ERP 384: How To Turn Repetitive Patterns In Relationship Into Deeper Understanding & Connection — An Interview With Christine Eartheart

By Posted in - Podcast August 8th, 2023 0 Comments

Many couples often find themselves stuck in repetitive cycles of miscommunication, defensiveness, emotional struggles, and unmet needs. It’s a common challenge that can leave even the most committed partners feeling lost and uncertain about how to navigate these issues effectively.

We are here to help, in this eye-opening episode, we delve deep into the transformative power of secure attachment and intentional communication. Discover how curiosity, empathy, and a willingness to co-create can turn conflict into a connection and pave the way for a loving, compassionate partnership.

Whether you’re just starting a new relationship or seeking to reignite the flame in your existing one, this conversation offers invaluable insights and practical tools to foster a lasting, fulfilling, and thriving bond with your significant other. So get ready to equip yourself with the knowledge and strategies to strengthen your relationship like never before!

Christine Eartheart, Co-Founder of the Center for Thriving Relationships, joins her wonderful husband to help couples create the kind of love they’ve always wanted. They offer retreats, online courses, and private sessions and train and certify others in their Thriving Relationship Coach Certification program. Christine is the host of the Thriving Relationships Show, a TEDx speaker, and has been featured in Psychology Today, Happify, Thrive Global, NBC, ABC, and CBS. Learn more at CenterThrive.com.

In this Episode

6:41 From blissful love to challenging times: Christine’s journey in supporting couples.

12:15 The impact of repetitive patterns on relationships: The pursuer-withdrawer dynamic.

16:35 Embracing the two-sided coin: Appreciating the beautiful strengths and challenges in relationships.

27:21 How Christine and her husband cultivated a growth-oriented relationship.

32:37 Creating secure attachment leads to transformative healing in relationships.

39:01 A powerful tool for fostering connection and collaboration in relationships.

46:19 Shifting from defensiveness to collaboration.

49:02 The importance of making a commitment to work on the relationship and shift towards constructive communication.

55:17 Learn more about building thriving relationships.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Commit to growth: Make a powerful commitment to dive into the work of nurturing your relationship and seeking new possibilities together.
  • Instead of blaming your partner, get curious about what they might be longing for and explore how you can co-create solutions.
  • Practice the B.A.S.E. communication – Best intentions, Appreciation, Strengths, Empathy – to set the stage for constructive conversations and emotional connection.
  • Regularly plan and enjoy date nights to nurture your love, grow the good, and create positive cycles in your relationship.
  • Look beyond your own needs and pay attention to what your partner is longing for, as addressing their needs can lead to mutual understanding and empathy.
  • Remember that you have the power to create secure attachments in your relationship and actively work on building emotional connection and trust.
  • Both you and your part should commit to your individual growth and take responsibility for your own happiness, as this will positively impact the relationship.
  • Don’t hesitate to seek help from relationship experts or attend workshops and retreats to deepen your understanding and improve your relationship.

Mentioned

Conscious Loving: The Journey to Co-Commitment (*Amazon) (book)

Resurrecting Sex: Solving Sexual Problems and Revolutionizing Your Relationship (*Amazon) (book)

Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships (*Amazon) (book)

Relationship Map To Happy, Lasting Love

Connect with Christine Eartheart

Websites: centerforthrivingrelationships.com

Facebook: facebook.com/ThrivingRelationships

YouTube: youtube.com/@ThrivingRelationships

Instagram: instagram.com/centerforthrivingrelationships

Pinterest: pinterest.ph/thrivinglove

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

Christine Eartheart, thank you so much for being here.

It’s such a gift and a joy to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Yeah. I can just appreciate in our quick chat here, just how much passion and enthusiasm and warmth you bring. So I very much appreciate your style, and also just our shared love for attachment research and the practices and principles, and how couples and individuals in relationship can be really up levelled by being aware. I want to know what got you interested in supporting people in couple and relationship dynamics? What got you interested in supporting people?

Yeah, great question. Thanks for your kind words and for everything that you do to support the world. So my husband and I have been together for over 20 years now. And when we got together, we had the sparkliest start to our relationship. I had a feeling just like at home, in a way that I never had before in my life. And we were very intentional. And of course, I gave him my very best and I saw his very best. It was really a magical time of life, and we both did and lots of personal growth work. My nickname growing up was actually “tutalure,” because I just went with the flow so much. So I just didn’t think I’d ever be arguing about things like the dishes. So lo and behold, though, fast forward a few years, and suddenly we own a home together, and we’re parenting our young son, and life is busy and full. All of a sudden, we’re just in a tough place. And we were noticing that we were having the same conversation over and over, without ever finding a way out. It was really like we could press repeat and hear our differences. It felt like they were clashing, and we really wondered if we were just too incompatible, if this really wasn’t meant to be. 

I’ll never forget, we were sitting on the couch and we turned and looked at each other, and we were like: This is not bringing out our best anymore. We had lots of wonderful moments, and also some really hard ones. And we wanted to live a life of purpose and joy and service and all the things, as nearly all of us do. So we realized we had three paths. We’re like, we can either just bless each other on our separate paths. Or we can keep doing things how we’ve been doing that; maybe try to grow a little bit here and there, hope it’ll change. But we realized that five years down the road, we probably would be in a similar place. Or like, well, gosh, maybe we could dive in and learn everything we possibly could about relationships. Because even though we both had done lots of personal growth, we hadn’t specifically learned about relationships. 

