ERP 094: 4 Reasons Why Creating Lasting Love Is So Difficult [Transcript]

ERP 094: 4 Reasons Why Creating Lasting Love Is Difficult [Transcript]

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Welcome to The Empowered Relationship Podcast, helping you turn relationship challenges into opportunities and setting you up for relationship success. Your host, Dr. Jessica Higgins, is a licensed psychologist and relationship coach who shares valuable tips, tools and resources for you to dramatically improve your relationship.

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Hello, thank you for joining today’s podcast episode. Today’s episode is episode 94, titled “Four Reasons Why Creating Lasting Love Is So Difficult.” If you are joining this podcast for the first time or you are kind of new to this show, I want to set the intention.

It’s funny, I was meeting with a couple this morning, and a lot of people still have an association with therapeutic coaching or therapy as addressing a problem, and even though we typically get help when we’re experiencing pain – so if we’re talking about a relationship, we seek support when we’re experiencing a challenge and we’re feeling pain around that challenge, and then therefore we want help to address it… And I’m really in the business of helping couples strengthen their marriage, their relationship, to weather the storms that come up in life. I was talking to this couple, because I really want people to feel motivated not only to address the challenges, but to also believe in the possibility of having a great relationship.

Right now, Empowered Relationship podcast is celebrating its second anniversary, and I’m so excited to just look back on the two years that I’ve been creating episodes. In light of that, I have some exciting things I’m gonna be offering you, and I also have a survey where – I think it’s like seven questions – I’m asking you which type of podcast you like best – are you liking the coaching, are you liking me answering listeners’ questions, are you liking the interviews? I’m also asking you what you’re getting out of this show, like what’s motivating you. Are you appreciating getting tips and information, are you feeling some inspiration, encouragement, motivation, that type of thing, and any feedback that you feel that would help the show grow… Anything from my intro music to — I think somebody has commented on my cadence or my inflection in my voice… Just different things that you feel like would help you feel more connected to this show. So I have a few questions, and then there’s an open-ended question.

If you have been listening to this show and you would like to offer your input, this is a perfect time to do it, I would love you to do that. You can find the link by clicking on today’s podcast show notes link, which can be found on my website, which is, click on Podcast, and you’ll find episode 94, Four Reasons Why Creating Lasting Love Is So Difficult there at the top. Click on show notes and you can find the survey link there.

I would love, love, love for you to do that. If you would be so generous to take a few minutes out of your busy day to offer a little bit of input to help this show grow, it would be wonderful.

As I mentioned, I am going to be releasing some podcast episodes coming up, starting with today. Next week we’re gonna be talking about beliefs, then we’re gonna be talking about the stories that we tell ourselves, and the vows that we make to one another. We have some really great things coming up in the next few weeks, and all of this is in support to launch – I have created my program in a very easy, accessible, affordable way for you guys to engage and gain support to deepen in your practice with these principles. I’m very excited… You will have some free offerings with that, so I hope you’ll stay connected and stay tuned, I’ll keep you in the loop.

If you’re not on my e-mail list, I wanna encourage you – later in the show I’ll give you an opportunity to get a free eBook, and that’s one way that you can get more information about what we’re talking about today, as well as get on my list so you can be in the loop about these things coming up.

Okay, let’s get started for today’s podcast episode. Today’s episode, again, is 94, Four Reasons Why Creating Lasting Love Is So Difficult. A while back I received a question from a listener who unfortunately was going through an extremely painful time with his wife. In his initial e-mail to me, he describes some of the painful dynamics in their relationship, and he also stated that one of his biggest pains was the fact that he felt as though he was coming into being a better partner – implementing some of the things he’d been learning through this podcast, as well as his own personal growth work; I think he was doing therapy, and I think they were actually in couples therapy together, and he just felt like he was really growing and feeling really good about his part. So his greatest pain was the fact that he was growing into being a better partner, in his own self-assessment, and feeling as though she was pulling away. He said, “I keep trying to encourage her, I keep trying to point out…”, he had all these different ways that he was really wanting her to believe in their marriage, to really work at it, not give up.

He was saying the harder he was trying, the further she was distancing from him. In his e-mail, he asks:

Having listened to your podcast constantly and really trying to practice what I am learning in therapy I have, in some ways consciously and with effort and in some ways seemingly unconsciously, been changing my behavior – the way I talk, listen, and respond. The problem is that it seems as though I am the only one doing any work and making any effort. My wife will be the first to admit that she avoids confrontation at all costs. Is there something that I or our therapist can say/do to help my wife realize that she is going to have to do some things that make her uncomfortable/things she doesn’t necessarily want to do, that are good for the healing of the marriage?

When he wrote this to me, I was like “This is a great question.” This is one of the classic, fundamental questions when we’re in partnership. As much as we would like to at times, we can’t choose how our partner will think, feel and behave. Trying to fight with them or convince them will probably make things worse, and get into that distance or pursuer dynamic which he’s describing – the more he’s pursuing her, the more she’s distancing and trying to get space, which only further ensues the harder you try, the further the distancing.

This question is so important, because I believe it really encapsulates the beauty and the risky reality that together in relationship with our partners we co-create the relationship. It’s not created by one person that then follows. Sometimes that happens, but I don’t ever see that working in a really sustainable, life-giving way for both partners; I just don’t see that working well. But when both people create the relationship together, both people are participating in the process, this is so uniquely beautiful. Every relationship can have its own unique expression that’s really reflective of two individuals that are making it theirs.

Hopefully, both partners are saying what works for them, what doesn’t work for them, what they like, what they don’t like, and they’re constantly molding something that is reflective of their particular dance, their unique connection and the way they love each other, and two individuals, as well as their unique connection. That, I think is beautiful. Yet, there’s such a riskiness involved, in that we have our arms extended open wide and saying, “Yes, I wanna do this with you. Are you in this?”

Our partner – this person’s married, so this person’s not dating… Even when you’re married, your partner will be choosing over and over again to be in it or not in it. This obviously has different extremes; they could check out for a phase, for a myriad of reasons. My husband just had surgery a couple weeks ago, and I actually got behind, part of the reason why this episode was a little delayed, and it was a big healing process. And especially that first week, he hasn’t been as available, and that’s part of the reality of living – we go through some hardships and our partner can’t always be fully engaged. But he’s committed. We have a solid connection, and our bond is solid in that we’re both very much in this.

In the more extreme forms, we start doubting relationship, we start doubting “I don’t think this is a good fit, I might wanna separate, or maybe I wanna get a divorce”, and we can’t decide that our partner’s constantly recommitting over and over again, essentially every day. We all are doing that, choosing in or choosing out, in small ways and in big ways.

I actually had an opportunity to meet with this young man, and we had a session together, just really helping him deal with this enormously upsetting situation. It’s heartbreaking, it’s tragic, and regardless of what’s happening or what’s going to happen, there’s an enormous amount of grief and pain to confront with that. This topic here today – there’s a lot at risk, and it’s even difficult for me to even do it justice by describing it. I get we have children involved, we have careers – our whole livelihood sometimes. People will go into great feelings of anguish and experience a lot of physical pain. There’s a lot of research that says emotional heartache, emotional heartbreak is actually physically painful. There’s research that shows that we experience that and there’s an enormous amount of pain around that. So I get how hard this is.

When someone’s faced with this challenge or this upset, “I’m a yes, I’m in this, and I’m getting a no from my partner” – how permanent that is, I don’t know; to what extreme – I don’t know. But let’s just take for this young man’s example… He was feeling the threat of separation, the threat of divorce, and again, how painful that is. There’s just some meeting that grief and meeting that pain.

Then also the question of, “Is there anything I can do? Will she come around?” Again, I wanna point to my first comment – I don’t think there’s anything that someone can say or do to convince or manipulate or persuade or sell someone on the idea. The best way I know is to do your individual work, which is pretty much all I talk about on this podcast. What I found in my research (my dissertation research) is that often times when someone stays very true to their work, the other person will come along at some point – maybe six months down the road – and they’ll feel… Because if you get outside of that distance pursuer dynamic and you focus on your own work, then they’re kind of left with their own stuff; they don’t have somebody to blame and say, “Stop putting pressure on me, stop pursuing me”, and then they’re kind of left with their own emotion to deal with that; then there comes a little bit more possible consideration and perspective.

Yet, we all know the real grave statistic – 50% of marriages end in divorce, and those in second marriages have an even higher statistic. So there’s really no guarantee, and that’s part of the challenge of this, and this is kind of why I’m doing this podcast – the reality that there’s some real… I have four things that come from theory and research, of reasons why creating lasting love is so difficult. So just to have some awareness around whether or not it’s you that’s considering being a no, or not being in your relationship, or if it’s your partner.

Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson run The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, California. They lead a lot of workshops, they also train couples therapists, and they’re written several books and they do a lot to publish their research, their theory and what not. One of the books they wrote focused on development – how couples develop their intimacy, the stages that couples go through. Now, they didn’t create the stages, but they built their own model around these stages.

I remember it standing out to me that they described some reasons why couples get stuck, partners get stuck in the second stage, which is the power struggle stage. What I mean by stuck is couples will cycle; they won’t actually go to the next stage, they’ll just stay stuck in power struggle for the whole relationship, or they’ll break up or they’ll seek help.
So I’m gonna share with you these four reasons why I believe Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson described why couples have a very difficult time developing beyond that second stage.

Number one is we don’t have the emotional strength. This is not having the capacity or the tolerance to deal with emotional upset. That could be to confront our own pain, or to be with our partner’s pain. It’s a very uncomfortable thing.

Many of us have labeled sadness, anger… Any kind of upset, negative emotion as bad. Sometimes we don’t even give ourselves permission to feel anything that feels painful, we try to avoid it at all costs. So to be with our own pain, or with our partner’s pain, some of us have no idea how to do that. We have not built any capacity for that.

When we are then dealt with a relationship challenge or hardship and we don’t feel like we have developed any muscles to handle that, it can feel extremely overwhelming, and maybe we actually cannot tolerate it emotionally. We might feel like it feels way too hard and we wanna quit.

Another reality is some of us are preoccupied with other priorities, whether or not it’s work, or we are battling some type of substance abuse issue, like alcoholism or addiction issue, or we have some physical illness or mental health illness; these are all realities. Or some type of crisis, like somebody died in our family and we’re grieving. All of these things really take us out of our ability to be emotionally resilient.

Recently I was working with a young woman who has been dating someone, and really perplexed about whether or not she should continue to date this person. He self-proclaimed himself being an alcoholic, and we were discussing some of their relationship and what not, and it was really tragic to look at it, and knowing that as she was describing him that he is not in the process of getting healthy. Not nearly in the process at all of being ready to be on that journey of recovery. And helping her look at the fact that he’s not even available to be in relationship at all, with himself or with her. So for her to be facing that reality of feeling so deeply connected with someone, to fall in love with somebody, to feel that bond, that connection, and on other measures feeling like everything lines up, and yet he’s got this circumstance, this condition – some people would call it even an illness or a sickness – where he is not available for relationship, he’s not in his right state of being, he’s not clear, he’s not conscious, he’s not available for relationship. To come to terms with that is extremely painful, and yet if we’re gonna look at “Does he have the emotional strength, is he in the position to be emotionally strong enough to grow in relationship?”, I think most people would say no.

Doing this podcast is hard… The optimistic part of me always wants to talk about how things can improve and be better, and yet what I’m talking about today is really the reasons why we can’t, and why it’s hard, and that there’s reality around that.

The silver lining around this is that we can actually build emotional strength; it’s not like we’re born with a certain emotional strength capacity and we can never improve that or grow that. There’s a tremendous amount of research about the importance of resilience, and grit, essentially.

I was reading an article the other day, it’s titled “Ready For Anything”, by Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney, and there was just a little box that summarized, as they titled “Fast facts. Armed against adversity”. This was published in the Scientific American Mind Magazine. They’re talking about adversity, and a couple bullet points they have…

* Resilience is the ability to modulate and constructively harness the stress response – a capacity essential for both physical and mental health.

* Success can hinge on resilience. Setbacks are a part of any endeavor, and those who react to them productively will make the most progress.

* A person can boost his or her resilience. Strategies include reinterpreting negative events, enhancing positive emotions, becoming physically fit, accepting challenges (not fighting with them, but accepting them), maintaining a close social network and imitating resilient role models, as they’re displaying what resilience traits or skills look like.

I bullet-point this here for you just to kind of — in light of number one, we do not have the emotional strength, just that we can build the emotional strength. Again, we can do that for ourselves, and we can talk about it, and hopefully our partner will see the value of it. But again, we can’t convince them or persuade them or manipulate them to get on board.

The second reason why creating lasting love, developing our love in relationship is so difficult is we don’t have the awareness and understanding of what’s required to develop further. There are two podcasts that I think will really help with this number two point, and I wanna point you to them right now. Episode 58, titled “Beyond The Wedding – What Marriage Is Really Like.” In this episode I talk about the documentary One Hundred Twelve Weddings by Doug Block, where after being a videographer of people’s weddings over 20 years, he was wondering what happened to these couples – are they still together, what’s their married life like, and how have they navigated the inevitable ups and downs of marriage, and are they happy. So he goes through and really does a deeper dive with nine couples, and I just thought it was such a great, great documentary.

Some of the takeaways that I got were hearing couples talk about the challenges they experienced together, and how they had no idea what to expect. When they originally had their wedding, they had no idea what they were gonna be embarking on together, and that they would feel some level of pain or shame if things didn’t go according to plan, and how they needed to gather resources and what they did to get through those challenging times. I thought the documentary was wonderful, and I encourage you to check out that podcast episode. Again, that’s episode 58, Beyond the Wedding – What Marriage Is Really Like.

I think even after that episode I was thinking, “Gosh, I wanna develop almost a pre-marriage boot camp”, that’s fun, but very experiential, that these couples have these challenges; almost like a ropes course, or something like that, but where couples have to get over some type of obstacle together, whether or not it’s physically or strategically, but they have to work together as a team. They are then looking at how they approach things together, how they make decisions, their leadership, their followship, all of those things… How they encourage each other, how they communicate, how they problem-solve… All of these things that could be looked at, and perhaps they could be intentional about how to work together and be in the creation of building a relationship that works for both of them. So yeah, I encourage you to check that episode.

The other one is the one I just released, episode 93. This is an interview with Dr. Keith Witt, and he’s talking about the shadow – the hidden parts of ourselves that we either aren’t aware of or choose not to look at, and how it influences the way we think, feel and relate, and that if we’re aware… This whole point number two is that we don’t have the awareness or the understanding of what’s required of us, but sometimes that’s what’s inside of ourselves that’s perhaps limiting us. So he’s encouraging that we have these impulses that are just biological sometimes; we have these violent impulses, or we have these negative impulses, and that the shadow can be dark, but we can work with it and be constructive with it and help cultivate that to a more productive process. So I encourage you to check out that episode, I love the interview. He is talking about a book he just wrote, so there’s also that. You can access it on the show notes, by going to my website, click on Podcast, and you can find the episodes there by scrolling; the most recent one is at the top, and then you can scroll down to have access to the others. Or, obviously, on your electronic device – iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, all of those.

Wrapping up number two, again, the point of not having the awareness or the understanding of what’s required to develop – how we need to grow ourselves, skills we need to develop, and also things we need to look at inside ourselves. Again, this is maybe the parts of ourselves that we maybe don’t wanna look at, the things that we get triggered by, the things we’re sensitive about. Maybe pain we’ve had, or patterns we’ve had, ways of dealing with challenges that maybe are not very effective. They used to work for us in the past, and maybe they’re not really serving us anymore.

All of these things give us the material, if we choose to look at it that way. I think you’ve heard me say in the past, some of our challenges are actually the curriculum for our development.

The third challenge that we typically have in developing intimacy is that most of us have ineffective ways of dealing with conflict. Many of us feel scared by conflict; we don’t wanna feel blamed, we don’t wanna feel shamed, we don’t wanna feel that feeling of not good enough… “I failed you in some way” or “I am not okay, I didn’t do it right.” Some of us are fearing rejection, abandonment, not feeling loved and cared about by your partner – that’s so incredibly painful. And some of us have experienced conflict that has been volatile, or maybe even in the realm of abusive, it’s not felt safe, or even emotional attacks, from very small to big. “I’m not going there, that’s danger zone.”

This morning I was working with a couple, and they’re deeply committed to one another. They have been together for like 18, 19 years, and they have two children together and a beautiful life, and they’ve been working on some of their patterns. The thing we were working on today – and we’ve been working on for a little while now – is recognizing how they deal with emotion differently. The wife, she’s very comfortable expressing and emoting; she’s comfortable expressing emotion, displaying emotion, communicating emotion non-verbally and verbally. Where for him, he’s much more contained, most of the time errs on not communicating his emotion, which as we’ve kind of unpacked in our time together, is influenced by his upbringing. His parents didn’t display emotion, there was really little communicated emotionally, so he just doesn’t have any exposure or experience with it. I do think there’s value in his style of being very contained, and I think there’s a value of being expressive, and I’ve tried to help them look at their differences without blame or shame, without power struggling (who’s way is better, who’s way is right) and blaming and shaming each other… “Why are you so emotional, why don’t you just calm down? Why do you have to always be so reactive?” and she’s like, “Why don’t you ever talk to me about what you’re feeling?”, so they’re kind of at each other and not really feeling met or supported by each other.

We’ve been looking at developing almost a protocol or a way that they could approach their sensitive topics in a way that works for both of them, and it was really exciting to see both of them feeling really good about a strategy that would support both of them, that would be a blend and considering both of their styles, where neither one of them had to change, but that they could respect each other, almost honor each other’s seat at the table, so to speak… And that they could work together and talk about some of their sensitive topics together, but look at it from a mutual respect and a mutual regard and consideration around how that conversation could feel good to both of them.

That’s the stuff I get super excited about, but it’s an example of how most of us have no idea how to approach conflict. We have no real productive, no real constructive modeling of what it looks like or even an approach, a plan or a strategy or a protocol… Most of us just do what we know, and then when our partner isn’t approaching conflict in the same way, we can be really at a loss.

Number four, we don’t have a model or a path of what successful relationship (the development of it) looks like. Without good models, it’s easy to doubt, it’s easy to feel shame, it’s easy to worry and wanna quit. Many of us have a notion around marriage and relationship that it’s supposed to be easy, it’s not supposed to be this hard. Or if things are good, my relationship is good. If feelings are good, if my partner’s happy and I’m happy, then my relationship’s good. Of course, we all wanna feel happy and we wanna feel that connection and that romance, yet I wanna invite again for this perspective of we also wanna honor our growth. We’re living and breathing and we’re evolving, and we wanna support that. We also wanna support the authenticity.

I almost get this mental image that we or anyone could be sitting and eating all kinds of junk food and it could feel really good, but we’re not really that healthy. We feel overweight, we feel sluggish, our energy is low, and we actually can’t do that much physical activity. We’re not really a vital, healthy life. So I use this as an analogy that even if you’re striving for things to feel good, if you’re not really looking at maybe things you’re avoiding, or not speaking up about, or things you’re overlooking… You might ask yourself that harder question of “Am I really feeling fulfilled? Am I really happy and satisfied?” Because again, I always come back to that this is worth looking at in the interest of growth.

I’ll tell you, when I’m working with clients and we’re exploring what’s possible beyond the power struggle stage, that does require them to invest in their growth, in the growth of their relationship – and some of that’s challenging, but if we look at what’s on the other side of that, people are like “I want that. I want that!” That’s motivation to do what’s required to develop, and not get stuck, and not wanna break up. If you like the sound of this and you’re resonating with the possibility of what you can create in your relationship by doing this work… Because really, the opposite is that you wanna build emotional strength and resilience. Number two, you wanna build awareness of what’s required of you to develop further. Number three, you wanna gain effective ways of dealing with conflict, and number four, you wanna develop a successful relationship model. All of these things you can develop.

Again, that’s the thing that I get most excited and passionate about, and getting a chance to see couples working this and having a different outcome, feeling connected, feeling authentic and feeling like they’re on the same page around having a similar language, having a similar framework around how they’re doing relationship, and making their relationship great and strengthening it, having a resilient relationship – it’s so exciting to get to support people and witness people doing that work.

I have a special offer coming up… I hope you’ll stay tuned because it’s gonna actually give you exactly the things we’re talking about today, and much more. Until then, I wanna offer you a free eBook – I’ve mentioned that earlier. This is on the same topic, that’s why I’m bringing it up. It’s an eBook that’s titled Seven Ways Relationships Fail And What You Can Do To Save Yours. I’ll put the link on the show notes.

Again, the show notes can be found on my website, which is, click on Podcast and you can find all the episodes listed there. The most recent one will be at the top; again, this is 94. If you go to the show notes, you can click on a little button that’s easy to find. I’ll put it at the top, and I’ll also put it at the bottom. Again, this is the eBook that talks about the seven ways that relationships falter, which is the same topic that we’re discussing today. It’s just I have a little bit of a different offering; I point out seven ways – some of which there’s an overlap here – but I also give you some really concrete ways of how you can do it differently, how you can overcome those.

So if you’re wanting some immediate support, make sure to check that out. The benefit of that is you’ll also be on my e-mail list, as I mentioned, and you’ll be getting the latest news from me around my special offerings.

Also, please don’t forget to take the survey… It would mean so much to me. I look forward to meeting you next time, and we’re gonna be talking about how your beliefs can destroy your relationship. It sounds so doomsday, but I really do wanna emphasize the power of our beliefs and how they impact the health of our relationship.

Thank you for listening. If you have anything you wanna reach out to me about, you can contact me. You can find all the ways to reach me on my Contact page on my website, which is You can find my e-mail, my phone number and all of those good things to reach me. I would love to hear from you, and until next time I hope you take great care.

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