Dating During Coronavirus

Dating During Coronavirus

Dating During Coronavirus

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Dating During Coronavirus

None of us are quite the same people we were in March 2020. If you’re like most of my counseling and dating coaching clients, the pandemic has changed the ways you work and live, and put you into contact with new truths about who you really are. 

For anyone on the quest to find love during COVID, all of this newfound self-awareness is bound to bubble up in your dating life. Maybe you’ve gained clarity about what you’re looking for in a partner, or where the edges of your sexuality actually lie, or what it would mean to show up as your true, authentic self with everyone you meet. 

If so, I’m so excited to share this episode of the podcast with you. My guest is Damona Hoffman, a celebrity matchmaker, relationship expert, and the official dating coach for OkCupid. Damona has not only been reflecting on how the pandemic has changed the dating landscape, she’s been researching it extensively using online dating data. Her findings offer some eye-opening insight for anyone looking for love. 

Join us for fascinating tidbits about 2021 dating trends, alongside timeless advice for making a meaningful connection. You can listen right on this page, or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. And while you’re there, I hope you’ll subscribe! 

Wishing you peace and true love in the new year, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby 

Dating During Coronavirus

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Dating During Coronavirus: Episode Highlights

Since the onset of the pandemic, data shows that people are doing more pre-screening before a first date. Singles seem to be thinking long and hard before meeting up with a stranger who could give them a deadly illness, feeling them out not only for COVID conscientiousness, but for compatibility. 

After all, a bad date never feels worth it, but a bad date that puts you at risk feels especially not-worth-it. 

Dating in 2021

Many people have given their love lives an overhaul during the pandemic, ending relationships, entering new ones, and opening themselves up to new dynamics. Throuples are on the rise, data shows, as are mentions of bedroom preferences in dating profiles. 

Thanks to ample time for self-reflection, many people seem to have new clarity about their relationship goals, what they want in a partner, and what they want in their sex lives

Dating As Your Authentic Self

Being your true self, and being vulnerable enough to share your truth with other people, has always been the backbone of successful dating. 

But many people make the mistake of putting forward an idealized version of themselves on dates. This is an understandable impulse, but it’s self-defeating for anyone looking for true love. Wearing a mask is the antithesis of emotional intimacy, which is the real key to building a loving relationship. 

The Myths of Modern Dating

Too often, we focus on finding our ideal partner, rather than on creating meaningful relationships with the actual people in our dating lives. 

In reality, we are lovable because we are loving. You can’t wait for love to find you, you have to create it with the real people you meet. 

Empathetic Dating

One downside of the rise of online dating is an uptick in appalling behavior. Ghosting, breadcrumbing, and stringing people along while you search for a “better” match have become all-too-easy thanks to dating apps. 

When we rise above these deplorable trends and date with empathy and compassion, we’re “living in the light,” and safeguarding our integrity. It’s a remarkably effective way to build self-love and self-respect — two very attractive assets in a mate. 

Interracial Dating 

Online dating data also offers a wealth of insight about interracial dating. Unfortunately, the racial biases that shows up throughout our society are visible here. 

Even equating racial dating preferences with racial bias is wildly inflammatory, many people feel. But the takeaway isn’t so much that we should or shouldn’t dismantle our tendencies to date one race or another, but that we should examine these preferences and get curious about where they’re coming from, rather than accepting them as a given. 

Dating During Coronavirus

For anyone dating during coronavirus, some good news: There are millions of single people who’ve used the trauma of the pandemic as a springboard for growth, exploration, and heart-opening self-reflection. 

Millions of them are dusting off their profiles and getting back out there now, ready to build a meaningful connection with someone like you. 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: My guest today on the podcast is Damona Hoffman. She is a celebrity matchmaker, relationship expert, the official dating coach for OkCupid and the host of the dates and mates podcast. Her dating advice has been featured on the drew Barrymore show, NPR, A&E, the WashingtonPost, the LA Times. And now she's here talking to you. Hello Damona. 

Damona Hoffman: Hello? Hello. Thanks for having me back. Yeah, I'm so excited to continue our conversation. My listeners probably know this, but I had the great privilege of speaking with Damona about a year ago about dating and relationships. And things have changed over the last year. Damona is back with fresh information about dating trends for right this very second. And I'm so excited to talk with you about this and share your insights with our listeners. 

So I know there's much to discuss. Where should we start?

Damona: So much has changed, but so much has stayed the same. Remember when we thought, I feel like last year we were really enthusiastic about the pandemic ending and new ways of dating and relationships in our lives. And we're going to get back to travel and all those things. And we've seen some of those things, but they look a little bit different than we expected. So I'm excited to be here with you today and unpack what has actually happened in 2021. And then what we can expect in 2022. 

I've been dating coaching for over 15 years. And it's interesting seeing how my predictions, even from back then have come to pass and how we've evolved so much in dating. Like I started writing dating profiles, that long ago. Yeah. So dating online was around back then, and it's crazy to me now, how much people have integrated dating apps and online dating into their life and how it's really changed the dating culture.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Even more. So you think over the last couple of years than it had been previously? 

Dating During Covid

Damona: For sure. And over the last year, especially as lockdowns and safety and health and wellness became more of a focus. And as people were still really isolated, we've seen a major trend towards people adopting dating apps, but also new ways of communicating.

Like I've always said to people, you've got to screen your dates, and before the pandemic, we were in this hyper-speed. Burnout. It was just nonstop, nonstop conversation, nonstop dating. And the process that I saw was people would go on the dating apps swipe, go right to the date. And then they're sitting there on this date going, wait a minute. I don't even want to be here with this person. What has gone wrong? 

And now we're forced. We're forced to screen, because we have to make sure before we go out with someone that they are a safe person for us to know. And then, as people were isolated or even a lot of people moved in the pandemic, and that's one of the things that I think is really actually special about this time, as horrible as it has been, it's really made us go inside and ask ourselves, are we living the life that we really want to live?

Maybe it's not in this job. Maybe it's not in the city. Maybe it's not with this person. And we're seeing a rise in divorced singles going back on dating apps. And now we have an opportunity to build the life that we really want to build. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I agree that this has been a life experience that has made everybody reflect on their values and, who am I? Why am I here? What do I want? And that positive relationships are such an important piece of that. I know that, here at Growing Self, there's a big influx. Couples, established couples, wanting to work on their relationships for a variety of reasons. And your area of expertise is really on people who are looking to establish healthy relationships.

And I know that there's been a bunch of new data coming out lately. That is really interesting what you've shared about dating trends. And I'm so curious to know more about what you've learned from your research over the last year. 

Damona: I've learned that people are finally doing the work, not your listeners. I'm sure they have always been doing the work. 

Dr. Lisa: They are here to grow, Damona. They are. 

Damona: But we're seeing everyone else's finally catching up to them. I know my Dates and Mates listeners are also always saying, here I am, I'm doing all this learning. I'm trying to, I'm trying to better myself. And yet I go out there in the dating pool and people are not at the same rate of growth that I am. But we are seeing a change in that. And we're seeing a big shift of people to dating based on values and dating based on these deeper qualities and characteristics that really line up more with long-term compatibility. 

And we're even seeing people redefine, how do they even, how are they defining their sexuality? What kind of relationship do they want? We've seen a 250% increase at OkCupid in users identifying as bisexual as compared to last year. 

Dr. Lisa: Wow. That is huge. That is a huge increase. What do you make of that? 

Damona: I think that people are figuring themselves out, they're listening to this podcast and they're allowed now to explore different parts of themselves that maybe were suppressed or maybe they just didn't even realize were attractions that they had or relationship goals.

And, we've even seen an increase in people. Saying they want non-monogamous relationships or they're looking for a throuple. It's not for me. I'm married, I'm happily married. We're coming up on 15 years. It's not my relationship goal, but I think it's wonderful if people have that option and can be transparent. 

I've seen a big trend towards people wanting authenticity on dating apps, we want a real name. We want the real age. We want verification. We want to know that people are there for the same reasons, and it's okay that there's a variety of reasons for people to be on a dating app or, just out in the dating scene. 

Dr. Lisa: Wow. Isn't that interesting, like in that, the zeitgeist of our times in many ways is one of constraints and limitations, but there is this psychological and emotional freedom that is exploding in the relationship landscape, and that people are feeling more free in other parts of their lives. That's kind of cool.

COVID Dating

Damona: It's really cool. And I think it's also driven by the pandemic. Forcing us into our homes and where we're looking at ourselves on a Zoom screen all day long, and also where you didn't have to dress the part for a lot of jobs that you used to have to go into the office for. And now it's just you in your home, your apartment, being yourself at work, at home. 

And I've even seen, like I write for the Washington Post date lab, and I interviewed a non-binary individual who we matched on a date. And they were saying to me that really, they were forced to come to terms with their own identity throughout the pandemic, because they didn't have to wear put suit and tie on to go into the office, and they could express, they can wear what they want and express their gender the way that felt most authentic to them. And when they were having to express what was appropriate for their office, they couldn't even get to that place of really understanding, who were they authentically?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Yeah I understand it. So many of us, even like subconsciously, are dressing to meet these expectations from others. And so when left entirely to your own devices of, what do I actually feel like wearing today that is only for me?  That really pushes people into contact with themselves. And it sounds like that happened with the person you were working with. That’s awesome. 

Damona: And I love encouraging people to do this in dating as well, because there's so much emphasis on what you, who you have to be to be dateable to be lovable, to feel sexy and confident. And I think we're also seeing an unraveling of that and people realizing, I've been saying this on dates and mates for years, but when you are your most authentic self, that is when you attract your authentic love. Who wants to contort themselves into knots to fit into this ideal, who wants to be a fake version of themselves and attract someone in that version, and then feel this constant pressure to live up to that ideal that isn't really attainable or sustainable for the long-term? 

So you're probably seeing this also, as you're working with couples who are unpacking that and realizing that. Some of these questions that were not asked in the beginning need to finally be unpacked. And then as we are figuring ourselves out, that makes us have to reconfigure our relationship to the person we're in partnership with.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Trying to be somebody you're not is the antithesis of true emotional intimacy. Like, how can you be known and loved for who you are if you're pretending that you're different when you're first meeting people and, I think, have the courage to be authentic from the get go. And that is going to, I think, nicely limit the people who are attracted to you, which is a good thing, because if somebody really wants to be with this idealized version of you, that is not going to be a good person for you. And I feel like it's so deeply ingrained in our society that sometimes we're not even aware of it.

Dating in 2021

Damona: When we turn on this attraction magnet and step into this other version of ourselves, I think sometimes we're not even aware of it. So that's been another lesson of 2021 as we go deeper into ourselves. 

And, I don't know how colorful we can get on this podcast, but even sexually, we've seen that people learned what they like more in the pandemic. There's been more self-exploration. I'll let you read between the lines what I mean. And it's, we're seeing it, it's coming out in dating that people are saying that they are kinky, that there has been an increase in BDSM mentions in female users’ profiles. 

And I just love this idea of women taking ownership of their sexuality as well. And saying, I'm not going to be ashamed. Let's stop with the sex shaming and like the, all of these ideals that have been passed down to us from generation to generation. And get our needs met. Be our authentic selves. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, definitely. What a nice reframe, when left to your own devices, it’s just the raising of awareness again, of, what do I actually like and how do I advocate for myself going forward?

Damona: That's huge and it's important to do, and it's really hard to do, but this is just such a time of exploration. That's really what we're seeing in OKCupid. People are now waking up to this realization that you control your own destiny. If you want to try something different, you want to date a different gender, you want to try something different in the bedroom, you better speak up and you better try it. Now is the time. Now is the time, now is the time. And I'm seeing this also among my Dates and Mates  listeners that are in couples. They're now being brave and asking for what they want in the bedroom and asking for even the emotional intimacy from their partners.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. That's where it gets real. So there's tons of interesting research coming out of your OkCupid project. And I wonder if it is okay to ask you about the new book that you're working on. Can we talk about that or is that, are you not ready to? 

Damona: It's probably not going to be out until 2024. So it's not long. 

Dr. Lisa: I hear you loudly. We have ambitious goals. Don't we? 

Damona: Yes. Look, it's not my date, my publisher's date, but we'll see. It's called the “Modern Love Myth.” Fix it. It's basically, heal your broken beliefs, fix your broken heart. So it's a chance for us to look at all of those things that are on the list, things that we thought we needed in a partner even a year or two years ago, remember way back then? I know it feels like a lifetime ago, but it's really about this moment that we've been talking about and a chance for us to unpack those things. 

And the last time we talked, we were discussing interracial dating. I'm the product of an interracial, interfaith marriage. I also have a very diverse family background. My stepmother is Mexican American. My sister-in-law is Indian American. Her parents had an arranged marriage in India and moved to the United States. My family tree is literally the United Nations. And I really feel like my life has been enriched by that. And as  I seek out more experiences where I can be culturally educated and have my worldview expanded, I think this is also a unique time in history, where we have access to new people, new communities, through dating apps. Through social media, all of these tools, these technology tools that weren't even available when I met my husband 18 years ago, now allow us to expand our dating circle to ask the question, is this the most convenient match for me, or my ideal match? Is this someone with whom I share values and goals for the future? Is this someone that I can communicate with? Is this someone I can build trust with? 

Because we look back just a few generations ago, and most marriages were either out of convenience or out of financial necessity. So if those two things are not a factor for you. Speaking to your listeners right now, if those are not a factor for you, how would you date or relate to your partner differently?

Dr. Lisa: Yes. That if, again, you can really do anything you want and you have access to the entire world. And I love what you're saying. Like you grew up, I think appreciating not just diversity in terms of backgrounds, but like a diversity of thought. That is so enriching, like different perspectives and different ideas.

But also you're saying that there are so many commonalities that transcend background, values, life goals. And one of the things that I really wanted to talk with you more about after our last conversation are issues related to interracial relationships, interracial dating. Because we didn't have a ton of time to go there, and I'm really wanting to talk more about your research into this.

Interracial Dating

I know that you wrote, and it is just an amazing piece for the Washington Post a while back, where you are looking at research in and around dating. And I actually, if it's okay, pulled up a couple pieces of this, one of the the points that you raised was that people, white people essentially, we're not indicating that racial bias or racial preference was very important to them, but that when you saw the outcomes in terms of who was being reached out to on some of these platforms, there was a real difference.

And the gist of the article was around how racial preference and racial bias does emerge in dating, particularly online dating, and how that impacts people. And I'm just, I'm wondering if you, if we could talk a little bit more about that today, because I think for so many of our listeners, we have a very diverse audience, a diverse practice, and a lot of couples in interracial relationships, these relationhips have so many strengths and beautiful aspects, but there are some differences that I think need to be acknowledged. And I think these differences begin to emerge even when dating. 

Damona: Oh, there's so much to unpack, so much to unpack. Yeah. So that is a long standing trend that people will, say, if I believe black lives matter. And we're seeing also on OkCupid, there's been a huge shift towards values and people like we have a Black Lives Matter badge that you can get from answering one of our managing questions. So you can telegraph out your values and people are choosing to do that.

So there's a difference though, between, I support Black Lives Matter. I believe myself to be open-minded, fair. And I believe in equity and the actions I've taken are in alignment with that. And I find that sometimes people are not even aware of the ways our subtle bias shows up in our daily life and in our daily choices.

So, what you're referring to is actually based on some older OkCupid data that showed people would say they would not date someone who exhibited racial bias. And yet, when they looked at the data, they saw that people would predominantly match with people of their same race. And it's shifted, that data is about 10 years old, but it’s still really impactful.

I see it deeply impacting, particularly the black women who listened to Dates and Mates and who are in my client base because they really feel unseen a lot of the time. And they feel that they're overlooked because of the way that people search, where they will strategically eliminate certain races.

And so that's what the Washington Post article was saying. If you eliminate a particular race or will only date someone of your same race, does that mean you are exhibiting racial bias, or is that just a dating preference? And it's really interesting to me how so many people, I got a lot of positive feedback, a lot of the comments that you'll see on the page and that article saw five times the normal readership for that column. And we had to shut down comments at the Washington Post on it for 48 hours, because it was getting so inflamed, but people were so incensed to just be asked the question, if I make this choice, is this an example of racial bias? And I think that kind of knee-jerk reaction does absolutely nothing for us generating an equitable society. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. It doesn't. The question is, okay, if we want to frame this as a dating preference, where does that come from? And I think that's this blank space, particularly for a lot of white people, is this sort of absence of felt ethnicity, but that really is this inherited racial hierarchy about what do I like and what do I want. 

And that kind of mental organization that is largely outside the consciousness of a lot of white people. And it shows up through behaviors. It's at the core of so many of our behaviors and it's impossible to move past it if we're unwilling to examine it.

Damona: What I was doing with the article was asking people to ask the questions of themselves. Like I talked about this “five whys” technique that I use with my clients to really get to the core of their true dating and relationship beliefs and why they have them. And the problem is that the more you start unpacking that, the more uncomfortable choices that you're going to be faced with, the more uncomfortable realities you'll have to examine. And I know that's tough for people, but I feel like it's important to ask the questions because, if we don't ask them, especially now, we don't ask why, how are we actually going to grow? 

And so it's not that I was saying with the article, which I think some people misunderstood, like everyone should be dating all ethnicities. That wasn't quite what I was saying. I would love to have my clients just date, race open, but we have to be willing to do the work. So I was just suggesting, let's see where that comes from. 

You don't have any non-white friends in your friend circle. If you really were to examine it, let's look at your friend group. Look at your 10 closest friends. How many people of color are in that group? Oh, I don't have many or maybe I only have one. So if we go back a step, why? Because I didn't meet anyone at my church, at my school, in my neighborhood. And then we unpack and we say, why is that? 

Because even in the neighborhood that I live in Los Angeles, I'm a member of the trustees board of the historical society of my neighborhood. And there's some information that's in our history. That's a part of our history that people don't really want to look at. Nat king Cole lived in my neighborhood. He had a cross burned on his lawn. Not that long ago, not that long ago.

And so we can't look at the history and be like, let's just look at the pretty houses, let's look at the cultural institutions, without examining how that happened there. If you look at the actual guidelines of your neighborhood, your residential area, a lot of them were built in with the premise. You cannot sell this house to a black person. It's still in many of the rules, even though now we ignore it. It's still there. 

So we’ve got to look at where that came from, why we haven't integrated neighborhoods still to this day. There's a lot of segregation because red lining prevented people of color from owning homes that would help build generational wealth for their families. And it's uncomfortable, it's really uncomfortable. It's very ugly. 

I can see it from both sides as someone who has a white parent and a Black parent. So I'm not up on a pedestal, saying I figured it all out and I'm above all of this. I am in it with all of us, trying to unpack that and come to terms with it so that we can actually move forward and take ownership of our choices and not continue to make the same kind of decisions just because that's how it's always been done.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. And going back to that theme of self-awareness and making contact with yourself, what you're saying is that being confronted with some of these ideas and asking those “why” questions. can really, I think, especially for a lot of white people, push us into contact with uncomfortable anxiety things that we would rather not have be true, and leaning into those feelings really is the path of growth because it results in this a level I think of self-awareness and freedom in some ways, like going back to your book, why do we believe the things that we believe in?

Sometimes those biases, those ideas are just so deeply buried outside of our consciousness, that it isn't until we observe or have it reflected back to us by others, what we're actually doing that we get some insight into. Why is that? And particularly in relationships.

Relationships as Growth Opportunities

Damona: Absolutely. I think we learn in relationship. We learn in relation to others. And so we're at a unique time in our growth as a human species that we have a chance to even ask these questions. And there's so many other questions that I would love to also unpack and that I will be unpacking in “The Modern Love Myth.”

But we have so many myths. We have this myth of a soulmate that we're looking for. This ideal person, there's one person, this needle in a haystack, and yet over 70% of people believe that they're looking for a soulmate. And I see that keeps a lot of people from being able to do the kind of work that you do of taking the person that's sitting right in front of them and figuring out how to grow with them, if you think that there's some other soulmate, that it's supposed to be easy, it's supposed to just click and fall into place. 

And if it doesn't happen like that, then that person must not be your soulmate. And there's somebody else out there in the wide world that you can find that will fulfill all of your needs without you having to do any of the heavy lifting or the uncomfortable conversations like we've been talking about.

That's not fair to yourself. That's not fair to your partner or your future partner. We have to completely flip our mindset I believe around that. There's a lot of possible partners you could match with, and there's no perfect person, and there's no perfect partner for you. You make them the perfect partner because you're both willing to show up and integrate your lives.

Dr. Lisa: So glad you're talking about that. That's been coming up in a lot of conversations lately that I've had with clients. And it's, I think, there's a sort of double-edged sword because, I think people have become more aware of what they want and feel empowered to create it. And that can also lead to this in some ways perfectionistic ideal of what they're looking for in a relationship that is very, as you say, other-focused, and I've so often found that really, the point of change that opens up so many doors for people to have great relationships is really related to these questions around, am I loving? Can I cherish and appreciate another human for who and what they are, without having to have them be more like me? 

And that is such a point of growth for most people. I think it's that true love idea around, how can I appreciate you and celebrate our complimentary strengths and differences, as opposed to wanting this sort of mythical person who is exactly like me in some ways.

The Myths of Modern Dating

Damona: Yeah. That's been an interesting shift actually as dating apps have expanded their reach. And now there is the belief that I can find the perfect partner. Some people are a little too dialed into that. And one concept I've been talking about all year on Dates and Mates that I will also be exploring more in the book is empathetic dating.

I am really trying to impress on my listeners how important it is to be empathetic in your dating search. And not always center yourself in the narrative of this love story. 

Dr. Lisa: Are you saying the “what's in it for me?” Damona, is that what we're talking about right now? 

Damona: It's the “what's in it for me.” And it's also just this idea that people are sort of characters in your life story and it is about me, of course. And so every action that they take is somehow a reaction to something that you've done, or in some way is there to fuel you to make your next choice or move in the relationship. And this is a really difficult concept, I think, to put into practice, especially, as we are on dating apps and people are looking at option after option. And I've said this for so long that you've got to become a real person. If you're, if you just stay in the app and you never meet up in real life, that's not your boyfriend. That's your pen pal. And it's not a real authentic exchange. I believe in real time, synchronous communication.

And I believe that we really learn about ourselves, relating to these people that we meet as possible options, but so many times as we are looking at this, the Cheesecake Factory menu, you understand you're looking at the Cheesecake Factory menu. And you start to think, do I want fries with that? Do I want a salad? I'm ordering up my perfect partner. Rather than, I'm in the kitchen at the Cheesecake Factory building it too. And I can appreciate the potatoes themselves in their raw form. Even if I don't choose to have the fries. I know I'm going way deep on this cheesecake analogy.

Dr. Lisa: Like truffle oil, we could go, I'm also a fry fanatic. So you're speaking my language 

Damona: A hundred percent. But, I think it’s really the key to unlocking this next level of what we're going to experience with dating apps being such an unbelievable tool to be able to make connections. 

I talked earlier about divorced daters entering the dating scene and we're seeing a huge increase. A 300% increase among user profiles saying that they're recently divorced since 2017. So this is a trend, it's not going away. It doesn’t mean more people are divorcing, but it means that people have a place to go. 

As all my Dates and Mates heard, before, if you were divorced, and you wanted to date again, and you were in your fifties or sixties and your life was set, your job was set, your friend circle was set, your church was set, all of those places where people used to meet, then you were just like waiting for someone in the PTA to get divorced, chasing her out, chasing around all the same single dads, right? 

So the idea that now, especially women can re-enter the dating scene and feel sexy and feel seen and have options. I think it's a great thing, but it's a new tool for a lot of people and we just have to learn how to use it effectively and how to use it in a way that's really compassionate to the people that we meet.

Empathic Dating

Dr. Lisa: And if that's okay, I would love to talk more about that. And I know we don't have a ton of time left, but you used the phrase empathic dating a couple of moments ago. And you have OkCupid, you have the Cheesecake Factory menu, there's everything in the world. And how do you take the ideas of empathetic dating and begin to apply them? 

And I know that we'll get the whole story when your new book comes out in 2024. But in the meantime, what would you advise people who are like, yes, compassion, empathy, but how?

Damona: Well, the first thing I would ask my clients is, look at all of the things that irritate you about dating today. First of all, don't put any of them in your profile. I don't want to read that. Like, I can tell someone's whole relationship history by reading their profile and hearing them say, “Don't even message me if you are not faithful and loyal. Don't even message me if you are a smoker. If you have kids from another relationship, if you're X, Y, and Z.” 

So we're going to erase that and let them start with a clean slate. The next thing that you do is, look at the behaviors that are frustrating for you and see how you can do the inverse of that. So many times people will say to me, I hate being ghosted. It is the worst, I've been chatting with this person online and then all of a sudden they just left. And I'll ask them, if they can look back through their messages for me and let me know if they've ghosted anybody else or failed to respond, like they say, oh I matched with this person and they didn't send me the first message.

How many times have you not done that? And I asked them to really take ownership of the way that they move forward on the dating app, not with the expectation that the other people are all going to magically do the same, but with personal responsibility. And I find that really makes you date from a fuller place, but it also makes you feel a little bit more in control, because obviously you can't control other people's behaviors, but you can control what you put into the mix. And I'll have my clients, if they decide they don't want to see someone, and it's totally up to you. Anyone that you haven't met on a date, you don't. I also have to remind people of this. Don't go if you're not feeling enthusiastic about it. You owe that person your best self and your best time. So if you're not feeling it, don't go, but tell them where you're at.

I have my clients do this thank and release strategy. You thank them for whatever they've given you. Even if it's grief, if they've given you grief, it's information that you can use in how you're going to relate to someone the next time. 

So you thank them for their time. You thank them for connecting. You wish them lots of luck. And then you move on. You unmatch, you go on about, and you don't hold on to those feelings because that starts to hurt us as well. When we keep carrying that frustration, that overwhelm, that disappointment from date to date, you thank and release them without any expectation of what they're going to say back or how they're going to handle it, but you send them love and thank them and release them.

Then you can close that loop and feel more whole yourself. 

Dating With Compassion

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, no, that's a wonderful strategy. It really is like getting clear about what positive qualities you seek in a partner, even in the beginning stages of dating, and really becoming committed to your own integrity around being that person.

And just that, I am going to live in the light in all of my interactions, and giving other people a chance. I think it's very easy for all of us to excuse all of the weird and questionable things that we do personally, because we have reasons. Bad mood, they did this, I was just reacting to that.

We make sense to ourselves, but it's very easy to judge other people and attribute things to their character that we ourselves may do. 

Damona: A hundred percent. And I've been reading a lot of Brene Brown lately. And, she talks about how it changes your perspective if you believe that people are doing the best they can. And I think this is also a core belief of empathetic dating. I really believe it's funny. 

My dad challenged me on this. He was like, you really think people are doing the best they can? I'm like I really honestly do, with the information they have with the upbringing they've experienced, with the pressures they have at work and finances and all that. I think that people are doing the best they can. With COVID, let's give ourselves and everyone else a break. We're doing the best we can. It's not always in everyone's best interest or whatever. But if you can just adopt that philosophy of, everyone you meet is doing the best they can with the tools and resources and education and empathetic capacity that they have.

And you just, like you said, you live in the light, you send them love and light and you hold your boundaries as well. That is the most empathetic thing you can do for yourself, and for others. 

Dr. Lisa: Totally. Yes, you have to have those healthy boundaries for sure. But I love what you're saying Damona because it's like, how do you practice being loving throughout the whole process? Even if you're talking with people who aren't going to be your ideal partner. I think it was Louise Hay who said we are lovable because we are loving, and to allow yourself to practice really being loving towards others as like great practice to be a great partner in relationship to somebody else who deserves that. 

I think that's the thing that gets flipped for a lot of people. As you were saying before, people become the star of their own movie and stop asking themselves, how do I be a really great loving partner? Cause that's it. That's a different experience completely. 

Damona: And we also have to have that same empathy for ourselves, even though we're not centering ourselves in the narrative, we have to also come to dating as whole, as we can make ourselves. We're not looking for someone to fit. Our missing puzzle piece. We have to come to it whole. 

So I also have my clients do a gratitude practice. I had my clients last January do a 30-day gratitude journal. And every day, just say one thing that you have gratitude for. Even if that thing is, I had a hot shower today. Because some people didn't.

Just having gratitude for what you have, because when you date from a place of fullness, you're looking for someone whose energy matches that, and you can both hold together and amplify and uplift one another, rather than if you come in, thinking of all this stuff you don't have and the relationship that you don't have, you’re starting out from a period, from a place of want and need.

I've just seen too many times, that doesn't form the relationship that you're really desiring. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. What words of wisdom, this is so much good stuff. And I love it. I so appreciate you giving us an overview of the dating trends. Thanks to OkCupid, but also I just love where you're going in your work, because that's what I hear throughout our conversation today.

There's been such a window of opportunity for growth that has opened up in people's lives because of this kind of quiet time of the pandemic, and it’s beginning to emerge in relationships. And I can't wait to learn more about your book. It sounds like you're really thinking a lot about how to help people understand those old beliefs and really bring those into the conscious awareness and do that growth work you were talking about so they can have really authentically healthy relationships.

Damona: Absolutely. It's a magic moment that we're in right now, where we have a lot of the tools, we have the knowledge. And we have this space to be able to work on ourselves. And, whenever we emerge from this pandemic, emerge from it as more whole.

Dr. Lisa: I love it. So share with our listeners before we end, where they can learn more about you, your work with OkCupid, if they want to keep tabs on your book, when it comes out. And I would love to talk with you more about your book when it does, but where should they find you in the meantime? 

Damona: Thank you. I am every week doing the Dates and Mates podcast at datesandmates.com, or wherever you're listening to this podcast right now. And for OKC. I think a lot of people don't realize it's free. It's a free app. So if you're on that fence, the whole thing is free. There are premium features that you can become a member to unlock, but if you're on the fence, just try it out, just download it and dip your toe in the water. And then if you need more support and help from me, come back to dates and mates.com and I will get you started.

And of course, I'm on Instagram. Twitter or Facebook at Damona Hoffman. So that's where you can get the updates on the book. 

Dr. Lisa: The forthcoming book. Okay. Going to be watching your Instagram. And, as soon as it comes out I'm going to pounce. 

Damona: Thank you so much for having me. I love our conversations too, and I love all the work that you’re doing. Dr. Lisa: Such a great conversation. Thank you so much for coming back. And I can't wait until our next one.

Fight Racism, Part 2: Becoming Antiracist

Fight Racism, Part 2: Becoming Antiracist

Fight Racism, Part 2: Becoming Antiracist

Authentic Antiracist Action Starts With You.

Becoming Antiracist

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Fight Racism, Part 2: Becoming Antiracist

In May 2020, a Black man named George Floyd suffocated to death after he was pinned to the pavement outside a Minneapolis convenience store by a white police officer. The brutality of his death and the irrefutable video evidence led to a global outcry, waking many white Americans to a reality that Black Americans know too well: that racist violence is still a regular occurence in our country. 

 

Of course, we were motivated to act. To donate to action groups, vote for reform, and march in the streets. Some communities have challenged the basic structures of policing, and began to imagine new frameworks for public safety. 

 

But big, structural changes like these depend on millions of individuals first changing internally. And as an experienced therapist and life coach, I know how tough making even minor internal changes can be. In this case, it requires us to acknowledge how we’ve benefited from a system that routinely destroys other people’s lives in hideous ways, and that we do have some power to make things better, but we haven’t always used it. 

 

Here’s the good news: Taking on these difficult internal challenges is what will allow you to fight against racism in your everyday life. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. day, we’re rereleasing our conversation about antiracism, and the internal growth work you can begin today on your journey to becoming a true ally. 

 

I hope you’ll listen, and feel empowered to begin exploring your own opportunities to create a better future for all of us. You can find this episode right on this page, or on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

 

With love and gratitude, 

 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Becoming Antiracist

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

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How to Fight Racism

After George Floyd’s murder, the outpouring of support for antiracist causes was a beautiful thing. It also needs to be said that true, meaningful change requires us to go much deeper than saying nice things or taking superficial action. True change will require all Americans — and specifically, white Americans — to take this fight on as their own. 

In order for lasting, systemic change to happen, white Americans need to take on the emotional burden of racism, break the silence of complicity, refuse to accept the status quo, and shine the light of inquiry into all the spaces that racism hides and festers. It is vital for white people to do this work because…. I’m going to say it… white people are actually the problem. 

Not all white people, but enough white people are collectively involved in systemic racist policies and institutions to make these systems very difficult for people of color to change from the outside in.

This is an inside job. White people need to be looking around themselves (and inside themselves) to see what's causing so much harm to others, and take meaningful, antiracist action to change what they can change. This sounds simple, but in reality, it's much harder to do.

Becoming Antiracist

Well-meaning white people are often eager to leap into action for the antiracist cause, but do so without first having done the foundational personal growth work that allows them to genuinely understand racism, and be confident activists in pursuit of change. Instead, white people often feel intense feelings of guilt for the abuse that people of color experience, shame for their own white privilege, and intense feelings of anxiety about doing or saying “the wrong thing.” 

While these feelings are all understandable, not knowing how to work through them and get past them can prevent a white person from being the effective agent of change that the world so desperately needs.

Before meaningful change and social activism are possible, there needs to be a growth process of self-awareness and healing. This is hard to do, and there are not many sign-posts to guide you in this work. Most white families never talk about race, much less provide their children with a roadmap to develop a healthy, white racial identity. As such, white Americans struggle to cope with the emotional reality of racism and injustice. Defensiveness, silence, denial, tone-deaf “action,” and / or paralysis can ensue.

(Healthy) White Racial Identity Development

The good news is that, while white culture does not generally speak of such things openly, there actually is a map. In the '90s, psychologist and researcher Janet Helms built on the work of William Cross (Racial Identity Development in People of Color) and Derald W Sue (Counseling the Culturally Diverse) to develop a white racial identity development model that outlines the process through which white people can shift away from color-blindness and denial, work through paralyzing shame and guilt, take responsibility for understanding racism, and then use their authentic awareness to be part of the meaningful solution.

Until white people do this necessary personal growth work, it is difficult for them to be reliable partners in the fight against racism. However, the internal work of growing in their own racial identity and awareness lays the foundation for authentic anti-racist action that is motivated by a genuine desire for positive change — and an acceptance that the problem of racism is their problem too. In that emotional space, white Americans can shift away from being (even unconsciously) part of the problem, and into being part of the solution.

The Antiracist Personal Growth Process

In that spirit, on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast, I'm diving into Helm's White racial identity development model, and having an honest conversation about what the stages are really like. (Because I have lived them all!) We'll talk about what the work involves, the obstacles and opportunities in each stage of development, and resources to support you in your anti-racist development. Specifically, we'll address:

  • Why “color-blindness” happens, and why something so prevalent (and seemingly well-intentioned) is so destructive.
  • Why white people often feel so much guilt and shame when confronting race, and how to not let those feelings stop you from moving forward.
  • How to avoid the mental and emotional pitfalls that can derail the anti-racist growth process.
  • Why anti-racist action stemming from anxiety about “being a good white person” can be more harmful than helpful.
  • How to dig into the realities of racism, the impact of racial discrimination, and the fact of white privilege in a constructive way that facilitates growth and healing.
  • How white parents can raise anti-racist children.

Resources for Fighting Racism

In addition to all of the above, in this episode, I mention a number of resources that have been personally helpful to me in my own journey of anti-racist growth. These are just a tiny drop in the bucket; a big part of the work of stage five is to read / watch / listen / attend / learn from anything and everything that adds another piece to the ever-evolving puzzle of your own understanding and empathy. A few resources mentioned in the podcast (know there are MANY more):

Antiracist Resources For Kids (Toddlers to Tweens!):

Fight Racism, Part 2: Becoming Antiracist

Dr. Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. And welcome to part two of our discussion. Today, we are talking about how to heal racism, and now we're going to turn our attention to the healthy anti-racist developmental process for hopefully a little bit of direction and guidance to how to cultivate this perspective and orientation in our own lives.

 

So we talk a lot on this show about matters of personal growth, and self-development all related to love, happiness and success. And, I was thinking recently that I can't remember how many times I've said on this show. No one teaches you how to have a great relationship. And that's why we have to have these conversations about it.

 

Or no one teaches you how to be a happy person. These are all skills and strategies that we are all individually responsible for learning over time in order to be a mentally and emotionally and spiritually well person, right? And there is education and investment into developing these abilities like through couples counseling or through individual therapy or coaching to really help you learn and develop these aspects of yourself to help you achieve these poor, important, personal goals.

 

And I was reflecting recently, especially in light of this sort of new tide, new awareness in our country, in our culture about the impact and legacy of racism in our society. And I think what I've also been hearing from everyone, from clients to personal friends, to family members, to colleagues is a real desire, particularly in white people to do something, to help and to be a force of good in the world.

 

That is an effective way of beginning to really, and meaningfully solve some of the destructive racist patterns that we see in our. And, nobody teaches you how to have relationships, right? But certainly at least when it comes to white culture, there is zero conversation about how to develop a healthy, white, racial identity.

 

That becomes the foundation of being able to cultivate a real and true anti racist approach to the world where you can become an active partner in creating positive change related to systemic racism and the acts of violence that shock us all in moments like these. In order to think about what would be most helpful in service of that conversation.

 

I began combing back through my mind and honestly, my personal process of doing that work and why it was so difficult and being able to tie it back to some of what we know about how healthy racial identity is developed and what gets in the way of it. And so again, this is me talking for a few minutes on a podcast.

 

And so I'm going to certainly drop a few ideas that I hope will provide you with some understanding and direction, but please know that listening to this podcast or anything else for that matter is a drop of what this work really involves. For me personally, this is a journey that I'm probably on. 25 at this point.

 

And I am still very much in the process of figuring things out. And and also I would like to, before I even launch into this deeply ask in advance for your grace and patience, if, as, a person who is still developing herself and who does not have all the answers says, so something, I don't want to use the word wrong, but you know that I might perceive down the line as being like, dude, did I really say that?

 

I don't have all the answers. I am still figuring this out and I might say, or do something even over the course of this conversation that rubs someone the wrong way. And this, that anxiety right there is the anxiety that we all have to fight through and be brave around and do it anyway and say things anyway, in order to change our world.

 

I'll be a role model for imperfection in action. Okay. But a really helpful idea for me that I was not introduced to, until I went to counseling school, when I was 26 years old, was the idea of racial. Identity development and how it happens in stages over a period of time. This concept was introduced to me in a wonderful multicultural counseling competency class, right?

 

And this class was designed to help primarily white counseling students, which are absolutely the majority in every counseling program, to understand racism and how it impacted them personally and their worldview so that they could genuinely be of service to everyone grappling with this issue. But in particular to clients who identified as people of color, so as to not inadvertently damage them.

 

So that was really like the purpose and intention of the class. And there were all kinds of things that happened in that class, in service of it. But the idea that one of the ideas that really hit home for me, and I think launched my process in a new way was this idea of racial identity development and racial identity development is true for people of all races.

 

And the process is a little bit different for people of all races. So if when black people go through a racial identity development process, it is obviously going to be a little bit different from the ones that white people go through. But I'm just going to run through these with you really quickly, and then we'll go back and discuss, okay.

 

And this comes from home's work and I will be posting links to these handouts that I have here on the post for this podcast. But very briefly, there are six different stages and they may not be linear as always people can go back and forth or have these in different order, but they are, the first stage is called contact.

 

The second is disintegration. The third is reintegration. The fourth is pseudo independence then comes immersion and then comes autonomy. So six different phases. Very briefly. The first stage of contact is where there is a lack of understanding of even racism. This is like where white people are, colorblind everywhere.

 

The next stage of disintegration is when people become confronted with the reality of racism and how it is very much part of our society. And it generates a lot of bad feelings. The third stage of reintegration is something that happens particularly with white people who are trying to make themselves feel better, where disintegration has brought up a lot of big, horrible feelings.

 

Reintegration is how can I soothe these feelings oftentimes by doubling down in defensiveness and denial and even a reliance with racist ideas that seem. The fourth stage is something called pseudo independence, which is still very self-focused. It is a positive stage of racial development. And the stage people are moving into white.

 

People are moving into taking racism seriously and wanting very much to be a force of good in the world and to help change this. But it is often a lot of activity focused on how can I figure out how to be a good white person so that I'm still denying that I am a racist or have subconscious racist beliefs.

 

And I'm looking to other people to help, okay, what do I do? But it's very it is very it feels very fragile and unconfident and. Very much in service of how do I feel better? I like to feel better, please help. Okay. When people work through that, they can come into an immersion phase where they've worked through the feelings of shame and guilt and are settling in to the emotional experience of empathetically connecting with the realities of the world, a racist world, and actively investing in educational opportunities and growth opportunities to help them understand for their own.

 

So it's self-motivated because they want to know and they want to understand and they want to develop. So there's that fifth stage. And then finally, the sixth stage of autonomy is when God, he works some things out and understands the world a lot differently as a white person and your place in it, and feels like you can genuinely be a partner in changing it.

 

So those are a brief summary of the phases. We're going to talk through them deeply now for the purpose of understanding them and understanding how you and I, and we can work through these different stages productively in order. The very first stage of the white racial identity model. And this was a model created by Helms in the mid nineties to explain this process as it relates to white folks.

 

The first stage is called contact. And in this stage, there is a colorblindness in white people that is often characterized by a denial of racial differences. It is, we are one everyone is equal and everyone is the same and almost a refusal to participate in. Seeing the world through a racial lens, there is a disowning of it and.

 

I was certainly in that phase for a big chunk of my life. And there are reasons for that. Personally, I never had a conversation about race, racism, anything like that in my Lily white family. I personally did not know it at the time, but I was raised in a very segregated environment. I went to a very segregated 

 

school.

 

There was like one black kid in my entire school who, seemed nice enough, lived in a similar neighborhood, just wasn't exposed to any of those ideas. And what I was taught was like, you know what on Sesame street or the Muppets. Different Sesame street characters. They might have different colored skin and they all had similar life experiences and we need to respect and support people no matter what they look like.

 

And there were certainly ideas around that to be mean to people based on how they looked was not good. And we didn't want to do that. Like at a very elementary school level. We need to be nice to everyone. We went on a field trip. I grew up in Southwestern, Virginia, went on a field trip to the Booker T Washington plantation, where we were taught that yes, slavery was a thing that happened a long time ago and it was very regrettable and bad things happened.

 

And thankfully we're all past that now and stuff like that doesn't happen any more. And, there, there was also Booker T Washington who was a bright, hardworking boy. And he went to school. He tried really hard and he pulled himself up by his bootstraps and made something of himself. And even for anyone who comes from a difficult background, if they work hard enough and try hard enough, they can have a nice life and that's the American way.

 

And we should all feel good about that. And so those were the ideas that I was raised with and I think that is true for many white Americans. Don't be mean to people based on the way they look or where they come from. And this idea of colorblindness we're all the same. And we're not going to think about people in terms of their racial differences, because we all have the same opportunities and it's all going to be okay.

 

Now what I didn't know at the time, but came to learn is that stance right there, the color blindness is very problematic because when you grow up in a white world with white people and white cultural ideals, what it means to be a person is what it means to be a white person. That what is normal is a white.

 

Cultural identity is a white view of the world. It is going to history classes that world history means white European history. And then we can talk about some of this other stuff too, but it is extremely insular and most white people by virtue of their white privilege are never in a situation where they need to think otherwise.

 

There is no other information. This is just the way that the world is. And what happens is that. If this is the model for the way that the world is and the way that people should be, if bad things happen to other people who are not white, it must mean that they did something to cause that they were behaving badly.

 

They were acting in ways that aren't really appropriate, particularly when we compare them to our cultural ideals and that if they are living in poverty or having, regrettable things happen to them, it's because no, maybe they weren't trying hard enough or they weren't working hard enough or they weren't doing what they should be doing because why else would they be getting those kinds of outcomes?

 

That is the danger and the risk of that very insular colorblind model is that it fails to see the reality of people in other cultures, in other racial groups and the forces at work that are very actively and deliberately trying to bring them down and standing on them and making it much more difficult for them to achieve and be healthy and well in our society.

 

And similarly along those same lines in a colorblind world it fails to take into consideration or account the impact of white privilege and how white people are benefiting in very real and material ways from this racist system. If there are no races, if there are no colors, then white people are getting the results that they're getting because they earned it.

 

Not because they have invisible advantages that not everyone does. There's no recognition of that in a colorblind. So that is the first stage of white racial development. Is that we're all the same. It's no, I don't see color. And also that goes along with that, is this sort of low key anxiety that if I am talking about race, that is a problem that we just need to like, pretend that's not a thing that'll make it better.

 

And certainly to be identified as a white person, that feels really dangerous because then there are these differences and what does that mean? And if I'm a white person talking about race, does that make me like what a Nazi, like also kids, white kids growing up, like we see the movies, we see, Alma, Stott, or other movies that, that highlight the terrible things that were, have been and are being done to black Americans and other people of color.

 

And that. The villains in those movies are horrible, racist, white people who are doing bad things. And so then we need to also reject that concept of white racial identification, because that is evil and reprehensible and wrong. The worst thing that you can call someone, a white person anyway, is a racist.

 

That's it's like calling somebody a Nazi or a pedophile. It's saying you are the most despicable type of human that could possibly exist, that you would absolutely support harming someone or oppressing someone or damaging someone because of this sense of racial superiority. And so there is a huge rejection of that in, in particular the first stage of white racial divide.

 

The second stage though, is a part called disintegration. And at that stage white people are confronted with some of the reality that people of other races of their experience. So while the first space was I'm colorblind, everyone's the same. Then there is new information around, why is this happening to people?

 

Why are the families of immigrants being separated and Mexican children being put in case. Why are people being killed by police officers? When they're suspected of some trivial petty crime, but they're being shot or shot jogging down their street, like, how is this possible then? So there's this new awareness in white people that bad things really do happen to people of color that we do not typically experience.

 

And those moments become a fork in the road. Either we can let that in and yeah, why is that happening? And what does that mean about what's happening in the world or, and what is often more common is this idea of what's happening? Why is it happening? And the fact that it is happening to other people makes me as a white person feel so much shame and guilt that this kind of horror is happening to, to people who maybe are like me.

 

That is such a bad feeling that I need to do whatever I can to protect myself internally, emotionally from that feeling of shame and guilt and horror. And so to do that, I need to blame someone outside of myself and find a reason why that makes sense. So in this stage, depending on the way that fork in the road moment goes, a white person can go into a phrase or a phase rather that Helms termed reintegrating.

 

Which is a way of a white person putting themselves back together and their own self concept back together, which is bad. Things happen to people of other races because they deserve it. And because they are failing to behave in a way that would be consistent with their being successful in this country, in this environment.

 

And so they're really into law and order. And if people could just assimilate and be more like us, it would really go better for them and coming into a place where, you know maybe white people do have privileges and maybe there's a reason why maybe there's a reason why that makes sense.

 

So it's very easy for white people to get stuck in that place where yeah, bad things happen in the world, but there's a reason why, and all of the reasons why are reasons that I tell myself that so that I don't have to feel anxious and guilty and ashamed that these terrible things are happening to people in the world.

 

And that at the same time, I am experiencing exactly the opposite. I am experiencing a lot of benefits and advantages in this culture, in a society because I am white. That can feel really bad for a white person. I know I have certainly struggled with that. And when we talk about the phrase it's getting tossed around lately, it's is white privilege and that's been in the media and the consciousness, which is a good thing, but I think that it's really difficult for white people to take on board what this means.

 

And it's also easy to reject. And white people, particularly in the stage of development, there is a lot of defensiveness and there's a lot of denial. My family were recent immigrants. I did not have a single relative in this country at the turn of the century. And my family did not participate in any of this badness and it's not my fault that maybe I do have privileges in the society.

 

Maybe it is easier for me to get a home loan, but I'm not a bad credit risk either. So a lot of rationalization or a lot of denial of The fact that other racial groups in our society are really actually getting worse treatment, a shorter end of the stick than we are. And there can be a lot of I'm a woman and I know what it feels like to be discriminated against because of my sex or, I had Irish immigrants in my family and they were parlor maids and they were discriminated against.

 

And it's really not fair to lump me into this big, like that I'm a racist because I can't be a racist because first of all, I'm a good person who loves other people and I would never hurt anyone. And, I know I also know what it's like to suffer, so that does not apply to me.

 

So there's a big pushback and it comes from, again this discomfort and anxiety and pain that we feel when confronted with the truth. The reality that there is white privilege and that we are actively benefiting from it. Another thing that I first encountered in the counseling class that I went to, that I mentioned right around the same time, it's like, there's a white, racial identity development, but there's also this thing called white privilege.

 

I had not ever heard of that before. And I'm 26 years old. Okay. I did not know that was a thing. I also didn't know that native American boarding schools were a thing until that class. I remember learning about this and being like what really happened. Like I had no idea, but so let me share with you.

 

One of the things that I came across around that same time, and this is, this has been around for a while now, but it was enormously impactful for me at the time. And it really helped me begin to understand that White people do have enormous privileges in our society because of racism and to begin to like understand what that meant for me and to begin to see the world differently.

 

The article is by a woman named Peggy McIntosh. It's called white privilege unpacking the invisible knapsack. So the idea is that there's like this backpack of stuff and resources that white people get to carry around with them, that people of color don't. And she very helpfully put it into a list, which included things like if I want to, I can arrange to be in the company of people of my race.

 

Most of the time. Just true. To, if I need to move, I can be pretty sure that renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford in and which I can afford and in which I want to live. So I can find a nice place in a good environment that is attainable for me, that is not true for everyone.

 

Three is I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me. Four is that I can go shopping alone. Most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed five. I can turn on the television or open the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

 

And also I'll just add largely positively represented, right? Six, when I am told about our national heritage or about civilization, I am shown that people of my color made it what it is. Seven. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

 

Eight. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege nine, I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race, represented into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit in with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

 

  1. When I use credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color, not to work against the appearance of my financial reliability 11. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them. Yep. Another one that stood out for me. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.

 

I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me. I can choose blemish covers or band-aids in flesh color and have them more or less match my skin. I can be pretty sure that if I asked to talk to the person in charge, I will be facing a person of my race.

 

I am never asked to speak for all people of my racial group. I am seen as an individual, not as an Emissary of a whole racial group. And so there are a lot of other really significant points that are made in this article. But I remember thinking about that and white privilege in a different way after being exposed to those ideas.

 

But even then, like the primary emotional experience that I had as a white person in my own white racial development was one of an enormous amount of guilt and shame because if this is true, and if I am benefiting as a result of this, then I am an active participant in a racist culture. I am benefiting from a racist culture.

 

And because of the way that racist is defined, which is being a bad, evil, horrible person, that means that I must be a bad, evil, horrible person. Because there wasn't another idea to counterbalance that. And so what I think is a much more helpful idea about racism and what it is this system that creates a value hierarchy of who people are categorized by race and how they should be categorized by race.

 

And that these differences are not equal. They are. Ranked in order of how like good or bad they are relative to each other with a white supremacist, ideal being at the top and that people of other races and other cultures are compared to this white ideal. That is really like the core of a racist ideology is that we're evaluating other races based on a sort of subjective.

 

Like what is normal based on this very unconscious white identity. Colorblindness creates an in our society. And then because of that sort of unconscious bias, that some ways of being are Biver to better than others. And the whiter you are, the whiter you act, the whiter culturally, you match this ideal.

 

The more rewarded you will be from that culture, like going back to Mr. Booker T Washington, like he was the good. Former slave because he worked really hard to assimilate himself into white cultural ideals. And also there is another very, I think, dangerous idea that goes along with that, which is that of assimilation that people who come here from other countries or people of other races need to work hard, to be more like us, to be more mainstream, to be more normal.

 

What is not said in those conversations is to be more white. But that is the implied kind of undercurrent of that. That is what Indian boarding schools were all about is we're going to take people away from their native indigenous cultures that an anti-racist would view as being not just legitimate, but valuable and beautiful and worthy of celebrating.

 

And we're going to take them away and we're going to teach them how to be so that they can have opportunities in this culture. So we're going to reform them by taking away their cultural identity, their belief system, their language, their family structure, their way of being, and try to assimilate them, which is really making them more, more white.

 

These are all very powerful forces at work in our culture and white people on the path of racial identity development can see these things going on, but get really stuck in either this sort of paralyzing guilt and shame that they need to fix by either blaming the victim or saying they have a point about assimilation and the differences between cultures, maybe some things are better than others, falling into that. Or there is another space that people can go into, which is just denial and saying all people have struggles. All people are oppressed. All people go through hard times. And because I also have done this and my family has done this. I am not this bad, evil, racist person, because I am a good person.

 

I would never hurt anyone. And so it's like, how do you reconcile being a white person with being a good person? It is an emotional crisis. Now the next stage of racial development, if you can keep getting through that, pushing yourself along, there is one that is called pseudo independence. Again, a term developed by home, through her research.

 

And this is the first stage of positive racial identity. Although an individual in this stage does not feel that whites deserve privilege. They look to people of color, not to themselves to confront and uncover racism. They approve of these efforts and comfort the person as these efforts validate that white person's desire to be non-racist.

 

And although this is positive, the white person in this stage does not really have a concept of how they can work to be part of the solution. And this is what I see. And probably what you see happening in our world right now with it. And it's a positive thing in many ways, as some of the protests and white people putting signs in their yards and blacking out their Instagram accounts and all of this and it's this, I want to be your ally in your fight because this is your problem, black person.

 

And I see how destructive and awful this has been for you. And I feel really bad about what you're dealing with and I want to be a good white person. So I just want you to know that I think what you're doing to protest and try to make things be different is great. And you should totally keep doing that.

 

And let me know how I can help, but I think you're doing a really good job. Keep going. There is still this idea of racism. And prejudice and racist policies are someone else's problem. They are not the problem of a white person. And I think going back to white privilege that they don't have to feel like your problem.

 

It does not have to feel like your problem. You can go for days, weeks, months at a time without talking about these things, without thinking about them without being put in situations where you're confronted by them. It is very easy to just put all that stuff back in the box. And I think a risk too is in service of managing your own guilt and anxiety and shame when these things are coming up in the world is figuring out, what can I do?

 

To help myself feel better as a white person. Should I donate money? Should I go protest? Should I put a sign in my yard, but it's not so much about what can I do to make this my problem and begin actually healing the racism and changing the racist policies in my culture. It is. And I hate to say this, but it's very self-focused, it's about, I need to feel like I'm a good white person.

 

And so what can I do to make myself feel better? Because these things are happening. And it really oftentimes creates this dynamic where people of color then put into the situation where they're like needing to soothe the feelings of anxious, white people who are worried that they're bad people because of being white and not really knowing what to do.

 

Which does not help. And I think it probably damages relationships further. I think a different stance and, once a white person has, I think gone through and done the work of cultivating a healthy white racial development identity is this idea that this is actually my problem.

 

This is something that I am profoundly uncomfortable with. This is something that I perceive my life as having been impacted by very directly. And what do I need to do to be part of a meaningful solution, having uncomfortable conversations with other white people about racism and what we are going to do to address this.

 

Those are difficult places to go, and they are really impossible places to go into until you have done the work of recognizing these different stages of development and the emotional obstacles that there are to working through it. So in a pseudo-independence phase of white racial development, there is a lot of awareness that there is a problem of racism, but looking to people of color to solve that problem and passively supporting you at a distance kind of desires to be an ally.

 

But, do not do anything. I just, I see you. Okay. The next phase, and this is a really important phase is one that is called immersion slash immersion slash immersion. So in this stage, a person makes a genuine attempt to connect to his or her own white identity. And be anti-racist stage is usually accompanied by a deep concern with understanding and connecting to other whites who are, or have been dealing with issues of racism and in another.

 

A resource I have here that this stage is characterized by discomfort with his or her own whiteness yet unable to truly be anything else. The individual may begin searching for a new, more comfortable way to be white in this stage, learning about white people who have been anti-racist alleys allies to people of color can be an important part of this process.

 

Whites find it helpful to know that others have experienced similar feelings and found ways to resist the racism in their environments. And they're provided with important models to change. I think that there is also something else that happens in this phase. That has been my personal experience in moving out of a preoccupation with not wanting to be a bad white person and doing things that are supportive of non-racist causes. 

 

But because of me wanting to feel better as opposed to actually making meaningful change in other lives for me, what this needed to involve was a very, and instill is a shift into personal responsibility for how do I, as a white person seek out information and educational experiences to help me develop a more clear understanding of what happened, why it happened, why we are such a racist culture in the United States, why does systemic oppression and racism occur in our society in this day and age?

 

And for me, this is still ongoing. Was a lot of, again, I talked about this in other podcasts, but I am a card carrying nerd. So reading books, listening to podcasts, doing more digging into some of these ideas that were presented to me in counseling school. And also I think doing some almost accountability work to understand how I did and do currently benefit from white privilege and some reflection around how my experience would be different if I wasn't a white woman.

 

So for example books that I have found to be really helpful going way back guns, germs, and steel I think at one, a Pulitzer prize, Big prize for exploration around how geographic factors impacted the way that different cultures developed and started to make sense of colonialism and how that happened.

 

That was helpful to me, I think, going to a lot of educational experiences. So for example and this come comes back to something else, I am now a mother of a white son who is going to grow up to be a white man, but how do I change his growing up experience so that he is introduced to the ideas and realities and things that I did not know about as a child growing up.

 

There were never conversations about it. So for example, this past year I wanted to take him to the deep south so that we could go to a plantation and talk about the reality of the lives of enslaved people and why that happened. And the economic forces that led to the enslavement. Of Africans from their country and bring them here to work on these plantations.

 

And this is what was going on. And I think experientially bring him there and see this is what life would have been like for you as a child at this time because of a slave economy. And that is what the United States was built on. And I think helping him emotionally connect, but also me to, connect with, wow this is why there is so much discrimination, is that in order for people to be able to do this to other people, they had to believe that the people that they were enslaving were sub.

 

And to be actively going into educational experiences, like for example, what is voodoo, right? And we went to an exhibit around voodoo and looked at how that was a sort of continuation of African spirituality that enslaved people were finding ways to, to practice and cultivate in their new situation, but really looking at it as an uprising of African culture.

 

And certainly I've had a lot of opportunities recently to go and learn about indigenous people and certainly in the. The United States and in Canada, but first nations people and the experience that they had when your pee and settlers and colonists came in and the decimation of their cultures, and, standing with my son at a big exhibit around what it was actually like to be taken away from your family and sent to a boarding school and being with him and watching him empathically connect with that emotional experience in a way that he was like, ah certainly talking as a family about what has been happening around immigration and how people who are trying to come across the border from Mexico, what is happening to those families and talking about why.

 

They are putting their lives at risk and putting themselves in so much danger to come hear what is happening in their countries. It's making it so important for them to do this. So not just looking at what people do, but why are they doing it? And, having recognition for the fact that when my family was worried about another war in Europe, they, my grandparents had gone through two world wars at that point.

 

And they came over in the fifties when Stalin was the next crazy person. Saber rattling on the horizon. They were like, no, this doesn't feel safe for us and our family. And they wanted to come to the United States. And what did they have to do to not just emigrate, but to be accepted and have the opportunity to become naturalized citizens.

 

They had to say, we were thinking of moving to the United States. Would that be okay? And the response was, yeah, come on in. Yes. Why not? Compared to the experience of ethnic minorities, trying to come to the United States and be accepted as citizens. And again, an earlier stage of white racial development might jump to the conclusion.

 

They were. A good solid family of people who would contribute to our culture and be good taxpayers. And that is an assumption. My family was a bunch of Belgium, Bohemian artists. My grandfather was a musician. Chain smoking cigarettes and cafes and talking about art. So just in case you went there, I just wanted to have that as a little reality check and the criteria for them being able to come to the United States, they had to know one person here who was able to vouch for them.

 

And I actually found this out over the past year, the person that my family knew and vouched for them was a suspected Nazi sympathizer who skedaddled out of Antwerp after the end of world war two, I don't know where that relationship went or what the involvement was of my family in that whole chapter of history.

 

It's lost in time now, but so that's who they knew, and that was perfectly acceptable by the government as being a valid character reference. For me as a white person, to be able to coming to grips just with all of that and thinking about how easy it was for my, flawed family is just flawed as any others to come here and to start a life of opportunity and all of the small daily things that I have that not other people can expect.

 

My mother passed away. I am now having to transport her car from her house to my house. And along the way, realized that her tags are expired. And I was worried about that. And I said to my brother-in-law like, what do I do if I get pulled over and her tags are expired because I can't get her registration updated because she's not alive.

 

And I don't have the title to her car. And he was like, they'll just explain to them. They'll understand. But in that moment, I was also like, would I get that same understanding and response if I were a Latina American or a Black American woman driving a car that wasn't mine and trying to explain to an officer that pulled me over, it's my mom's car and she died, but I wasn't able to update the register, would I get the same grace and the same patience?

 

So I just wanted to share these experiences with you because in this stage of white racial development, there needs to be a lot of personal reflection and personal responsibility and the ability I think to manage and reconcile the guilt and the shame, and to be able to move away from that and understand that everyone in the United States, possibly the world has been impacted by.

 

Race racially significant values and ideals, and that we are all brought up in a racist culture and that without a lot of very deliberate reflection and

 

intentional education and grappling with these ideas a white person in this culture does not have to think about it. It's very easy to just dismiss it and push it away. And as long as you're not a bad white person, that's all we can do. And the next level of development is really like sinking into it and allowing yourself to be heartbroken at the experiences that people in our culture have had allowing yourself to be.

 

Outraged about what has happened, what is happening? Another great resource. In the past, I don't know exactly when it came out. It has been a number of months out, but there's a podcast called 1619 that was produced. I think in conjunction with the New York Times, but talks about the 400 year history of slavery in the United States through the lens of of black American and, so many times listening to that podcast, I became aware that I was like, like feeling really like anxious, almost shaking, and to be able to not just tolerate, but seek out those kinds of experiences where we as white people are being emotionally impacted.

 

Not in the same way because we get to step in and step out again if we want to. So it's not in the same way as people of color in our culture have to do. But voluntarily going in there in order to allow yourself to feel and understand the reality of systematic oppression, racist policies, because when you're able to go into that place, it starts to feed.

 

Like your problem. And you begin to become very aware of the differences that are around all of us all the time and what is being taught to our children. And how do we, as a family, need to step in to be able to educate them around how to be a white person in a highly racist culture and what it means to be anti-racist.

 

And so here we come into the sixth and final stage of white racial development, which is the last stage. It’s reached when an individual has a clear understanding of and positive connection to their white racial identity, while also actively pursuing social justice. Home stages are as much about finding a positive racial identification with being white and also becoming an active anti-racist.

 

And another definition over here the autonomy phase can be an externalization of a newly defined sense of self as white as the primary task of this stage, positive feelings associated with this redefinition energize the person's efforts to confront racism and oppression in daily life alliances with people of color can be more easily forged in the stage because the person's anti-racist behaviors and attitudes will be more consistently expressed.

 

And they're not self-focused either. I think there's an emotional difference from someone who really takes the problem of racism in our culture, on as their own, as opposed to a white person who doesn't want to be a bad white person. So that's how Holmes describes that, that final stage.

 

And, and that's hard to figure out how do I love and appreciate things about European culture and also actively prize and see, and value the differences in other cultures as being similarly respectable and worthy and important and valuable. And that is seeking out cultural experiences of, the music of other cultures, the literature of other cultures, worldview, the art of other cultures and doing a lot of that with my son too, around that there's beauty in all things, but also how do we as white people and as a family understand and not forget what is happening in the world around us and act in such a way to Help other people who don't have the same privilege in our culture that we do and be active forces of change.

 

And I tell my son all the time, I say you don't have to feel badly about being white. And I'm sure that as he gets older, he will go through all of these stages of white racial development too. But I tell him, you don't have to feel badly about being white, but you do have to be aware of what is happening in the world and how you fit into that picture and to see what is going on in the lives of other people and be actively working to prevent the systematic oppression of other people in our country and recognize your privilege and not abuse it, but help use it for the betterment of the.

 

I don't know if that's the right thing to tell him or not, but that's what I got. And so

 

I don't know if this was a really uncomfortable conversation to have, or to hear. I don't think that I would have been able to do this with you at a podcast version even a couple of years ago. I think that I would have been too afraid of saying the wrong thing or having people be mad at me or some kind of backlash.

 

So I, that was probably enough to silence me, but I think continuing in my journey and understanding more and more, I think finding a role in all of this. Feels positive for me as a white person who is actively fighting a racist indoctrination in the way that I was raised and who is actively working on becoming a more active anti-racist in my own life.

 

And also helping my son develop an anti-racist identity as he goes through his formative years has helped me, I think, feel more comfortable talking about issues like this on this platform. And also I would like to acknowledge that being uncomfortable and feeling defensiveness and feeling rejection of these ideas and feeling shame and feeling guilt is all part of this process.

 

And it is too easy for us as white people to say, oh, this feels bad. I do not like this and push it away. And because of the privilege of not having to deal with it. And so I hope that having this conversation with you offers some kind of guidance and some conversation around a topic that we as white people never have to have.

 

I will also share with you some resources that again, have been super helpful for me on my journey. The book white fragility by Robin de Angelo has been magnificent. It has really helped me find. Words, I think to understand the emotional experiences that I was having along the way of my own development process.

 

And I think an increased recognition for how the feelings of shame and guilt and defensiveness have been active in my own life over the years and why, you know why that is. So that's wonderful. Another more recent book that I really appreciated and once strongly recommended is called how to be an anti racist by Ebrum X Kendi.

 

He did such a nice job of talking about how racism can impact all of us and the different miss lake areas in which people are. Judged, according to racial that racial hierarchy model and offers wonderful strategies from being able to move away from that kind of basic stance and into a more anti-racist stance that is more positive.

 

Also I mentioned Guns, Germs and Steel, the 1619 podcast was wonderful and there are also so many educational opportunities, I think in many communities and, some I think are more emotionally impactful than others. But to be able to go to museums, go to a native American powwow, show up in places that you might.

 

You might not usually learn about the culture of others and to be able to, I think also not just receive, but seek out the stories of what it has been like and what it feels like for people of color in our culture to be here and contrast that with your own experience. And again, it's not for the purpose of making you feel bad.

 

It's for the purpose of expanding your awareness to help begin this growth process and reconcile it and make this problem, your problem. Because at the end of the day, this problem will be solved and resolved by people who have the power to change. And certainly there are a lot of very powerful leaders of color in our country, and I'm so happy about that.

 

And there needs to be more. And that is not enough in order to really change the system. It requires the involvement of white people to see and understand the way that racism is impacting everyone in our culture, and to be able to change racist policies that perpetuate that. And it is only people who have power, who can do that, and it is time.

 

And it's also promising. We recently, at the time of this recording, saw the governor of Virginia. Finally remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from Richmond. I don't know if you guys have spent much time in Richmond. I've been there, there are Confederate statues all over the place. And just want to run a little parallel.

 

Imagine going into downtown Dusseldorf, Germany, and there are statues of Hitler and Himmler, a Googler like standing there, on their horses and in a posture of being worthy of respect. It's the same thing. The Germans do not have statues of Hitler and they're really working to try to educate people about what happened hopefully, so that it doesn't happen again.

 

But the analogy is the same. And I think it was just last week that somebody was like, oh yeah, maybe we should take down that statue of Robert E. Lee, the statue that represents genocide and enslavement of innocent people. So hopefully we're getting there, but again, it requires a lot of inner strength and awareness and the process is not just an outer one.

 

It is an inner one. And the inner process is one that the white people need to go through.

 

I hope that this conversation was instructive and helped you. I'm going to link to the resources that I shared in the post for this podcast. Thank you for the researchers and the authors who first developed these ideas and put them in front of me. And thank you for all of the amazing teachers that I have had over the years.

 

I have been fortunate enough to have people of color as my professors and my clinical supervisors. And also my friends and my colleagues and, I'm deeply appreciative of the patience and the kindness that people have shown me as I have been working through and continue to work through my own process.

 

I know I'm very much a work in progress, but I'm grateful that people see. I have enough hope and care to try. And my sincere hope is that by all of us doing the hard work we'll get through it together and hopefully create positive change. That's enough for one episode.

 

Thank you so much for listening and I will be back in touch again soon with another episode of the love, happiness and success podcast.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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Related Post

Sex After Infidelity

Sex After Infidelity

Sex After Infidelity

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: Kwilleo, “Trust”

Sex After An Affair: It’s “Me Before We” 

So often, when your trust, self-esteem, wellbeing, and basic sense of safety have been shattered by infidelity, the experience shines a light on the places within yourself that are in need of care, attention, and healing. That’s why a good couples counselor will help the individual heal from the pain of infidelity before trying to save the relationship. 

But compassionate self-care is not always our first response when a partner cheats. It’s very common for the hurt partner to focus on healing their relationship rather than themselves in the aftermath of infidelity. 

If you pause to take care of yourself first, you’ll be more in touch with what you need from your partner to feel safe again, and then you can begin the process of rebuilding intimacy. 

How to Rebuild Trust After Cheating

The “offending partner” is often so overwhelmed by guilt, shame, and regret in the aftermath of an affair that they’re eager to put the episode in the past and move forward as fast as possible. They may even feel frustrated with the hurt partner’s inability to simply get over it.  

Recovering from infidelity doesn’t happen overnight and repairing trust is a slow process. It’s important for the offending partner to be patient with their partner’s healing and remain empathetic to all the painful feelings that accompany it, for as long as it takes. 

Effective affair recovery work requires the partner who cheated to take time for understanding and healing as well. They need to process their guilt and shame, take accountability for how they’ve hurt their partner, understand what led them to cheat, and sometimes even grieve the outside relationship. 

Post-Infidelity Stress Disorder: PTSD from Cheating

PTSD from cheating is real. The hurt partner will experience serious hurt, a sense of betrayal, jealousy, shaken self-esteem, and anger. They’re likely to fear losing the relationship, while also fearing that, if they stay, the betrayal will happen again. 

In that intense swirl of emotion, it’s hard to make a level-headed decision about whether to fix the relationship or end it. It’s smart to take some time, process feelings, and consider whether or not the relationship was actually what you wanted it to be, even minus the infidelity. 

“Hysterical Bonding” After Cheating

When cheating threatens your relationship, it’s very common for the hurt partner to feel a need to hold on at all costs. This desperate need to not let go of an important attachment bond is sometimes called “hysterical bonding,” and is more like an instinctual response than a thought-through decision. The hurt partner is simply reacting rather than stopping to think, “Can this relationship be saved? Should this relationship be saved?”

The challenge is to process the painful emotions without allowing them to sway your decision either way about whether to heal your relationship after infidelity or let it go. 

Infidelity and “The Myth of Monogamy” 

Most couples in monogamous relationships have never had a real conversation about what monogamy means to them, their attraction to other people, or where they draw the line between innocent connections and actual betrayal. 

Is chatting with an Ex allowed? Is a Facebook affair really an affair? Most couples never discuss these issues. 

Monogamy may be the norm in our culture, but affairs in long-term relationships are incredibly common. Rather than defaulting to monogamy, it’s smart for individuals and couples to think through whether that’s actually what they want, and what exactly monogamy means to them. 

Sex After Infidelity

When couples have worked to heal their emotional connection after infidelity, they’re sometimes surprised by how triggering sexual intimacy can still be. It can be hard for the hurt partner to stay present during sex and to keep their mind from drifting to the affair, and the affair partner. 

Building safety and trust outside of the bedroom, with clothes on, through consensual touch exercises can help. The partner who cheated can also try using their partner’s name, rather than “baby” or another pet name, to reinforce that they’re not thinking about anyone but their partner. 

Both partners need to step up their communication about what feels good, what doesn’t, what’s triggering, and what they need from each other to restore sexual intimacy and feel safe again after infidelity. 

How to Fix a Relationship After Cheating

It’s very common for the hurt partner to want all the details of the affair — even down to sexual positions, clothing, and how the affair partner smelled. This is a trauma response. Your body wants to know why this happened to you so it can keep it from happening again, and it thinks that having all the information will help. 

Details are delicate. They lead to painful comparisons and give the hurt partner a vivid image of the betrayal that they won’t soon forget. While the hurt partner has every right to know what happened, nothing their partner can tell them will make it all ok, or even make it make sense. Instead, more information will feed their obsession and add to their pain. 

The partner who cheated should be careful not to shut down when their partner asks for details, but rather to validate their need to know and proceed with caution, possibly with help from a marriage counselor

There are some details that the hurt partner definitely needs to know after being cheated on: possible pregnancies, STDs, and whether or not the affair partner is anyone they know. 

How to Get Over Being Cheated On

As painful and traumatizing as infidelity can be, it is possible to get over being cheated on, and there is hope on the other side. 

Infidelity is mind-blowingly hurtful, but it can lead to post-traumatic growth, and a deeper understanding of yourself and of your partner. It’s possible to heal and to move on after infidelity, healthier and happier than before — whether you do so together or separately. 

If you or a loved one is struggling to put the pieces back together after infidelity, I hope you find this episode validating and useful. And if you’ve found ways to rebuild intimacy after cheating, we’d love to hear how you did it in the comments below. 

All the best, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music in this episode is by Kwilleo, with their song Trust.

You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://kwilleo.bandcamp.com/  Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Sex After Intimacy

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: Kwilleo, “Trust”

Sex After Intimacy: Episode Highlights

  • Infidelity Recovery Stages
    • People try to heal the relationship and not themselves.
    • Educate your partners about your triggers.
    • Intimacy is not about sex.
  • PTSD from Cheating
    • PTSD is real with the affairs.
    • Commit to the healing process with your partners.
    • Emotion is intimacy.
  • Hysterical Bonding
    • A relationship can be a three-legged stool.
    • Affairs are glamorized.
  • How To Rebuild Trust After Cheating
    • Have an open and honest conversation with your partner.
    • Understand your self-intimacy.
  • Sex After Infidelity
    • Create a safe environment for your partner.
    • Your body remembers trauma.
    • You have the right to know about possible pregnancies and STDs from their infidelity.
    • Overcoming an infidelity: what’s on the other side.

[Intro song: Trust by Kwilleo]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Figuring out how to fix a relationship after cheating is a long and challenging road for most couples. Healing from infidelity happens in stages, and it can take a long time to rebuild trust after cheating. Some people say the pain of infidelity never goes away. Others find that it opens the door to a really positive new chapter of growth in a relationship. But for many couples, one of the biggest challenges for how to get over an affair is in the bedroom. Physical intimacy after infidelity can be very triggering for both partners actually. Most couples working on sex after an affair really do need professional support.

Today, that professional support is coming to you in the form of my colleague, Renelle. Renelle is a marriage and family therapist here on the team at Growing Self. But she's also a certified sex therapist with AASECT, which is the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. I just have to tell you, it is actually very hard to become an AASECT certified sex therapist. I looked into it. After reading just what all was involved, I had to lay down and take a nap. But Renelle has done it. 

In addition to that, she is also a certified infidelity coach. An area of specialty of hers is helping couples recovering from infidelity in marriage, particularly around sexuality after infidelity. Today, she is here to share her wisdom with you. Renelle, thank you so much for doing this with me today.

Renelle E. Nelson: Thank you, Dr. Lisa. I'm so excited to be here. Thank you for talking about this topic.

Infidelity Recovery Stages

Dr. Lisa: Well, this is the hard part, isn't it? I mean, there is nothing easy about trying to repair a relationship after infidelity, right? I've seen so many couples kind of work through the stages of healing, and then they get to the sex part. It gets really hard again. I'm just— I'm so thrilled that you are open to doing this with me because you are the authority on this in just so many ways, so thank you. 

Just jumping right into this, okay? I know you work with so many couples who are struggling after affairs and with sexuality separately. What are some of the things that you've noticed with your couples when they're working on sexuality, and when there has been infidelity or cheating in the past what's—air quote—normal?

Renelle: Normally, if we just go back and discuss what the affair meant. We're talking about a betrayal of trust. Affair shatters your whole well-being of yourself, your relationship, the people around you. Just think, if you are already on the cuff of not understanding yourself, or have low self-esteem, sometimes that affair shines that light on that. When I'm working with people who deal with infidelity, and trying to do something after affair, I really kind of say, “You know what? It’s me before we!” 

Many times people try to heal the relationship and not themselves. What I do is I give them a safe space to say, “Hey, I know you want to be intimate and reconnect and revive this relationship, but let's understand what the affair meant to them and said to you.” We get back into how do they feel about themselves. Things that they can control. An affair makes the hurt partner feel powerless. I want them to feel more powerful in their skin so they’d be more apt to connect. 

One thing is we talk a lot about self-intimacy. Self-intimacy is understanding what you want, what you desire, your emotional connections? What makes you aroused, what makes you not. What's your desires? What's so awesome is because now you want to rebuild this relationship, and after affair, it’s a lot of communication. It's a lot of communication because the relationship that we know it before, the marriage is gone. So many people, I say, “You know what, they want it back.” I'm like, “You know what, it's just like COVID. Before COVID— this is your new normal,” right? 

Dr. Lisa: I can’t remember what that means anymore, Renelle.

Renelle: Pre-COVID, when we go to birthday parties and blow out candles, and hug? That's gone. That doesn't mean— we can grieve that, but we can also look forward to what it could be. I take the partners, take the couples, and really just explore what they can be. But I always emphasize, “What do you need?” That personal healing piece always gets left off for the recovery.

Dr. Lisa: Well, I think that's a good point because I think that so many people — usually, the offending partner — are in such a hurry to put the past behind them. I have talked about that on other podcasts in the past. I did one about—oh gosh, what was it called—like the stages of healing after an affair, and how to start to go back, and do some of that emotional repair work. What I'm hearing you say is that that is crucial to do before any, at least healthy, sexuality will happen. Is that it? 

Renelle: And creating a space outside the bedroom. You're dealing with a hurt partner that may have triggers, who may have comparison. Sometimes they can't meet you where you want to be, and it's not go to it, we're growing through it. How can I support you through it? Educating each partner about the triggers, how to support each other through the triggers, validating the infidel, or how to listen to the hurt partner, and just see what they got going on so they can understand them, right? There's no right or wrong. There's no right or wrong. It comes from healing. It comes from understanding. But you can't heal what you don't know. I always ask my partners to understand you because you want this intimacy building, but you have to know what to discuss.

Intimacy is “into me, you see”. When your partner comes in, what are they looking at? It's not always sexual. It's like, “You know what, what's my dreams? What do I want out of life?” It's really reconnecting with who you are so your partner can see who you are. We're doing that outside the bedroom. So many people come to me and want to jump right in the bedroom. I say, “You know what, it’s just like an oven. Some women, we need to have it on all day, or like a crockpot — how you set it on. By the time you get home, you can smell — the smell so good.” A lot of stuff comes naturally doing. It’s just like we're just not quick, and when you're healing from a betrayal, oh, it's going to take longer than that because we have so many layers to pull back.

Betrayal shatters our well-being, our trust, our safety. We have to understand all that. If we want to heal successfully through that, our partner has to support us during that. A lot of that comes Lisa, outside of the bedroom.

Dr. Lisa: Yes, fantastic points. I completely agree. I was really struck by something that you just said outside of the bedroom, and how it's like creating the context in which sexuality can occur. You were talking about how important it is for the offending partner to really have a lot of empathy and understanding for all those layers of pain that you described.

Trust is broken. Safety is broken. Self-esteem, all these things. I'm wondering if you can speak to one thing because I have struggled with this with my own couples sometimes, which is when I think the person who has had the affair or cheated, I think that they feel so guilty and ashamed and eager to move. It's almost like they can feel frustrated with their partner for being hurt or being angry, and want them to sort of feel better and, air quote, move on. It's like… So they can get impatient with some of those. I mean, you're such an expert on this. I'm asking for the benefit of my listeners, and also for myself right now. How do you help people with that?

Renelle: I will let the hurt—the infidel, I call them infidel—understand that they need personal healing too. A lot of their stuff is a trauma response. They want to get through because they can endure the pain. I let them be empathetic or if you can't deal with it hearing, think about what they're doing. They're dealing with it. You're just hearing about it. What can we do to make your ear stay on and not fall off? What can we do to create a safe environment of not blaming shame so you can be more attuned to your partner of what they need, and take accountability because that's going to build safety. That's going to rebuild trust, and that’s what’s going to create intimacy. 

Sometimes, we always go for the hurt partner, but I always focus on the infidel. They need understanding and healing too. I know in this moment people may say, “Well, they do understand,” because a lot of them don't understand. A lot of them going outside the relationship can be anything, but can nobody force them to the affair, and just seeing where the root of that is. 

Giving them the understanding, and then for them to have a space to be like, “You know what, you right! I never thought I need healing.” Sometimes, to grieve what that outside relationship did for them. We don't talk about that. We don't talk about the grief in that. That opened up a whole can of worms.

PTSD from Cheating

Dr. Lisa: Well, there is so much to unpack here, and I want to talk about that. First of all, just what a brilliant intervention. I'm hearing you say that as hard as… Because it's easy to be mad at the person that cheated, right? What you're saying is that the empathy and the understanding for what happened with them, and that they need healing too. I just want to acknowledge what a compassionate perspective that is, and I can see how that would really help. I love what you're saying,  just hearing your partner talk about how hurt they are is hard for you. Can you imagine what it was like for them to go through the experience? That's so good. 

Renelle: I just want the listeners to understand, I'm not by any means saying that let them get away. It’s not that. It’s creating a safe environment for understanding. Understanding promotes healing, even if you don't be with that partner ever again. The trauma still exists. PTSD is real with the affairs. One thing is you don't have to commit to your partner, but commit to the process of healing. You may not agree, that does not mean you don't have to understand, and letting go of that power that affair has on you. I know people like “Oh, they did this. They broke my—,” I understand all of that. But having that is not going to get you to where you need to be.

Dr. Lisa: So much good stuff in there. Empowerment. I want to talk about affair PTSD. But you also started talking about something incredibly important a minute ago, which is the truth that the partner—the infidel—may also be experiencing a very real loss. That they may have had an attachment and a connection to the person they were having an affair with. That is painful for them to lose.

Renelle: Yes, it comes from talking to infidels, and just understanding the selfishness, and selfishness that some has to do with their own intimacy. Their need in love, right? Their need in love, and maybe, lack of communication, right? It's like several different types of affairs. Sometimes, it's not right. But sometimes people go outside the marriage to get their needs met. Sometimes it's a split self that they have a happy marriage, but this person gives them this. When it’s exposed, it’s like, “You know what? I can't lose everything. I have to go back to my marriage. But this person made me feel alive. This person listened to me. This person assisted me.” It is hard to tell somebody in a hurt state, and they grieve that because… 

That's why we have to, in recovery, look at the relationship and see how did the relationship open a door? It’s no blame or shame. But I tell my hurt partners, “You are not responsible for the affair, but you are responsible for your role in the relationship. I'm not saying sometimes affairs can be symptoms, sometimes not. But we have to rule it out and look at it. Again, it's a neutral territory, but just that understanding and just let them see, especially if they want to work on it, like, “Man! The relationship was flatline.” What made you. Talking to people is the feeling, not the person. It’s the feeling that brought them along, like the feeling of excitement, the feeling that you see me. I just didn’t talk about a repair— how can we revise that relationship and take that feeling?

Dr. Lisa: How can you feel that way with your partner?

Renelle: How can you feel that way? It's a grief process because I'm coming back to some more of the same. They know they want to be there, but they don't want more of the same, and they can't communicate that.

Dr. Lisa: Well, and it's so hard, isn't it? Because when the hurt partner is just in that, I mean, you use the word trauma, PTSD. We just found out that somebody was having an affair and they're shocked, and they're hurt, and they feel terrible, and they're angry. It's so hard, I think, in that space to help them recognize that the pain that their partner may have been feeling or that kind of feeling that they were moving towards outside the relationship, it can be hard for them to have empathy for that.

Renelle: It could be very hard. It could be hard. That's why I said, it's good to talk to somebody because we are emotional beings. Emotion is intimacy. Sometimes, I tell the hurt partner, “Take the time you need. Surround yourself with people who respect the relationship, and try to just get into your body because you don't want to make a lifelong decision on emotion.” Yes, it’s hurtful. Yes, it’s that. But I don't want you to make a lifelong decision on an emotion.

Dr. Lisa: What do you mean? What would be a lifelong decision?

Renelle: A lot of times leaving, staying? Our relationships should or can’t be saved, right? Looking at that, and then doing the in-depth talk about the attachment, and why are you here. What do you want? Are you more of romanticize having a marriage, or do you want your partner? Sometimes we have to look at the relationship. Was it really a relationship or was it just people playing the roles and the part? 

When we hear about affairs, not all affairs happen because of a bad marriage, or a good marriage. It's the players involved in it. I'm seeing that when I go back and really do counseling with them after their affair recovery, the relationship wasn't even what they wanted. But the point of separated, they fall for that. It’s the renewal and understanding. Honest and transparent communication heals, and it’s not brutal. We think honesty is brutal, and it doesn't have to be brutal. In case it is going to help or harm us, that's what make it honest. But you have to be real with yourself. I'm always gonna say this to listeners, you have to understand, “me before we.”

Dr. Lisa: That can be so much to unpack. I recorded a podcast recently with another one of our colleagues here in our group, Kensington. I think she hosts our breakup support group, and she was talking about how being attached to someone, like bonded to someone, has nothing to do with whether or not that's a good relationship. That's like that split, intellectually knowing that somebody isn't good for you, but feeling like it's so hard to let go of them and this is also a context of n the relationship being over. 

What you're saying is that “me before we” of how difficult it is, and how important it is to help people sort through what is their truth around, “Am I afraid to leave this relationship because of my attachment to you or is it because I want to stay married? What is real?” In the swirl of emotions, I mean, right after an affair. How hard is that? I mean, people really need help sorting through all that.

Renelle: That's one of the key questions in journaling is, “What did affair say to you? When did you feel that emotion before? I do a lot about betrayal. I love talking about betrayal because betrayal, it’s just not affairs. Betrayals are unspoken contracts. You can have a betrayal because you went outside to talk to somebody didn't tell me. It's so many small betrayals —,financial betrayal. It’s so many different types of betrayal, but you don't know unless you communicate. You can’t assume. Just talking about the betrayals, and what did affair say to you, and it brings up a lot of deep rooted betrayals that they had through their life. It goes real deep and it shows. Because it's all talk. It's all talk on what to do. 

Having that reflection for yourself is so amazing because you go back in a relationship feeling more woke, and you're going to be more assertive. Not aggressive, assertive. When something happens — because you’re already hyper-vigilant — “You know what, we need to do this or we don't need this. I need this.” And making sure your partner is fully present to hear you. Understanding yourself is such a key to intimacy after infidelity.

Hysterical Bonding

Dr. Lisa: There are so many questions that I have right now, and I'm sure that our listeners here do too. One of the things that you also alluded to, I have heard it called — I wish there was a better word for it — but technically, this hysterical bonding, and it's like this automatic emotional response. If attachment is threatened or ruptured, or if there's an affair, the instinct is actually to try to stay with a partner and reconnect with them, whether or not that's like a good idea longer term, when people can slow down and connect with themselves as you're advising. Have you seen that happen where people just instinctively want to try to stay connected?

Renelle: Yeah.

Dr. Lisa: What do you make of that?

Renelle: It's all go deep down into our upbringing — betrayal, trauma response, attachment, demons dance and go with each other. Sometimes that we learn that we need to have this relationship and have a third party to make it even. We don't talk about that triangulation. Sometimes it's a person, place or thing. Is our marriage in a person, place or thing—like a triangle? 

The affair is not fun no more if you don't have that. It's not, “My wife know about us,” “My husband know about us.” It’s the triangulation. Sometimes, we need something third to just smooth it out. That comes from a lot of trauma and seeing that, “I need this in order to do this.” I've seen a lot of people do it like that. Their demons dance good with each other, or you fit this need, but I need something for this need. I see a lot of that, but then when I asked them to stop and think about it, that's when a real discovery happens — the why. The why. Then, it's really unpacking, then understanding their selves, then talking to their partner about what that means.

Dr. Lisa: That makes a lot… I've heard it described as that a relationships can be like a three-legged stool. A three-legged relationship is actually more stable than a dyad between two people. What you're saying is that there can be realizations that early childhood experiences, or traumas or like attachment stuff for the one person that they didn't even realize can be making them gravitate towards that three-legged stool because of the intensity of that one on one relation. 

Renelle: Your career, kids, everything. Remember I said that a person, place, or thing — it’s not always — video games. It's not always…

Dr. Lisa: That actually hits kind of close to home.

Renelle: It’s not always another person

Dr. Lisa: That's a good… Like, what is the third leg? You're saying that when you crack into that with people, there's a “why” there. There's a “why.” That makes sense. Again, going way beyond the scope of a podcast. I mean, this is something that you unpack over many sessions with people over time, but like, what are some of the things that you've discovered through your work that it can be some of the things that people are taking with them? The life experiences that make them more vulnerable to creating that three-legged person, place or thing.

Renelle: Survival. Survival. A lot of men, and some African American men, sometimes was taught, “when I'm hurt” — doesn't count for everybody — when I’m taught it, sometimes it was just for survival because they taught uncles and cousins, and everything, “You always have something on the side. Sometimes, something on the side make the house more better.” You have these… It's just a learned thing, and it's a generational narrative sometimes. If you talk to people — and it can be the opposite. 

I saw my mother go through this. I saw her do so much for my dad, and he’d do this, I'm never gonna be like her. I'm never gonna put all my all in this. I never want to be like A. I never want to be like C. I saw this hurt somebody. The hurt partner has a history, and the infidel has a history, right? That's the thing is understanding and tapping that, and getting to know that because it is a why and it's a root. If we act on emotion, we never know what that is. Sometimes the person doesn't know until you ask the right questions about it. But it's all learned. It’s learned by generations and society. 

Society holds up because the great peg… Monogamy myth. The monogamy myth. Affairs are glamorized. Women get book deals and prizes. Book deals, everything. The tell-all book about all my escapades. The side chick. The mystery. It was even a show on ABC called Mistresses. All this is glamorized. Society is like, “Okay, it’s acceptable.” Right? It's one thing is that we have to get down and peel out the layer, but what did this mean for you? 

One thing that I love to discuss is monogamy. Stop assuming people are monogamous. Just don't say I do. Talk about monogamy through your relationship. Talk about attraction to others. Talk about what betrayal means. These are the conversations that are not happening.

How to Rebuild Trust After Cheating

Dr. Lisa: Well, let's have a little bit of it right now. You talked about the myth of monogamy. Tell me more about that.

Renelle: The myth of monogamy is that everybody wants monogamy, but then it's a whole part that does it. We know that monogamy, talk about monogamy as a business. We talk about nobody is monogamous. Different cultures and everything. No matter what it is, it’s what it means to you. Having these conversations, right? Then, we also talk about what doing affairs. I have to talk about it. Who else held that affair? We’ve got to look at your family. 

The biggest thing with affairs is who knows. It's the shame and the guilt that people know, and it meant to them that I can't take care of my person. Nobody talks about that. Relationships end because they cannot deal with the shame, especially if did your parents know? Did your friends know? Did your coworkers know? How can I show my face again?

Who knew and didn't tell me? This is another betrayal. It's so many there. It’s so many betrayals. You mean, you took around your family. You mean your best friend who come over knew, and nobody told me? How can I have a relationship with his… How can I go up to the school again? How can I do this? It's a lot of shame. Just going by that, it weighs on a lot. But shame, yes. Oh my goodness! That's such a big thing that nobody talks about. That’s saving face.

Dr. Lisa: Layers of betrayal that were betrayed by the partner. But all these other people that were kind of complicit in what was happening. 

Renelle: It's a lot. What I do want to say is even through all that, again, all relationships can’ or should not be saved. But the ones who I find that want to work, we work through a lot of commitment. We work with commitment. We know what's going to vary. We build on a lot of stuff. I let people know who like, “I will never do this.” Trust me, you don't hear about how many people stayed because affairs are so hidden. It’s the shame. A lot of times my client, “But what is so-and-so going to think? What is someone so going to think?” I'm like, “Trust me, it's just like with sex.” When we talk about what's normal for sex, people lie. But you got to do what's right for you, but that's a good thing. I just want to say that because societal views, and family and friends weigh heavily on monogamy.

Dr. Lisa: Coming back around. This is such a complex and multidimensional path of healing — the only way of saying it — like so many deep things to explore on both sides. Both partners are carrying hurt and there's so many different variables. You're saying that things really need to be worked through thoroughly there in order to begin rebuilding a sexual relationship and when it comes to that — so I have much less experience with this then than you do obviously — but what I have seen, and working with couples around affair recovery is that they do a lot of good emotional work and healing, and rebuilding trust. When it's time to feel stable enough to kind of start being sexually intimate with each other again, it is a huge trigger. Like you use the term affair PTSD a little while ago, and that's very apt. What do you see with that piece?

Renelle: We talk a lot about triggers. We talk about not letting the affair partner in your head, and if you are, how to get over that — not over, we'll talk about it — because I want your partner to know when you just spaced out. With my pleasure act of betrayal, we start again outside the bedroom. We start with consensual touch. Can I touch you here? Do you mind if I touch you here? Would you like for me to touch you here? How can I support you? It’s really building a lot of safety and trust outside the bedroom because your mind is racing, “Did you do this with them, or do this with them?” 

I like to make the bedroom like a sanctuary. We do a lot of exercise with the clothes on. A lot of massages. A lot of getting on feeling safe. Building that safety back. Building that, “I can trust you again.” A lot of conversation getting to know. When we get in the bedroom, and we’re taking it slow, very consensual. I do a lot of grounding exercise because sometimes we don't like the pet names. Sometimes, I say, “Call your partner by their name so they know you're talking to them.” Because sometimes they disassociate and think about, “Oh, I'm not this. I'm not, if you say ‘baby.’” “Renelle, you look beautiful today.” “Lisa, I love the way you feel.” It takes Lisa and Renelle out of their head, and be like “You're talking to me.”

Dr. Lisa: That is such a… Because I think that's the fear. The last person they did this with was their affair partner. Are they thinking about them right now? What was that like? How do I compare? Are they thinking about them while we're together right now? And that is brilliant. You're saying use their names so they know you’re talking to them.

Renelle: Using their name creates a lot of grounding, consensual touch. Consensual touch above the clothes, and then ask, gradually go without the clothes. Every affair recovery and talking to your partner what does sexual intimacy look like? We know intimacy is not sex. But what does sexual intimacy look like? Talk a lot about affection intimacy. What is it look like? Intimacy is the intent to connect. Ask your partner. Don't assume! Ask them what they need. That's why I say self-intimacy first because when your partner say, “What do you need when you're triggered? Where can I touch you? What makes you feel good?” 

You're going to explore together, and this is something that an affair can never do. It’s the intimacy. It’s the connection that you need to open that up to build back that trust. A lot of allyship, pleasure allies, outside the bedroom, and in proving that ally is a pleasure inside the bedroom. Taking the time. Playing with sensuality. Playing with different things, and taking your time in a slower pace. “I want to relearn you, and what do I need to do that? But also let me know when something doesn't feel right so I can support you.”

Dr. Lisa: And just like making it okay for people to feel scared or anxious, or have those intrusive thoughts come up, and to be talking about that as they do.

Renelle: When you have those thoughts, how can I support you? Touch can be grounded. So many times, as we know in relationships, when something falls to the wayside, touch and communication is the first to go. In this building phase, that's what we need. You wonder why the affair phase is so hard because we self-betray ourselves. Because I'm hurting. Self-betrayal — we’re always talking about betrayal from somebody else, but we never talk about the betrayal of ourselves. Self-betrayal is a residue of betrayal. “I'm not worthy. I don't deserve. I don't deserve pleasure. I'm fat. I'm broke. I'm this. You cheated on me.” Everything that happens with self-betrayal. 

Even though you are healed, or working on your relationship, that residue of self-betrayal is there. Sometimes, you don't feel like you may not deserve to be in this space. “I don't deserve to do this because I'm still healing.” Sometimes I say, “It's just like with anything. You need gas in the car to move.” Right? Don't self betray yourself of just friendly touch, friendly grounding, friendly understanding. It's okay to laugh. Sometimes you need energy for this journey. Just thinking you're going to ride on fumes is not good for you. Just let them understand that because I don't want him to touch me. I don't want… I say, “I can understand all that but where can you get physical touch? Consensual. Where can you get touched because you need it. Don't self-betray yourself and because I'm in this her space. I don't want any of it because you're running on fumes, and you can't.

Sex After Infidelity

Dr. Lisa: That's such a wise perspective. I want to ask you something, and this is for the benefit of people who might be wondering the same thing right now. Okay. You have two partners, they're in the bedroom. One of them is starting to feel triggered than the other says, “What do you need from me right now?” And one partner says, “I need you to tell me every single thing you ever did with her sexually. What did she look like? What are the boobs look like? What was she wearing?” I mean, what do you say to people who are like “I need details”?

Renelle: Before we even get to that, I work on that even before we get into the bedroom. We have a time that we ask all the details that you want to know. We put a time limit on it. We avoid comparison, right? You can't heal what you don't know, but you also don't want to make it worse. I have to tell the hurt partner, “I know you want to know all that, but what is it going to do for you?” “I just want to know, I just want to know.” I said, “Is it going to make it worse?” “I just want to know” “What's knowing going to do.” We do want knowing. I say, “Do you feel better?” It’s nothing that's going make you feel ‘Aha! I get it,’ because your heart is shattered. It’s nothing your partner can say to make you feel better. “Oh, that's why you do it.” Nothing! Nothing is going to make you feel better. You think you're going to get that one magic dose of that, “That's why you did it.” You're not, right? 

It's like, “What do you need now? What do you need?” “Well, I need to know.” “What do you need to know, or what do you want to know?” And we do that even before we get to the bedroom. I will just say to that couple that's laying in the bed and like that. I would like the infidel to say, “You know what, honey? You deserve all of that. Let's talk about it tomorrow. Let's just cuddle right now. Let's talk about that tomorrow. Validate their need. Understand the emotion. Don't stop the intimacy, right? Just say, “Okay, let's just cuddle? Do you want me to rub your feet? What do you need right now? I still want to connect with you, but you do have a right to know, right? But let's put a pin in it and talk about it tomorrow. Is that okay?” 

Just understanding what they're going through on everything, and know… Because sometimes it'd do no harm. You’re already harmed but this is not going to make you feel any better. Validate it, “I'm not putting it off. Just putting a pin in it to a later day.” Or if it's that bad, “You know what? Let's put on our clothes, and let's go for a walk. I can answer to your questions. Come out the bedroom, right? If it's that intense, but understand what they need. Validate the need, try to comfort them and their needs. Either stay there or leave. We try to talk about what that looks like for a safe environment.

Dr. Lisa: Well, that's a good point. You're saying like in the moment of sexual intimacy, that is not the right time to be… It is potentially causing more harm than good. I heard you say a couple of other interesting things which was, it's valid — and the people deserve to have information — but to be very cautious and to have conversations around, “Is this going to help you, or is this going to make it worse?” Because when you say, “Maybe making it worse by having more information.” What kinds of things have you seen with that?

Renelle: I had people asked the position, taste, smell — everything — pictures, it’s an obsession. Because remember, when your body is traumatized, your natural instinct is to know. Understanding trauma. Trauma can live when there is got lacks of body. Understanding your body remembers trauma — understanding your body. When you understand trauma, your body wants to understand what happens because your body is stuck in understanding. If you gave me the pieces, I'm going to understand, and I let my clients know you're not going to get the understanding. You're going to get vivid tragic memories — flashbacks. 

Dr. Lisa: Of things that you didn't see. 

Renelle: You’re going to go to sleep and are you going to think of… “Look at you’re…” and then the comparison kills you. Comparison kills you, right? “Am I this, and I'm that?” Especially I have a lot of men that are hurt partners. Their wife cheated on them. People like, “It’s more men.” And I'm like, let me let you know. It’s even and out right now. Please don't think that; men go through it too. They go through a lot because it shatters their manhood. It shatters what they're looking at in society. Just understand that and just validating that, Not brush it off. “You know what? I know you want to know, but I just want to give you some. I don't want to hurt you.” If they say, “I can take it, I can take it.” I'll be like…

Dr. Lisa: Thank you for explaining why it's not helpful. It's because that traumatized mind does become vigilant. It becomes obsessive, and it feels like the right thing to do is be seeking information, and like putting things together. What you said, something that I just thought was so profound, which is that when you get lots of vivid details, it creates a visual image in your head that traumatizes you from the inside out over and over, and over, and over again. It's like creating a traumatizing experience for yourself. Thank you so much for explaining that to me. I didn't really put those pieces together before but that’s why…

Renelle: Because Lisa, remember, your body wants to protect you. If you feed the body something, it's just hyper-vigilant. Like you say, you ever bought a rare car and only see rare cars. Think about if you put this ideal person and you, that's all you’re going to look like, “I bet he messed with her. I bet she messed with him.” You’re visual, because your body wants to protect you. Your body wants to protect you. That's what the triggers are for. That's where nightmares… Like nightmares — everything. Your subconscious is all to protect. It comes out in different ways. If you understand, if you feed it, it'll grow. 

But also understand that I understand that sometimes you can't heal what you don't know. You have to know to heal. You just mount to get you where you need to go. But understand, over the mount can be harmful for you. Knowing the hotel room and going by in case you triggered that's where you find it by knowing what happened in there. Is that going to make you feel better? 

Now, for sex because we're talking about sex. What you do need to know — possible pregnancies, STDs. That's the things that you need to know. Various positions — everything like that — that's what I'm like, “Do you really want to know that?” But you have the right to know about possible pregnancies, STDs, AIDS. You have the right to know that for your safety. Anything above and beyond that, who? Sometimes we know who. “The thing is, is it anybody I know? Is it anybody I know? Anybody I should be aware of?” Because you be so hyper-vigilant because you live in a stance that it can be anybody. Sometimes, letting the partner know, “No, it's not anybody you know.”

Dr. Lisa: Just to be able to make informed choices. Like if it is somebody that you know, now I understand that is not a safe person. I mean, you do actually need to know those.

Renelle: Yeah, they want to feel more powerful, or was that a powerless? Affair takes away all your power — it shatters your whole well-being, and you are in a state of numbness and shock for so long. Just understanding that.

Dr. Lisa: The other thing, and maybe my big takeaway from this fantastic conversation is also this idea that growth and healing are very possible, and that there's a lot. If we have to go deep, we can't leapfrog over all of the things. You've worked with so many couples through this. What have you seen for couples on the other side?

Renelle: I see it good on the other side because I let them know if you stay where you should go, the trauma still exists. Let's heal. Let's commit to the process of healing and understanding. The couples who stay, it's like a real awakening and awareness. They’re hurt, but they're growing through it. Just like, it’s more like we know we talk more about affair proofing, and we talk more than we ever had. We don't take stuff for granted anymore—everything like that. All the literature about affairs, it can make a relationship better. 

Do we tell everybody, “Go out and have an affair”? No! We're not saying that. We’re just giving people the hope that if two committed people that are genuine, honest, and transparent, it can make it better. If they got alternative motives, it's not. That's why it can't be for the kids. It can't be for the house. It can’t be for the business. Those I say don't really make it, is building on the shaky ground.

Dr. Lisa: Renelle, this was such a wonderful conversation. Thank you so much just coming on today and speaking with me about this. For the benefit of our listeners, I know that there are a lot of people hearing your wisdom that really benefited from it today. Thank you 

Renelle: I hope so. I like to shine a light on it because a lot of people don't talk about it, and I want to talk about it.

Dr. Lisa: Well, you have an open invitation to come back and talk about it anytime you want, okay?

Renelle: Thank you! I'll take you up on that.

[Outro song: Trust by Kwilleo]

Music in this episode is by Kwilleo, with their song Trust.

You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://kwilleo.bandcamp.com/  Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

How to Deal with In-Laws

How to Deal with In-Laws

How to Deal with In-Laws

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music credits: “We're Leaving,” by DeVotchKa

Music credits: “We're Leaving,” by DeVotchKa

How To Deal With In-Laws — A Survival Guide

The holidays are upon us, which, for many, means spending time with our partner’s family. While family togetherness and holiday cheer can be beautiful, it can also be a time of stress, particularly when it comes to dealing with in-laws. If you’re worried about dealing with in-laws this holiday season, don’t worry — we’re here to help

In-Law Problems? You’re Not Alone

If you have in-law problems, you’re not alone. In-law relationships can be difficult to navigate, especially if you come from a very different family of origin than your partner. You may not know how to deal with in-laws if they have different ways of resolving conflict than your family, or if they’re noisier about your parenting or your personal life than your family of origin tends to be, or if they hold political views that you find a bit…off-putting. 

Holiday visits with children can be an especially fraught domain when in-laws get involved, especially if you have controlling in-laws, pushy in-laws, or in-laws with boundary issues. If you’re doing your best to parent your kids without losing your mind, while keeping your relationship strong after kids, any unsolicited parenting advice will sound a lot like criticism, no matter how well-intended. 

Around the holidays, couples often get into arguments about how to deal with their in-laws: Whose family to visit? Which subjects to discuss, and which to avoid? How to respond when Uncle Bill takes his Facebook rants to the Thanksgiving table? What if you don’t want to spend time with in-laws?

Even outside of the holidays, many couples find dealing with in-laws difficult, and struggle to find a healthy middle ground that respects the integrity of their new family while also maintaining relationships with each other's “first family.” Overbearing mothers-in-law, judgmental fathers-in-law, or in-laws who simply don’t treat you like family are the stuff of holiday comedies for a reason — they’re tropes many of us can recognize in our own in-law experiences. 

Help For Dealing With In-Laws

If you don’t want to spend time with your in-laws (and many people don’t), it can be incredibly hurtful to your partner and so it’s important to navigate these important relationships as best you can. 

On this episode of the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast, I put together an “in-law survival guide” for you to not just handle in-laws with diplomacy and grace, but to come together as a couple around setting appropriate limits with each other's families, both now and in the future.

I'm sharing my best advice on how to strengthen the family you created together and come into each other's “first family” as a couple. We'll also talk about communication strategies, as well as tips to help you stay in a good place if you find yourself in a challenging interpersonal situation with your partner's family.

I hope that these ideas help you honor and respect each other, while also maintaining the extended family relationships that are so important to both of you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

How to Deal with In-Laws

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music credits: “We're Leaving,” by DeVotchKa

Emotional Flooding

Emotional Flooding

Emotional Flooding

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: “Urgent Blowout” by Brandy

Emotional Flooding

Emotional flooding is impacting communication in your relationships — whether or not you’re consciously aware of it. Have you ever wondered why you lose it sometimes, and say things you regret later? Or why you get to a certain point with people where you just cannot talk anymore, and shut down or withdraw? These are both examples of emotional flooding: Lashing out and shutting down are two sides of the same coin. 

Flooding Psychology

Anytime we tangle with someone, we become physiologically elevated. Whether or not you’re aware of it, your body is dumping stress hormones out into your bloodstream that increase your heart rate, narrow your perspective, and energize your body to effectively fight, flee, or freeze. 

This biologically-based, completely normal reaction does strange things to your brain: It makes the “human” part stop working very well. Your compassionate, self-aware, rational, and well-spoken self gets hijacked by your entirely emotional mid-brain. That part of you gives no craps about consequences, is not particularly rational or articulate, and is here to win or die trying.

Emotional Flooding in Relationships

If you’re in a knife fight, that’s a good thing. But if it’s happening when you and your partner are trying to decide between pizza or burritos… that’s not going to bode well for your relationship. Unless! Unless you’re aware that emotional flooding is happening inside you (or your partner), and you know how to effectively manage it so that it doesn’t damage your relationship.

Everyone gets flooded emotionally, and that’s okay. The trick is to recognize when it’s happening and help everybody calm back down before things get nasty. How? That, my friend, is what we’re talking about on today’s episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

With me is my dear friend and colleague, Lisa Jordan. Lisa is a therapist and a level two Gottman-certified marriage counselor at Growing Self. Listen to this episode to hear her insights about flooding psychology. She delves into what it means to be emotionally flooded and how it can impact relationships and discusses different manifestations of emotional flooding to help you see it coming. Her advice in keeping our emotions from overflowing will be helpful for every couple out there, and I hope you listen!

Listen to “Emotional Flooding” To…

  • Learn what emotional flooding is about.
  • Recognize when you're becoming emotionally flooded.
  • Find out the science behind being emotionally overwhelmed.
  • Understand the secret gift behind the “perpetual problems” in most relationships.
  • Discover ways of becoming emotionally healthy with your partner.
  • Realize the importance of self-compassion and emotional safety in a relationship.
  • Challenge yourself in creating a healthy space for yourself and your partner.

You can listen to this podcast episode on Spotify, on Apple Podcasts (don’t forget to subscribe!), or right here on the page. If you’re more of a reader, show notes and a full transcript are below. For more on the subject, be sure to check out this article about emotional flooding from Lisa!

Thanks for joining us today, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Emotional Flooding

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Emotional Flooding: Episode Highlights

Emotional Flooding – Defined

Many do not realize that they are emotionally flooded. When people get involved in a conflict, each escalation contributes to a state of fight, flight, or freeze. Emotional flooding is a mix of the biology and chemistry happening in the brain when stress transitions into conflict. It is a physiological activation that occurs in a fight. It escalates rapidly, which disables you from thinking rationally and communicating with your partner.

Emotional flooding can make small things feel so big. We tend to say and do things haphazardly when in a state of overwhelm. Words can become like knives thrown to assert dominance in an argument. The sad thing about this is that we may not even remember why there was a conflict in the first place. We continue to fight since we feel threatened by our partner. However, as everything intensifies, we don't notice the rift that slowly develops in the relationship. Over time, being in constant emotional flood leads to irreparable damage to trust and emotional safety. Emotional flooding can cause relationships to seriously go downhill.

Draining The Emotional Flood

When two people in a conflict are both emotionally flooded, both lose the capacity to back down. The self-awareness to know when you are emotionally flooded will help you get on top of things and understand the situation. Recognizing emotional flooding can even help couples recover faster from the aftermath of the conflict. Additionally, having the heart to apologize is also key to keeping a long-standing, healthy relationship.

Taking breaks is essential for de-escalating emotions. Physical checks (e.g., heart pounding, shortness of breath, rising blood pressure) can help you to recognize if it's a good time to rest and drain the flood. Taking a break is not just time off. It's “bringing yourself back to a place of calm.”

Instead of being busy planning on your rebuttal, take the time to listen to your partner. Think first: “Is there anything that you can acknowledge for your partner that they have a legitimate point about?”

Spending your time listening, focusing, and being with them is a way to both stop and even prevent both of you from becoming emotionally overwhelmed.

Fight or Flight Response In Marriage

Our limbic system has been with us for millions of years. It has accompanied us as an adaptive tool responsible for the fight or flight response: We needed it to survive. But now, in modern times, we rarely have situations that require us to fight or flee. The brain, however, still makes use of our survival instincts. The rational part of the brain can still go offline, leaving us overwhelmed. The brain translates the things our partner says or does as something dangerous, which shuts down our rationality and leads to emotional flooding.

Impacts Of Emotional Flooding

In Lisa’s marriage counseling sessions, she’s had numerous couples share their experiences with her – with many of them having stories of emotional flooding. Many of the couples she's worked with had conflicts that lasted days. These continued to a point where they no longer communicated with each other. Lisa shares, “In my experience, when couples are escalated and they're having conflict, they may be yelling, [and] they may be saying hurtful things. They move away from each other. And both feel abandoned, but maybe for different reasons.”Couples find it difficult to finish arguments because there’s not enough safety for them to stay. However, it is vital in a relationship to address conflicts right away. These moments are when self-awareness is critical. We should assess if we are becoming overwhelmed and if we need to take a break. But we also need to be responsible enough to come back to an argument – all calm and collected. Leaving a conflict hanging can make your partner feel abandoned and invalidated.Continuously keeping conflicts unresolved may also make them think that their partner can't or won't meet their expectations and needs.

