Getting Past You and Me
Building More Loving Relationships
The last time you fought with someone you loved, who won?
If that sounds like a dumb question, that’s because it is. Our relationships with other people are the most valuable things we have. Without them, our lives have little meaning. So how can being correct, or getting our way, or tipping the balance of power and control in our direction, ever be worth the cost of damaging a connection with someone we care about?
The truth is, it can’t. But as a marriage counselor and a couples therapist, I know that it doesn’t always feel that way. Sometimes, the person you love the most feels like an enemy you need to defeat, rather than a partner on your team. And that can make having a healthy relationship really, really hard.
On today’s episode of the podcast, we’re exploring why that is, and how we can break free from the scared, immature parts of ourselves that keep us chasing hollow victories rather than opening up for deeper connections. My guest is Terry Real, an internationally recognized marriage and family therapist, author, and founder of the Relational Life Institute. In his new book, “Us: Getting Past You and Me to Build a More Loving Relationship,” Terry offers lessons on staying focused on the “we” and shedding the individualistic mindset that keeps us lonely, disconnected, and unhappy.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Getting Past You and Me
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Getting Past You and Me with Terry Real: Episode Highlights
As human beings, we are born to connect. Feeling connected to others is what makes us happy and healthy, and what gives our lives meaning. But the way our culture values individual status and power over relationships makes it harder for all of us to connect with others. The focus on “me” that serves us so well at work and at school diminishes our capacity for empathy and connection when it creeps into our intimate relationships.
Everyone will tell you that relationships “take work,” but no one tells you exactly what that work entails. According to Terry Real, the real work of having better relationships is shedding the “me, me, me” mindset and embracing the “us,” which means valuing our connections with our partners more than being right, “winning,” or having control.
Staying in Your Wise, Adult Self
The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain where we do all of our conscious thinking. It’s where we coordinate our thoughts and actions to match up with our long-term goals — like creating a loving, healthy relationship with our partner.
But when something happens that causes us to feel threatened, we become emotionally flooded, and we lose access to that wise, adult part of ourselves. Stress hormones begin coursing through our bloodstreams, and we start operating from a deeper, older part of the brain whose only goal is self-preservation. All of our ideals about love, connection, and long-term partnership go out the window, and our focus narrows to “winning” at all costs.
So, when we’re fighting with our partner, concern becomes criticism becomes yelling becomes fleeing. We defend ourselves rather than really listening, and say hurtful things we’ll later regret. We might shut down and withdraw from the conversation entirely, or, if we tend to be a little codependent, try to “fix” whatever is “wrong” with our partner, rather than accepting them as they are in that moment.
This is what it’s like when we’re in the “wounded child” part of ourselves, where we tend to make knee-jerk decisions that feel good in the moment, but that are in no way worth it long-term. Staying in your wise, adult self means remembering that you and your partner are a team, and that if one of you loses, nobody wins. This shift will make a dramatic difference in your relationship. You will be able to be in the moment with your partner, validate their feelings, and show that you care, which will completely disrupt the conflict cycle.
The Toxic Culture of Individualism
Our relationships are our biospheres. We live inside of them. The idea that we can pollute our relationships while somehow living full, happy, healthy lives is a lie. But it’s a lie that our culture of individualism sells us, and many of us have bought into it.
When your partner is upset, they are in the “wounded child” part of themselves, and they’re reaching out for connection or reassurance from you, even if it doesn’t look like it. If you respond by effectively swatting their hand away through defensiveness, you will do damage to your relationship. Your partner will lose their trust that you care about them and about their feelings. They will feel less emotionally safe with you. If this becomes a pattern, you’ll become increasingly disconnected until your relationship eventually fails.
To have a healthy relationship, you do need to stand up for yourself from time to time. Not being able to do that creates its own problems. But when you or your partner are angry or hurting, standing up for yourself should not be the priority. In these moments, ditch the individual mindset and get focused on the “us.” Show compassionate curiosity for your partner’s experience, and trade in your defensiveness for empathy.
This is not only the best way to repair your relationship after a fight, but it’s the best way to get your own needs met in your relationship. Acting this way toward your partner will change how they act toward you.
Patriarchy and Relationships
Nothing damages the “us” like power imbalances, which often fall along gender lines for heterosexual couples. But the answer to power imbalance is not power struggle, or for women to wrest control from their male partners and begin calling all the shots. Both men and women need to lean into the “soft power” of collectivism, the kind of power we normally associate with femininity.
Getting Past You and Me: Episode Show Notes
[02:49] Terry Real’s Story
- Terry is the child of a depressed, violent father who is the son of a depressed, violent father.
- He takes pride that his children grew up with a father who is not depressed and violent.
- He entered the field of psychotherapy to cure himself.
[04:41] Humans Need Connection
- Terry repeated patterns that he grew up with and it did not work out well for his relationships.
- His wife, Belinda, also experienced a difficult home life as a child.
- The state of connection is what we human beings are born for and is the only thing that truly makes us happy.
[14:53] The Whoosh
- “The Whoosh” is a reaction you have during conflict in relationships.
- Terry enumerated three ways we behave in conflict, namely, the fighter, the fleer, and the fixer.
- It takes practice to contain your feelings and process them, rather than reacting in a way that damages relationships.
[20:37] The Toxic Culture of Individualism
- Terry says that the toxic culture of individualism ruins relationships and puts them under consistent conflict.
- Once you are able to turn the “me me me me” mindset to an emphasis on “us,” that is when you see progress.
- He also says that our culture is rooted in patriarchy, which creates disconnection and disempowerment in relationships between men and women.
[30:29] Soft and Loving Power
- Terry asserts that you can take care of yourself and cherish your relationship at the same time.
- Sometimes what you demand from your relationship is not actually what you need.
[38:26] Male Depression
- Terry explains that male depression often stems from the expectations set on both men and women, set by the patriarchy.
- The patriarchy has made it an expectation for men to not show emotion or even feel them.
Music in this episode is by Jenny Wood with their song “The Pearl.”
You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://milescramer-nashville.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.