Just like we had fallen in love with how much we realized the human capacity for healing and transformation, we thought just maybe that was possible in our relationship as well. So at least let’s make this decision based off of having done that work, rather than always wondering if maybe we decided to make the change prematurely, if there was so much we could be. So that night, we ordered this giant stack of books, and it was CDs and DVD courses at the time, and we dedicated every Friday night to our conscious date nights. So just like, every Friday we’re going to apply some tools, and we’re going to learn and grow. And our relationship utterly transformed. We started attending couples retreats around the country and just fell in love with it. 

So we never imagined that we would be supporting other couples. But it was one of those things, like many of us have, once we learn it and we realize that there’s so much unnecessary suffering that people experience, and so much ease and connection and love that’s possible instead, we can’t not share. It’s like your responsibility to share it. So I had been a longtime coach and a licensed psychotherapist, and we had been seeing individuals. So we decided to really start focusing on seeing couples together, and just fell in love with it. Because I find so often, it’s not an absence of love or care. We just get really confused and frustrated and really stuck in places, no matter how kind or caring or successful people are in other life areas. So it just feels like the greatest honor ever to get to support other couples, and to just believe in what’s possible so much. Sometimes the relationship isn’t aligned anymore, it doesn’t support people in living their greatest life. And nearly every couple on the planet I found just has so much untapped potential.

Agreed, and it’s really a tragedy to sit with people when they’re in this dark place. Even if they’re seeking support, or perhaps one person has left the relationship emotionally, or both are really in this last ditch effort. It’s really sad to see how much potential and how much love is there, and yet, they haven’t necessarily known how to navigate the challenges in a way that gives them a greater sense of connection and possibility around how to really thrive together. It sounds like this is really what you’re all about. I love the wisdom that both you and your husband really contemplated around: there could be another way, there could be a possibility, and really diving in and applying the transformational principles to relationship that perhaps we haven’t done the work around, and really to give that full effort and then make a decision. How did you both come? It just came to you? That seems like an incredibly wise vantage point, at that moment?

Yeah, well, I am so grateful. I think there was such a deep love there. So it wouldn’t have been an easy thing for us to separate in that moment. There would have certainly been pain; it felt like there was pain either way. We both had been doing personal work, and I think through that, I realized like: Wow, I had no idea that there was a language for understanding this pattern I have in my life. Not only is their language for understanding the pattern, but also a way out. So I’m just so thankful, whatever came to us in that moment that we were like, “Hmm, maybe there’s something more here.”

And you both said Yes. That’s not always the case that two people, when we’re talking about a monogamous relationship, that both people are Yes at the same time. That’s not always an easy thing to come into it and have the same motivation, and it sounds like the two of you did.

Yes, and I am so grateful for that. I am deeply, deeply grateful for that.

Yeah. Okay, so let’s talk about the repetitive patterns that you typically help people look at. What are you seeing as it relates to these repetitive patterns that get people really stuck and disconnected?

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“I love relationships, because they are uniquely humbling. It brings everything to the surface, any unconscious part of ourselves, any fear we don’t realize we have, and any old wounds that need healing, whatever it might be.”

They all come to the surface, and then we tend to use strategies that aren’t necessarily effective. But the need underneath the strategy is usually so beautiful and so precious. For example, we could have a need for connection, and so we criticize our partner for working all the time, which then ends up pushing them further away. So one of the dynamics that I’m sure you are well-versed in that I just find to be just one of those moments, like when we’re at a retreat and we’ll explain this dynamic, there’s so much knowing laughter in the room of like: Oh, yeah. That’s the repetitive cycle of the pursuer and withdrawer. 

This is not romantically pursuing someone, it’s someone that really wants to pursue the conversation or pursue the connection. So what that would look like perhaps is, blame, criticism, using more words, raising your voice, maybe using stronger words, becoming more emotional, pointing out to your partner all the things, kind of piling one need another another, maybe it sounds like a complaint. Again, underneath it, what someone oftentimes has longing for is to feel like they aren’t alone in it; they long to feel like they’re appreciated, they’re understood, that their partner is engaged with them. It’s easy to do all of these things that then push our partner further and further and further away. They’re like, I don’t want to engage with you, because I feel like I can never do it enough. 

So on the other side would be someone that maybe is more of a withdrawer. That would look like, even if they stay physically present, becoming quiet, and in their body language, it just looks like they’re not particularly present, or they leave the conversation and they go into the other room; they step back, they’re not emotionally engaging. So when those two are combined, the more the pursuer maybe follows their partner into the other room, the other partner is like: Leave me alone, I need space! And the more they withdraw, the more the other person feels alone. So then it comes out again with blame or criticism, or pointing out to them, like you’re not supporting, all the things they’re doing wrong, which then they tend to shut down or withdraw even more. 

So that’s a really common dynamic. And what happens in that is that one, neither partner ends up getting their needs met, because both are ultimately after connection, which is what I love so much about that. It’s like the pursuer is longing for connection so much, and so wants to resolve whatever is there. And the withdrawer is withdrawing in order to preserve any remaining connection that might be there. But instead, they’re both really missing out in connection. 

Bret and I have certainly been in that dynamic, that was one of our common things early on. So now I’m so grateful, we kind of have the X-ray goggles. If I were to see Bret withdraw in any way whatsoever, I’m like: “Oh my gosh, I just want to go rub his back, and just appreciate him and love on him.” It’s like, oh, he totally is staying emotionally engaged with me. Rather than seeing it as, oh, he doesn’t care, all the ways that my mind would interpret it. So these cycles, what happens is we tend to react to our partner’s reaction with our own reaction, and we use all these strategies that just are truly the opposite of what we need. So the very moment, anybody that’s a withdrawer out there, the very moment that maybe your partner needs you to engage, you’re seeing it as: Oh my gosh, I don’t want to go close to them. Because when I go close, nothing good happens. But really, they’re just crying out for your love and for your engagement and for you to connect. And as someone that you’re watching your partner withdraw, it’s like: Oh, how can I create a space that is so inviting and feels so safe, in order for them to step into? 

So that’s when that’s so fun, to have a language for. I’m so grateful for the work of Dr. Sue Johnson, who has helped to identify those different roles. Because some couples have withdraw-withdraw or pursue-pursue, but certainly the most common one we see is pursue-withdraw.

Absolutely. It is very, very common, to your point, about being in a workshop or retreat and having people utter, whether or not it’s giggles, or some sounds that basically indicate how familiar this is, and how it’s quite damaging when it’s not just a one-time occurrence. It can be about any difference or any type of tension or conflict, as you’re saying these are tendencies, or moves; one’s best attempt to get a result. And what you’re really describing here is, what is underneath as far as the real core longing or need isn’t totally visible to the other. 

So like you said, for the withdrawer who’s experiencing, I also resonate, my husband and I’ve done a lot. We’re 18 years together, and same, me more of the pursuer. And my version of it, I had done a lot of work to get to the point, and when this pattern emerged, mine was questions, very skillful questions. But the energy behind it was absolutely seeking him out. There was a little bit of anxiety around: where are you, I’m trying to track you, what’s going on right now? So what that would feel like for him is an alert of like: Ooh, I’ve done something wrong. The way he interpreted those questions was like: Ooh, something she didn’t like, I don’t know what it is, but I can feel something’s amiss. Then all his tendencies to slow down, protect, calibrate. I would feel that slow down or that even distancing, and I’m like, wait, wait, wait. Again, it’s so, so subtle, because even having arrived at that juncture with my husband, or then boyfriend. I had a master’s in psychology and an undergrad in psych, I had grown up in progressive family with I statements and communication. Still, even though it seemed skillful or it sounded like right words, the energy underneath was very much what you’re describing.

Yeah, thank you so much for sharing that. It is so neat. That’s one area where relationships, again, there’s no place for anything to hide. So even in our tone, you can tell it’s so amazing, the work that you’ve done, all of us. It’s like, if there is a different intention there, if there’s fear there, how our nervous system picks up on that. It just calls those forward and upward, again and again and again, to shine a light on areas that just need healing and growth, and they’re so great at mirroring back to us the very area that I’m so grateful for our relationship, it continually reflects back. It’s like, whatever the relationship needs in order to keep evolving in an ever-more beautiful form is the very thing that I need in order to grow and evolve myself.

Precisely, I echo that 100%. My dissertation was on the psycho-spiritual conscious development, and just how people can enter into these ways of relating. So often on the show, I’m talking about what emerges in a couple dynamic is curriculum for our developing. So I love that you have this frame of just even continuing to raise your hand, and I do too here, that just having been with this person for length of time, but being willing to look at what emerges and to feel the growth and the opportunities. So I love that you have that perspective. It just continues to deepen, in my experience, and expand. 

Absolutely, what a cool thing to do your dissertation on!

Well, and it’s interesting. Because like, I had a relationship struggle prior that I thought was this kind of twin flame, like we both thought we were the one and upset. And we sought support and just really had a difficult time. At that time, I came into reading some books, like Gay and Katy Hendricks’ Conscious Loving, and even David Schnarch’s Passionate Marriage and Resurrecting Sex, and some of the differentiation principles. It felt like they were starting to work. However, I didn’t have a sense of the attachment frame, and that really helped me understand a little bit more.

But all this to say that I too was like, I feel pretty well-equipped. Like you and your husband, having done all the work that you had done prior to even meeting, that you would feel pretty well-equipped to cultivate relationship together. Similarly, I felt like in that previous relationship, I felt very stunned by the difficulty and not being able to overcome it. So hence, that prompted me to inquire more, and I was like: Oh, people are practicing these conscious relating skills, like what is this about? It felt underground at that point. I know it’s much different now, I think there’s a collective interest now in how to improve relationships. So I’m grateful. But still, the application. Just even understanding the ideas is one thing, but the real application. So what would you like to say about how to negotiate some of these differences? Is it what we’re talking about around recognizing there’s a cycle that is at play? That it could be about one conflict or it could be about another conflict, but the similar dynamic is happening? Is that what we’re talking about?

Yeah, I think that’s so helpful, certainly. We really have differences inevitably, and I love the idea that we don’t necessarily attract our opposite. If someone’s truly our opposite and they might like entirely different things, there may be some incompatibility. And I do find that we oftentimes seek out our balance, and someone who’s going to really help harmonize with us and help us learn things, even learn on our own. So in the romance stage, in the early stages, it’s really easy to see that for the beautiful shining quality it is. We see somebody as really relaxed, or really dynamic, or this free spirit, or a great communicator, or really sensitive and thoughtful, so all these wonderful things. Then once we progress in the relationship, we feel a bit more comfortable, and all of a sudden, we’re trying to navigate life together, and my needs are bumping up against your needs; what I want and what you want feel like they’re at odds. Then it’s really easy to begin focusing on what’s on the flip side of the very thing that we oftentimes fall in love with. So if we fell in love with someone who’s really easy-going, fast forward a few months or a few years in, and we’re like: Oh my goodness, they procrastinate, or they move more slowly than I want them to. Or someone that’s really dynamic, then we’re like: Oh my gosh, they’re overbearing, or controlling, or they never quiet down. Or someone who’s a free spirit, we’re like: Oh goodness, they’re irresponsible. Or someone that’s really kind and caring, we’re like: they’re overly sensitive. So whatever it might be, that’s what happens. 

So Bret and I, when we made the conscious decision to turn back over that two-sided coin, and reclaim and really focus on the beautiful strength on the other side, that was such a game changer for us. Now we do that with couples all the time. So I am ever aware if there’s ever a moment, and I guess I’ve done this, I’m so grateful I’m so immersed in this work, and it’s been a muscle to build, and now I think it really is more by reflex truly. If I see anything that I might perceive as a challenging part of him, I have studied so closely what’s on the reverse side of all of those qualities, that I now know: Oh, that’s also the part of him. For example, I’m more of the planner, which is a strength, and then the challenge of that is that I don’t go with the flow as much as Bret will go with the flow. So Bret, he’s taught me so, so much of just trusting it. I grew up in a family where we had like Plan ABC, and so that’s how I actually was, and now I’m so much more going with the flow and just trusting it. And early on when we were wondering, one of our many differences, I really focused on: Oh, he’s putting it off, or he must not care. So interpreting it in ways other than like, now I realize I wouldn’t want him any other way; he stays so calm in so stressful situations and things are no big deal. I treasure and cherish that part of him so much, I wouldn’t want it any other way. 

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“It really is a two-sided coin. We don’t oftentimes find people who are the most relaxed, and perhaps the biggest planners or coordinators. I mean, sometimes you have these. But generally, they just come together. So I think really studying any area that your mind is perceiving as a shortcoming, just to flip it over and see what beautiful gem is on the other side.”

And gosh, what I want to do without that, perhaps not. Then we have just reoriented our entire relationships that we get, to spend as many moments as possible in each of our strengths. Rather than expecting each other to be everything, it’s like, let’s find those places where we both shine, and realize that what comes naturally to me doesn’t come naturally to somebody else. If you’re in a relationship, it’s so easy for us to think: Well, if you really cared… We can put that under a lot. Like, if you really loved me, if you cared enough, you would… Plan more date nights, or so many of these things, because it comes easily to us. No, it’s just easy. You just put it in your calendar and you call the place, or whatever it might be. That’s kind of a unique one, because it’s about the relationship. But it could be like I told you, doing the dishes, that means so much to me, why don’t you just do it? To realize, for our partner, it actually isn’t as easy, whatever the thing might be. 

So I think that that’s so helpful to realize, also the areas that aren’t our own strengths that come easily to our partners, that we can stay humble and realize, we’re all these perfectly imperfect humans. I think having a strengths-based relationship is key, and then certainly getting to know the needs underneath the things that we’re doing to really understand it again, so we don’t misinterpret. I think we just misinterpret and we put stories, and we pile so much on top of what our partner does.

That’s incredibly important, what you’re unpacking here about the interpretation. Because we only have our worldview, our lens to perceive, and yet, this person has lived an entirely different life and operates differently, that what’s happening for them might be incredibly different than what we’re imagining. Because I will just say, if I got quiet and I started distancing, it would mean that I didn’t care, because that’s how I interpret it. So one thing I’m hearing you say, Christina, is just what it was and what it now is, and there’s such a growth and transformation, and just continuing to nurture and maintain and invest into cultivating your relationship. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you started to work on understanding? You’re talking about studying, brought your husband. And how some of his underneath layers were more visible to you? Or is it just for you a matter of almost reframing it? I mean, sometimes that’s harder to do when we haven’t done the work around recognizing our fear, our trigger, and having that reassurance and understanding. But help me, how did you negotiate that to get where you are? That’s a big question, I realize.

Yeah, it’s a great question. So just to make sure I understand. So tangibly, what did we do in order to move from seeing these differences as being incompatible or in contrast, to really getting to creating a strengths-based relationship? Like, did we sit down and talk about the things we found challenging, kind of like how did we get there?

More specifically too, just the interpretation. How did you unwind that to get to a place? Was it more about reframing it and focusing on the strengths? Or was there some work around understanding and studying and him being able to make some of his underlying parts more visible, as similar for you for him?

Yes, I would say all the above. So when it came to uncovering what was happening underneath the surface, so now we have an expression we use called “wonder and look under,” with any human on the planet, just to get curious, rather than judging or assuming or projecting or misinterpreting. Like, hi, I wonder what the story is, what’s really going on underneath the surface? One of the great privileges and honors of doing this work, as I’m sure you can relate to, just sitting in the most vulnerable, intimate spaces with others, how much I realize that we miss out on getting to know the magnificence and preciousness of who somebody is, and we just see maybe the less attractive qualities we particularly exhibit in those more challenging moments when we’re feeling triggered. 

So we’ve just been committed to our practice; we have so many different rituals. But we certainly have a ritual date night, usually on Friday night, still to this day. And every day we have a gratitude practice, that we share at least five things in the day that we appreciate about each other, that we’ve been doing for so many years now. So we just have a lot of conversations. Or we would really take turns, where we were no longer having two monologues where we both were just talking and wanting to be heard. So learning this basic communication of really hearing each other and offering each other empathy and making it safe to share. So Bret would share something, and rather than just reacting to it or getting defensive, really taking that into my heart and just getting passionately curious about what it was like to be him, and letting there be space for all of it. Rather than I’ve somehow failed if he’s unhappy, instead it’s like: Oh, we’re on the same team here, and let’s just look at what isn’t working, not because anybody’s to blame or anybody’s wrong, and let’s just get curious and collaborative together. But the key to that, I think we first started deeply, deeply hearing each other and creating spaces, where we could reflect that back to each other and really offer each other empathy, and not getting defensive, and really positioning ourselves as teammates looking at it together. 

So I’d say learning how to listen, like learning how to communicate, but really learning how to listen, and starting to see each other’s best intentions, and getting more curious. I’m so grateful for the practice of curiosity, rather than jumping in. It’s just like: Well, tell me more, I want to understand more what’s happening for you. It’s actually so liberating, I find, that when we let go of the need to be right or defend, it’s like, oh my gosh, I get to just be here with my heart. So you just create spaces where you really could be relaxed and in our hearts together. There’s so many different things. 

Also in the moment of feeling triggered, we started saying I’m scared, and you would just share whatever it was, because that was more readily accessible. Sometimes the empathy, that can sometimes be a bigger leap for our brains. But oftentimes, especially if we start practicing it, say what we’re scared of, I remember just being like: That’s what you’re scared of right now, I had no idea. I would say what I was scared of, I got to stay with me, and I wouldn’t put it on him. It would actually feel so good for me to be present with those precious fears, which I would miss out on even getting to be in touch with. So, so many different things. But that was certainly a practice that we did to uncover what’s actually going on underneath the surface, and then we could lean in and we would uncover the fear, and it’s so much easier then to have empathy for each other. Oh, that’s what’s happening inside of your world right now. Oh, that makes so much sense. Then I find it just get easier and easier. Because then in the moment, I’m like: Oh, it makes sense, I know now what’s happening inside. Even though on the outside, it might look different, that’s what’s happening. So I’m so grateful for everything that we’ve gotten to learn and study. But definitely, just continual nurturing.

Absolutely, and thank you for giving some more specifics about the practice and what it looked like as you were developing, and also mentioning what happens in those triggered moments. Because in my experience, when people feel that sense of safety and calm, they can be more regulated to access more of that curiosity. And when we’re not, I you agree with you, and I just want to emphasize the power of what you’re describing, of being able to say I’m scared of, and to really own that and name that. Because that’s just a deep dive, a real willingness to take that risk, be courageous and name the thing that feels probably the scariest. That is often a thing that brings a lot of space into the room and air, because that’s what we’re typically reacting to. If we don’t name it, we’re just react, react, react. 

So how did the two of you start to create that safety? It just seems so tremendous to turn that corner from conflict to really finding this ground? It sounds like such a ground and a scaffolding that you both developed.

Yeah. Well, I’m very, very thankful. Because our values, even if our personalities at times have these differences, which I’ve come to absolutely love and not want any other way, we do share values of kindness and care and compassion and love and appreciation and wanting to understand. So we oftentimes would start with setting intentions, we would really have conversations. This was a learning, but we learned first by realizing what doesn’t work by then learning what does work. So learning by having a conversation when one of us is kind of distracted, versus setting aside time to really have a hard conversation. So we would make a date to have the conversation, and then we both knew we could get into our hearts. I mean, that’s kind of how we developed our tools; we now have this 11-set communication tool. So truly, for years and years and years, I don’t know, we would have developed that probably 12 or so years ago. I mean, we would just sit down with the duel, like, let’s just go through this. But I’d say early on, we would be intentional about the time and space that we chose, and would set intentions, for sure, going into it, and we started making the turn.

Yeah. It sounds like you researched a lot of material to get guidance, and there’s an implementation that we’ve got to make it our own. So just showing up and really having this intention that there’s a learning around what works. I think each couple will find their own language. But I do think that guidance is extremely helpful, especially when people have lived it and done the work and gotten through the fire, or gone through the fire, if we’d say that. So I love that you offer so much here. So do you want to say anything? I know some of your work is about secure attachment and functioning and how people can really start to incorporate more of the secure functioning. Is there anything you want to say about that?

Well, I mean, one thing that I think is so helpful for people to realize, which I’m sure if they’re in your world, they’re well-aware of, which is that we really can create it. I hear some people, they’re like, but this is an insecurely attached relationship, or I have insecure attachment. The great news is we get to really create that together. I so appreciate the paradigm of a healing relationship, how it really is in our earlier relationships that we tend to experience most or all of our greatest wounding. Then it’s in the context of our adult romantic relationship, that we really can experience our greatest healing, and we can know those more vulnerable fears underneath the surface; worried that I’m alone, or worried that you might leave, or worried that I’ll never be enough for you, or worried whatever it might be. All of our fears of intimacy, fear of losing myself if I come in closer. 

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“Just really getting to know our fears, and then knowing how to show up for one another in a way that is healing and nurturing, it is the most transformative experience that is so deeply healing.”

So I think that first and foremost is to know that you get to create secure attachment, and I think it’s so valuable to really learn the research out there. I’m so, so grateful, forever indebted to those that have done their research that we get, that we are biologically hardwired for love and connection. Because it’s so easy to judge our partner for having a certain response. So I would say, to anybody, just really learn. Learn about attachment, so that you’re using strategies that are going to create that for you, rather than creating more and more disconnect. Emotional engagement is just at the heart of a thriving relationship, at the heart of passion, at the heart of so many things. If we can just be emotionally engaged with one another and make it safe for our partner to do so, and to realize that it so often is co-created. I think it’s really easy to think that our partner is responsible for so many relationship challenges, but certainly if we’re not experiencing this sense of attachment. Just to be looking at, huh, I wonder what I could do differently that would make emotional connection either safer for them to engage with me, or I wonder how I can show up in a way that they can relax and know they’re safe and secure and can trust me. 

But really, there’s so many components to it, how we communicate with each other, how much we communicate, doing check-in, so many things, how we show up for each other. I just think it’s paramount. Just like you, I love the work of Gay and Katy Hendricks, I’m forever grateful for them. I’ve been fortunate to spend time with them, and they’re fantastic. This attachment piece, I mean, how it connects to our nervous system, it is so unconscious. It is such a physiological response, and I think it gives us so much self-compassion too. So yes, all of that. 

Now Bret and I will, even just in life beyond our relationship, we love co-regulation, and how much if one of us is doing a difficult task, we’re like, can you just come sit next to me during this? Because of how much our nervous systems are connected to one another, we humans.

Yes, and what you’re speaking to on a multitude of levels is how much is interacting in each individual and how that is being expressed. And when we’re unconscious, or we’re just going through our lives. I don’t mean that in a judgmental way, it’s how our brains operate to be the most efficient. And when we don’t question or we don’t have this curiosity, we just do what we know, and perhaps what we know isn’t necessarily serving are more optimal being. So it really sounds like one of your bigger messages, and help me if I’m getting this right, is that there’s an intentionality, there’s a willingness to turn towards the dynamics in a way that’s, again the curiosity, but let’s really look at this. So it’s an investment in the relationship. I think one of the things I tend to say, it’s like, it’s how we move through it that determines more of our success rather than just a relationship happening to us versus us really engaging. It just sounds like there’s such a way in which you and your husband really nurture, take care of one another, your bond together, and nourish that. Am I hearing that right?

Yes, absolutely. It’s also both of us individually looking, continually asking ourselves, what does this relationship need for me, continually asking how am I creating whatever the pattern is that’s working or not working? So there’s also the individual work. And I find that sometimes in relationships schools of thought, or again, so innocently, so understandably, but there’s such a focus on just doing our inner work. Relationships also, with attachment, it’s its own unique skillset learning how to specifically relate. Because there could be two people that have done their own work, taking radical responsibility for their own health and happiness. But that does not mean that they’re going to have a great relationship. So I love that there’s no amount of just inner work that I could do that’s ultimately going to create just having a great relationship. There’s also things that we are co-creating together, because our relationship, all of us, it’s a living, breathing thing, and it needs us to show up for it specifically. I think it’s so beautiful.

It’s never ending. I mean, I don’t mean to say forever in like a doom heavy way, but the research is really from cradle to grave. It’s like, we never stop needing this, this is part of this human need, like water, like food, like sleep, we need connection. And to really continue to invest, it’s going to affect us positively in many, many areas. 

Yes, yes, yes.

Well, I know that you help people with communication, as you mentioned, and you also help with just how to negotiate intimacy in a way that really is life-giving. I want to ask you to split our time here, is there any specific thing you want to go into a little bit more in our conversation today?

Communication, of course, is just so deeply important. One acronym that just came to us that we find to be so helpful, that I’ll just share in case it’s valuable that anybody tuning in, is BASE, as a way to really set up a conversation for success. Because especially when it’s something that’s emotionally charged, it’s because it’s really, really important to us. So finding a way, like how do I communicate this in a way that my partner can best hear? Because it’s such a painful experience when there’s something so important to us, and then we share it, and our partner withdraws, defends, invalidates any of the things. We’ve all had that experience. So it’s learning how to communicate. 

So we talked a bit about listening. I would say, as far as how to maybe share something with someone that can allow their nervous system to relax, to truly feel like you’re not an adversary. Because if our partner comes at us in a way that doesn’t look like this massive attack, maybe it does, and otherwise, it’s just the energy they’re picking up on, their defenses will go up, they’re going to be so much more likely to have a fear response, and to perceive us as an adversary, which is not going to keep connection there. 

Whereas if we can lead with BASE, so BASE, the B is Best intentions. So we all have many motives and intentions. So this is not to overlook that we are complex human beings, and tucked in there, there’s usually some benevolent intention. We’ve all had the experience of someone seeing us for our worst intentions, and it’s such a painful experience to not feel seen for who we really are and for the goodness behind things. So I could really look back on pretty much any challenge that I ever had, and I could see: Oh, there was actually good intention there, it wasn’t this ill intent. So whether it’s your partner, they leave the milk out, even though you’ve asked them a hundred times, it’s not that they have ill intent. They have good intention. Oh, I know you were just really tired because you’ve been working so hard. That would be acknowledging the good intention. Or they came home late. Oh, I know you just were out hanging with your friends, because there’s been so much on your mind lately. 

So the B is to actually acknowledge somebody’s Best intentions, and then A is appreciation. So it’s looking around the situation for also what there is to appreciate. Again, this helps to melt our defenses and open our hearts to one another. So the S is Strengths, pointing out what’s on the flip side. So let’s go with your partner being late for something. So maybe you made this beautiful dinner, and they showed up late, which is a bummer. So it’s not to invalidate that it’s completely understandable if someone would feel disappointed, frustrated, annoyed, any of those things. It makes perfect sense. But not to direct that at someone, rather than owning those feelings and realizing like: Okay, I know that you had to work late because you have this really big project going on, I’m sure you were just so immersed in that, and I appreciate that you work so hard and you’re so committed to seeing things through the end, and how when you’re in something, you just get completely focused in it. So you might be thinking, well, I’m important, why didn’t you think of me? Because you’re just so focused. So the S is Seeing their strength and then E is having Empathy. I imagine you probably would have wanted to come home earlier, and it probably feels really bad to come in, and the family already ate dinner, and that you are feeling distressed at work, whatever it might be. So offering them some empathy. 

Then it’s like: Ah, okay, now you’re with me in it. So there isn’t this issue between us and we’re standing on the other side, opposite sides. But now it’s like, we’re side by side, I see you, and you can offer the same to me, all of my good intentions, appreciate me, see my strengths, have empathy for me, and then we can look at it together. Now we just get to get curious and creative and collaborative together. Like, how do we really make this work now? Given you might be putting in long hours at work, and I would love to eat dinner together, now we can really work together and have our shared resourcefulness, rather than working against each other. 

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“We end up, naturally in relationships, not always, but sometimes, arguing about the argument itself. Then all of our energy goes towards that rather than actually getting to get to the issue, and there’s just a world of creative possibilities and solutions that can open up when we stand with each other in it as allies.”

No kidding! I’m almost getting the sense that this is like the primer; you’re priming for a constructive conversation that is going to be more about possibility and co-creating and working together. When really, I would say most of us approaching the conversation, most of the effort, that could be hours and hours if people are stuck in these repetitive cycles of explaining, leveraging, trying to convince, persuade, to feel like their position is being heard. But there’s so much defensiveness on both sides that they’re standing against, and both people are looking to protect themselves, which makes sense, we all need to do that. And what you’re describing is really a lot of elixir that really softens and welcomes and brings in close, and then let’s stand together to address the thing that we’re both feeling perhaps challenged by. Is that right?

You got it! Yes, beautifully put.

Okay. I mean, hearing that it’s from that point, when there’s a standing together, it’s obvious that there’s something that needs addressing, and can we work together side by side, that it’s almost not difficult to bring someone in to will you look at this with me. It’s more like, okay, here we go. I love that, that seems like a very advanced move, to really have the foresight and to really nurture. Look, in my experience, even just putting my mind into the exercise of these things, I’m not just going through the process for the other person. Some people, I could hear having a little bit of like, they just dropped the ball, or they didn’t follow their agreement, why am I going to do all this labor to help them feel good? When really, it’s in service of the relationship. And also, when I can put myself into that frame, I’m actually experiencing the appreciation, I’m acknowledging the strength. I’m actually probably having new thoughts if I asked myself, what’s the B again?

Best intention.

The best intentions. Like, in my reactions, I probably don’t even know that if I don’t ask the question first. If I asked the question, then I’m going to start, especially if I’ve had some history with the person, then I’m going to be able to entertain. Maybe I don’t know, but I can do my best attempt at, and it’s going to put me in a totally different space, in my nervous system and my energy. Is that right?

For sure. So many of these practices, I totally get, I love that you voiced it, to have someone be like, why should I have to do this when they’re the one in the wrong? So completely understandable. And that’s probably not going to get us the kind of relationship we really want to get. It’s like what is in service to the relationship, and it’s in the process of doing that, that it changes us, and the world becomes a much more beautiful place when we can look around. It’s not about denying all the other pain and the complexity. But it’s like, if we’re not looking at all this other stuff, we’re in denial about it; we’re denying the things that we should appreciate, we’re denying the good intentions, we’re denying all that. And we lose so much of the ability to do creative problem solving when we’re in that space. So it just really allows us to actually get our needs met so much more readily. So we’re really just being like, we can satisfy that part of us: Okay sure, you can skip that part, but it’s just not going to work. It’s just simply not strategic, it simply isn’t effective. So we can just let our egoic minds know that. Yeah, well, in theory, maybe should or shouldn’t, any of that, should we have to do it. But it really won’t work, and it won’t be lasting. Our partner might agree to something because they feel pressured or shamed into it, not because all of them really is choosing it.

Exactly. To the ego or logical brain, it’s actually increasing the likelihood that you’re going to get your needs met, to what you’re saying. This is actually in service of your need, as well as also staying attuned to your partner. So often, we’re in this competitive, just unaware that we’re in a competitive one-up one-down, and it feels like someone’s going to have a win here and it’s going to be me. So to be in this place of, we’re together in the win-win, and to really be showing up for that. So it’s huge. 

So for people who might be newer to knowing their partner, and having done the level of study that you’ve done, and I feel like I’ve done with my husband, if they’re a little bit at a loss for how to get the best intention, and really having appreciation and the strength, and what’s the E again? 

Empathy. 

Empathy. If they’re struggling, is there any questions or any things that you suggest to prompt people to dig a little bit with this?

Well, the first step that I usually recommend for anyone is making a commitment. So much great change happens. It’s not committing to your partner long-term, if you’re not in that place. Maybe you’re really on the brink of wondering whether or not you want to stay together, which is a completely understandable place to get to. So it’s just making a powerful commitment to diving in and seeing what’s possible and available for you and doing the work. I’m saying that commitment piece is so huge, and then beginning to shift from thinking, simply a focus on what do I need that I’m not getting? It’s like, huh, I wonder what my partner is longing for over there that they’re not getting by this relationship? 

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“Typically, the thing that our partner is longing for the very most is the very hardest thing for me to give, and vice versa; what we’re longing for more than anything is the hardest thing for them to give. So it’s realizing that our partner is longing for something as well.”

So again, rather than just focusing on them, looking at what they’re not giving us, looking at what we’re not giving to them, and then shifting from blaming them for what’s not working to getting curious. 

So just starting to ask the question, we don’t even need to know the answer right away. So I think different questions lead to an entirely different life. So just to actually be in the curiosity of it, and to get curious. Even right now, if your mind is like, no, it’s all them. Just to be with that a little bit more. So I love the reframes of, like, you don’t want to spend time with me, that versus: Huh, I wonder what I’m doing that’s making it unappealing to want to spend time with me, I wonder what I could do that would make it more appealing. Or you’re not listening to me. I wonder what I could do differently that you would hear me more readily. Or you’re not following through on things. I wonder how we can co-create agreements that actually work for you. So there’s so many different ways that we can look at, wonder, and it is possibility filled. So beginning there, I think, is a wonderful place to start. 

Then creating time together that is free from logistics, where you really are just nurturing your love. So there’s a piece of it that’s doing what we might call the work, so it’s being intentional and healing and growing and having conversations that maybe are a little bit messier, but vital. There’s that piece, so there’s also the piece of really nurturing our love. 

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“I think in the busyness of life and all the distractions, there are a lot of couples too, that their love account has gotten really low, and we’re just really not nurturing it and spending time together and looking to do those things that we would have done in the beginning.”

Being on the lookout of how can I make your day more wonderful, we can also just grow the good, and bring in so much more of the good stuff. And when that happens, empathy just happens so much more readily. So just think if you just had an awesome date night, it’s like: Oh my gosh, you just really are my ally, I don’t want to do anything now that’s going to disrupt this. Oh, can I get you something when I go to the kitchen? We’re just looking out for each other. So we tend to have more empathy, we see things more creatively, more expansively. So it just happens naturally when we are nurturing our love in a really enjoyable, fun way. So schedule a date, just start dating each other again and have fun with it. So if it feels like too much of a stretch to start doing the work, at the least, schedule some time and be on the lookout for how you can just make each other’s day.

Wonderful. Well, Christine, I really appreciate that there’s such depth and research to what you’re describing, and also just the real voice of the love and the nurturing of the bond, and just really being so strength-based, and just the positive cycle that comes when we start engaging in that way. That there’s so many things that we have that can help amplify that, and it has a synergy to it that helps build. So I just love that you’re giving example and bringing voice into how possible this is. So for people who want to connect with you and your work and your business, what would you like to share about how people can learn more or engage more?

Thanks so much. So my husband and I, we run the Center for Thriving Relationships. So you can find our website at CenterThrive.com, so you can learn lots more there. We do in-person weekend retreats with couples, and we have online courses, and we also train others through a six-month more immersive virtual experience. Those that want to work with couples, we have a thriving Relationship Coach Certification Program and have a whole team of practitioners here. So we warmly welcome anyone to reach out. And we’re pretty active over on Instagram, so you can find us there too at @CenterForThrivingRelationships. So we’d love if you reached out. Anything we can do to support you, we would be honored.

I love that you have such a wide array of ways to engage, depending on where people are at in their lives, and how to get more support and guidance in cultivating their relationship. So I’ll make sure to have all of these links on today’s show notes. Christine, thank you so much for being with us here today.

Such a joy and such an honor. Thank you so much for having me.

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching