't. I'm holding the secret to my chest. It's between you and me. And people are afraid to speak secrets, but they don't see the toxicity that comes from keeping them and how they're between them and their partner.
They really are. And in a relationship, I think I share with you an image where a man once said to me, well, I don't want to tell my I don't. I finished the affair. I don't want to tell my partner. And she doesn't ever need to know. She's never going to know. And I want to rebuild this relationship now. So I'm not telling her.
And I said, well, you know, let me share with you. That's not that's what I call the bomb in the basement redecorating scheme. And he said, What do you mean? I said, well, do you want me to help you rebuild your relationship house? But you have a ticking bomb in the basement. Would you really try to rebuild your house with a ticking bomb? Right, and he says, I'm scared to tell my partner, I said, ah, let's talk about that, let's talk about that.
And we help people reveal secrets. And my experience has been that's perfectly manageable. What isn't perfectly manageable is what happens when the bomb goes off and somebody finds out that you've been deceiving them.
See if I can have an intimate relation, what I think is an intimate relationship with you.
And then I find out that you've been able to hold back from me and deceive me, that you are not who I think you are.
Just think about how that message, the safety in the relist, it messes it, OK?
Its secrets are toxic.
And like any secret, not necessarily just an affair, like anything big that goes for any secrets. You know, we've we've worked with people who are, you know, into porn and they say, you know, I'm not telling my wife that I'm in porn. When you know what? Your wife doesn't know that you're in porn specifically, but your wife knows that your sexuality is changed. Your wife knows that you're not emotionally with her. Your wife knows that you're hiding something.
Your wife knows that you're not really engaged. Your wife knows that something's going on.
So, you know, are you really being good at keeping what do you think keeping the secret is doing for your marriage? You know, and then they say, well, if I tell my wife that she'll despise me, I say, let's talk about that fear because we're all afraid of that.
But, you know, just think how she's going to despise him if she when she finds out one year later, you know, where did that money go? Excuse me?
You took our savings and you spent it all on porn and you've been hiding this from me for eighteen months and telling me lies about where the money's gone, you know, like who are you? And people say, who are you? What if I'm asking you, who are you? I'm not going to turn around and fall into your arms and trust that you're going to catch me.
You got to be kidding. So, you know, people don't know that these things are workable. And so they hedge their bets and they try to hold out and hide.
You can't hide and dance with your partner.
Love is a dance of relationships are dance, and the emotion is the music. You know, you're playing a certain kind of music when you're hiding just messes the dance. You just you just can't hide and be open and accessible and responsive is impossible.
So our hypothetical couple now has kids. They've gone through an affair. They've healed. Hmm.
There seems to be a cohort of people, I would say between thirty five and forty five that are.
Vastly dissatisfied with their marriage or their situation at home. Oh, I don't. What's your question?
I'm still continued. Oh, and so I don't find that surprising at all.
We why not? Because we don't understand anything about relationships. We don't. People say monogamy doesn't work. I say, you're kidding. We haven't given it a chance. We don't know how to do it. Not only that, but by the way, even though we don't know how to do it and we don't know how to do it well, and we never get anyone to help us with that task. And it's amazing the absorbing task. The interesting thing is that most of us hang in and fight for it.
Because it's damned important and we know how important this bond is. That's why. So even when it isn't really working, we'll hang on to it until we absolutely have to let go. We've haven't known how to do it. People are vastly dissatisfied because they don't understand anything about the things I'm talking about. So what should they do?
I mean, that's sort of the question here is like if you're in this. This.
The sort of grouping will say 35 to 45, you have kids, maybe no kids, but you're in a relationship and you've been in that relationship for maybe, you know, five years, maybe 15 years. How do you approach deciding that you want to leave that relationship?
Like, what are the variables you think of it or what are the variables that you think about for like how do I help this relationship?
Like, how do you how do you go?
Let's start with how do you understand where you're at? Yeah. And now you have to the point here is I'm going to be very focused on my own work because because because I feel like that's what I know.
Right. So if you're seriously asking me that, I mean, first of all, you go and try to find out what's going on. And I'm biased. So the best way for you to do that is read Hold Me Tight, Hold Me Tight is selling as well now as it did when it first came out. It's generating all kinds of relationship programs for different kinds of couples. It's the result of years and years and years of research. You know, I don't think I'm being completely egotistical by saying there's nothing out there like it.
I know there isn't. Right. And and that's because we've worked so hard to create it. Right. So you have to understand, you have to be motivated enough to understand what's going on. If you find it so aversive, you don't even want to look at what's going on, then your relationships are going to continue to unravel. Right. And you wake up one day and say, I don't know who this person is. They're a stranger in my bed or I don't want to be this person's partner.
And you don't even know how you got there. But people are going and reading, hold me tight. They're going to relationship programs. They're going we have I was talking to you at coffee that we have a hold me tight online course now, which we've just created. And, you know, I mean, we have research on our hold me tight groups, by the way. We have research on everything we do. We have two studies on Hold Me Tight groups and the study.
The outcomes are really good.
OK, so we're not the usual program that you see where it teaches you a few relationship skills and you pay a lot of money and you don't get anything out of it. We're not in that game. We make a difference to people. Right? So you learn about relationships. You go to you, you do a whole me tie online course with your partner. You go to your partner. First of all, the same what's happening to us, it feels like we're disconnected.
I don't quite know where we are in this relationship. I don't know where you are. I don't know. You know, we used to have such great times together. What's happening to us. You have to be willing to take the risk to talk about it if you're just avoiding it.
And some people, that's what they do with problems. Avoidance is a lousy strategy with emotional problems. I'm not just talking about marriage. I'm talking about anything. Depression, anxiety. It's lousy strategy, OK? It's it's it sets you up. You never face the problem. So you never have any new corrective experiences to change the problem. And you get more and more sensitive to what it is you're avoiding more and more vigilant.
It's just it's it's a terrible strategy for any emotional problem, OK? A relationship problem.
But people believe the stuff out there that says, oh, well, you know, after a few years of marriage, this is the way it is. You can't expect very much are all relationships and monogamy is impossible. All Oh, well, you know, people believe all this rubbish that's out there in the papers written by journalists. Right. And so they feel pessimistic and they don't know what to do and they feel like failures. And so they avoid they try to just stay superficial.
Well, that's that's just going to end up with, you know, your relationships going to just die because it's not being fed at all.
So the star is to admit what and talk to your partner what's happening and then go and get some relationship education. If you don't want to do hold me tight or our programs. There's relationships out there, skill programs. Personally, I don't think skill programs is the way to go because you can't use all these skill programs.
Just for clarification is when you go see a couples communication skills, the tools that you need to, well, they give you communication skills.
The trouble is with communication skills that you can't all the evidence, all the research says you can't use them when you need them. Right. I mean, I'm pretty good at all this stuff, but when I'm having a fight with my partner, I don't use all my skills. It's my megaliths in control, not my prefrontal cortex.
So it's you know, those skill sequences are kind of in a different channel, right? They're not we don't teach people skills, not therapy. We give them new experiences, experiences that are so powerful that they learn it, whether they like it or not, is embedded in their nervous system, in their muscle memory. They don't have to practice it for homework. If you understand, it's a different level.
So, you know. To be willing to say, oh, well, I'm going to learn about relationships, I'm going to look at what's out there, I'm going to find a program, I'm going to talk to I'm going to work at it, you know, I'm going to work at it.
I'm willing to look at it and explore it and work at it. Right. And then that's the start.
And then to find something that really helps you. And if something like, you know, an educational program like hold me tight online or in your city, there's one in nearly every city in North America. If you're in San Francisco, you can go on to nearly every week. Right.
So, you know, they're all over the place. And, you know, if that doesn't work, to go find any therapist, even go find a therapist and ask you, this is the other thing.
The public are not educated about therapy. Go find a therapist and say to the therapist, what model do you use?
What is the research behind it?
What are the outcomes? You give me something I can read about it, right?
Don't just go to any couple therapist, because the fact of the matter is, 70 percent of mental health professionals in North America say they see couples now because the demand is huge and most of those people have not been trained in couples therapy. I hate to tell you.
How do you how do you pick a couple's therapist, aside from sort of like what techniques do you use and is it evidence based? What are the other variables?
You have to feel safe with that person. And I think that's a very key variable that people don't understand about therapy. A good therapist knows how to help you feel safe and heard. And if you don't feel safe and heard, then find another therapist. A good therapist knows how to. The minute you talk to me on the phone, the minute I talk, I talk to you on the phone. As a client, my whole job is to make you feel safe.
Why would you explore different difficult places with me if you don't? If I don't help you feel safe? It's counterintuitive, but we're used to that. You know, with mental health professionals, you know, we don't even demand our doctors make us feel safe. They don't even teach doctors how to talk to people, you know, who they teach to make people feel safe. Air Canada pilots, I don't know who teaches the Air Canada pilots, but if you notice the Air Canada pilots and they speak low and slow and it's about me, they say, hi, folks, we're just going through a little bumpy piece here.
It will only last a few more minutes. I'm going to take us down to do something 30000 feet to try and give you a smooth ride. And we'll be in Houston right on time. This is your captain speaking.
What's he saying?
He's saying it's OK. I'm your big daddy in the sky. I'll take care of you. You're safe. It's a bit bumpy, but don't worry about it and listen to the way he does it. Yeah. Oh, Daddy, listen to the music he's playing. Da da da da da da da.
And the people all go, oh. OK, and they book for their candidate next time. Yeah, because they feel safe on Air Canada and you should feel safe with your therapist, you should feel safe with your doctor. You should feel safe with your dentist. As far as I'm concerned, I have learned from my own work.
I if I go to a medical practitioner, they're not listening to me and they they write me out and they are not going because you're not going to listen to the information I'm giving you. So you're not going to be a good practitioner even if you have read every book on the subject. I'm not going I have to trust you and people have to trust the therapist.
It seems fairly common that you people reach a point in a relationship where they they tune out. So maybe they have that conversation with their part.
They give and they say, you know, I need these things to change, to be in this relationship.
And then the partner or the partner sort of like starts to give them that.
And they feel sort of void about it and they've given up.
Well, what bonding science says is there's different stages of emotional connection in a relationship. And when disconnection hits and you don't feel safely connected to somebody, you often you start to protest or you start to say, where are you? Where are you? And if that doesn't work, you up the ante usually and you either up the ante or you start to space out because it's too painful. Right.
And if the spacing out, all the upping the ante doesn't work for long enough, it becomes really painful and aversive and the relationship becomes a source of danger rather than a source of safety and support. And then people have different thresholds.
Right. Some people can numb that out for a long time until some big crisis hits.
Makes the obvious. Yeah. Then they can't ignore anymore. But retirement's one of those, by the way.
But, you know, they can numb it out for a long time, but it often it gets to the place where they can't numb it out anymore. They and what I get they Carnamah is that they're alone. They're alone in a relationship which drives people crazy.
They're in a relationship with their.
We can't deal with that paradox. Right.
How long is the connection are turned on? You're around all the time, but you're not emotionally available.
It drives me crazy. It's a crazy making situation. So then people tune into their emotions and they realize they've numbed out years ago and they've given up years ago and actually. They're not willing to take any more risk, they're not willing to invest, they're not they've left, they've detached. And what should they do?
Be honest about it. They detached, can you reattach at that point or is it too far gone?
Well, this is an interesting question and it comes up with therapists and therapists. Never want to hear my answer. No, you can't.
Relationships are a live organism. There are living relational system. And, you know, there's a certain point where, you know, you can't breathe life into it.
So let's back up for one second then. What are the warning signs that you're approaching that so that if anybody's listening before they reach this detachment where you can't reconnect, what are the trigger like?
What are the flares that they should be watching when you you can't find your longing for your partner, when you've stopped being upset or agitated by the fact that your partner isn't available to you when you've turned away to other things in your life for support and caring, when you know you know, when you don't feel you're starting to lose that need to emotionally connect with them. When you realize that, when you think about them, you don't get any response from your nervous system.
You don't get any emotional comfort. You've stopped looking to them for support and comfort and you've stopped putting them into that important place in your life where they matter more than anybody else. And you realize that you're starting to withdraw and shut down. And, you know, people have been protesting a long time. They start to burn out. That's the way I see it.
Where are you? Where are you? Are you. Where are you? After a few years, it's like I can't bear this anymore. I get depressed, I go into despair, and then I give up. And actually giving up feels like a relief because I'm exhausted and I'm burnt out with saying, are you going to talk to me? Are you going? And then they get burnt out and there's a if they come in right when they're burned out, we work with them and they can start to re-engage.
But it's it takes time and the other partner has to work at it. Right. But there's a certain point where they won't re-engage. It's like you your emotions have a reality. They have a structure. And there's a certain point where you you just won't invest. You can still be friends. You can still care about the person. But you're not going to do give this investment. You're not going to risk in the way you have. Right.
There's just no motivation for it. It's like you've gone into detachment and you can't turn around and walk back.
You know, if you look at long term, if you look at the relationship between Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, you could say here that they they divorced and remarried, they divorced. And people say, oh, there you are. You see, can't you reattach? They were never unattached.
They the problem with that relationship was they had a third person in the relationship all the time. It was called alcohol. And Richard Burton was completely he was a cold Welsh coal miner's son. And he was completely addicted to alcohol. And it was a competing attachment. He kept choosing alcohol over his and their relationship would hit a wall and they'd fight to get it back and their relationship would hit a wall and they'd separate. But the evidence is if you read the book on their relationship, they never really separated.
In fact, apparently it says in the book that Richard Burton was married to somebody else. And in the few days before he died, he wrote a letter and he said, could I please come home now? And that when she died after numerous husbands, she asked to be buried next to him. Her family didn't respect that wish, but that couple could not be together because they wounded each other so much. A lot of it was that there was a third being in and they could not separate either.
That's a very particular kind of relationship. They never detached, they couldn't detach and they couldn't stay together. Right.
But for most people who aren't Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, you know, they do detach after a while and you don't go back. You just don't you find someone else to invest in where you can have that longing and that hope.
One of the byproducts, I think, of being divorced is I have a lot of friends come and openly talk to me about their relationships. Yes. And their struggles. And it's really interesting that one common theme that sort of emerges amongst people is it's too good to leave, but not good enough to stay.
Then my response to that would be, if it's too good to leave, then turn around and walk into it and talk to your partner and go do something about it. You can shape it, you can heal it, go do something about it, find out what's blocking it, find out what's getting wrong. Look at the way you dance together. Look at the dance between the two of you. Don't get into the blame game. That's a waste of time.
It's your fault, though. It's your fault. You know what? Here's where we are.
It's the way. Yes, he here's where we are. This is how our dance ends up. We are both dancing. Here's where we are. Let's look at the dance. Right. Let's understand. It's the dance recording that's destroying our feelings for each other. It's not because you're bad or I'm bad or nobody has to be the bad guy here. Most of us are dancing a dance that we don't understand, that nobody's helped us understand and we don't know how to move in the dance basically at key moments of vulnerability.
We don't know how to do it. So we do it all wrong. That's right.
So, you know, but but if we love each other. Interesting piece of research. Nifty. There was one study that looked at predictors of success in left.
And everyone I know, if you asked every couple therapist, including some researchers, what's the best predictor of Web couples are at the end of couples therapy. They tell you how distressed they are when they come in. That's not true. They left the research, said it doesn't matter how distressed you are when you come in, if you're still invested, if you're still willing to work, it matters how engaged you get in working on your relationship, if you're willing to work on it and you seek out somebody who can really help you, a relationship consultant, because that's what a nifty therapist is.
And you read Hold me tight.
You can work on your relationship. You can't heal every relationship. But we have a damn good record.
And if you're not willing to work on it, I would imagine that there's an obligation in decency to acknowledge that to your partner.
So you're not doing it. We don't want to hurt our partner, but you're not doing your partner any favors by not showing up in the relationship and then trying to hide the fact that you've actually left. You're really not doing your partner any favors. You know, it's going to hurt them either way. They're hurting anyway because they know you're not engaged. So whether you're going to hurt them is irrelevant.
They're a negative relationship. They're hurting anyway.
And you're not helping them by by by fudging it. Right.
If you can't show up in the relationship and you respect your partner, you tell them.
And the other two major transitions that sort of seem to happen are kids move out an empty nest and we retire. Can you walk me through how those affect the empty nest is a really interesting one.
And the divorce rates have gone up for that group.
And it's interesting because the divorce is usually initiated by the woman, it seems. I think that's a very interesting one, because as one of my people in the hold me tight tapes that I share and hold me tight group said, lovely lady. I said, what is the dance that you and your husband are courting?
She said, I call it the nothing. I said, you call it the nothing said yes. I call it the nothing, because basically we always have problems in our relationship. We could never really talk to each other very well. But we had good sex and we loved our children and we were wonderful parents.
And we had this joint project called Our Children and Our Children. We spent all the time and energy in our children and this was a connection for us.
And then our last daughter went away to college and we found that we had nothing. My husband, who developed erectile dysfunction, suddenly we had nothing. And so then I tried to I would I would try to talk to him about it. And I'm sure and I'm not as fast as him and I'm not as clever as him and I don't have the words. And he talks very fast and it overwhelms me. So I try to talk about it and it wouldn't work.
And so I bang things around in the kitchen and he'd come upstairs from his office and he'd say to me, what's wrong? And I'd say, nothing, nothing.
And he'd say, Why would you never talk to me? And she'd say, No, no, really, it's nothing.
And and then he'd turn around and walk away from me. Listen, it's about separation. Walk away from me. And I'd say to myself, we have nothing. I'm alone. We have nothing. So I call our cycle and the police were caught in the nothing.
I said, wow, you know, that's pretty amazing that. And that lady shifts in just the hold me tight educational program. She shifts. You wouldn't recognize her a few conversations later. She's she said all this in a very shy, hesitant voice. I'm not doing it the way she did it. OK, she turns up a few sessions later like she's she's totally different. She feels like her. She understands her emotions. She can express them.
She can tell him to slow down. She can ask for what she needs. She shifts you, shifts a sense of self and how she can dance with her partner.
But, you know, that's where people go. And sometimes it hijacks them. It's like they're focusing on, oh, well, we still make love and oh, well, you know, I like being his wife and oh, well, we have our children. And then suddenly the children are gone.
We don't know how to have conversations. We're not used to spend any time together. Oh, we have conversations and suddenly we don't know how to talk to each. Oh we don't really feel close. So I don't really desire. Oh well wait a minute. I feel closer to my sister. Oh, what happened?
And then it really matters what you do next. Do you turn and deal with it with your partner or do you try and fudge it? And the best you do when you forget is you live together as strangers for the rest of your lives. That's very bad for you mentally and physically. It's bad for your physical health.
But for anything else, I have this theory. It's not based on any science whatsoever, just anecdotal evidence on the school ground, which is ring seem to come off at milestones of independence for kids as the kids become more independent to the kids. First, go to school. That's like the first wave of sort of wedding rings that come off. Then the kids hit grade seven and that's another sort of like wave of rings. Coming up, I get my theory and you can please feel free to critique this.
The is basically you're attached to somebody. You have children. Everything in the relationship becomes about the children.
Yeah. So it becomes almost transactional. You lose touch of the bond, your connection with the person. Yeah. And then the kids get more independent and then all of a sudden you have more time together and you start talking and you realize like there's nothing there. That's right.
And you haven't maintained that connection or perhaps you've even lost it and you can't rekindle it.
That's right. I think that does happen. And, you know, I think what you said is interesting, which is that in a way, you've been avoiding each other for years because you focused on the task of parenting and you haven't paid attention to your relationship.
Relationships are live things, their lives, moving organisms, and they're like every other live thing. If you starve them of attention and ignore them and leave them on the shelf for years, then you turn around, try to pick them off the show. Well, I'm sorry, but they've shriveled and died. Yeah.
And so my uncle, I just here's an interesting story. When my ex and I get divorced and we told people most people were really surprised and because from the outside looking in, we had this great sort of relationship with the inside out. I mean, we had been couples therapy for a while and things weren't great. And then I told everybody and my uncle, I really like the hundred people. I told he was the only person who said, oh, I saw that coming.
And I said, Really?
That's fascinating because because everybody else I've told is, yes. You know, what did he say? And he said, I have this theory about relationships that I can predict a couples happiness together in their bond. He didn't use the word bond.
They use it in the context of this conversation.
And he said, well, here's what happened. He's like, you come over to my house. We used to go over to my uncle's house quite often. He's like the first time, you know, you don't talk together.
You don't ask each other any opinions. I mean, you're talking, but it's all transactional.
It's all like, who's going to change the diaper? He's going to take the kid here. He's going to do that.
He's going to talk business and content.
And he's like the first time that happens, I kind of think nothing of it, but he's like the second, third, fourth, fifth time you come to my house four or five times and you've done nothing but that. He's like, I think that there's no connection there. There's nothing left between you. It's sort of. That's right. And he's like, that's why it didn't surprise me. And ever since then, it's really interesting because I've used this heuristic with my friends.
And so I will approach my friends and I'll be like, what's going on in your relationship? And some of my guy friends are like, Oh, nothing. And I'll be like, no, what's going on in your relationship?
And then they'll be like, what do you know?
And I'll be like, I don't know anything, but I know something's up. And they'll be like, How do you know something's up? And I'll be like, Well, I've seen you guys together a few times. And it's this sort of thing that leads me to believe that everything's not OK, am I right?
And then they'll often open up about some of the struggles in their.
And I think part of the issue is people or maybe therapists, certainly this is true, they get fixated on conflict and how conflict is aversive and distance slips by them.
Yeah. And they start to normalize it.
And actually, from an attachment point of view, it's distance that's the virus disconnected the lines.
But we all get caught and people say, so would you have a happy relationship? We don't fight. Oh, I hear that all the time. We don't fight.
Yeah, I know. But do you have a happy relationship? It's not the same. You know what it's like. Well, we can peacefully live. And the tricky part is that for some of us, depending on how we've grown up, you know, my parents fought to the death constantly. Yeah, mine too.
And I all I knew was I did. I remember saying to my granny, whatever that is, I'm not doing it. I'm not I'm not doing that. Right. And and so, you know, I saw the conflict.
Right. And we focus on conflict and therapist, focus on conflict, teach you how to fight fair and fighting fair is rubbish.
OK, it's like it's irrelevant.
It's you know, it's it's so, you know, and we don't look at what's going on underneath, which is lack of emotional connection, you know, this incredible distance in a relationship that's designed for closeness and connection and sharing.
And we're not very good and we don't know what to do with that.
We don't know what to do with which.
Some of us don't even know how to begin an accessible, you know, open, responsive conversation. We don't know how to begin it.
So we don't if you're in a relationship with somebody and you have kids, how much of a priority should that relationship with your spouse be? Should it be over the kids or.
I don't know about over what I say to people is the very best thing you can do for your kids is create a safe parental alliance, is share with each other. Parenting is hard work, especially you can do it well. Difficult to do alone. Almost impossible to do. If you're fighting with your partner, you're in a danger zone. So you know, the best thing you can do for your kids is have a good relationship and have a relationship.
We support each other as parents. That's the very best thing you can do. So from my point of view, it's a real mistake. And often people are avoiding their relationship by turning to the kids. The and it's the safe place for them to interact. They can interact as parents. Right.
But but, you know, in the end, your kids are going they're going to grow up and leave one day. And, you know, parenting is a good parenting is a moving target. I mean, my experience of being a parent is I just figure out how to do it and then my kid would change.
Yeah. You know, I knew how to parent my son when he was a delicious little boy. I knew it was so easy. It was easy.
And then suddenly, who is this pompous, entitled adolescent like him?
I'm like, oh, my God, he's talking to me like I'm his servant. And I'm what happened to my wonderful, cuddly little son?
Well, he's changed, so, you know, and now he totally ticks me off. You're so. Oh, all right. This is a different thing. So it helped me tremendously to go to be able to go to my husband and say, I don't want to empathize with him.
I want to kill him, you know, a lot like, you know. Oh, like he's the most outrageous I've met, you know, who does he think he is?
Like my husband say, yup, yup. Sweetie, that's a hard one. And yeah, I know. And I see you and I know how hard you're trying and yeah, I get mad too with him and. Yeah. And well I said, well you're a guy, what's happening with him. And he said, oh well you know, he's just changed friends at school. He's in a new group and you know, the friends in his new group are all cool.
And he's he's if you watch him, he's doing the cool thing is Mr. Cool, you know.
And what's cool is to tell your parents how boring and old fashioned and where they are and would could you please and could they also please by your car?
I thought he would join those two things. Right. But I didn't see anything wrong with proving to us that we were the most boring parents ever owned, by the way, because they bought me a car.
You wouldn't be the most. Exactly. And by the way, all my friends, didn't you see that my best friend, her mother, bought her a car? I thought, well, it's really interesting. I'm not buying you a car. Well, then you're the worst. You know, it's it's hard to be a parent.
And if you have the support, it really matters. But I must say, I think it's a a tricky trap to get into by always putting your children first and always your children. The best thing you can give your children is parents who know how to support each other and stand together and help each other. Not only that, but you give you what you give your children even something more valuable. By doing that, you give your children a vision of what a good relationship looks like and that can guide them for the rest of their lives.
Yeah, I like that a lot. The last phase that I want to sort of talk about is retirement. But I'm going to kick this off of the story about my parents.
Hopefully they're not listening, but when they retire, that's a huge transition. They suddenly went from spending maybe four or five hours a day together to spending a ton of time together.
Yes. And at least with my parents, their experience lasted about three weeks before they went and got jobs, part time jobs, because they were driving each other insane.
And this is sort of like learning to deal.
Yes, but that's a huge transition from a couples point of view.
So the kids it is a huge transition. And I think it's I personally I think it's an issue. And maybe this is because I have personal things here. I'm at the point in my life where people keep asking me if I'm going to retire and I feel like poking them in the eye.
You know, it really annoys me, OK, because I am what I do. I love what I do. And I hope that I'm going to be doing what I do on the day before I die. And retirement, from my point of view, is like is asking me, you know, when am I going to give up doing this thing that really matters to me. It's like buzz off. It really it really annoys me.
But I think that's a whole issue with retirement. We our life span is changing.
We're no longer old at 65 and our expectations are changing.
And I think we need to look at the whole idea of retirement. We might stop what we've been doing for years to make money. I don't do what I do to make money. I'm very privileged. I do what I do out of passion. Right. And I'm privileged there. But we might start what we do to make money. But I think we need a different model of growing old. I think we need a different model of aging.
And we need to be able to say, if you're intelligent, vibrant human being doing deciding to play golf every day at the age of 65.
Are you kidding? Well, you've got something to contribute. You've you've learned all kinds of skills. You've, you know, like no society need you. If you don't like what you've been doing to make money, find something you're good at and contribute and be out there in the world, you know. And so I'm with your parents. I think, you know, you you can't get every single thing you need from a relationship. You don't have anything to bring into the relationship.
Right. It's like. I think that's important, but I think that's more of a model about retirement than it is about, than it is about marriage, but yeah, it's about transitions. And if people have a secure bond, they can manage those transitions because they're open and they can look at them together when they don't have the secure bond. Those transitions exacerbate all the distance, but the flaws, the distance and the cracks.
Yeah. Yeah. Is there any any advice you have for couples to talk to their kids, their relationships, unlike other than my.
I'm not I don't think that's what you talk to them about that matters. I think what you show them is what you show them, how you treat them and what you show them with your partner.
That's what impacts kids. You can talk to them for hours. It doesn't. It doesn't. It doesn't matter. It's how you treat them, whether you help them understand bonding from the way you treat them, whether you help them understand their emotions or teach them that their emotions are to be hidden and not acceptable and something they're just supposed to get over. And it's how you show them how to relate, you know, I mean, my kids have seen me fight with my husband and and make up.
I think that's very important.
I think my kids, some people say, oh, he was never fine. Well, you're right. It's not a good idea to have huge conflicts all the time in front of your kids. Indeed, the researchers, that's not good for them. It freaks them out. But, you know, I feel like there's something very healthy about my kids have seen me and my husband really disagree and challenge each other.
And then they see us come back together and company resolve it.
And I think that Matt well, I know I watch my son with his partner, and I know that it's impacted him from watching us because, you know, he doesn't catastrophizing when when something goes wrong in his relationship, it impacts him. But he he it's work.
He's it's workable. He's seen that it's workable.
Right. That that's really important.
Certainly other relationships are of advice that you want to give before we wrap this up.
We've been talking for a long time. I know now I just want people to know that there is a science of love, that science has changed our world in so many ways. You know, there's a science of how to take care of your teeth. There's a science of, you know, almost everything these days. You know, there's a science of love and relationships, too. And I want people to know it exists and I want people to know the promise of it.
And it's out there.
But it's it's not something that anybody's making a huge amount of money from. So it's not marketed in front of The New York Times or in the magazines and things that are marketed big distractions like porn.
The porn industry isn't interested in my message, you know, because I say that was just a trap. It's going down the rabbit hole. It's not going to meet your needs in the end. You know, it's it's right. It's making somebody.
So this isn't this isn't highly marketable from the point of view of capitalism. So it's a hard message to get out in some ways. One lady from The New York Times told me, I said, would you please tell me why isn't why you put this rubbish all over The New York Times about relationships, sensational rubbish. Could you please tell me why you don't think of putting all over your paper? We've cracked the code of love. We know how to do this now.
We need to educate everybody about it. This is amazing. And she said there's a long silence.
And basically she said, well, it's not sensational enough. I said, are you joking? And then she said, well, I people think it's just common sense. And I said, yeah, it's like common sense. Like everyone understands gravity. We understand it on the level of stuff falls down. Nobody and but without understanding gravity, where would we be? We wouldn't understand. Like, are you kidding me?
You know, what I felt like saying was it's because you have a lousy paper. But I didn't I said I said I felt like saying it's because you're not community orientated.
But I didn't.
I just said, well, there you go. You know, like, I don't want to write this stupid article you want me to write because it's a waste of time.
But, you know, it's people need to know. You can shape your love relationships, relationships make sense, there's a deep logic behind our emotions.
This is about biology. OK, there's a deep logic behind our emotions.
There's a deep logic behind our needs. What you understand, you can shape, you can shape relationships. And I want people to know that.
And I ideally, before I die, I would like relationship education to be the norm in Canadian schools.
I'd like the prime minister of Canada hope he's listening to ask me if I would freely donate my online hold me tight program to the government so they could make it available to everyone. And if that happened, I would fall on the floor and I don't know what I'd do.
But like we have to tell people about this. This is ridiculous. We'll see if we can make that up.
I think he's a bit busy.
I think he's rather conservative, you know, but but, you know, it's like the promise of this is so huge. It takes my breath away my work. And that's why I'm still passionate about it. And people are all over the world passionate about it. You know, we we train 3000 mental health professionals a year in North America. And our four day trainings, we were in all the universities. We are still doing research. We're in we're in.
We have 70 centres around the world. We're paddling as hard as we can to tell people about this. It has promise for mental health. It has promise for physical health. It has promise for our families, for our relationships, or about to millions of people.
So for you.
Well, I'm glad because that's why I'm talking to you, because this is something that people everybody needs to know about that the just on the level of, hey, you know what? We could create more secure families for our kids. Wow. Even if you just stop there. Are you kidding?
Yeah, I think that's a great place to win this up. Thank you so much to you. This has been phenomenal. You are most welcome.
Thank you for travelling right across Canada to sit and talk with me.
And. Hey, guys, this is Shane again, just a few more things before we wrap up. You can find show notes at Farnam Street blog, dot com slash podcast. That's fair. And I am s t r e t blog, dot com slash podcast. You can also find information there on how to get a transcript.
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