The Perpetual Problem

Even great relationships have problems and conflicts. It’s all about the attitude, trust, and commitment to the relationship that make it work. Younger couples may attach themselves to a fairytale version of what a relationship is. And experiencing it, with all its realities, can make them feel disappointed. They start losing confidence as conflicts arise, which can easily lead to being emotionally flooded.

However, disagreements will happen in a relationship — it's normal. Lisa even goes on to say that “69% of our disagreements are perpetual”. It can be lifestyle issues like one of you being a messy person while the other one is a neat person. Since things like this are hard to change, we’ll just have to be accepting.

Lisa advises, “If we know that the two-thirds of what we go through in life are the problems of just being in relation with other people, we might as well focus our attention on that 1/3 of problems that are actually solvable. Creating some space around the rest of the stuff, making it more workable, or negotiating how we want to deal with things.”

Build Up Your Relationship With Yourself

One of the most significant steps in having a healthy marriage is to have a healthy relationship with yourself. By being kind to yourself and developing that self-compassion, you can create a kind of emotional safety inside of you. When you feel emotionally safe by yourself, you become less reactive and more understanding. You become a person who can transmit emotional safety and compassion to your partner as well.

Resources: Emotional Flooding

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[Intro Song: Urgent Blowout by Brandy]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Today, we're talking about a very important concept when it comes to relationships. But one that is not well understood by many people. That is emotional flooding and what it does to us. I tell you what, when I have worked with couples in counseling, who really get what emotional flooding is and the impact that can have on communication, so many things changed for them. This is a very important thing to understand, and that is what we're doing on today's episode of the podcast. 

I am so pleased to be talking today with my colleague, Lisa Jordan. Lisa is a couple's counselor on our team, who has a lot of training in this area. She has a ton of expertise in helping couples identify different areas of communication that are problematic and improving them, and in particular, around emotional flooding. I'm so excited to talk with her about this today and to get her to share her great advice with you. Lisa, thank you.

Lisa Jordan: Oh, thank you so much for inviting me. It's a pleasure to be here.

How Hidden Emotional Flooding Is

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, I really wanted to talk with you about this. Because lately, I have been doing episodes on these. I almost think of them as like hidden rocks or obstacles. Have you ever had that experience like you're in a stream or something, and there's this stone that you don't see and that's the one that you slip on or that you bump your shin on? There are these things that happen in relationships that are kind of like that. There are these things that you don't see coming. 

I think a lot of people don't understand in the moment what is happening and the major significance of these things. Recently, I recorded an episode around invalidation and how very easy it is to respond to your partner in a way that makes them feel really bad. You don't mean to, and it can really damage trust and emotional safety over time. I think that emotional flooding is really one of those. People just don't even know that it's there and it is ruining their relationship nonetheless. 

Lisa Jordan: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I do think that the emotional flooding, that whole term, and that idea, is something that people wouldn't initially think about. They just consider that they're in conflict. They don't necessarily understand how it's part of the dance that they're doing. Each person is doing something that pushes it further and further along until all of a sudden, it's something that it wasn't in the beginning.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Chairs are getting thrown out, people are screeching off in their cars very dramatically. I know. All kinds of different places. 

What Emotional Flooding Is

Dr. Lisa: To orient our listeners, because emotional flooding, I think, it is such a weird and in some ways, clinical term, emotional flooding. Let's just start with the basics. What does emotional flooding mean? What is emotional flooding?

Lisa Jordan: When I talk about emotional flooding, what I mean is that when people are engaged in something that will eventually be conflictual, it starts at a point where the emotions are not particularly involved. With each escalation, blood pressure’s going up; the heart starts pounding. That escalated state where we move into that fight, flight, or freeze, creates something that's very different. 

Whenever I'm working with a couple and they say, “We got to this place where some very mean things were said, and our feelings got hurt,” I know that we're talking about emotional flooding. Because when you're not in that state, you're not even in a position to be saying and doing the things that ultimately happen when you're elevated like that. Emotional flooding is when you think about the biology and the chemistry. It's where all that science comes in. 

Most people have heard of fight, flight. Everyone is a little bit stressed right now. So I think we're all living from time to time in fight, flight, freeze. But that's where the emotional flooding comes from. If you never are able to discharge that excess stress, and then, you move into something that's conflict with your partner, it escalates very quickly so that you're no longer using the rational, more well-thought-out part of your brain and thinking about the things that you and I are always trying to teach in couples communication, which is to talk to each other with kindness and respect.

“Talk to me as though I love you, and you love me.” Those kinds of qualities have gone completely out the door. Emotional flooding is when that is gone and you don't even know who you are fighting with in that moment. It's not the same loving person that you knew when things were feeling calm.

The Importance of Self-Awareness When Being Flooded

Dr. Lisa: Oh, my God. Yeah. Can everybody relate to this? I can relate to this. I've had that experience. What you're describing is this physiological activation that happens to us in conflict. It's this fight or flight thing. Our rational, thinking brains just go out the window and we can say and do things that are shocking, even to us. 

Lisa Jordan: Yes. I think everyone has been there. Everyone has gone there. I consider in my 30-year marriage that I have a nice, good relationship. We rarely go there. Of course, we've gone there. That's why I know what it feels like to be emotionally flooded, like sitting in that moment where you're just sure that your partner is doing something that's just making it worse and worse and worse. 

If you could take away that, what's called the sympathetic nervous system, right, the one that's escalating. If you could calm that down, you would be able to let in some other possibilities, which is, “Maybe they're really not trying to do this. Maybe I'm actually not hearing this correctly. Maybe I'm not understanding well what's going on.” But when two people are emotionally flooded, neither one has the capacity to back down. That's why it's so important to become self-aware if you are emotionally flooded. Because if one or the other partner isn't getting on top of that, nobody's going to be the wise voice to bring you back down again. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and it's so hard to do. Let's just get real for a second. We are both marriage counselors. We have both been married for a long time, overall, good relationships. Matt and I have done so much work over the years, and it's been very positive. But I will still, from time to time, have these moments where I just lose it. There's this other part of my brain like, “I'm a marriage counselor. I know all of these things.” 

There's a little part of my brain that’s like, “Don't say that. Don't do that. You're doing it.” But even in those moments, even though I have all of this information, there's this other part of your mind that is just like, “Yes, I don't care and I'm mad right now. I'm going to tell you all about it. I'm going to be mean and say all these things.” It's like, you can't help yourself. Yeah, no, it really is.

Lisa Jordan: I think it's actually a good thing because when it happens, I recognize in myself how easy it is to go there if just a couple things aren't going well. We're all that close. Maybe you and I, maybe we recover a teeny bit faster just because we're recognizing it. I don't know. But we can go there just as much as anybody, and I think it's just about having those tools. 

I will say that that optimism, that confidence that comes from long-term relationships is “Wow, we have been through this and we've weathered this, so this is very familiar. Then, we can laugh about it.” I think also having that really strong muscle to apologize. I can apologize a lot better now than I could when I was married for a year or two, and I was sure that I was right about everything. The longer I stay married, the less right I am about everything, which has been really healthy. 

Dr. Lisa: I really love it.

Lisa Jordan: To be less certain about your rightness and things is tremendously healing in a relationship.

Changes in the Brain During Mental Flooding, When Your Mind is Overwhelmed

Dr. Lisa: I couldn't agree more. I think of it as healthy humility, and I can so relate. I agree. I think I'm much better than I used to be, too. I think that self-awareness that you're describing and understanding when you are starting to get elevated is hugely helpful. I do want to talk about those strategies because I don't want to leave people with this idea that this is going to happen no matter what. It really does get better. But it's so easy, so easy to fall into. 

Going back to one of your points, because I think this is important to talk about more, is what actually changes in our brains and in our internal process. I remember once being at a training… Did I ever tell you that Matt and I, for a while, were foster parents? Did I ever tell you that? Yeah, we did it. We did it for a few years. It was an incredible experience. I remember being at this one training, which was so good, where the trainers were explaining these concepts. 

I, having been to counseling school, had learned about it in a different way. But they talked about this in such an, I think, accessible way because they were trying to educate foster parents about what happens, particularly with traumatized children who can really have big responses. I know that this is audio, but right now, I am holding up my closed fist. If you can imagine my fingers are facing Lisa, and my thumb is closed in my hand. 

What they talked about is that our lids get flipped. I just lifted up my fingers. What they were trying to illustrate is that there's actually this part of your brain, I believe, it is the amygdala. Fact check me on that. When we become in this super fight or flight space, the amygdala becomes where you're operating from, which is the seat of emotion. 

This other part of your brain, the neocortex, which is usually the part of you that is in control, it is the part of us that thinks rationally. It is the part of us that processes language. It is the part of us that is the most human part of us in some ways. It has compassion for other people. That part goes offline. It's like you're totally operating from your lizard brain, basically in that moment, and wanna kill everybody.

Lisa Jordan: That's exactly right. Because we have those different parts, that whole limbic system that's there, the survival piece of us that for millions and millions of years has been there, when we had to flee from the saber-toothed tiger, we needed to have that fight/flight response, or we wouldn't survive. It's adaptive. 

Now, in modern times, we rarely have situations where we have to flee. But our brains are still doing it. They're still going there. As you say, the prefrontal cortex, that part that is developed that is rational, it really goes offline, and we're left with overwhelm. When that flooding happens, our brains are searching for the danger. The danger, unfortunately, gets interpreted as being, sometimes, what my partner is saying, or doing, or not feeling safe in the relationship at that moment. 

Gottman Flooding and Shutting Down When Overwhelmed

Lisa Jordan: I think one thing that I didn't mention about flooding is that it's not always looking like escalating conflict. We have people who dissociate, who become so shut down that they can't speak at all. That also is escalating for the partner who wants to fight more. It's not just that there's escalation and both people are name-calling and becoming hurt, it's that one person is starting to shut down, and the other partner is thinking, “You're doing that on purpose. You're abandoning me.” That is a very triggering thing as well. 

You're right. It's chemistry. It's biology. We've got all this operating at the same time. Based on what one's reaction is, when you go out of that resilient zone, up above it, you may get panic attacks, or anxiety, or extreme anger. If you get bumped out, down the other way, for some people, that looks more like depression, or dissociation, or not really being able to engage at all in conversation. People are shut down in different ways.

Dr. Lisa: That's interesting. I think, if I'm remembering correctly, you would probably have a lot of insight into this because I know that you're a Gottman-certified couples counselor. For our listeners who may not be familiar with their work, the Gottmans have done just an enormous amount of research into relationships and healthy relationships versus the kinds of behaviors or ways of communicating in relationships that are known to create issues

Can you speak a little bit… I believe that they did some research around the impact of emotional flooding in those relationships, and particularly, in the piece of shutting down that some people really, when they start to experience this internal flooding, just stop interacting. Can you talk more about that and what you've seen happen with that and your couples?

Lisa Jordan: Yeah, so it's not unusual that when a client, partner, and a couple is talking about what happens to them when there's a lot of conflict, is that they will say, “I get to the point where I can't talk anymore, and I go away. I don't come back for three, four days.” They're just not speaking to their partner for days. They don't know how to reconnect. They get lost in finding their way back. 

I think what the Gottmans did so well and gave us all these tools to help couples with, is how to find your way back without using the strategy that you have because it's the only one you've got and using something else so that you don't have to suffer. Because the relationships are suffering so much from that kind of shutdown or moving away from each other. 

In my experience, when couples are escalated, and they're having conflict, they may be yelling. They may be saying hurtful things. They move away from each other. Both feel abandoned but maybe for different reasons. One, because there's just not enough safety in the relationship to stay present. They have to check out. The other, because their partner walks out of the room and won't stay to, as they say, finish the argument. But worse, what does that mean to finish the argument? 

The Gottmans talked about having a blood pressure cuff so that you could be tracking your own blood pressure if you became aware of the fact that though that was the way that you became overwhelmed, and we know if your heart rate is going up and your blood pressure is raising and your tone of voice, the volume of your voice is going up, is that you're getting overwhelmed. 

That's for someone who moves in that direction, that kind of fight direction, is to be self-aware, and then, take responsibility for taking a break, or saying like, “Okay, I'm getting overwhelmed. I know this is when we get into some trouble. So I'm going to take an hour off and I will come back to you.” You don't get to just walk away, and then, it's all over. You have to come back at a certain time or else your partner still feels abandoned. But it's then their responsibility to go away and do self-care, self-soothing. 

I know you're talking about tools and tips and what can we help people to do. That's specifically what they need to do is to each take care of themselves in whatever ways are appropriate to help them soothe themselves so that they can come back together when that prefrontal cortex and the cortex is online and functioning, and they're back in what we think of as more of their adult self, the self that loves the partner and wants to make amends and reconnect and create that safety again.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Just a quick aside, you've used the word safety a couple of times in this conversation. What I hear when you say that, we're talking about emotional safety right now and the kind of conflict that comes when people are upset with each other that we can all relate to. Physical safety is a different animal, so just wanted to make that super clear. 

Because if you are actually literally unsafe in your relationship, I always advise to go over to a really great website. There's a resource. It's called thehotline.org. All one word, thehotline.org. It's completely free. You can connect with local resources, safe houses, domestic-violence counselors, even in your area. If somebody is actually in danger, please take care of yourself. Lisa and I are talking about that emotional safety, which is very common.

How to Diffuse Physiological Arousal in Emotional Flooding

Dr. Lisa: Just as you're talking, I think so many people can relate to this experience. I think it's so interesting to consider that some people, when emotional flooding happens, they become escalated. They get yell-y. They say mean things, and other people really withdraw into themselves. But what is fascinating is just what you brought up about the Gottmans actually making people wear blood pressure cuffs. 

Because what it implies is that people don't actually recognize how physiologically elevated they are becoming without that data, like, “Oh, my blood pressure is 140 over 90 right now.” Is that what they're doing with that? That the people needed to see that? Because they didn't know it was happening? Tell me more about that.

Lisa Jordan: I think that's a reflection of how we're not as self-aware as we may hope we are. 

Dr. Lisa: How dare you?

Lisa Jordan: It's just that we can get there. We can go there so quickly without self-awareness, and maybe this slows down the process enough that someone is really forced to be conscious of what's happening in their body. So many people are living in their cognitive self, the thinking brain so much of the time that the physiological piece that felt sense being back in your body. We know that for people who've had traumas that they leave their body very quickly, right? So they're out of there very fast. 

I think that the idea of a blood pressure cuff is great. I think just the suggestion of it might be enough for people to check in with themselves. “Is my heart pounding? Is my breathing short? What am I feeling?” To just really check back in with your body. What's happening in your body right now? So that, ideally, people don't have to go out and buy the blood pressure cuff. But it's enough of a suggestion to sort of say, “Hey, we're, where are you at right now, physically?” Because that's gonna have a lot to do with what comes out of your mouth next.

Dr. Lisa: Totally. That is such a great suggestion. When I even reflect back on my evolution over the years, I think that that is the biggest difference compared to when I was probably in my 20s. There would be an external circumstance that would make me feel angry or upset, and then, I would react to it and not have that self-awareness in the middle. Now, as an older person, I think what I can do is say, “I am getting really elevated, and I'm probably not in a good place to have a productive conversation right now.” 

I'm having that internal conversation with myself. I stop trusting the ideas that I'm having. I stop trusting that “Oh, I should say this” like there’s psychological distance. But not with a blood pressure cuff. Maybe I should be like, “What are you doing?” Can I throw the blood pressure cuff at him? If I get..? No, okay.

Lisa Jordan: Instead of the blood pressure cuff, what I think is like a half step in that direction is to start paying attention to what the internal narrative is. As you say, when we tell people to take a break, if you take a break, and you're planning your rebuttal, you're not actually doing any self-soothing. What are you doing? You’re trying to bring yourself back to a place of calm. 

You are committing to your partner, “That's what I'm going to go off and do. I'm going to go watch something funny on YouTube, or I'm going to read a good book. But I am not going to plan my rebuttal for what I say to you.” 

When you're used to having frequent or perpetual disagreements, and we all have them in marriage, you start to become a little bit more wise about not always defending your position because you know what the other person's position is, and you can kind of slow yourself down. I think for younger couples, as they are discovering that they have perpetual problems, they don't know that that's going to stick around. 

They think that they can fight their way through it. Teally, it's to agree that these things are going to be there. We can create a much healthier relationship with those issues. We can do it in a way that's very self-aware. Hopefully, it makes these escalations kind of diminish. That gives people confidence that it won't always be so hard.

Dealing with Perpetual Problems

Dr. Lisa: Wow. Okay, so you're talking about something so profound right now. I want to make sure that our listeners because we sort of shifted into this other really important idea that's come out of Gottman research, which is the idea that all couples, the happiest, healthiest, strongest, most brilliant couples in the universe, have perpetual problems. You can talk about it better than I can. What is a perpetual problem?

Lisa Jordan: Those are just the things that we all have in relationships. We don't think of that as what's wrong with the relationship. It's that if you're in a relationship with another human being — the Gottmans are so good at this — 69% of our disagreements are perpetual. That just runs along the lines of, “Maybe I'm a very neat person, and my partner is very messy, and we're never going to be different people. So we're always going to have that on the back burner, whether or not that's entering into our issues. We can do things about that, accepting that that may be a perpetual piece of what we're dealing with.” 

Also, have a little bit of a sense of humor around it. It's not that it works 100%. But that if we know that 2/3 of what we go through in life are the problems of just being in relation with other people, we might as well focus our attention on that 1/3 of problems that are actually solvable and create some space around the rest of the stuff and make it more workable or negotiate for how we want to deal with things. 

I tend to be very focused on the financial piece and making sure our bills are paid. All of those things that I've learned throughout the years that if I'm better at it, and I don't mind it, why don't I just do that, right? It has created such peace of mind in my household. That's what I recommend to other people is if there's something that you're good at, and you don't mind doing it, go ahead and take it because you don't have to make everything 50/50 out of this sense of obligation that we're demonstrating that everything is split down the middle.

Accepting Reality and Your Partner 

Dr. Lisa: Going to war, trying to make your partner be like you and be good at doing bills and things. This is so funny. I did a podcast episode recently that spoke about this. I think the title was How to Appreciate The Partner That You Have. It was on this topic of how do we just accept the humanity of our partners for who and what they are and learn how to appreciate it, as opposed to being angry with them for not being different. 

This is so significant. Because if 69% of all the conflict that couples have is due to these unsolvable problems, just knowing that, helps you put down the battleax and look at it differently. I just was so struck by what you said when you were like, “So many young couples think they can fight their way through that.” Would you say more about what you see happening with people who just haven't understood what's going on in the way that you see just by virtue of your wisdom and perspective?

Lisa Jordan: Yeah, I think that we all are products of our environment, our early environment. We only know what we witnessed, what we learned. Maybe we got a few extra bits and pieces from extended family members or our best friends, hanging out in their households. But by and large, we're limited by what we've seen. We tend to employ the practices for good or otherwise of our parents and what was modeled for us. If those resources aren't really good, or if they left something to be desired, we're still operating that way. 

I find that with younger couples or couples, it's not an age thing, maybe couples who have been married a shorter period of time, there's kind of that honeymoon period. Then, there's a real disappointment. There's a real drop-off in that expectation that we fall in love, and we live happily ever after. We love a good fairy tale in this country. That's just not fair to people because that's not what real life looks like. 

Great relationships have problems and conflict. It has so much more to do with attitude and trust in the commitment that we have in relationships. I think that early, young couples or couples who have not been together as long may start to lose some of their confidence as they see some of the conflict escalating around things that feel like they are problems that have to be solved. It can be really a relief and very freeing to understand that all couples have disagreements and problems. 

It's more about the process of working through and partnering and deciding how you want to navigate, than the content itself. If you can accept that it's always going to be there, and you have a greater sense of optimism about how you navigate things, that can be really uplifting and very positive for couples who are becoming a little bit hopeless or even questioning, “Is this the right person? Did I marry the wrong person?” 

Dr. Lisa: That's what messes people up is this idea that like, “Oh, if I were with a different person, or if I was in the right ‘relationship,’ this wouldn't be happening.” I love what you're saying, Lisa. This is just so positive. I don't even think of them as problems anymore. I think of them as differences. Potentially complementary strengths, even, when I'm feeling very generous, but yeah, it's just they're these differences. This isn't a bug. It's a feature. How do we move into acceptance and finding workarounds so that we can enjoy the positive parts of each other? 

The Myth About Fight or Flight in a Relationship

Dr. Lisa: I could totally see how this ties back into what you were saying about that emotional flooding. Because before you've done that work, I think, you can interpret those differences as attacks, or being disrespected, or something very negative connotations. Is that part of what you see that makes people go into that space of elevation, that physiological flooding that is associated with danger? Is that what this is? 

Lisa Jordan: Yeah, I think that that's right. That's maybe the unspoken belief that we have to fight our way through this. I can't back down, or I can't deescalate, or I'm actually not going to get my needs met, or I'm not going to have my voice heard. The way through it is, and again, this ties back to whatever you might have seen in your household growing up, is if you saw parents who fought. 

As a young child, you believe that your parents are perfect, and they're showing you perfect examples of love and what love looks like. That must be what we do to work through our differences. I think what we're there to do is to help people see, as you say, that there's a totally different way of approaching it and perceiving it. I love the idea that you described about differences because that absolutely is such a healthy way to embody what it means to be in a partnership is let's look for the positives. 

These are the very things that you fell in love with. Because these things that we sometimes get annoyed with and find ourselves in couples coaching and counseling to talk about are the very things that attracted people in the first place. Most people become aware of that when they start talking about, “Oh, yeah, really. I really love that about them.” There's no hard and fast rule about something being a problem as much as how is it playing out in our relationship and what do we want to do with this?

Dr. Lisa: I think that's a real goal that we can all work towards in our relationships. What you're describing is like that golden place that I think really healthy long-term couples do finally arrive into, or there's a space of understanding and acceptance and even appreciation for those differences. Even though our ‘perpetual conflict’ maybe is still there, it's no longer a problem because it's just who they are. I'm not going to take that personally.

There's this real shift into this more unconditional love space. But that takes time and effort to create. Along the way, emotional flooding can be a real problem for many couples, when they're going into that big emotional reaction where they're feeling disrespected, or hurt, or frustrated, or rejected even by their partners. So it's really important to have a toolset to be able to cope with those moments while you're still working on these bigger relational goals, I guess I should say. 

Self-Soothing After Self-Awareness

Dr. Lisa: I know that we have talked about a couple of tools that you recommend, when you're working with couples in counseling, and one, I think the first one that I heard was self-awareness, with or without the blood pressure cuff, but to be able to say, “Okay, I am starting to get elevated now,” or to say, “I feel like I'm so upset that I can't participate in this conversation, and I'm withdrawing now.” Have that self-awareness. 

I also heard you start to talk about self-soothing would be the next step. Once you have that self-awareness, now it is time to self-soothe. You also brought up something I thought that was so insightful, which is that many times in a conflict or after the conflict, even if we're taking a break, we are, even if we're like doing self-care behaviors, like taking a shower or going on a walk or petting your cat or whatever, we are still ruminating about what I said, what they said, and how I was right, and how they were wrong, and here's what I'm gonna say to them. 

I think that's… Because anybody, you can always take a shower, right? Do you have any insight for what to do with that cognitive component to help people really step away from…? Because that's what emotional flooding is about, is the story, right? What do you do with couples that go there?

Lisa Jordan: You're right. The piece that continues on where the flooding that perpetuates there is when we carry it forward with our own ruminating. You could take that and be far removed from the argument or the conflict and still be perseverating and really bringing that back over and over and over again, and even working yourself up and becoming more fixed in your position. Doing things to challenge that, this is very popular right now. 

But mindfulness and meditation, can't be understated how powerful this can be. Because it's available. Mindfulness, in particular, using your five senses, getting out of your head, out of your thoughts and into your body, is an instantaneous and immediate way to just at least disconnect the circuit that's ramping you up. “What do I see in front of me? What do I hear? What do I smell, taste, touch?” All of that is neutral, right? 

If I'm looking out the window, or I'm in the shower, and I feel this nice, warm water flowing, and I can get into this sense of what that feels like in my body, I am literally putting a break on that stress, all that cortisol, that hormone that makes us feel so bad, and putting some space in there so that you can calm down, and you will, because we're built to do that. We're built to calm back down again if we only can get out of our own way and allow ourselves to do that. I think that that's something that you can do. That's that self-care outside of a disagreement. 

How to Avoid Being Overwhelmed by Emotions

Lisa Jordan: But while you're with your partner, if you notice in the beginning that you're becoming engaged, it's to really use this reflective listening that we teach couples. Because if I'm fully occupied with listening to you, I'm not busy defending or planning my next thought. What I'm doing is devoting myself 100%, empathically, to understanding how you feel and what your position is. 

That doesn't mean that I agree with you. But if I'm spending all of my attention and time and focus to really hear you, I'm not escalating an argument. I am being with you. We want people to be able to do that long before they're becoming emotionally flooded. Because if they're there, you're not going to get emotionally flooded. It's kind of a prevention routine as well.

Dr. Lisa: That's beautiful. I think that's really the beauty of what you do, Lisa, that couples counseling and relationship coaching. Because you are, I think, having experiences with couples with you, because you, your presence, you're just like this warm, comforting person. I think that that can really be the benefit of doing couples work is that you are, at first, keeping people emotionally safe with each other so that they can practice doing that. 

Like, “Okay, I'm just gonna listen to you right now.” Because when they're at home in their living room, it goes immediately into that rebuttal mode. It turns into a fight. But you're slowing it down, and helping people listen, and being able to practice doing that so that it is possible to do that before that emotional flooding place happens because it's so hard to have empathy for other people when you get to that rage-y place.

Lisa Jordan: Absolutely. It's the last place we are once we're in that heightened state. You can’t access it then. Then, it's all about self-soothing and doing things, splashing cold water on your face, or taking a warm shower. Actually, temperature changes tend to pull people out of that. 

Dr. Lisa: Interesting, temperature changes. 

Lisa Jordan: Bumping yourself back into that zone where you're not escalated, or where you're not dissociating, or highly anxious, or rageful is about doing something physically to bump you back in.  We know like singing, dancing, gargling, there's all these things that have to do with the vagus nerve. That vagus nerve is what's connected to that fight, flight, freeze. Doing things to jostle your way back out, physiologically, can help be a reset.

Dr. Lisa: That's amazing. That is such a good tip just to almost shift. Although it's so funny. As you're talking, I'm imagining in my mind, like, have you ever seen the videos of the Scandinavians jumping into the frozen water? Then, going into the sauna? I'm like, maybe that's what…

Lisa Jordan: I don't think I'd survive that one. But that sounds like a really good one for those hardy types.

Dr. Lisa: My heart would stop. But yeah, though, for other people. For other people.

Understanding Those Who Shut Down When Overwhelmed

Dr. Lisa: Now, would you say that this works best for people who go into that elevated place? Because there's also people that are shutting down. I don't know about you, but I've seen that be just as problematic is that when people go into that withdrawal? Because they think especially when their partner doesn't realize that they are actually emotionally flooding? Because from the outside, they just look like they're sitting in a chair? Like they don't… Have you seen that?

Lisa Jordan: Yes. Exactly. That can create a lot of conflict in couples. Because as you said, it looks to the outside as though it could be gaslighting, that term that we sometimes use, that “This person, my partner, is doing this to me on purpose. They're just shutting down, and they're ignoring me. They're not going to talk to me. They're not going to listen.” What we know is that people can get into that frame of mind where they no longer have words. 

They really are so overwhelmed that they cannot respond anymore. Being able to understand that that is emotional flooding as well. It just looks very different from the kind of emotional flooding that might cause someone to be rageful, or yelling, or crying. That is a very real thing. People can become so emotionally shut down or dissociate because this could be very frightening for them or just extremely uncomfortable. That's where they go, when things get emotionally flooded, is that they go offline and in that direction.

Dr. Lisa: Go offline. Wow, I think I've heard it said that that can be more common for men than women. Has that been your experience? Or have you seen it differently?

Lisa Jordan: I think it is more common for men because we do live in a culture that tends to give women a much fuller range of emotional language and expression. We kind of welcome them. We don't give men the same permission or freedom to become really good at expressing themselves verbally or emotionally. I think they can get backed into a corner, feeling like they have nowhere to go, and the words leave them. Then, the partners who are observing that will feel abandoned. So yes, I do think that happens for men a lot.

Dr. Lisa: I'm just thinking of that really classic, pursue-withdraw cycle that we talk about a lot in the context of Emotionally Focused Therapy. What often happens systemically in those moments is that if one person is withdrawing and becoming less responsive, then the other person goes into attack mode. I can just see how this would make that so much worse for somebody who's feeling overwhelmed to begin with. That's impossible at that point.

Lisa Jordan: Yeah, there's such misunderstanding taking place, and there's really nowhere to go. That's when a lot of those hurt feelings get developed. But when you hear couples talking about that, that's typically where they've gone, which is it's gone really deep, emotionally, and we need to do a little repair work around what has happened. 

Dr. Lisa: Oh, my goodness. I'm so glad that we're talking about this, Lisa. Because I could just imagine somebody hopefully hearing this and maybe understanding in a new way, what is going on for their partner in those moments, is to develop that empathy of “Oh, he's not ignoring me. He's like, so overwhelmed, he can't talk, and I need to stop.” 

Lisa Jordan: That's the first lesson I think that we teach is, “Hey, if you're going there, and you're getting that place, turn to your partner and say, ‘I'm getting overwhelmed. I really need a break. I promise I will come back.’” Right? Because that's the only risk is that you'll go away and never bring up the issue again, and it's forgotten. To say, “I need an hour to just really calm myself down. I will come back, and we're going to discuss this some more.” We want people to develop those resources, that skill to do that before they're completely overwhelmed and always shut down. To ask for what they need.

Strategies for Dealing with Emotional Flooding

Dr. Lisa: That's wonderful advice. I know that we've been talking for a while, and you're just such a joy to talk to, I could literally talk to you all day, and I wanna be respectful of your time. What are some other strategies or ideas that you have found to be important when working with your couples over the years that you might share with our listeners, so they have additional takeaways?

Lisa Jordan: I think what tends to work really well, in my experience with couples, is to see if there is a little bit of a window that we can open for questioning one's own absolute beliefs. Right? If you can, even when couples are very polarized in their beliefs about something, if you can allow yourself to think about the situation that you're in and believe for a moment that it might not be true, the way you're seeing it, that it might not be 100% accurate, that gives you this potential for softening around something that may feel completely intractable. Right? 

To work with someone around the belief that “Maybe, I'm not 100% right.” Even if you're 98% right, what's that 2% look like? Is there anything that you can acknowledge for your partner that they have a legitimate point about that immediately makes the partner feel at least heard? They have a foot in the door for negotiating. Then, to kind of take that the next step further, which is, how does it feel to think that maybe there's some rightness on both sides? Right? 

I think when couples are really entrenched, it's to work to try to create a little bit more gray area. To lessen the black and white viewing of what a problem is like and what the situation is, just to enable people to question their own beliefs. Because I think it's the things that we don't question or the things that we are not aware of that are the biggest problems in relationships. Being able to tolerate the thought that “My subjective view is not necessarily the whole truth,” gives us somewhere to go.

Dr. Lisa: It makes perfect sense. It's hard. It's hard to do this. But to be able to almost question some of your core beliefs, and maybe don't believe everything that you think, and open the door for empathy, and trying to understand someone else's perspective, that's really that heart of being able to validate the other person's point of view, and just calming everybody back down and creating safety where listening and understanding can happen again. Because it's like the opposite of emotional flooding.

Lisa Jordan: Even having that kind of ability to have that relationship with yourself, right? I also work with individuals, and people are so hard on themselves. If you can sit with the things that you do, from that vantage point of, “Why am I doing this,” there's probably a good reason why you're doing the things you're doing. Instead of just completely tearing yourself apart and beating yourself up for what your habits are, what you've done in the past, is to sort of look at that and say, how has that been a help? 

How has that been adaptive? How did that help you survive? How did that help you stay in this relationship? You may choose not to engage in that anymore. But there's something about that that helped you to get by, and so helping people to just feel more comfortable in themselves for showing up and bringing up whatever is coming up, I think that's part of the job that we do is to help people accept themselves and appreciate all the parts for being there for a reason.

Dr. Lisa: That's so beautiful that by working on yourself, and developing that self-compassion, and creating emotional safety inside of yourself, that you can become less emotionally reactive and more emotionally safe and compassionate with your partner too. 

What a beautiful idea for us to glide to a halt on today. I love it. This has been just such a great conversation. Thank you so much for just sharing not just your perspective, but your story and also so many good strategies. I hope that some of our listeners were taking notes because there's some actionable stuff I didn't know about, like changing your temperature. I mean, that's just for singing, gargling. I’m gonna try that.

Lisa Jordan: Yeah, give it a try. Well, thank you. This has been so wonderful. 

Dr. Lisa: Oh, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for being here. 

To my listeners, if you would like to learn more about Lisa or her practice and also read some of the wonderful articles that you have on our blog at growingself.com. You have so much wisdom to share, and thank you again for coming on today's show. But there's more Lisa for everyone at growingself.com if people come and read more. A wonderful idea. So thank you.

[Outro song: Urgent Blowout by Brandy]


How To Appreciate Your Partner

How To Appreciate Your Partner

How To Appreciate Your Partner

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: “Anything and Everything” by J Lind

How To Appreciate The Partner You Have

As a marriage counselor and couples therapist, I completely understand the importance of having a great relationship. Working on your relationship through marriage counseling or relationship coaching in order to make it as good as it can be is a worthwhile endeavor. Working on yourself in service of your relationship is also an incredibly noble and positive thing to do. The energy you spend in cultivating a healthy relationship pays off in every aspect of life.

However, truth be told, I’ve also seen a dark side to this quest for self-and-relationship-improvement as well, which is never feeling satisfied with your partner, or your relationship. This type of “relationship perfectionism” can take many forms, including comparing your relationship to what you imagine other people’s relationships are like, having overly high expectations, over-focusing on your partner’s flaws, or overlooking their strengths. This makes it difficult to feel in love with your partner, or even content in a relationship — even a really good one!

Love and Appreciation

Love and appreciation are key to happy, healthy relationships. Getting hyper-focused on relationship problems will actually start to create relationship problems because it shifts the emotional environment away from acceptance and emotional safety, and towards criticism and contempt. When those communication issues are present, even the best relationships will start to feel harder than they need to.

All relationships, just like all people, are a mixed bag with wonderful parts, challenging parts, and “growth opportunities.” Learning how to appreciate your partner for who and what they are is often the biggest area of growth for couples in counseling — and the most fruitful. 

Learning how to show appreciation can be the best thing that ever happened to your relationship. Also, paradoxically, showing appreciation (and feeling appreciated!) for your partner can be one of the fastest and most effective routes to creating positive change and growth in both of you. 

When any of us feel understood and cherished for who we are, we flourish. The same is true for you and also for your partner. On today’s episode of the podcast, I’ll be talking more about how you can release negativity and embrace the type of mindset that will help you and your relationship, heal, grow, and thrive.

In This Podcast Episode: How To Appreciate Your Partner, Learn How To. . .

  • Realize the importance of love, respect, and acceptance when it comes to relationships
  • Learn how to appreciate your partner
  • Understand how people can change, especially in a supportive relationship
  • Learn the importance of letting things go and minimizing control
  • Be made aware of the signs of an unhealthy and overly critical relationship
  • Discover what unconditional love means
  • Accept your partner for who they are and what they can give
  • Learn how to foster kindness and generosity, and stop negative relationship patterns

You can listen to this episode right here on GrowingSelf.com, or on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Don’t forget to subscribe while you’re there! If you prefer to read, I’ve also included episode highlights with links to all the resources and additional information I referenced throughout the podcast. Scroll further and you’ll find a full transcript too. 

Thanks for joining me, and I hope that this episode helps you and your partner create the type of loving and emotionally supportive relationship you each need and deserve.

Xo, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

How To Appreciate Your Partner

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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How To Appreciate Your Partner: Show Notes & Episode Highlights

Focusing On The Positive in Your Relationship

If your relationship has been feeling challenging lately, you’re probably thinking more about the issues. Wanting a better relationship is normal – and it’s completely valid. 

Often, a partner who initiates marriage or couples counseling has this unspoken hope that they can change their other half in pleasing or gratifying ways. However, the secret to a good relationship isn't in trying to change your partner in a way that agrees with you. 

Instead, “it is really about growing in your own capacity for love and appreciation and learning how to create an environment that nurtures growth that brings out the highest and best in both of you.”

Instead of zeroing in on the bad things, focus on the positives of your partner and your relationship. By shifting your view towards what's good and what you appreciate, you can improve your relationship and fall back in love with your spouse or partner.

Can People Change?

Finding the positive in your partner also has to be balanced with knowing your boundaries.

Your partner may hold beliefs or do things that you will not stand for. In this case, it’s okay to draw a line and say that you will not continue in your relationship unless things change. 

If you’re unclear about whether or not your relationship is unhealthy, refer to these past Love, Happiness and Success podcast episodes: 

But if you've decided that you are fully committed to your relationship and want to make it work, here's what you should be ready to give: acceptance, appreciation, and unconditional love.

When couples focus on understanding and appreciation, they foster goodwill and respect. All of a sudden, they stop being defensive. Only from this positive place can real change and improvement occur. 

Stop Negative Relationship Patterns

In a relational dynamic filled with negativity, relationships tend to self-destruct from the pressure and toxicity. 

You may think that this is because of personal differences and issues. Dr. Gottman, psychologist and relationships researcher, labels these as “perpetual problems.” Examples of these include:

  • Personality differences
  • Ways of being
  • Habits
  • Quirks 

These “perpetual problems” exist in every relationship, but here’s the punchline: it doesn't matter. What does matter more than anything else are negative feelings such as criticism and contempt.

Criticism may sound like the following phrases:

  • “Do that differently.”
  • “That's not right. I'm right and you're wrong.”
  • “Why don’t you do this?”

On the other hand, contempt is often expressed in the following words:

  • “You are ridiculous.”
  • “You suck.”
  • “You are hopeless.”

Criticism and contempt create rocky relational dynamics and elicits a lot of negativity from the other person. 

To stop this negative cycle, grasp your point of control, which is understanding: “What am I putting into this relational system and how can I think about this differently? How can I do this differently so that I am no longer part of the problem?

Understanding Your Partner

We are living in our own experience, so we understand why we do the things we do. We might feel groggy because we didn’t get any sleep. Or cranky because we had too much coffee. However, We often don’t have the same information when it comes to other people, even our partners. That’s why, in a negative relationship system, we start to tell ourselves a story focused on our partner’s flaws

To break out of this system, we have to understand our partner better. For this, we can look at outside factors and even internal reasons for why people are the way they are.

Grow, Together

“In addition to all of us individuals having our strengths, we also do have growth opportunities, and so does every relationship.”

So, aside from your partner, you should also consider your relationship as a whole. To learn more about your relationship, check out the How Healthy is Your Relationship assessment and then take our Attachment Style quiz for insight into you and your partner’s attachment styles. This will help you and your partner better understand where you are each coming from so that you can grow together instead of apart. 

So much unhappiness comes from subconscious expectations. They can be:

  • How love should be shown
  • Who should be in charge
  • What should be controlled
  • How people should communicate
  • How people should parent

In short, anything that has the word “should” can be a form of bias or unrealistic expectation. 

“There is a wide range of acceptable behaviors, and there is no one ‘should'. There is no truth with a capital T.”

The gap between what you believe should be happening and what is happening creates bad feelings in many people. Doing shadow work and examining your inner narratives about this situation helps prevent this gap from widening.

Doing this work also allows us to pull ourselves back from feeling hurt or annoyed when we’re not getting all of our needs met. Instead, we can think about what it feels like on the other side: “What is it like to live with me?”

This question is a good starting point towards having a growth mindset. All relationships will eventually encounter junctures that either one or both partners don't know how to navigate. 

When you have unconditional love for your partner and you aim to grow together, you can figure out how to go through difficult times together as well. 

By shifting into an appreciative and generous stance, we can create positive changes in our relationship. But remember: it has to start within ourselves. Only then can we bring that to the table of our relationship and do something great. 

Resources: How to Appreciate Your Partner

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[Intro music: Anything And Everything by J Lind]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you're listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. That is J Lind with the song Anything And Everything, as in, tell me everything about you and let me love you unconditionally for all of it. It's a beautiful song, it is a beautiful idea, and it's one that can be hard to put into practice, can't it? Today, we're talking about how to appreciate the partner you have because we all want an easy, fulfilling relationship that's full of light and love and fun. 

Sometimes, in our quest to create the kind of relationship that we really want, it's easy to get focused on all the things about our partners that are not ideal. While it is true that we all need to work on ourselves and grow in service of our relationships and bring our vessels to the table, it is also true that the royal road to a truly delightful relationship is often less about getting people to change than it is about figuring out how to accept, appreciate, and even cherish our partners for who and what they actually are, as they are. 

How do you find that balance between acceptance and unconditional love, and also growth and people being the best they can be? How do you feel genuinely loving towards your partner as they are, even if they are imperfect? This really is the holy grail of happy, healthy relationships. Creating exactly that is what we're talking about today on The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast so I'm so glad you're here joining me for what I hope is going to be a fantastic conversation. 

If this is your first time listening to the show, hello. I'm so glad that you found me and found this. I am your host, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am a licensed marriage and family therapist. I'm a licensed psychologist and I'm also a board certified coach and I'm the founder and clinical director of Growing Self counseling and coaching. I think because of this weird cluster of experiences, I come to this conversation with a little bit different of a perspective of the family therapist, all about systems and understanding how people interact and create positive or helpful interactions with each other. 

But also, as a psychologist, I'm always interested on how individuals are creating their own inner experiences, how people think, feel and behave. Then also, because of my coach training, for me, it's all about what you want to do with this information. Insight is not enough so on the show, we are always talking about topics that go deep. My goal is to help you achieve true understanding of what's going on underneath the surface. Also, then, talking about how we put these ideas into action and ideally, help you create more positive outcomes in your life as it relates to your love, happiness, and success so I'm glad you're here. 

Also, just a side note, if you're a new listener or a regular listener, I am so interested in what you are thinking about or dealing with in your life or what you think would be interesting or helpful for you to be hearing about on this podcast. You can always get in touch with me directly: hello@growingself.com with any questions or comments. You can track me down on Instagram: @drlisamariebobby to ask questions and jump in the pool of the conversation. You can also leave comments on the blog pages of posts or podcasts that I put out. 

I always check those and answer those personally. Anyway, we will have a conversation about what is important to you because that's why I'm here. I really care about that and I do these podcasts to be genuinely helpful to you. Interestingly, I recorded a podcast not too long ago with Jennifer Sands about making meaning after tragedy. 

In a conversation with her, I really kind of came into contact with something that I had known, but I think not fully appreciated: how much I get out of being here with you making these podcasts for you. It really brings me great pleasure and enjoyment to be of service to you so thank you for doing this with me and again, let me know how I can be of service to you because that's why I'm here and I'm listening so thank you. 

Focusing On The Positive in Your Relationship

On that note, to be of service to you today, let's talk about our topic because I'll tell you what, I have been a marriage counselor for a long time, a relationship coach for a long time. One of the things that I see over and over again is how difficult relationships can feel when partners are very much focused on negative aspects of each other, of their relationship, and also the dramatic difference it can make in a relationship and the way people feel about each other. 

When they are able to shift that focus into the things that they really genuinely like and appreciate about each other, it just feels so much easier and it could also be surprisingly easy to do depending on what your goal is. It can be extremely easy, even in marriage counseling, to spend a lot of time talking about problems and personality differences and early family of origin experiences that create these issues in both of you. 

Again, while it's always helpful to have some context for who people are and why people are, it can also really obscure the fact that everybody has strengths and growth opportunities. Everyone has gifts and sometimes, really by shifting the focus and figuring out how we can enhance the good parts of a relationship, it doesn't matter where you come from or why you are the way you are. It's figuring out how to be the best and how to appreciate each other for who you both actually are and honor that and prize that. 

It's just extraordinary when couples can learn how to do that. That's why I really wanted to share this with you. Let's face it, if your relationship has been feeling challenging lately, if you're like most people, you're probably thinking a lot about the issues, right? I have been there too. It's easy to feel irritated or resentful or wish your partner would do something differently, they could talk to you differently, the tone they're using, they could do things that would help you feel more connected or more in love with them

I think that wanting a better relationship is fantastic. Also, let's just acknowledge the fact that you've been listening to this podcast or other relationship podcasts hoping to get some tips just says so much about your hope for yourself and for the relationship and that's wonderful. People can absolutely improve their process, I believe that 100%. A lot of times, when people begin in marriage counseling with me or couples therapy or relationship coaching, yes, there is that hope for improvement. 

There is also often this kind of secret, unspoken hope that by getting involved in marriage counseling or couples therapy, often, and the person who initiates all this and makes the appointment, right? The secret unspoken hope is that this is going to help their partner change in pleasing and gratifying ways, right? I too, again, have been there, right? My husband and I went to marriage counseling. It was fantastic, a couple of years after we got married and that was my secret hope too, just like everybody else. 

That “Oh, this is going to get him to change and understand me and think, feel, and behave in ways that are more gratifying to me, maybe even be more like me because I am right.” I wouldn't have said that out loud at that time but if I'm honest, that was sort of a secret hope. I think that we all are living in our own perspective all of the time, right? The things we feel, the things we think, the way we perceive situations, that is what makes sense to us. 

That's easy. It is much more difficult to really look through the lens, the eyes, the perspective, the feelings, the thoughts, the history, the context of another human and understand how that makes sense and how that can be even strengths are positive, especially if it's something that we disagree with, or be different. This is hard for people coming into the process of couples counseling or marriage counseling and it was hard for me too when I did this and it's worthwhile. 

I have now been, as of October, married for 25 years, would you believe? Even to this day, if somebody invited me to sit down and make a list of all of the things that were different about my husband, I certainly could do that. It would be extensive if I was motivated to do that, it might even be detailed. As I was putting together that list of things, I could probably, if I wanted to, let myself feel bad about some of them, right? Grieved, annoyed. We're all human, right? 

There are always stuff that comes up that's a little bit annoying but the point is that I have learned over the years that just sitting around thinking about things that I'm unhappy with in my relationship, with my husband, are not helpful because I am committed to him and to this relationship and have found other ways of being that are just so much more productive. Not just in having a nice time day to day, but also in creating positive change and supporting growth in both of us because over time, we've both grown and changed so much. 

I see that often in couples that I work with. People do grow and change and evolve and yet, are fundamentally still the same people. Some things, people can change, but things like personality, ways of thinking, core values, core beliefs, those are much more difficult to change. Sometimes they don't change at all and that's okay. My husband is a much different person than he was and so am I. 

It's also true that the things that annoyed me about him and 1996 are still very much alive and well and that's all okay because the secret to a good relationship is not trying to get people to change or to be different so that they meet your needs in exactly the way that you want them to or that they are always agreeing with you or seeing things from your side of the table. It is really about growing in your own capacity for love and appreciation and learning how to create an environment that nurtures growth that brings out the highest and best in both of you. 

Can People Change?

In addition to that, I will say that this work does also mean finding a balance between figuring out your boundaries, things that feel legitimately intolerable for you and that you will not stand for, and that you cannot continue in this relationship until these things change. That's a thing and that happens and that is also very valid. You might be in a relationship where really, legitimately unhealthy, unhelpful things are happening and unless that is different, you cannot continue in this partnership, 100% valid. 

Get clear about what those are and find a way of talking about that productively with a goal of, as you may have learned from past podcasts that I've put out about having healthy boundaries, the goal here is not to say, “I demand that you do this differently.” It is to say, “Here's what I am going to do differently” or “This changes, and here's how long you have to show me that you can do that. If not, here's what you can expect from me essentially.” I will refer you back to the healthy boundaries podcast for more on that subject. 

That is a thing and that does require sometimes working on yourself enough to know when a relationship is actually unhealthy or even toxic and might even be irredeemable when it's time to call it quits. I have made podcasts on those subjects on what is a healthy relationship, leaving a toxic relationship, and also when to call it quits in a relationship. If you look back through the podcast feed, you can find information that I've put out on all of those. 

Again, that might be the case and some things for you to figure out in your relationship, but if you have done some of that work and decided fundamentally that you are committed to this person, that there is enough here for you that you would like to work on the relationship and invest in this relationship, and that you would like to have a more positive relationship with somebody that in your heart of hearts, you know, fundamentally, is a decent person. They have some rough edges, they have some sharp corners. 

There are some things that they do that are challenging or annoying or even hurtful, maybe not hurtful with a capital H, but low grade hurtful. Maybe you'd like to feel more connected, you'd like to have more fun, you'd like to have more communication, or more emotional intimacy. Those are wonderful goals to have in a relationship and the path to creating those are very often paradoxical. They begin with, ready? Acceptance and appreciation and unconditional love. This is a tremendously important paradox and it's true in psychotherapy. 

Back in the day, old school psychotherapists noticed that when people understood themselves and were in a positive relationship with a therapist who understood them, and also unconditionally had positive regard for them that they were not just understood but accepted for who and what they were when they experienced this relationship as being non-judgmental, as being affirming, validating, and appreciative for who they were, it became safe for them to say, “I would like to work on this aspect. I have made peace with these parts of myself and in doing so, I have become intrinsically motivated to continue growing in a direction that would help me feel more positive about myself and get better results in my life and feel better and have better relationships.” 

This is a fundamental paradox of change and it's true for individuals and it is also true in relationships. I have seen it happen so many times. When couples stop fighting with each other and really focus on understanding each other and understanding each other's perspective and appreciating it, there comes this feeling of goodwill and a mutual appreciation and this respect, this unconditional positive regard that all of a sudden, people stop being defensive. Like, “No, this is why I'm right. You're wrong,” and it turns into, “Yeah, I could see how you would feel that way and yeah, I should work on that.” 

It's just amazing. I think we're sort of conditioned to believe that we need to fight for our rights and that the way to get people to change or to promote growth is to be not aggressive about it, but very direct about it. While there's certainly a time and place for direct communication, people tend to respond better to all of us when we're in a positive relationship that feels good for them and that makes them feel like they want to be better partners for us. That's to say it very plainly but that's true. 

Now, again, if you are in a really, fundamentally unhealthy relationship where that is never going to happen, you should know that so that you can make different plans for yourself. Again, I have more information about that but for everybody else, if it's a generally healthy partnership that deserves a little time and energy and growth work to make it be fantastic, there's a lot of opportunity. Here is why, here's why this is. We just look at this from an individualistic perspective of how people do change and grow is through that self-acceptance and self-compassion process, but there's also a lot of research in the field of couples counseling around what happens in a relational dynamic where there's a lot of negativity. 

Stop Negative Relationship Patterns

I often refer back to the work of Dr. John Gottman, who has just done beautiful studies to explore relationships, healthy relationships that grow, and also relationships that ultimately fail. He has noticed, along with other researchers, that when negative relational cycles take hold and in particular, certain ways of being in a relationship take hold, it's just so toxic for both people and the relationship will self-destruct under that pressure. 

Interestingly, this is also true in the context of the fact that all relationships, all relationships have a certain percentage of stuff that Dr. Gottman has labeled perpetual problems. These are personality differences, ways of being, habits, quirks, stuff that is never going to be different and is not ideal feeling for one or both partners. Those are perpetual problems. They exist in every relationship and here's the punchline, it doesn't matter. Does not matter that your relationship has perpetual problems. 

It doesn't matter that you have angry fights, does not matter that you have bad habits, or don't communicate perfectly, or have annoying quirks, or even have significant differences in values, interests, ways of being, routines. There is all of this commonly present in the very best relationships and it does not matter. What does matter more than anything else are negative things happening such as criticism and contempt, compared with positive things that we're putting into a relationship: kindness, appreciation, gratitude. 

When things like criticism and contempt are very high in a relationship, it creates so many difficult relational dynamics and it elicits a lot of negativity from the other person. Criticism would be like, “Do that differently. That's not right, you're doing it wrong. Why can't you x, y, z?” Contempt would be, “You are just ridiculous. You suck, you are hopeless.” Kind of a meta message is, “My way of being is so much better than your way of being and I think that you might even be a bad person.” 

Criticism and contempt will tank our relationship and when those kinds of expressions or feelings are very much alive in a relationship, things start to get really bad. When you are critical and contemptuous in a relationship, i.e. when you are focusing a lot on the things about your partner that you wish were different, that will automatically create a negative response to you. Your partner will start responding to you negatively. They will begin behaving in unloving and unkind ways to you because they feel judged and criticized. I'm not saying that this is your fault. 

Relationships or systems, meaning that people fall into these patterns where they are having reactions to each other's reactions. I'm sure that if you are feeling critical and contemptuous of your partner, it's because that you have had experiences with them where they're doing things where you're like, “Ah! Stop.” It doesn't feel good to you. The point of control any of us have in our relationship is not saying to somebody else, “You need to be different so that I can have a better reaction to you.” 

It is understanding, “How am I reacting? What am I putting into this relational system and how can I think about this differently and do this differently so that I am no longer part of the problem? How can I be doing my best to keep my side of the street clean, to work on myself, and to be as positive and productive as I possibly can and the situation. Because if anything is going to change in this relationship, that's going to be why, is when I start taking responsibility for me.”

In a relationship where you're focusing on the problems, it is very, very easy to slip into criticism and contempt and frustration. That is not helpful and it isn't productive and it will make things worse. It will damage your relationship in the short term, but I'll tell you, that will also really begin to severely damage a relationship in the long term because here's what happens. When you have had experiences in your relationship over a long period of time that have been disappointing or hurtful or annoying or you're trying to tell your partner to change and they keep not changing, we are also all vulnerable to something called the fundamental attribution theory. 

That is a big, fancy term for saying something that, I think, has a lot of common sense wisdom, which is this: when we understand why people do what they do, we can either look at the situation and the context and say, “Oh, okay. That's why they behaved that way. They had a bad day, they were having a reaction to something that I said that maybe rubbed them the wrong way.” 

We can look at outside factors that help us understand why people behave or we can look for internal reasons why people are the way they are. “They are a negative person. They have character flaws, they are fundamentally unable to be loving and emotionally intelligent. They are broken in some way.” It's how we understand why people are the way that they are. Every single one of us humans walking on this planet is vulnerable to — when it comes to us and the way we behave — we have many situational reasons why we do what we do. “I'm tired, I didn't get enough sleep last night. I drank too much coffee so I was a little bit raa!”

We are living in our own experience, we understand why we do the things we do, we have reasons why and they're often true, but when it comes to understanding other humans, it is much harder to do that because we don't have all the information. We don't know that somebody drank three cups of coffee or didn't get enough sleep last night. We look at somebody who's being kind of aggro and we say, “Oh, that's a bad person right there” or “Wow, what's wrong with them?” 

When we have been living in a negative relational system with our partner for a while, we can begin to attribute a lot of this dispositional causality, meaning we start to tell ourselves a story about our partner that is focused on their character flaws, their personality flaws, these sweeping things about them that are negative and hurtful or unhealthy and that are never going to be different. That is why relationships end, is when people have been telling themselves that story about their partner to the point where they have come to believe it. 

I have much more information on that topic in yet another podcast that I did, which is how to stop a divorce and save your marriage. If any of this is feeling familiar to you, you should probably check out that podcast as well. This is super important to know because, again, when we have high standards and high hopes for a relationship and want it to be great to the point that we are focusing a lot on negativity, the biggest risk to your relationship is making those mistakes around perceiving your partner in such a way that kind of allows you to feel almost entitled to be critical and contemptuous of them. 

That it goes on long enough that it really begins to change your belief about who they are as people, how they are irredeemably unhealthy or too different from you, or “We're just not compatible.” Where do you go after that? There's no growth possible if you have convinced yourself that is the reason that you're having problems in your relationship. The answer is to become self-aware that this is a thing that we all do and we're all vulnerable to it. I also am vulnerable to this and everyone is. I'm not saying that with any criticism but it's just a fact. 

Grow Together

How do we become self-aware of our own tendency to think in these ways and then very intentionally and deliberately find different ways of thinking and feeling and behaving that will be much, much healthier for you and for your relationship and will actually promote the growth and positive change that you want? Because people can change and that's a question that I get a lot, “Can people change?” I have people ask me this who are in long-term relationships. “Can people change?” 

Sometimes, I also do dating coaching and people will meet somebody and start a new relationship and already be thinking, “Okay, is this who this person is? Can this be different? The short answer is yes and no. Again, many things about our personalities are hard-wired. I actually am going to be going in-depth into this in another upcoming podcast on compatibility and personality variables that often trip up many couples, honestly because these are things that are kind of baked in and that can't be different and that's okay. 

We'll talk about why that is, but it's also true that even though we all have fundamental ways of being, we all have life experiences that shape us, cultures that shape us. Every family of origin has a unique culture that shapes us. We will always see the world and other people through those lenses. We also have fundamental attachment styles that are very difficult to change. We can become very self-aware and intentional and over great many years, change attachment styles that were formed in very early childhood but that's okay. 

You can have a good relationship anyway even if you have an attachment style that's a little off-center as many people are. There are also other things like ways of thinking, core beliefs, even if somebody is kind of ADD, that is never going to be different and again, doesn't matter. Being different is not the goal. It's figuring out how to be self-aware and to use tools and skills and strategies to be a fantastic partner anyway, and also to embrace this new idea, which is all ways of being come with gifts.

They are strengths. There is light and dark in all things and it's very easy to get real fixated on problems and to completely lose sight of the gifts and opportunities and really positive things that people are bringing to the table, not in spite of their challenges or differences, but because of them. It's coming into a relationship with this kind of perspective that can really change everything. I will say, in addition to all of us individuals having our strengths, we also do have growth opportunities and so does every relationship. One easy way just to get a snapshot as to what some of those strength and growth opportunities are for your relationship is just to do a simple relationship assessment.

I have put one together on our website. There are many others, of course, but if you'd like to take my How Healthy Is Your Relationship Quiz, it's at growingself.com/relationship-quiz. It's about 22 questions, it's fairly high level. We have much more in depth relationship assessments we use for our clients, but I'll give you a snapshot on a number of different domains that are really important for most couples around what are strengths for you. 

I bet even if your relationship has been feeling difficult lately, it's unusual for somebody to take that assessment and not have any strengths or positive aspects about your relationship or about your partnership. If you've been feeling kind of “Ughh” about things lately, that might be a good place to start. It also offers, I think, a more structured roadmap around like, “Okay, here are things that we can work on” as opposed to just falling into bad feelings about each other because that tends to not be productive. In addition to embracing this idea of strengths, growth opportunities, and gifts, and all things, it is also really important to have an appreciative relationship that is founded on positivity to also become self-aware about your, and when I say your, I mean our, expectations about what should be happening in a relationship. 

I cannot even tell you, as a marriage counselor, how much unhappiness, and even mayhem, stemmed from people going into relationships with unexplored, and often subconscious, expectations about what relationships should be, what love is, how love should be shown, who should be in charge of what, how people should communicate, how people should parent. I don't know if you're noticing a pattern in what I'm saying here, that “should” word is the apparent part of this because we all have our biases about what should be happening that are very much coming from our life experiences, our cultural norms, what we learned in our families of origin or from other people. 

There actually are many different ways of being that are all just fine. There is a wide range of acceptable behaviors and there is no one “should.” There is no truth with a capital T. There are, if you imagine, kind of a bell curve at the extreme ends of that bell curve. There are sets of behaviors that are actually not helpful for anyone. There is abusive behavior, there is neglectful behavior. We don't want to go into those corners, but there's a wide range of behaviors in the middle of that that are actually okay. 

Getting very stuck on things being the way that you were taught they should be is just a recipe for unhappiness. One of the easiest ways to shift into appreciation and positivity is to get clear on what you were taught and what subconscious things might be bubbling around in your brain about what should be happening. Because that is often the cause of a lot of unhappiness and bad feeling, is like when there is a gap between what we believe should be happening and then what is actually happening in a relationship with ourselves, with friends, at work. 

This is not just unique to relationships, but the bigger that gap between what you believe should be happening and what is actually happening is what creates bad feelings for a lot of people. Sometimes, when we have feelings of distress or dissatisfaction, that's a signal to us. Like, “Okay, maybe I do need to make some changes here.” A lot of times, the easier way is like, “Okay, what am I telling myself about what should be happening? What is my own inner narrative about the situation?” 

When we can tap into that, that's really very, very powerful. I've additionally done some podcasts around getting in touch with your shadow self or how to understand subconscious thoughts. There are a lot of applications for those things in many areas of our life that if you're interested, you can just look back in the podcast feed for those episodes, as well. I'm going to put links to all these stuff in the show notes for this episode too so it'll be all in one place for you. 

When it comes to our subconscious beliefs about what our relationships should be, there are a lot. Think about just for a second what your ultimate relationship dream fantasy if your relationship was as good as it could possibly be. Most people, it's some combination of being with a person who really knows you, gets you, understands you inside and out, and loves you for exactly who and what you are, who does not judge you, or criticize you, but understands your point of view, who has compassion for your pain and for the things that you've lived through in your life, and who knows that you are doing the very best that you can do like every single day, you are trying really hard. 

Your ideal partner is somebody who you can be vulnerable with, who is emotionally safe for you, who loves you unconditionally, and who knows and has compassion for everything about you, even things in your past that you might feel bad about or even ashamed of like it's okay. Also, in addition to that acceptance, somebody who inspires you to be your best and who lifts you up, who encourages you, someone who you can learn from, grow with, build a beautiful future with together.

There's that but also you'll have somebody who doesn't expect you to be perfect. They accept your imperfections and instead, I think, focus on your growth, your wins, the best part of you. You are working so hard and trying so hard, are doing such a good job and you are better today than you were six months ago. Really seeing the impact of how hard you try, and if we wanted to get real granular, this ideal person also has a great relationship with their parents and with your parents, but who is also really good at setting boundaries. They are super patient, they don't ever yell at the kids. 

They're great with money, but they're not controlling. They're just good with money. They're fun. They like to do the things that you like to do. They make you laugh, they're easy to talk to. They're fun to have sex with. They smell good. They are hard workers but not workaholics. They are great parents. They're conscientious. They're successful in their careers. They're responsible, but they also like to have a good time. They're interested in you. They're interesting, they're educated, they have lots of friends, they're socially savvy but they really want to hang out with you. They're hot. 

They do things around the house without being asked. You don't have to bug them about it, and basically, they're psychic. They know what you're thinking, what you're feeling, what you're needing, what you're wanting without you ever having to say it. They shower you with love and attention, they make you dinner, they buy you presents, and feeling their love and appreciation of you no matter what. 

Okay, so as I'm saying all these things out loud, I just made this little list, but I have heard all of these things from couples that I work with, even me in my own life. If any one of these are feeling a little bit out with my husband, it's very easy to say something about that. When we think about this all as a whole, dump it all out, all of the expectations, all of the hopes and ideas that we have about what a relationship could be, I think it becomes easier to see that, “Oh, nobody can actually be all of this.” I think here is a moment of humility like, “I am not all of those things. I can't do all of that consistently every single day perfectly for my husband. 

I try to do most of those things sometimes but not all the time and yet that hope, that true need that we have inside of all of us is that hope to be unconditionally loved and accepted for who we are, even if we don't always say the right thing, or do the right thing, or even know what to do, that we make mistakes but that we're seen for the best parts of ourselves and not the worst parts of ourselves, right? I think just keeping that idea in mind, the things that we want from others, “How do we be that?” 

That's the real work that is available to any of us in a relationship and very consciously pulling ourselves back from getting hurt or irritated or annoyed when we're not getting all our needs met and thinking about “What's it like to live with me? Who am I?” I think, from that place, that growth mindset, that commitment to acceptance and unconditional love and positive regard can also be nicely combined with this growth mindset and this idea that we all have a responsibility to grow and learn and be the best that we can be. 

In every single relationship, there's going to be a lot of that happening throughout a long term relationship because we don't all learn how to be perfect parents or manage finances perfectly or talk about sex. Who gets taught how to have those conversations? Communication skills are not overtly taught unless you go to Montessori School for your whole life, emotional intelligence. These are things that people go to coaching to learn how to do because you don't get taught them otherwise.

In any relationship, we should, I'm going to use the word “should,” we should all expect that at some point, we are all going to run into points where like, “Oh, I don't know how to do that” or “My partner doesn't yet know how to do that,” but shifting into that growth mindset, this basic idea. “These things can be learned. People learn how to do this, we can learn too and let's figure out how to learn it together.” This will always ebb and flow over time. Case in point, my husband and I now have a 13 year old. We had figured out how to parent a younger child. Now we're like, “Oh, we're doing this.” I think we're both running into walls and have different perspectives and different ways of being. 

Trying to figure out what's a middle path and how can we kind of grow in our new approach to parenting a 13 year old, which is a total different ballgame and in a way that honors and respects both of our perspectives, but it's also the best interests of our child. Trying to figure out how to learn how to do this together really intentionally because it's very, very easy for especially parents to get into passionate conversations about how parenting should be happening, right? 

There are so many parts of a relationship where it's easy to do that. Money, who does what, priorities, time management, so many things, figuring out “How do we grow here and resist falling into negativity around it.” I think the principles that do hold true for good parenting also hold true for positive relationships and marriages and that we have warmth, unconditional love, unconditional positive regard and support and kindness and appreciation and generosity and high standards. This basic idea that people really should be trying and striving and growing and learning in the service of a loving relationship, that's good parenting and it's also good relationship skills for everyone. Applying those ideas to your marriage is what tends to work. 

Okay, I could go on, but I feel like this is probably enough information for one episode. I do hope that this conversation about learning how to appreciate the partner you have has helped you appreciate the importance of doing this — how it can lead to so many damaging and destructive things in a relationship while ironically, we think that we're trying to make it better, it's actually making it worse. How by shifting into this appreciative, positive, generous stance, we can actually begin to create really positive and powerful changes in our relationships, but it has to start with ourselves and then we can bring that to the table of our relationship and do something great with it. 

This podcast is going to be at growingself.com/appreciate-your-partner. growingself.com/appreciate-your-partner. There, I will include links to all of the past podcasts that I've referenced. You'll find a link to the relationship quiz that I mentioned. I will also link to some other articles about how to support appreciation, love, respect, healthy communication, and also some resources to the things that might be growth areas in your relationship. 

How to manage finances as a couple, how to talk about differences in sexual desire, communication skills, emotional intelligence, we all have stuff to learn and learning and growing is a solvable problem. In that spirit, I will let you digest all of this and I will be back in touch with you next week with another episode of The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. Until then.

[Outro music: Anything And Everything by J Lind]


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