Topic: Mindfulness in intimate relationships


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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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Hi, thank you for joining today’s podcast episode. Today’s episode is 147, part II – How To Use The Mind-Body Connection To Improve Your Relationship, with Dr. Suzanne Midori Hanna. I am so grateful to be spending this time with you. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to contemplate relationship principles in the interest of improving your awareness and skillfulness, and also quality of connection in your relationship.

I also am grateful to be tuning in to our conversation… Over the last several weeks I have been full in my schedule. My husband and I took a trip to New York City in the beginning of June and had a wonderful time with family, and just really enjoying all that we did.

We went to see Hamilton, which was a wonderful show, we got to go sailing, and just enjoyed some really nice meals and catching up with loved ones.

When we returned, my best friend had an ACL surgery. It was a pretty big deal for her… And then the following week, my husband had a minor surgery. Both of them are doing great, it’s just it definitely required some extra time and energy for me to show up for them, and I just recognize that life just happens, and it’s just been busy, and my bigger intention is to just continue to be consistent in delivering valuable content to you on this show, The Empowered Relationship Podcast.

Again, the overall goal is to help you feel better equipped to navigate the tricky terrain of long-lasting intimacy. Listeners on this show, including myself – we are all challenged and tested at times… Whether or not it’s to expand our capacity for more love and more joy than we’ve ever known, just opening up to that experience and the blocks that basically prevent us from fully expanding, as well as learning from our fear, our reaction, and the places that we’ve felt injury in the past.

Relationship provides the curriculum, it will present the hardship. But if we can use that interaction, the difficult emotions that arise as an opportunity for learning and for growth, we have a tremendous capacity for transformation, and that’s largely the intention here on the show.

Before we get started with the second half of today’s interview, I wanna invite you, listener, if you have a question that you would like to submit, please feel free to do so. You can contact me on my website, which is and you can find me on my Contact page.

Also, if you are interested in receiving live laser coaching, in a safe space, knowing that we are all on this path together, and as we work our particular challenges, and if we’re willing to share that, that we all benefit, we all grow.

Okay, so let’s get started with today’s episode… Again, the continuation of the conversation with Dr. Suzanne Midori Hanna. And again, she’s talking about how to use the mind-body connection to improve your relationship. If you missed the first part of this conversation, I highly recommend listening to episode 146 first, before listening to this episode.

Again, she is helping us, giving us a deeper understanding of a transformational process of how to utilise the mind-body connection when we are feeling difficulty or tension. In today’s episode, she gives us two important keys to developing the universal need for love and safety, and she also really helps us understand some of the gender differences that make our couple interaction – if we’re in a heterosexual relationship – difficult. The male and the female brain have differences, so if we can understand that, we can be in a better position to cultivate a win/win together… Basically, an interaction that allows both people to feel that they can be in a position of strength and support for one another.

Let’s get started with the second half of this interview, again, with Dr. Suzanne Midori Hanna.


Dr. Suzanne M. Hanna: Let’s plant some seeds about how every human who’s born on this earth deserves love and safety. In fact, that’s really what the crux of many of our marital difficulties are about. Once we start thinking on that level, “Okay, I deserve love and safety… So what?” My next step with that is let’s look at the things that you can do on your way to healing this marriage, where you do in fact provide love and safety, first to yourself… Because if you can’t provide it to yourself, then you won’t have that foundation to be able to be bonded with your partner.

This love and safety idea, which has come out of a form of marital therapy called restoration therapy, by Terry Hargrave – I work that into the mindfulness recipe, and it becomes then flowing from already in how to scan your body, being able to get in touch with sensations that are standing out… And I will say this about the Peter Levine work – I was attracted to that work because they always start with strengths. They want the person to identify what sensations they have in the body that are comfortable, that feel good, and that’s the jumping off point to then exploring those sensations that are not comfortable.

So where in your body do you have a good feeling? Where in your body is there a sensation of comfort right now? And even if it’s only the little finger, or my toe, or my knee, or all kinds of possible places – that’s a place to start.

We often will say “Alright, just stay with that place of comfort for a minute”, and then we’ll switch to the other. Then is there a sensation that you have when your wife is complaining to you about such and such and where is that… But we do start out first – and I forgot to mention that earlier – with this place of comfort.

So the love and safety then – that next step is some mindfulness around that phrase, and not because many people believe it – many people don’t… So then I’ll say even though you don’t, would you be willing to say it, repeat it, and just take some breaths and let your body just sit with it. Just notice your breathing as you say it.

So I will ask them to say it out loud, “I deserve love and safety.” Even though you don’t believe it yet, would you just say those words and take some breaths?

Now,  usually what I’m doing in a couples session – when these things are going on, I take turns… So one person is observing while I might be doing this with the other person. And of course, there’s the danger that when people really have a lot of hostility toward each other, they can take that as sort of like an arrow toward the other person. “You see, I deserve love and safety, and you’re not giving it to me” kind of thing. So that’s why where we start is the first thing you do is give it to yourself, and that then, between helping them to develop a new relationship to their bodies, where they begin listening to their bodies, then they also are gonna develop a new relationship with their heart and their emotions, where then they entertain this idea that they in fact deserve love and safety.

What happens as a result of that – people do begin to believe it, and it’s the one place that I think flies in the face of traditional psychotherapy. We have been taught – I’ll speak for myself – over the last 30 years, and early on when I was a newbie, I was taught never to put words in people’s mouths, heaven forbid that I should tell a person to think a certain something… And it flies in the face of Colonel Rogers and everything else.

So it takes a little for people to wrap their head around that if they’re a therapist, but in fact, what human being doesn’t want that to be true? It’s sort of like a [unintelligible 00:10:53.04] who wouldn’t want that to be true?

And from an attachment perspective, I’ve just simply decided to break those rules of convention, and I believe that when people do believe that they deserve love and safety, and I can then be the tour guide to help them achieve that. First, what can you do for yourself today when you leave this session, and especially with people who are fighting like cats and dogs – they will each get an assignment to do something for themselves where it’s not a demand of the other person, but just something that they should do because they deserve love and safety. So one person might say – and I’ve had a woman say this – “I think I just need to go have a bubble bath.” She was absolutely discombobulated, because her husband – he hadn’t had an affair, but after 15 years of marriage, he was telling her some things from his heart that were completely different than what she thought. Basically, he was saying “I don’t need you to take care of me in these certain ways. I don’t need you to be my emotional caretaker.” Well, it just blew her away; she had seen him as being this needy guy who she should take care of, and so she had this maternal kind of view… Well, it just shattered her. It was an identity crisis for her.

So when I said “Okay, so there’ll be some grieving that has to go on here… Let’s just kind of take a look now about the two of you and what’s possible for you to have that’s even better than this going forward, but let’s start with this love and safety idea.”

If  you believed you deserved love and safety, what’s something you could do for yourself right now, this week, that you should do because you deserve it, because you deserve love and safety. So she said “Well, I should go home and just take a bubble bath and just do something nice for myself like that.” Okay, great. Perfect. And you, sir? If in fact you believe that you deserve love and safety, what would be one thing that you would do for yourself that you can do?

I believe he said “Well, you know, something that I never do for myself and I really would like to do is just on a Saturday morning (because they were both school teachers) get up, get my paper, not have anything to do for the day, no demands, just read my paper, just kind of putter around the house, and just take a look at what things would just sort of make me feel better if I had just got those things.” Okay, great.

So then, say, they both have what they can do for themselves, and as it turned out, she said she took a bubble bath every day for two weeks, until I saw them again… [laughs]

Dr. Jessica Higgins: I love it.

Dr. Suzanne M. Hanna: And you know, is that not a form of mindfulness?

Dr. Jessica Higgins: No kidding…

Dr. Suzanne M. Hanna: And you said on one of your podcasts that sometimes people are doing things that are mindfulness when they don’t even know that it might be a mindfulness thing… So it was such an identity crisis for her that she needed that, and so then she went ahead and — and again, talk about developing a new relationship with her body, and then how that was gonna help her in her relationship with her husband finally after 15 years being able to verbalize some things about how he felt about their interactions… And again, it blew her away because she just had no idea, but it was then an opportunity for growth for both of them – him to have more of a voice, for her to be able to now understand who he really was…

You know, we get into marriage and often we stay strangers for ten years because of that inability to be vulnerable; so this also, by listening to the body, sometimes then when the body speaks and I say “What is your neck saying? Are there any words coming out of that spasm right now?” something comes out that gets that person in touch with what needs to happen for themselves.

That then begins to move people first from the sensation, then to their emotions and their intentions, and with that, see, these hopes and dreams, obviously, if we can create that sense of love and safety for ourselves, first believing that we deserve it, and then looking to see what can we do for ourselves – then that puts us in a great position to now be able to look at how to negotiate love and safety with each other and to become the kindred spirit, to become the soulmate.

And these are why I’ve given up convention, because there are these universal things that overtime — I’ve just never yet had a couple who didn’t say they wanted a soulmate, that they wanted someone who they could feel was there for them and that they could count on. And these are universal things, so I don’t mind putting these in people’s mouths, and sometimes they’ve settled for a counterfeit, they’ve settled for something that’s not because the person that they’ve married or that they’re with is a bad person, but just that they’ve had no other way of thinking about a) that they deserved it, and b) that it was possible to have that with someone else. It’s probably another whole subject, a different podcast to talk about some of those barriers from our childhood that keep us from entering into relationship with this mode, but we can help people get there.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes, I feel, Suzanne, as if you’re opening the door to this path that often feels so confusing or elusive, and it’s just a direct doorway… And I also feel as though you’re giving us the behind the scenes and an insight into the process that often you’re facilitating and guiding people through, and helping them connect with their inner world, their emotional world, their body, and beginning to get acquainted with themselves, so that they then  have that as a resource, so that they’re not depended on you even, that they develop that skill internally that helps them navigate a lot of this, that then, like you just brilliantly said, allows them to cultivate and co-create together.

I’m just so, so honored and just so grateful that you’re giving this huge gift to share so fully and with such enrichment, so thank you.

Dr. Suzanne M. Hanna: No problem. I always enjoy thinking through this stuff, and then looking at — I guess the other thing that the mindfulness movement has done for me, both personally and professionally, is that now I attend to certain details, besides the slowing down and focusing on all these various aspects… Now these micro-details of what happens between people have become even more important, I think, to focus on. If I can kind of just give an example of what that is, what I’m talking about… Mens and women’s brains are different, according to the neuroscientists, who have been looking at brains and looking at brain development…

When I was writing the one book on The Transparent Brain and Couple and Family Therapy, I was just fascinated with the work that people have done on how boys and girls develop differently, and their brains develop differently… And I’m saying, we need to shout this from the rooftops, we need this to be part of everyone’s education, just like reading, writing and arithmetic. Girls brains develop more quickly in the area where there’s verbal and reading. Boy’s brains develop more quickly in the areas of kind of visual/spatial. Now, if we go back to prehistoric times, it’s a little easier to see the contrast, without meaning to stereotype men or women in an unfair way… But in fact, then, men would be the guardians of the territory, and if you look at how our men are into sports and that kind of thing now, there’s (I think) something to the fact that they no longer have these survival roles to play, because we play it out with our military overseas and different things, so they don’t have to guard their territory in the same way… But their brains are set up to look at kind of the forest, for instance, not necessarily at the trees specifically. They have this visual/spatial.

The women and girls do do better at reading, they actually do better in school, in these earlier grades than a lot of boys do, and verbally – it’s not secret to anybody on the face of this earth that women have a greater ability to verbalize their emotion and their internal process, and that also is borne out in brain functioning; they can show where the hypothalamus, which is kind of part of the emotional center of the brain, is way more lit up in certain times for women than men.

So how this plays out in our relationships, to just get this down to the ground here and into the real world – men have a very hard time verbalizing emotion, and they have a hard time focusing on their inner process and then verbalizing that. That is a process of vulnerability, and that’s hard for men, who are taught to protect and defend things; so you’re never supposed to be vulnerable, because that’s your role. So that’s difficult for men, and I’m pretty convinced that a lot of infidelity comes about because that stuff doesn’t get unpacked for them, and they just play it out in some ways that are unfortunate and unfair for their partners.

In the meantime then, women are better at verbalizing those kinds of things, but then not as good — rather than seeing the forest per se, they may see the trees, and that is actually not a bad thing… So the bottom line is each of these brains have their strengths, but when it comes to this relational stuff, particularly now in our society, men are at quite at quite a disadvantage, because therapy is really set up in a way that privileges the strengths of women – verbalizing emotion, so it inadvertently can create an environment where the man is kind of the bad guy, because he doesn’t actually have the ability — in one couple I said to the wife “I’m not sure that your husband can answer your question right now, because we’re gonna need to help him tune into some things first, and then have a vocabulary for it. And it’s not that he didn’t want to, but he just didn’t have those skills.

So I see a lot of men and women struggling with these things, and some of the impatience and anger and frustration that women have when men seem to be stonewalling or distancing – a lot of that is because the men don’t have any other way of feeling like they’re an equal partner when they go to have these discussions about emotions… So then they get flooded, and then they distance. And they distance not because they want to, but because that’s the only way they know to keep from making a fool of themselves.

So there’s that that goes on because of these differences in brain functioning. And the nice thing about that is that mindfulness also helps with that… Because again then, when I asked this fellow what does his neck — are there any words coming out? Okay, then he could get in touch with that, but his normal way of handling things would not have been to do some mindfulness sensation and focusing in that way. So I think our men, more so than our women, need to have both encouragement and patience in how they are able to embrace these new processes… And  certainly some of it they are aware of, but they just simply have a hard time being vulnerable.

I had a man sitting in my office, sobbing after his infidelity, because he realized he was on the verge of losing his wife and kids, and yet, through his sobs, he felt so stuck, because he wasn’t able to break it off with the girlfriend. That is a picture of a guy just being so locked up in so many ways that he didn’t have the ability to really sort out his own internal process, and now he was stuck in this mess, and all he could do was just sob.

The good news is they did work their relationship out; too long of a story for here, but that’s a good example of how then the whole mindfulness process can give both people a chance to get down to these survival emotions and these hopes and dreams that they have, and to be able then to communicate them in a safe environment. That doesn’t mean that women don’t also have a hard time getting in touch with their attachment emotions too, instead of just simply playing it out with complaints or with expressions of anger… And again, feeling abandoned – if more of our conversations would be about these emotions – you know, feeling abandoned, wanting someone who would be there for them, longing to have a soulmate… Those conversations don’t generate near the animosity toward each other, but it’s people at their most vulnerable to really be able to talk about that.

So that’s the other piece… Once we begin becoming more vulnerable to each other, how do we maintain that sense of safety, so that the vulnerability can continue? And that’s where I think — you know, I call it “The devil is in the details.” I also have a write who used to call it OuterCourse, rather than InterCourse… [laughs] The reason why he would call it that is because he wanted to help people get more in tune with how they were coming across to the other person. So that was the Outer Course… Rather than sex, and rather than connecting in that physical intimacy, the OuterCourse was really this other kind of vulnerability, and focusing on how to maintain safety in the relationship, what are the rules of engagement so to speak, so that we can have this place of safety and a time to talk about these attachment longings.

So I’ve always liked his term…  You know, it’s provocative also, but this idea of OuterCourse then – “How am I coming across to this other person? Am I able to maintain a position that’s going to feel safe to them?” And of course, even when people have been really fighting with each other, I’ve had a lot of people who once they feel it the first time, where they’re both feeling safe, they can both be vulnerable, then they wanna be able to return to that place. That’s when it can become then more of a lifestyle, because now they’re getting in touch not only with themselves and validating that their needs are legitimate – love and safety – but now they’re also learning how they’re coming across and what they can do to create this safe place for us to talk about our real emotions, which is then that attachment process.

I’ve had, for instance, in some  other couples sessions, a fellow who was able to finally say that he was terrified of ending up like his father, and that that’s really why he was doing some things that his wife disagreed with, like spending enormous amounts of time away from the family training for a triathlon. Well, who would ever think that that was about having a terrible fear that he would end up like his father? Well, these things have their own life… These demons sort of come up.

Well, once he shared that with her, then the next session she was, like, on it, and she said “You know, I wanna know more about your fears.” And even though they weren’t doing it separately, home alone yet, but she was really affected by that. “Can we go back and talk about X and Y? Tell me more about your fears…” and shew as ready — she wanted some help with it. She had always perceived her husband as this strong guy, that would be there for her… He was a physician, so he could certainly step up to that role…

So the idea that her big, strong, athletic physician husband had fears  – that was a whole new picture for her. So then because it felt so good to get the truth, then she was willing to keep that environment going.

Then, of course, it started crossing over too, where then he began to listen to her in a new way and do more compromising — and again, after he had been vulnerable and she had been tender with it, then he could hear her better. And that sense of empathy back and forth then increased, so that they could then create their own safe place together.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Wow… The description of almost new rules of engagement that allow people to learn to slow down, to use the body as a source of wisdom, to prioritize safety and a sense of love, and safety, and vulnerability – for me, every part of my being is just so enthused and really moved by the power of which both people could perhaps win in this game, and that it neutralizes the attacks and the distancing that really in my mind is a reaction to the processes that don’t work, that help people feel hurt, and what you’re describing is a process and the rules where people can really win, and then it neutralizes some of those gender differences so that there’s a deeper level of that empathy, that understanding, that connection, and with the attitude of discovery and curiosity… It’s truly transformational, and again, I’m just grateful about your ability to articulate so clearly and map this out for people.

Suzanne, I have my listeners that tell me they’ll listen to episodes several times, and I know that this is an episode people will mark and continue to revisit and listen to. If you will — I know that there’s books and places that people can learn more about your work… Would you be willing to share how people can connect more with you?

Dr. Suzanne M. Hanna: Sure. As I mentioned, I’m getting ready to load up what I call — it’s a narrated PowerPoint that takes people through the steps in the nervous system when we become activated, and then what needs to happen for us to be able to calm down. I’ll make that link available when I get that up here in the next couple of weeks. And then I’m gonna give you — my books are primarily… The three that I’ve written – one I didn’t even have you list, but it’s on working with aging families and with later life issues, and that sort of thing. Then the other one is the practice of family therapy, and then the Transparent Brain, and Couple and Family Therapy… They both tend to be of most interest to therapists who are learning to incorporate this stuff into their work.

However, what I feel like have been the greatest inspirations to me in terms of helping my clients and having things for them to read would be Susan Johnson’s book called Hold Me Tight: Questions for a Lifetime of Love, and it’s exercises to help people become more vulnerable with each other and to create that safe place. So that’s one that I would recommend to people.

The other one that I would recommend is John Gottman’s work. He has a book also that’s not so technical for people to read about therapy that has to do with couples work and really developing a sense of friendship and partnership… And you said a minute ago how this process can be a win/win, so I’m always looking for ways to help people learn about good teamwork. We hardly use that word when it comes to marriage – love, romance, all these other things, but a lot of times it does boil down to teamwork, which is why I do this mindfulness stuff kind of with them together in the same room, because then they know what each other needs to be doing that can support that, and there’s that sense of teamwork… And that I do think becomes a win/win.

Gottman’s book is more about kind of that friendship, teamwork kind of thing, and he’s been really a good inspiration for a lot of the practical aspects of really having a good relationship. So those two are the ones that mostly come to mind.

Then for myself, I do a lot of consulting, both over the internet, skyping with people, related to their family of origin issues and how those are getting in the way of better relationships. My website has my phone number and my e-mail, and I’m more than happy to have people join me for some brainstorming and problem-solving around their own family of origin issues and how to sort those out.

A lot of baby boomers are running into issues now, kind of in mid-life, that are affecting their marriages, as well as relationships with their siblings and parents… That sandwich kind of generation [unintelligible 00:36:27.26] and it’s really taking its toll on marriages. There’s lots of divorce happening at that time in people’s lives, and I would just love to help them explore that and see how they could use some of this stuff really to start a new chapter rather than to close the book.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: I love it, I love it. That’s,  and I’ll put that link  on the show notes for people. Dr. Suzanne Midori Hanna, thank you so much. I am deeply, deeply grateful and honored for the huge gift and service you’ve provided today on this interview in this episode.

Dr. Suzanne M. Hanna: Well, thank you, Jessica. It’s been great to be with you. I love your work and I’m really grateful that you’re doing this, and again, very honored to be with you today. Best wishes to you and to all of our listeners.


I hope you have enjoyed today’s episode, again, the second half of Dr. Suzanne Midori Hanna’s interview. I truly believe she intended to offer high value and helping us understand the transformational process that’s available if we access the mind-body connection, and that when we feel discomfort or tension or difficult emotion, if we can tune into the physical sensation of that and our nervous system, that there are great keys there for us to pay attention to, that help us get into a constructive path towards getting our needs met and creating safety with our significant other.

I love that she underscores the importance of tuning into our strength, the goodness, the comfort, that if we can recognize that, then we’re in a better position, we’re more resourced to turn towards the pain… And additionally, that if we can really start to build and solidify and validate the human need of love and safety, even if we’re not fully believing it or that we’re experiencing it, that there are steps that we can take today that contribute to meeting that need.

As partners practice this together mutually, they can then begin to cultivate a dynamic that is a win/win that both people can benefit greatly from.

To learn more about Dr. Suzanne Midori Hanna, or some of the resources that she has mentioned, please visit today’s show notes, that can be found on, my website; click on Podcast, find episode 147, and you can have access to the links she’s mentioned, as well as how to connect with her work more specifically.

Thank you again for your listenership. Until next time, I hope you take great care.

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching