ERP 372: How To Work Together In Relationship For A Strong, Secure Connection — An Interview With Dr. Stan Tatkin

By Posted in - Podcast May 16th, 2023 0 Comments

Building a strong and secure connection within a romantic relationship is a goal shared by many. We strive for harmony, understanding, and a deep bond that withstands the test of time. But with human nature being what it is – aggressive, warlike, moody, and easily influenced – it can be a challenging task.

So, how do we achieve this level of connection? Is it about finding the perfect partner or following a set of rules?

In this episode, Dr. Stan Tatkin and Dr. Jessica Higgins embark on an enlightening exploration of human behavior within relationships shedding light on key elements that foster a strong and secure connection. Join us as we delve into the strategies and insights that can help you and your partner work together to create a solid foundation of love, trust, and mutual support.

Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT Clinician, author, researcher, PACT developer, and co-founder of the PACT Institute. Dr. Tatkin is an assistant clinical professor at UCLA, David Geffen School of Medicine. He maintains a private practice in Southern California and leads PACT programs in the US and internationally. He is the author of We Do, Wired for Love, Your Brain on Love, Relationship Rx, Wired for Dating, What Every Therapist Ought to Know, and co-author of Love and War in Intimate Relationships, and the upcoming, In Each Other’s Care.

In this Episode

6:01 In Each Other’s Care: Practical Guidance on Applying the Principles of Secure Functioning.

10:56 Normalizing stressful situations and creating purpose-centered relationships.

15:36 Preserving relationships through proactive engagement.

26:05 Creating purposeful relationships: moving beyond psycho-biology to action.

30:37 Embracing a collaborative stance: Exploring partner’s needs and approaching conversations with mutual interest.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Acknowledge human flaws and self-centered tendencies to approach your relationship with compassion and empathy.
  • Maintain direct eye contact during face-to-face interactions to deepen the connection and reduce misunderstandings.
  • Monitor and adjust your behavior based on real-time observations of your partner’s emotional state.
  • Create a safe space for your partner to share without judgment, demonstrating genuine interest and understanding.
  • Take responsibility for your emotions instead of projecting past experiences onto your partner.
  • Stay present in the adult mindset, seeing your partner as an ally rather than an aggressor.
  • Prioritize each other’s well-being and work collaboratively for secure functioning in your relationship.
  • Attend couples workshops or retreats for valuable tools and insights to strengthen your bond.
  • Seek professional help or specialized training programs like the PACT Institute.
  • Commit to continuous effort, understanding, and adaptability for a thriving, long-lasting partnership.

Mentioned

Type Of Relationship Support (survey)

In Each Other’s Care: A Guide to the Most Common Relationship Conflicts and How to Work Through Them (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Learn How to Interact When Conflicts Arise (excerpt)

We Do: Saying Yes to a Relationship of Depth, True Connection, and Enduring Love (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Your Brain on Love: The Neurobiology of Healthy Relationships (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Relationship Rx (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Wired for Dating: How Understanding Neurobiology and Attachment Style Can Help You Find Your Ideal Mate (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Love and War in Intimate Relationships: Connection, Disconnection, and Mutual Regulation in Couple Therapy (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

ERP 291: How “Love Is Not Enough” – An Interview with Dr. Stan Tatkin

Relationship Map To Happy, Lasting Love

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

Connect with Dr. Stan Tatkin

Websites: thepactinstitute.com

Facebook: facebook.com/drstantatkin

Twitter: twitter.com/DrStanTatkin

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/stan-tatkin

Instagram: instagram.com/drstantatkin

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Dr. Stan Tatkin, thank you so much for joining us.

Thank you. Thank you for having me again. It’s good to see you.

I know. It’s always a pleasure. I know you are so busy writing, and as you just shared with me, you have published your eighth book, which is such a congratulations and such a gift that you’re offering people in the world to distill these very, sometimes, complex topics around intimacy and relationship, and really helping it feel accessible for people, and teaching other clinicians, and being a guest speaker and keynoting all around. So we’re really honored to have you here and sharing your time with us here.

Thank you, Jessica.

Yes. So we are talking about your new book. Do you want to say the name of your back?

Sure, why not? It’s In Your Own Care. No, that would be terrible. It’s In Each Other’s Care, not in your own care. That would be the wrong book. That would be the book I would have written when I was a young man, In Your Own Care. No, in each other’s care.

Yes. and that’s really important in what you’re trying to describe here. If you’re willing to share, what prompted you to be writing this book?

Well, that’s a long story, I’ll just make it really short. I was struggling with an adaptation of one of my direct to audiobooks. Lo and behold, audio doesn’t transcribe well to written word. The other way around perhaps, but not that way. So I thought, what am I going to do? I scrapped the whole thing, and I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting fun to write and organize a book by complaints? All the complaints that I get in my clinic: my partner doesn’t share with me, my partner doesn’t like my kids, whatever. So that was really fun, I really got into it. I started to organize every chapter by general complaints, having to do with money, time, sex, messiness, kids, and other things. Then I was able to really give people a sense of what is secure functioning, how to talk, the wrong way to talk, a better way to talk. I think it’s the first book that actually really is a workbook on how to apply secure functioning principles, everything that I have been teaching about. So I hope people like it.

Yes, and I’m sure we will all benefit greatly. Because I agree with you, not only have you been writing about the science of secure functioning, really helping people understand the concepts, giving them some inner workings and principles around how to foster and scaffold secure relationship, and some of the real principles around that. And the application, to have language, to have examples, to workshop it, and to have a guidebook really helps with the specificity. I think it’s incredibly important.

Well, we’ll see, I can’t wait to hear what people think.

Yes. Well, you talk about the main message that you want, in my impression, was that this is a guidebook for really helping people have repair and also cultivate secure functioning. What would you say the main mission of the book is?

It is secure functioning, which is different than secure attachment, and we’ve talked about that before. This is more along the lines of social contracts that people make, whenever unionizing in a free society of equals. So we have two people in this case; it could be more in other situations, other configurations. But let’s say two people entering into a social contract of terms and conditions; not love, not emotion, but purpose-centered reasons for being a couple, a union, an alliance. It has to be based on general social contract theory: fairness, justice, mutual sensitivity, collaboration and cooperation. Harder to do than it sounds. 

“Instead of focusing on attachment types, although I do a bit, I found that people tended to grab on to the classifications of attachment styles, as all people will do that, and forgetting that attachment is a research model. It’s not intended to the general public, and it’s not really talking about people per se. It’s talking about aggregates of large amounts of people.”

So what I found is that people that come to me, people that we see in retreats and so on, tend to use classifications that are meant for medicine, psychology, psychiatry, as a cudgel to beat each other up with or themselves. So that worries me.

To be pathologizing, if you will.

Right. Anytime medicines or DSM categories or any of that, even terms like codependency, gets co-opted by the public, it gets used and abused, and in a manner that otherizes; even their partner otherizing their partner. “You’re a narcissist. You’re borderline. You’re codependent.” Or whatever. This is more emphasizing that this is not about whether you’re a cat or a dog or an island or a wave. There’s an actual issue about our species, about the human condition, that is common to all people. You don’t have to categorize that. If you’re a human primate, you’re a difficult animal; you do bad things. You do great things, but you really can do very bad things, and you can get in a lot of trouble in relationships with other human beings. So I’m trying to level the field here, and in take out, I did the best I could with the examples, take out any identifying information, including gender, including sex, including nationality, religion, ethnicity, and so on, the best I could. It’s sort of to flatten everything as really having to do with problems with the human brain. To say they’re problems is a misnomer, they’re just features and bugs of the brain that are features in one area and bugs in another.

Two things. One is, I really appreciate your normalizing, under stress, under pressure, under not having any governance or shared purpose or principle, that we can regress or even resort to aggressive tendencies, or things that we wouldn’t be necessarily proud of or be promoting. That this is something we’re all capable of, and tend to go towards when we’re in these very stressful pressed situations. So I love that you really make that so, so clear, and normalize that. 

The second thing, as I’m hearing you talk about secure functioning and directing people’s attention towards what does this look like, getting out of the categorizing. Because I agree with you, the research, it’s almost reductionist. It’s very simplified, it’s not maybe looking at the spectrum or the variations of how it actually manifests. But one of the things I love too, is that the secure functioning, it gives direction towards what we can create. So even if one did have insecurity in their attachment and function or experience, that they can create more security through these behaviors and through these patterns.

Absolutely. The idea here is that people, in my mind, if they are pair bonding, let’s say, like any union, I expect that they co-create this thing they’re calling a relationship.

“A relationship doesn’t really exist. It’s an abstraction, it’s an idea. You can’t take a picture of it. Since a relationship is in your head and in my head, it’s a good idea that we get the same fantasy, the same idea, the same mythology in mind, otherwise we’re going to have trouble.”

Then how are we going to govern each other, to keep each other from doing stupid things that all human beings will do? So we plan for our devils, not our angels. Angels would be great, especially when we’re feeling good. But under a certain amount of stress, and in distress or with competing interests, our devils come out, at least our partner thinks so. So like anything else where we unionize, it makes better sense that it is based on: why should we exist, what are we going to do for each other, what’s the point? It has to be purpose-centered, not feeling-centered, which is a very hard selling point for couples already in relationship. Because they’re in it for love and attraction, because they have kids. But unless there are shared sense of vision, shared purpose, that people are able to get each other on board before doing things, unless people will do that, their relationship will degrade over time, in various ways. It’s a predictable trajectory, that unfortunately you and I see, when it’s long in the tooth. So this is an orientation to something that is quite rational, and has been around since the beginning of civilization. It’s basically you and I coming up with our relationship culture from scratch, our relationship ethics and morals. That’s our business only, and it’s to our pleasure, our design, and constantly being molded and shaped by the two of us, nobody else. 

This is so important, and again, there’s a couple of comments I want to make. One of which is, I have felt from you, when you are so clear about this recommendation and encouragement, that it’s helping people have a focus that gives them direction, rather than when things are threatening and stressful. It’s not convenient. It’s not pleasurable. It’s difficult. As you mentioned in the neuroscience, it’s just easy to want to be efficient or take the easier route. So without this guiding principle, and having an interest that helps us evolve and be in the interest of growth, and what we’re co-creating, as you’re saying, it’s so important to be cognizant and have that front of mind. Otherwise, we will be left to our tendencies, which isn’t ideal and optimal, as you’re pointing out. 

No, it isn’t. Because we’re automatic creatures that are driven by memory and impulse, and we are really keen on picking up threat cues from the environment. Because of all of those things, we’re liable to do things that are inconsiderate, to violate another person’s rights, that is unfair, just without even thinking about it. It’s not personal, it just feels that way. 

Here’s another thing. This is a short way of memorizing, a mnemonic: PEPPER. PEPPER is basically: Predict, Plan, Prepare, and Revise as necessary. This should be done in all instances. So Tracy and I, before going anywhere, doing anything, we decide, by the end of that time, how our time is going to be experienced. By the end of this vacation, we had a great time. By the end of this dinner with the family, we did great, and we can high five each other. With imagining that shared vision, then we start to go down the list of what could possibly ruin our time, including each other. Then we start to predict what could go wrong, we plan for it, and we take it off the table, and then remind ourselves each other before walking in the room. We do this with drunk Uncle Harry or anything else, where we have to think about seating, and so on. So we don’t really allow ourselves to walk into something without knowing what we’re walking into and prepare. Because we want a good time; we want to put our safety and security first, and then we consider other people. This is how we preserve our relationships.

Yes. This is the title of your book, In Each Other’s Care, and the active engagement with this. It’s not something that just happens to us. It’s something we’re intentionally creating. This is something that I wanted to also comment on, is how often people are entering into relationship expecting that the difficulty is finding the partner. I know this is where I think most of us who have been around the block or have been self-studying know that this isn’t true, but there’s still so much that’s assumed and expected, and we’d rather not have to. It just feels like work. Why do we have to reverse-engineer everything? But yeah, there’s huge implications of this, and to be in each other’s care and really set it up for success, especially when we can forecast that things are going to be a little rocky or challenging or there’s going to be things that we’re going to have to deal with and negotiate, why not set that up for success? You’re really speaking to this clearly.

I think it’s because we’re lazy. 

“Almost everything I’ve discovered in biology, the main thing is in biology, the tendency for all organisms to conserve energy, and we’re no exception. By conserving energy, I mean doing the least amount necessary so that we can do more things and not just one thing. So we automate each other and think we know each other, and then we take each other for granted, and we take shortcuts.”

 We lose our formalities. Is this a good time? I’ve stopped doing that. I just walk in and just start talking to you, or calling you from another room. All these things that we might not have done when we were dating. These things cause problems if we don’t know them. Or I don’t look at you, because I’ve memorized your face and I’ve honed a picture of your face, maybe for months, and I haven’t really taken a good look at you since then. There are all these things that are problematic, that make me wonder how we ever really hold on to relationships. 

This is the only thing that really makes sense, with all the psychobiology and all the infant brain development and development that we study, arousal regulation issues. All of that is interesting, but then what do we do? Unfortunately, what we do about it is having to expend energy and stay awake, and stay present enough to watch where we’re walking, watch where we’re stepping. That’s more than a lot of people want to do. Also, love relationships seem to come with certain entitlements that other relationships don’t. Because it goes back to the earliest attachment relationships that we’ve had, and we get confused. Are we family? Or are we strangers? The answer is we’re strangers, always, and strangers trying to get to know each other. 

So there are all these forces that operate against us in keeping our unions intact. This goes for rock and roll bands, or businesses, or clubs, or anything, the same thing goes. It’s just harder in the romantic pair bonding situation, because of all these other factors. This is really about thinking around purpose, tabling emotions, and coming up with legislation that protect emotion. This turns out to be very hard for a lot of people to do.

Absolutely. So much of what you’re offering is the organization, the science, the scaffolding, and also process, and you’re giving, in your new book, real language and situational circumstances to help people apply. If I might just wonder with you, in my experience, when we do participate in this type of co-creation and this type of intentionality, the rewards help motivate and help fuel in a positive cycle to continue to do this. That we can feel the result of it, versus carelessly or maybe even lazily going through some of these interactions.

I want people to experience earned love, earned respect, earned admiration. Because every day, you and I are doing things that we both decided are the right things to do and the best things to do, even though they’ll be the hardest to do, and we do them. That is awesome. I mean, that’s co-creating a really good life. But sometimes, with people that have come in and have already accrued a lot of threat memory, there’s a lot of unwinding to do. It’s a lot harder to look at how to build this thing properly when there’s a lot of water under the bridge, but still doable.

Yes, there’s a lot of repair and trust building. I mean, in my experience, even when things are going well, that this is an evolving process; we’re dialing it in, we’re continuing to learn. Is that right? It’s not just like, we strategize once, and then that’s our recipe. You’re nodding.

It’s an ongoing process of molding and shaping, because we’re moving through time. Conditions are changing constantly, with our bodies, with life, with the amount of load bearing we’re having to take on. This is about two people resourcing each other, and this is the real thing that’s underneath this that we’re trying to accomplish in this work. That is to lower something called allostatic load, that’s the price we pay for adaptation. Interpersonal stress is a killer. It leads to early death, unhappiness, a whole host of maladies, both psychologically and medically. Home, the two of us or whoever is in this relationship, the home is the relationship. If there’s a lot of interpersonal stress, because of threat, and because of resentment that keeps getting built up, that’s not good. So what we’re really trying to do is lower interpersonal stress to a hum, and to eliminate threat. That’s when things start to take off. We have suddenly resources to grow, to create, to do things that we really love to do. But we can’t if we’re too busy having a war in our own foxhole, which is crazy.

It makes everything more difficult. Because the place in which we want to have refuge or sense of home and comfort is stressed and distressed or threatening, that it makes everything that much more difficult. Versus, when we can invest in this home in a way that’s nurturing and mutually rewarding, then we have more capacity to live life, and to this load that you’re talking about. It is a very different equation.

It is, yeah.

I don’t want to lose you, Stan. I would love to give listeners a taste around you’re helping people workshop, if you will. I don’t know if you like that word. But some of these complaints, and what you’re helping people navigate here? Would you like to talk about one or two of some of the common ones? I know there’s so many in the book, I remember going through it and I was like: “Oh, this is juicy. Oh my gosh, yes!” These things, people can relate to and are confronting,

The secret of the book isn’t really about the complaints. Because here’s the real issue. It’s actually never the subject matter. The subject matter is a stressor, and the problem is stress. When you and I talk about something stressful, unless we’re very skillful, unless we’re very good at maintaining collaboration and cooperation, even under those conditions, we’re going to make mistakes that will lead to conflict. 

So here’s one that’s really common. In my narrative, the manner of my speech, I begin to work on you instead of the problem, when we should be working on the problem as a third thing, like a puzzle. I invoke your name. I make it clear that you’re the problem. That compels you, automatically compels you to protect your interests, which then is threatening to me, and compels me to do the same. Within a heartbeat, we’re adversaries. So the real problem here is, in a two-person psychological system, which is a level-up in terms of social emotional functioning, where I have to take care of myself and you at the same time, or you will experience me as unfriendly, which has consequences. 

That’s basically the formula. I have to keep your interests in mind as I talk, and my own interests. I can’t forgo mine, I can’t forgo yours. They have to be there, at least in the speech and the manner in which I’m talking, or you will take a lot of time and start to protect yourself. That’s easier said than done. It takes a higher level of social emotional functioning, and an understanding that as a team, we’re separate, autonomous people. But our fates are tied together.

Because if we are truly interdependent, we should have the same things to gain and the same things to lose. Meaning that we’re holding each other to the same standards, which on a moral level, anything I do to you that hurts you is self-harming because it will come back to me. If I broker a deal where you are unhappy with it, that will come back to me. There’s no way I can win if it’s win-lose. So that’s just the realities of a two-person system, full stop. That has implications for the length of time that you and I can be happy and get along, without building up a lot of memory that we have to look backward and litigate.

So working on each other, not the problem, is one. Talking in a way that is non-collaborative, non-cooperative, is another. Not looking at each other and facing each other when under stress is another problem. 

“Because of our brains being visually oriented, we error-correct through the visual stream. So if I’m talking to you on the phone and arguing with you, or through text, or in a car, which you should never do, or across the room or to the side of you, we’re going to fight. I have to actually keep my eyes on you at all times.”

Because if you are not okay, then we don’t get anything done. So I have to make sure you’re safe and secure at all times, even under stress, and you have to do the same with me. Or we walk away with nothing. So that’s another issue. 

Yet another one is bringing up anything historic. Anytime we bring up the past, we’re going to fight, because our memories are bad. “It really bothered me what you said the other night.” Then now you’re going to argue about, “That wasn’t the other night, that was a week ago. You didn’t say that, you said this. I did this, and I did that.” So we’re going to fight about that, and we’ll both be wrong. So that’s another mistake. Always move forward, take the past and talk about it in the way of what do we do about this thing going forward? Do we both want to, whatever it is that went wrong? That’s another mistake. 

Over-describing, talking too long, holding the stage too long. Under stress, you and I have to move quickly. Because it’s not a neutral state, we only have so much time before we get depleted. Or so much time if we do it badly, our heart rates and blood pressure will go up to the point where we move towards fight-or-flight, and then game over. So people have to understand how our minds work and don’t work, and we have to be practiced in this. 

Yet another thing is referring too much to other people. “My therapist said you shouldn’t be doing this. I spoke to my mother, and even my mother thinks you’re wrong.” I think we mostly know that that’s unfair fighting, but that is called mismanaging thirds, bringing third people into our orbit as a way to bolster my point, which is kind of a chintzy way of trying to win. Even the dog doesn’t like it. 

So they’re all these things that are based on what we know about the human condition and the human mind. That’s what I think I’m trying to educate people in this book. Even though the topics are rotating the problems, the ghost in the machine is always going to be the manner in which we are interacting under stress. The other one is, we do not have an organizational structure to our relationship. We don’t have it, never did. Therefore, it’s flying by the seat of our pants, and not really coming up with a structure and set of principles that guide us and keep us from doing things that we ought not to do.

Perhaps some of these challenges are actual flags or signals to say: “Oh, this needs attention. We haven’t actually come up with a good agreement around this topic or this instance.” So it could be a teaching or an opportunity to evolve, if we see it in that way. But often it feels pretty alarming or threatening or uncomfortable. Would you agree with that?

The smartest thing to do is to create policies. You and I fight about being on time, and someone says, well, do you have a policy about being on time, the two of you? No, we don’t. We’re never really affectionate. Do we have a policy around affection? We should put that in place, it’s better than a poke in the eye. Why don’t we put that in place? We’re both avoidant, so that would be good for us. Then we come up with a principle focused on that, where we give each other permission to enforce, with the explicit understanding the other person must cooperate immediately. That’s how we get things done. That’s how we create things we maybe never would have done for ourselves or wouldn’t be able to do by ourselves.

So a clarifying question, and then I have another question, and I have one more question. So as I’m listening you talk about putting again front and center, this collaborative approach, I’m also recognizing there may be instances where two partners, if we’re talking about a monogamous relationship, where they’re approaching a conversation, and they may have no sense about what their partner needs. But one can still approach that conversation with: “I’m in your interest. I don’t know what it is exactly. But I am for you, and I’m for us in this collaborative stance, even if we don’t know what it is.’ So it’s almost like an exploratory process. But we can be really clear about we are for them, even if we don’t know yet. Is that right?

Could you give me a concrete example, so I can understand it better? It’s a little bit general. Do you have one?

Sure. I mean, I think I was thinking more generally, that if let’s say we’re planning a vacation, where we’re deciding whether or not we want to take a vacation. My husband on the outside is seemingly having some concerns, and I don’t actually know what those concerns are, or what he really is needing. Is it “I want to do things in a really paced way. I don’t want to get overwhelmed. Or I don’t want to take on too much. Or perhaps it’s not a good time.” Or maybe he just doesn’t want to do this. I don’t have any clue. But instead of feeling like he’s against me, and I have enough wherewithal to say, “Okay, I know that we want to get to a win-win here. I know I really want a break and want to get away with you, and I want to play with you. It seems as though you have some feelings. I don’t know what they are. But can we be in a conversation to understand more about what we both need right now?”

Yeah. So that would fall under a principle you could co-create. Is it a good idea that we be fully transparent with each other, so that we don’t leave each other wondering things, which is a bad idea. Because in this space, I’m going to make things up, and they’re not going to be positive, and so will you. If you want me to do that, or if I want you to do that, then let’s continue just being mysteries and big holes of data that we can’t figure out. But I think that’s going to cause us a lot of trouble. So do you think it’d be a great idea for both of us to do business that way, so as not to create a problem with one person making stuff up or starting a fight? Because these things will start fights. So we don’t have to be good at it. But if I start to notice that you’re not saying something, do I have your permission to cue you and remind you of this principle, “You’ve got to talk to me. Remember, we said this is what we do. If I do that, will you cooperate with me immediately without rolling your eyes or pushing back or any kind of giving me trouble?” You will. Okay, this will work. That’s a guardrail. 

“Governance is always done by previous agreement and permission to enforce. People make the mistake of not having these agreements and permissions, and then they get into fights.”

So that’s the way to deal with that. Then you could say, “Talk to me, I can tell something’s wrong. Spill, tell me what’s bothering you.” He’s got to do it based on this agreement.

Right. And what if one is giving permission and is wanting to cooperate, but also isn’t quite sure that they’re going to be able to spell or dish or know? They might say, “Yes, I want to share with you. But I’m not entirely sure what this is about for me. I need to kind of get clear.”

Great, what better! A couple is singlets as partners. Partners are able to make up anything and to serve each other in a way that nobody ever would do in the outside world, unless you pay them a lot of money. But here, it’s free. That’s fine, you don’t have to know. Let me help you. I’ll ask you some questions. I’ll help you think. That’s a good thing. Save your money on trying to figure this out with a therapist. “What images come to mind? What were you thinking about? Is it about the trip? Is it about something else? Oh, it’s about the trip. What do you think about it? What comes to mind? Are you excited by the trip? Be honest. Are you worried about something?” Help them think. That’s the whole idea, is not to, and islands or avoidant people will do this, “I need time to think about what my thoughts are.” Usually, it’s because I’m afraid that anything I say can and will get me into trouble with you. So I have to avoid. But that’s a lot of work on that person to do that, and it’s unnecessary. So that’s what I would say about that. That is great. Because many times I don’t know what’s going on with me, and it’s helpful for me to talk it out with Tracy, because I’m trying to figure it out.

Absolutely. The other sense that I’m getting in this cooperative approach, and being for each other and in each other’s care, is that, because sometimes I find, when I’m listening to clients and how they’re operating, is they’ll let things fester. It’s almost that anger is the thing that fuels taking action. Like, “Enough already! I’ve got a bone to pick with you.” It’s not as though their attitude is, “I’m seeking resolution, I’m trying to find out what will be a good win-win for us, or how we might be able to work together.” It’s like, “I’ve got an issue, and I need to tell you about it,” which was kind of what you were saying before, is describing the other person and some of these things to be really aware of. Or that we might be in fight-or-flight, and that’s typically not a great state to be in trying to resolve something collaboratively.

Well, first of all, I personally am done with holding on to anything that is very uncomfortable. If I’m worried, because I didn’t hear back from a friend for a few days, that we’re okay, I’ll reach out and I’ll check right away. I don’t want to carry it very long. If Tracy is upset with me, she’ll tell me immediately. If I’m upset, she’ll tell me immediately. It gives us a chance to fix it quickly, and then take it off the table, and it’s not remembered. So again, that would have to be established as principle, the best thing we could do for each other, for the relationship. But it’s also healthier, because why drag yourself around holding something that you could unburden yourself with quickly, by reality-checking or simply telling your person? “That really hurt me.” Which gives your partner, hopefully, they’re good at this, an opportunity to relieve you immediately. “That was stupid. God, that was terrible! I don’t blame you.” Oh, thank you. Done.

It’s almost emotional hygiene, where we’re really taking care of the health of the connection and what might be interfering or getting in the way.

And it also doesn’t make sense for me to drain my resources simply because there’s all sorts of reasons why I would hold on, most of them historic. I’m afraid I’ll start trouble. Or I’m afraid that you won’t respond well. Or I don’t want to burden you. Or, or, or. But it’s always a bad idea to not just say it. Health reasons, safety and security reasons, and also for ease. This is what we do.

My last question is about the eye-to-eye. I do remember coming across more than once, this idea that sometimes, for a person identifying male, that standing face-to-face can feel a little confrontational, especially when it’s a sensitive topic, and that having a little bit of angle. But sounds like you’re really recommending head-on.

Head-on for a reason. When I’m not looking at you, since we’re visual animals, and if I’m upset, what am I looking at? I’m looking at something. Something is always internally in the visual field inside, behind the eyes. So if I’m upset, and I understand the formula here that state of mind drives memory, memory drives state of mind in a loop, and state of mind alters perception like a funhouse mirror. Then I am looking at a static picture of you that goes along with my state of mind, which is angry with you. So I’m looking at an angry you or something else. That is bad for me, because I’m ginning myself up with an internal vision of you, without actually seeing the source and being in real-time. That’s one.

Two, it’s in my best interest to keep my eyes on you because this is a fast moving game. If I don’t see you shift, I’m going to still assume that you are doing the same thing you did a moment ago, but I didn’t see it. I didn’t see the change, and so now that keeps us in a fight. 

“Think of it this way. If you and I are moving through a stressful situation, a painful situation, it’s like both of us are on a tight wire. If one of us falls over, we both fall over; we’re tied together that way. Therefore, it’s in my best interest tactically, to see my impact on you, moment by moment.”

Because if I did or say something that makes your face go not great, I better do something about that, or game over for me. Game over, that’s it. It doesn’t make any sense for me to not be monitoring in real-time, my effect on you.

Which goes back to what you were saying. It’s not so much the importance around the content, it’s understanding how each person is feeling in the engagement.

It’s tactical. I need to keep you safe and secure enough, or I get nothing. As soon as you move out of safety, you are not influenceable, nobody is. If I start to feel threatened, my brain has changed, chemically. I have no concern for you, I have no grace available to you. I will not put myself in your shoes. I am thinking about my interests only. I am not your friend at this moment. But you did that. You’ll blame me, because that’s the human condition. I’m upset, I don’t know why. I’m feeling really depressed. I feel so lonely. Oh yeah, it’s you. That’s the human condition, we always look to the outside for that. That’s dangerous in a two-person system where we’re interdependent, you can do that with a stranger.

So this is really helpful for us to get information. We’re going to get it. But if we can be able to turn towards that, it’s strategic and tactical, as you’re saying.

All strategic. It’s not personal. But all of this feels personal.

Yes, and it also works conversely, if I’m hearing you. I see this a lot in my sessions, that one partner will be looking to their partner with compassion and interest and understanding and care. But the person sharing, it’s almost as if I can’t even look up, I don’t know what you’re going to be thinking, or it’s hard for me to know how you’re going to receive me. So it’s a risk to look. Then often I’ll say, what do you see, and what do you see in your partner’s face? That can be really reassuring of like, “Oh, he’s genuinely listening.” Or they’re really seeing caring, and it’s really helpful, it starts to shift things in a more positive way.

These are autonomic things that actually are memory-based, and this is where these relationships, why they’re so hard. It’s all projection, number one, in these relationships. The other is that we tend to regress. I’m no longer an adult thinking, I’m now back in my family of origin. You’re the aggressor, or you’re the person who’s shaming me, or you’re the person that I feel small with. So I drop you. I no longer am a partner, I’m something else. These are the challenges that we face in these relationships constantly, which is why they’re so fascinating. There’s nothing more fascinating than couples to me. 

I understand that everything that people do isn’t really about pathology, it is mostly the human condition. Basically, the things I’m talking about, brain error potentials, it’s the things that have to do with our warlike wiring. If people could just remember that human beings, as swell as we are, because I’m one, I’m not putting myself down. But by nature, and this hasn’t changed over the millennium, we are by nature, aggressive, warlike creatures. We’re selfish, self-centered at all times, even when we’re altruistic. We’re moody and fickle, opportunistic. People have got to remember that, opportunistic. We’re easily influenced by groups and other people, which makes us kind of wimpy and unreliable. And we otherize, we’re xenophobic; we otherize. “You’re different than me, I don’t like you,” as if that’s a big surprise. You’re so different from me, so of course I don’t like you. But we otherize, and that’s a nifty way to distance and to make the other person the problem. This is what we’re dealing with. It’s been across our entire existence, and it’s in every corner of this planet.

Yes. Well, I am so grateful for everything you’re sharing. I know we’re winding down our time here. Is there anything else you want to say before we talk about how people can get your book and get in touch?

It’s lovely to see you. I forgot how much I like you. 

Likewise. 

You’re so lovely. People can get ahold of me at all social media, it’s Dr. Stan Tatkin. Then, if people are interested in a couple’s workshops, which we do online, we do them all the time, and we do couples retreats in nice places like Portugal next year. If people or therapists want to learn this approach, they can also go to ThePactInstitute.com, and there are all of our training schedules. Everything.

Wonderful. I’ll have the link to your book on today’s show notes.

In Each Other’s Care

Yes. One of the things I’m feeling is that you’re helping this be doable. You’re giving people a roadmap and some real actionable, real doable, real understanding to make this applicable. So I love that you’re really helping people be successful.

Secure functioning isn’t easy. It is hard. It’s hard for me. But anything worth it isn’t. If it’s easy, it’s probably not worth anything. If you think about it, this is the only way to ensure that your relationship is going to last. There is no other way that I can think of.

Yes, wonderful! Again, I’ll have all the links to your social media, your websites, your retreats, your workshops, your book, and I know people will be reaching out. Thank you again for what you do.

Thank you. Thank you so much. It’s good to see you. 

Likewise.

Signing Off

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Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching