Getting Past You and Me

 “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.”

– Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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. 

You can tune in on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

With love, 

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.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: I'm so excited for this episode of the podcast because, today, we're covering a topic that is dear to my heart, which is how you and your partner can build a more connected and loving relationship, where you both get to be part of something that is bigger than just yourself. As you know, I am a marriage and family therapist. Naturally, I am obsessed with relationship systems and I know how easy it is for all of us to get caught up in what we need or want, and thinking about what they did or didn't do, or who said what. And it is difficult sometimes to get that big picture perspective to see how we are both doing a complex dance together, that creates the relationship as a whole. 

When we are able to do that and understand how we're each contributing to the way we both feel, we can usually see that our partners actions actually do make a lot of sense. We can have empathy for them, compassion for them. And that is what empowers us to change things on our side of the equation, to make the relationship positive for both of us. These are our big ideas and it's talking about how we as individuals work together to create a positive experience. And joining me for this conversation today is a true expert on the building of better relationships. 

My guest is Terry Real, he is an internationally-recognized family therapist. He is a speaker and author. He's the founder of the Relational Life Institute or RLI. He wrote the book on male depression called I Don't Want to Talk About It — sound familiar to anyone? He is the marriage counselor Esther Perel turns to, and Bruce Springsteen and Bradley Cooper are among his clients and fans. And today, he's here to talk to us about his wisdom and insight. And particularly, the things that he put together for you in his new book called Us: Getting Past You and Me to Build a More Loving Relationship.

In it, he talks a lot about how individualism and patriarchy essentially poison our most intimate relationships. He also has good news, that warmer, closer, and more passionate relationships are possible if you have the right tools. And that's what Terry is going to be talking about with us today. So I'm so excited about this. And Terry, thank you so much for joining me here today. This is a real pleasure.

Terry Real: Oh, thank you. It's a great joy to be here with you.

Terry Real’s Story

Lisa: Thank you. And so, hey, to start, I always like to enter these conversations by talking about you a little bit. I'm just so curious. I mean, clearly, these issues are your passion, right? I mean, you've put so much of yourself into this. And I'm always curious to know, I mean, what drew you to this work, and marriage and family therapy in particular? Do you mind sharing a little bit about your story? 

Terry: No, I don't mind at all. I like to say I started my practice as a family therapist at about the age of four.

Lisa: Didn't we all, Terry?

Terry: For those of you who have read my first book, I Don't Want to Talk About It, which is about 1/3 autobiographical, I talked about my own relationship with my depressed, violent father, and my own depression that I — and trauma that I had to work through. I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional family. I like to say, Lisa, that I am the son of a depressed, angry father, who was the son of a depressed, angry father. And I have two boys now all grown in their 30s. And they do not say that. And the fact that they do not say that is one of the great achievements in my life. 

I talk to people about breaking the legacy, changing the multi-generational legacy that was passed on to you and handing to your kids a different future than the one that was handed to you as being one of life's great works. There's an old saying: Therapists are people who need to be in therapy 40 hours a week.

Lisa: Feeling seen right now, Terry. 

Connection as Human Beings

Terry: I went into the field of psychotherapy, I think, in order to heal myself and have the conversation with my dad that I needed to have with him in order to not become him, and I did that. And then I went from individual therapy and family therapy and couples therapy to figure out how in the world to have a relationship. And I had to literally make this my profession in order to figure out how to get it done. I've been married 37 years to the wonderful family therapist, Belinda Berman-Real. And one of the distinguishing characteristics about relational life therapy, the work I've created, RLT, is that we don't hide behind a professional mask of neutrality. We're more like 12 step-sponsors than traditional therapists. 

We talked about our own journey. And I will say to a couple I'm working with, “Hey, look, if you come from a dysfunctional culture, so do I. And if you come from a dysfunctional family, so did I. And the skills I'm teaching you to use today are the same skills I use in my marriage every day. And on those days when either Belinda or I choose to indulge and not use those skills, we look just as ugly as you two.” But I also say, “If we can do it, you can do it.” And Belinda also comes from a really tough background, a lot of violence and trauma in her background, as is mine. 

In a way, we're blessed because people from more “normal families”, if they just did what came naturally to them, if they just did the defaults they learned as kids, they might be able to get by. I'm not saying they’ll be happy, but they’ll be okay. But what we learned as kids was so destructive that if we just repeated the patterns we grew up with, it was going to be a disaster. And so both Belinda and I are what like Belinda likes to call “retreads”, like a tire that's been retreaded. We’re constructed human beings. 

One of the things I say is I'm in the personality transplant business. People come to couples therapists, they say, “Oh, I want better communication.” Bullshit, you want a different partner on the other end of the seesaw. You want a more relational, a human being to deal with. And couples therapists routinely shy away from being that ambitious, but in RLT we don't. We transform who people are. And I think the book Us is a very ambitious book. And I literally have as my goal to transform the life of the reader. And what that means is teaching people how to live truly relational lives, lives that are connected to themselves and to those around them, as opposed to lives that are disconnected from yourself and from those around you. 

I think that the state of connection is what we human beings are born for — is the only thing that makes us happy. It makes us physically healthy. It’s as important as intimacy, it’s as important as not smoking, or exercise for our bodies. It is the Pearl of Great Price — that is the thing that you can sell all your worldly possessions for in order to achieve. And I speak about what I call “relational joy”. The deep-down pleasure of just being with people you love and feeling that connection. And I believe that relational joy is what we're all craving. 

Leave, for example, that intimacy is the cure for addiction. That we self-medicate — when we self-medicate, it’s the pain of not being authentically connected and that bringing the patients that I work with and readers who are reading this book into a state of honest connection. First, of themselves — “What am I feeling?” was one of my physical sensations. “What do I really want?” And then to the people around them. This is the great blessing of our life. It is what cures our ills and it does it better than anything else on the planet.

Lisa: Amen, brother. I love it. No, the gospel of connection and attachment. It really — it is why we're here. And I also love the personal kind of humbleness you are bringing to this mission. I think it's so easy for people, particularly those who have attained the status that you have, is to be “other”. Like, “I have arrived. I know all these things.” And what I hear you saying is, “This is the fight we're all in,” and using that growth, experience, and walking through the fire yourself, really, and then being able to go back and get other people, too, and help them do their work, and on very deep levels. And I love what you're saying, that the Pearl of Great Price. That's just so beautiful in that it's treasure, but you have to earn it.

Terry: You have to earn it! This isn’t more money. This has to be — and maybe I can talk a little bit about what that is. It's funny, everybody and and their brother will tell you that relationships take work, right, but nobody tells you what it is. 

Lisa: That's, yeah, that's the hard part.

Terry: After 30-plus years in this business, I have a huge collection of New Yorker cartoons on relationships. And there's a great one with these two middle-aged couples facing each other with cocktails in their hands. And the caption reads, “Now this work on your relationship, are you doing it or having it done?”

Lisa: Can I pay somebody?

Terry: I’d pay somebody if I could, but I want your listeners to get that the work of relationship is not day-by-day. The work of a relationship is minute-to-minute. In this minute, right now, particularly in this heated moment when I'm triggered, am I going to do my same old-same old knee-jerk response? Yell, scream, stonewall, placate, whatever my automatic response is. Am I going to go through Door A the way I've gone 90 million times? Or in this moment, am I going to take a breath, count to 10, take a break — I'm a big fan of breaks — take a walk around the block, splash water on my face, have a little chat with little Terry, put him on my lap and talk to him? 

Am I going to do the work either standing there, or in a break to recollect myself so that I can choose a different response? One of my patients talks about the tyranny of a million small decisions. And what I want to say is they're not really decisions, they're automatic responses. And in the book, of course, I go into that in a backbreaking way — but I think interesting — into the neurobiology of it.

Lisa: So important. 

Terry: The automatic nervous system scans the body four times a second. Am I safe? Am I safe? Am I safe? Am I safe?” And if the answer is, “Yes, I feel safe,” then we stay seated in the mature part of ourselves. Neurobiologically, it’s the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that develops last in all of us as kids, the part of the brain that came last to us as a species. It’s this thinking, deliberate, here and now, non-triggered, centered — I call it the “wise adult” part of us. Or, “Have I been triggered? Am I flooded?” And I once heard the great Dr. Gabor Matthay saying, “You rarely see the wound, you see the scar.”

If you're triggered, way down deep, you may be flooded with what I call the “wounded child” part. Very young, the part of you that just experienced it. Very young and usually overwhelmed. But between this early child part and the present-based wise adult part is a part that I call the “adaptive child” part of us. And this adaptive child part of us is the you that you cobbled together in those moments in the absence of healthy parenting. It’s a kid's version of what an adult looks like. And the hallmark of the adaptive child part of us isn't as automatic — it’s knee-jerk. 

I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I have three basics for the adaptive child part of us. Fight — screw me, screw you. I'm a fighter, believe me, I’m a fighter. Flee — stone wall, shut down, get out of here. And you can flee while sitting six inches away from somebody, that's called stonewalling. Boom, the drawbridge drops. Or fix, which is an interesting one for therapists and women in particular.

Lisa: I totally do that, Terry.

The Whoosh

Terry: Yeah, that co-dependent thing. You're upset. I have this compulsive need to get rid of you're upset so that I'm not upset. That is not a mature person working on a relationship. It's a little child who's scared — needs to take the badness away. So, listeners, right now, take a moment and out yourself to yourself. Are you a fighter? Are you a fleer? Or are you a fixer? This has everything to do with your role in your family growing up as a child. Now, that's your knee-jerk. I come home after five days on the road, back when the kids were little, and Belinda is a fighter who also has a full-time private practice, I've been stuck with these little kids for five days a week. And I would come home to a wall of self-righteous indignation, “I can't believe it, you leave me with these kids.” And I thought, Lisa, about what I call whoosh. It's like a wave comes up from the feet. Whoosh. 

Your whoosh might be to fix, somebody else's whoosh might be to flee, mine is to fight. Belinda hits me with anger, I get anger. And I like to say what my body wants to do in that moment, bop her in the nose. But being a feminist and educated man, I would relegate myself to verbal abuse. “I can't believe I have to put up with this bullshit from you. I just got home. I just spent five days teaching people how to love each other and I come home to this crap.” And it would be anger meets anger and we'd be off to the races. 

Then I started doing this work. I call it relational recovery, not a victim’s recovery, but recovery of that state of connection. And literally, that whoosh would come over me. Every muscle in my body would be screaming to fight and a voice would cut in. And here's what it would say, “Terry, shut up.” That's called a containing boundary. Breathe. We do a lot of breathing in relational work. Breathe into your heart, breathe yourself down from this anchor. Belinda is having a bad day. You don't have to make her bad day, your day. Have a boundary.

Now, from this centered place, talk to your wife, “Honey, I'm sorry, I know you're overwhelmed with the kids. You put your feet up, let me pour your glass of wine. I’ll put the kids to bed and then we'll talk.” That is a moment of grace, that is a moment of health and recovery. And what it is — and this is what the whole book’s about — is the art and practice — and boy, it takes practice — of when you're in that heated moment, taking a breath or thirty and cultivating the muscle of shifting out of that automatic, defensive move into something observational, mature, loving, skilled. I call it relational mindfulness. You attend to the thoughts and feelings that are washing over you. You don't try to control them, but you don't go off with them, either. And it gets yourself — I call it remembering love, that you remember the person that you're talking to is not the enemy, that you love them. 

You see, what happens is when we scan our body, “Am I safe? Am I safe?” and it comes out, “No,” we lose that wise adult. We lose the prefrontal cortex, and more primitive parts of the brain, limbic system and amygdala, get stimulated. And that part of the brain does not know about relationship. That part of the brain is you and me, win-lose power, struggle, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me. And the art of this work is coming out of that, me, me, me, me, me back into the remembrance of the “us”. We're a team. And once you remember the us, everything changes. When you think relationally, which is remembering the us, for example, if one of you wins and the other one loses, you both lose, not because of some pie in the sky idealism, but because the loser will make the winner pay for it. Count on it.

Lisa: You’ve lost the pearl soon as you've done that. Yeah.

Terry: That's right. And you can be a bully and get your way in the short run, but you're poisoning the pond that you're in. One of the things that I say is, our relationships are our biospheres; they are what we live inside of. Now, some guy will say to me, “Oh, why should I work so hard to make my wife happy?” And I say, “Well, because you live with her.”

Lisa: I’m thinking of that old saying right now, Terry, and I'll say it more politely, but “don't crap where you sleep”. This is your home you're destroying, your biosphere, your ecosystem, when you make that choice in that moment.

Terry: That's right. And when we get triggered and we go on automatic, we forget that we're in our biosphere. The book is a critique of what I call the toxic culture of individualism.

The Toxic Culture of Individualism and Patriarchy 

Lisa: I had wanted to hear more about that. That is a very interesting individualism. You talk about patriarchy and how that sort of influences. I'm fascinated by this.

Terry: Well, it has to do with our relationship to nature itself. And the essential delusion of individualism. And there's a chapter on the history of the idea of the individual — it has a history. The idea of the individual is basically the invention of a bunch of privileged white men, historically. And the delusion of individualism is that we stand apart from nature. That's what it means to be an individual, to be separate. And that fuses with patriarchy, an older tradition, that says not only are we apart from nature, but we control it, whether the nature we control is our partners, or our kids, or our bodies, “I've got to lose these 10 pounds,” or our thinking, “I've got to be less negative.” 

The idea is that we stand above nature and we have power over it. God — in King James, anyway, the people who say it's not a good translation — God gives Adam dominion over all the things that walk on this earth — bad idea. We're not the lords and masters of anything. We are not above nature, we are in nature. And once we trade in the hubris, the grandiosity of walking on this earth as if we're gods and goddesses, and remembering that we're human beings inside the biosphere, not of it, and all of the things change.

For example, from this, I call it ecological wisdom or relational wisdom, once you remember that you're a team but question who's right and who's wrong, the answer to that is, who cares? It doesn't matter. What matters is how are you and I are going to work this issue out in a way that's going to work for both of us. We love each other. We're a team. Let's go. For example, something as concrete as a shift from, “I want more sex in our marriage,” to “Honey, we both deserve to have a good sex life. What do we need to do to resurrect this thing?” Two ways of saying the same thing, but one is about the “I” and the other is about the us. 

The us is wiser, more loving, and works better. Not only does the book give you a new map, remembering the us, but once you have that us in your head, it kicks out a whole new repertoire of skills that I think work like a knife through butter. 

Lisa: Oh, yeah. Well, I'm hearing like, how do you take care of that ecosystem? How do you create an environment of love and emotional safety, as opposed to fighting each other to try to get your needs met and working together to create that?

Terry: That's exactly right. I don't talk about altruism, I talk about enlightened self-interest. Happy spouse, happy house. I was assisting a couple yesterday. Can I tell you a story about it? I was just assisting a couple yesterday, and this is not unusual. Across the board, there's lots of variations, but in heterosexual couples, women carry the dissatisfaction because women want more intimacy than a great many men are socialized to be able to deliver, and so they're mad about it. This one was complaining about her husband's lack of closeness and he was reacting to her criticism and complaints. I don't know if you've ever run across this in your life, but —

Lisa: Maybe once, I don't know.

Terry: I told him this — and this is something for your listeners if they get nothing from the rest of the day — when your partner comes to you in a state of upset, wake up. Keep your wits about you. You have one goal, which is to help them come into a state of closeness with you. If they're upset, your job is to do what you can to help them be less upset. Why? Because you live with them, you fool. Because, how do you want to spend your evening? It's in your interest to help them out. Now, this is a one-way street, everybody gets this wrong. This is not a dialogue. This is not a conversation. If your partner's upset, by and large, you don't say, “Well, I'm upset about —” bad idea. 

“Honey, I'm sorry you feel bad. What can I do to help you feel better?” Just that one thing will unlock so many fights in couples. What we do when our partner is upset is, our first reference point is objective reality. “Well, that's true. But that's not true. Well, that's partly true. Well, yeah, that's true, but you have to understand that.” In our head, rebutting, whether we say it out of our mouths or not, we're not listening. And then the second reference that we have is ourselves, “I can't believe I have to listen to this again.” 

What I teach people is, when you are faced with an upset partner, keep your eye on repair. Let go of objective reality. It has no place in personal life. We don't care. Let go of yourself. We don't care. And instead, show compassionate curiosity about your partner's subjective experience. “When you stepped on my toe the other day, I want you to know that I felt —” “I didn't step on your toe.” Forget it.

Lisa: Let me tell you what really happened.

Terry: Exactly. “When you stepped on my toe and go, ‘I'm sorry, honey, that sounds like that felt bad. Tell me more about it. Is there anything I could say or do that would help you feel better?’” Lose your ego and be kind to your upset partner. Just do that, those of you who are listening to this, just trade in your normal defensiveness for some kindness and empathy, and see if it doesn't unlock the pattern between the two of you. 

Lisa: Absolutely. It's an opportunity for connection in any one of these moments. And I'll stand-in for one of our listeners for a second, because there's probably somebody listening to this right now and is like, “But then what about me? If I always trying to make things nice for them, what about me, Terry?” And I'm guessing that this is part of that central idea of your book, From Me to We, but I think that that's very instinctive for a lot of people. They feel like, “I'm giving more than they are. I'm trying harder. When am I going to get my needs met?” What do you say to that?

Terry: Well, you see, where you're at now, is you're looking at the big pattern. “I'm always. I'm never. He or she is giving less to me than I'm giving to them.” That is a macro-level viewpoint. You're looking at the general pattern of the relationship. There's a place for that. And if it's unbalanced, good — stand up for yourself, be assertive. I like that. That's also part of being related and connected. My pal Carol Gilligan says, “There's no voice without relationship and there's no relationship without voice.” 

I want people to stand up for themselves. But don't do it when you're pissed off. Don’t jump — here's a little tip — don't jump from a micro-level disappointment to a macro-level analysis when you're heated. Don't do that from your adaptive child. Wait until you're back in your wise adult. You sit down, you can have come to Jesus with your partner and you can drag your partner to a couples therapist if you think there's a big asymmetry. 

In this moment right now, is it really about you and the big pattern or is it about moving into repair in this moment? Do you really have to stand up for yourself at this particular moment because “he always, he never” — stay out of the level of trend and pattern and deal with this particular moment. But there is a place to stand up for yourself. But there's one of the big things I teach in the book, and this is particularly for women. Under patriarchy, you can either be connected or you can be powerful, but you can't be both at the same time.

Lisa: I've never heard it said that way. Under patriarchy, you can either be powerful or connected, but not both at the same time.

Soft and Loving Power

Terry: Right, because power is  power over. Power is dominion. And once you step into power over, you break the connection. You can either be connected, accommodating, affiliative, “Okay, let's work this out, ”feminine”, or you can be assertive and “I need to speak my truth and the hell with you” — I'm going to say it this way — “masculine”, but you can't be both at the same time. Now, I'm about moving men and women and nonbinary people beyond the scriptures of patriarchy. What does that look like? I teach people the skill of what I call soft power or loving power. 

When you move into loving power, you assert yourself and you cherish your partner in the same breath. And nobody does that. You have to learn how to do that. This culture doesn't teach people how to do that. So when women get fed up and they finally speak, quite often, they speak with the same lack of relational skill that men have always spoken with. “I don't give a damn. I am woman, hear me,” no, no, I want to move beyond that.

Lisa: Taking a sip of tea out of my nasty woman mug as we speak. He's not talking about me, though.

Terry: Listen is the difference between, saying to your partner, “I don't like how you're talking to me. Knock it off,” and saying to your partner, “Hey, honey, I want to hear what you have to say. Could you change your tone so I could listen to it?” Two ways of saying the same thing, but one is about me, me, me, me, me, and the other, even while you're asserting yourself, takes care and cherishes your partner. You can do both at the same time and that is new territory for us [incorrigible]. Being powerful and connected, all in the same breath.

Lisa: That's such a great concept. Because I think you're absolutely right. I mean, in a culture of patriarchy, I think what feminism often historically has turned into is, how do women occupy that patriarchal, powerful space? Do you know? And what you're talking about here is soft power. And so, because I think about, especially some couples really striving for more egalitarian relationships where there are shared roles. But just because we both do the dishes or look after the children, it doesn't really talk about how we are managing the power dynamics…

Terry: That's right. 

Lisa: …in each each other. And so this is a wonderful roadmap, it sounds like, for helping people understand a radically new way of being, that the goal is connection, as opposed to dominion if I'm hearing this correctly.

Terry: The great feminist, Riane Eisler, The Chalice and The Blade, talks about power over versus power with, and this is about power with. I'll tell you a story. I like to tell this story about soft power. A young heterosexual couple in my office, typical, she wanted sex none of the time he wanted sex all the time, they were killing each other. Like any good therapist, I get them to talk about what sex means, not just who does what. And like a lot of men, unfortunately, this guy filtered a ton of emotional baggage through sex — he was lovable, they were okay, that she cared about him, blah, blah. We surface all that. 

They come back two weeks later, they're beaming, and the woman says, “The sex thing, we got it.” And they did. They had other issues, but they nailed this one. She said, “After the session, about two days later, he comes up and he wants sex. And unlike what I would normally do, which is go to the other side of the room, I walked over to him and I gave him a big kiss. I look him in the eye and I say this, ‘Babe, the first thing I want you to know is I think you're really hot. I think you're so cute. You're so handsome. You're really a sexy guy. You're a nice man. You've got a big heart. You treat me like a million bucks. I just love — oh, by the way, I don't want to have sex tonight. I love you to pieces.’” And the guy, to his amazement, sounded like this, “Uh, okay.”

Lisa: I think you're saying that he got the real need met in that moment.

Terry: She was so loving and so cherishing that the “no” went down without a lot of fuss. And what I'm saying is, we can take care of ourselves and be cherishing of the relationship, both at the same time. When women move into power, quite often, they move from the disempowered, “feminine” side of the seesaw to the overly-empowered, “masculine” side of the seesaw. In family therapy, we talk about first and second-order change. 

First-order change is rearranging the furniture. Second-order change is blowing the whole thing up. I want that seesaw gone, I want the division of masculine and feminine to be gone, and I want both men and women to move into cherishing power, where they can speak their truth and empower their partner, both at the same — One of the things I write about is the relational golden rule, I call it, is this, “Honey, what can I give you to help you come through for me?” It sounds like that.

Lisa: That collective —

Terry: “I want you to be more responsible, I want you to be more kind, I want you to be sexier, I want you to be more loving.” “Okay, you will, you're going to work on that? Great. Now, how can I help you?” Who says that? We're a team, let's work together to get this done. If you're with somebody who's completely irresponsible, or a bully, or refusing to be a team, fair enough. I understand that there are people who were raised that way. That means you drag the person into couples therapy and you get a couples therapist who will stand up for you, which most couples therapists won't, and really help you with that difficult person.

One of the things about the work I do, and all the people I've trained to call it relational life therapy, is we take sides. And when we see a power imbalance, we empower the disempowered partner and go after the grandiose partner. And most people won't do that. But if you're faced with somebody who ain't playing fair, that's a kick out to get some help, and get some help that really helps. I invite folks to my website, if you don't mind, terryreal.com. And we have the certified RLT therapists all over the country.

Lisa: Many of them, there are a number of people on our growing self team who have gone through your training and have had marvelous things to say about the experience, Terry, really.

Terry: Oh, thank you, I really appreciate. Hey, if you're a therapist listening to this and you want to get training, our doors are open. If you're part of a couple and you're pulling your hair out, we have therapists for you to turn to.

Male Depression

Lisa: That's so good to know. Because really, this is such a struggle. And I know we're coming up on the end of our time, but I actually have one other curious question. The things that we were talking about just a minute ago, moving into sort of a soft power and a collectivist orientation, but also what you were saying about that there can be kind of individual components that need to be dealt with sort of in a different way. And just going back to your earlier work for a moment. I mean, you wrote a seminal book about male depression. And I can't help but wonder if part of that, what we started talking about, particularly the experiences that — not to point the finger at men, necessarily — but what you've noticed about that being a component when it comes to things where it makes it difficult for people to do the things we're talking about today. That or trauma is a thing too. What would you do about that?

Terry: Yeah. Well, I deal with a lot of high-power guys, and they've lived most of their lives out of their adaptive child. And they're quite successful in the world and they make a hash of their personal lives. And often they're not very happy between their ears either. Their relationships with themselves isn't very good either. The reason for that is that our patriarchal culture mirrors the values of the adaptive child part of us. We don't live in a mature, relationship-cherishing culture. We live in a patriarchal, addictive, narcissistic culture. 

A lot of these guys do well in the world but are miserable at home. I talk to them about their children? I talk to them about, what kind of legacy are you going to pass on to the next generation. Because a lot of these guys who will not do the work of reconfiguring for their “miserable wives”, and won't even do it for themselves, will spare their children. And I think this is heroic work for all of us. We don't raise boys and men — to this day, it’s changing some. The younger men are better. The younger the man, the freer he is, generally. 

We don't raise boys and men to be relational. We still raise them by the old cloth of strength and independence and blah, blah, blah. The essence of traditional masculinity is invulnerability. The more invulnerable you are, the more manly you are. And the problem is, as Brene Brown has taught us, we humans connect through our vulnerabilities. You've got this boy who has the patriarchal system dumped on him at three, four, or five years old. Whether he wants it or not, learns to be tough, learn to stop expressing his feelings, learns to pretend to not be vulnerable. And he grows up to become a man and his partner, a man or woman, is saying, “I want to be close to you. What are you really feeling?” And it's like, “Screw you. I'm not feeling anything.”

I have to lead these men into the land of vulnerability. It’s good for you. It's good for your body, you will live longer. It’s good for your partner and it's absolutely essential for your child. Be a human. I talk to men about learning to become what I call family man. Real family man. That means opening your heart. Women by-and-large, feminism for 50 years has been dealing with the wound of women's disempowerment. Men are not disempowered. Men are often falsely empowered. The wound to men is disconnection. We disconnect them from their hearts. We disconnect them from others. We disconnect them from their feelings and from nature. And the healing move for men in our culture, in particular, is opening up their hearts, and opening up their ears, and learning how to listen without being defensive, and be big-hearted guys. 

I talked about being strong, big-hearted men. It kills me when people who don't really know my work dismiss it by saying I'm trying to feminize men — bullshit. I'm not interested. I'm trying to make whole human beings out of our boys and girls. And I want smart, sexy, feminine women and I want strong, competent, big-hearted, sensitive men. It deserves to be whole on both sides. 

Lisa: Well, and I'm hearing how that primary connection and the ability to do that heals, not just individuals and helps them become whole, but also helps the relationship too. I feel like we've kind of come full circle in that, is that what is good for us as individuals is also what creates that priceless pearl. 

Terry: Belinda and I will look at each other in a particular moment. And it's a thing I mean, couples have their schtick. And we'll look at each other and in the current moment and smile and say to the other, “Honey, I just want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to work on myself.”

Lisa: I might try that one out, Terry. Oh, well. This has been such a delightful conversation. And on behalf of our listeners here today, thank you so much for being so generous in how much really helpful just information and ideas you shared with all of us today — it's wonderful stuff. And so you mentioned your website, terryreal.com. The new book is officially coming out.

Terry: June 7 Is the pub day. You can preorder it Us: Getting Past You and Me to Build a More Loving Relationship. And also if you go to my website, we're going to be launching us workshops, online workshop, for both individuals and couples from all over the country, indeed all over the world, and how to learn to live this new relational way of being in the world, and what the skills are to pull that off.

Lisa: Wonderful stuff. Okay, workshops and then also that you do therapist trainings as well, and so there are therapists, couples, counselors who are familiar with the ideas that we talked about today and that can be helpful too.

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