ERP 425: How To Find The Growth Opportunity In An Argument — An Interview With Linda Bloom

By Posted in - Podcast May 21st, 2024 0 Comments

Ever wondered how happy couples navigate irreconcilable differences and still thrive? Arguments in relationships are both inevitable and impactful. While they often stir up feelings of frustration, anger, and sadness, they also hold the potential for profound growth and understanding between partners. When managed with care and intention, conflicts can uncover deep-seated issues, foster better communication, and ultimately strengthen the bond.

In this episode, we explore how conflicts can become opportunities for growth and deeper connection. By focusing on emotional regulation, curiosity, and taking responsibility, couples can navigate differences with more understanding and empathy. Learn practical strategies for creating a safe environment and fostering open communication, transforming challenges into stepping stones for a stronger, more empowered relationship. Gain valuable insights and actionable tips to help you and your partner grow together through the ups and downs.

Linda Bloom, L.C.S.W. is a psychotherapist and marriage counselor who teaches relationship workshops throughout the world. She and her husband, Charlie Bloom are co-authors of the widely acclaimed book, 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married, Simple Lessons to Make Love Last, and Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truths from Real Couples About Lasting Love, An End to Arguing: 101 Valuable Lessons for All Relationships and more.

In this episode

4:20 Cultivating a thirst for growth: Linda Bloom’s path to a harmonious relationship with her husband after a rocky beginning.

12:51 Balancing differences: How mutual respect and curiosity foster harmonious relationships.

19:02 Mastering the art of handling differences: A key to achieving optimal relational well-being for couples.

27:24 Strategies for managing heated conversations and building stronger connections in relationships.

37:46 Navigating conflicts through emotional regulation and sincere communication.

44:56 How emotional maturity and practical resources can strengthen your relationship.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Seek Professional Support: Consider consulting therapists, workshop leaders, or spiritual teachers to help navigate and resolve differences within your relationship.
  • Understand Love Languages: Identify and cater to your partner’s love language—whether it be touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, or quality time—to foster deeper emotional connections.
  • Practice Mindfulness: Tune into your body to recognize signs of tension and ground yourself before engaging in difficult conversations.
  • Create a Safe Environment: Establish a foundation of safety and security that allows for vulnerability, honesty, and open communication.
  • Embrace Emotional Regulation: Take breaks during heated discussions to calm down and engage your prefrontal cortex, avoiding reactive responses.
  • Apologize Sincerely: Offer genuine apologies and take steps to make amends, demonstrating care and commitment to your partner.
  • Engage in Deep Listening: Practice slow, meditative communication to fully understand your partner’s perspective, improving mutual respect and intimacy.
  • Commit to Ongoing Learning: Continuously develop relationship skills such as negotiation, conflict management, and emotional regulation to enhance your relationship’s strength and resilience.

Mentioned

101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married: Simple Lessons to Make Love Last (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truth from Real Couples about Lasting Love (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

An End to Arguing: 101 Valuable Lessons for All Relationships (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

The Gottman Institute

Connect with Linda Bloom

Websites: bloomwork.com

Facebook: facebook.com/lindaandcharliebloom

X (twitter): twitter.com/bloomwork

YouTube: youtube.com/channel/UCV3lPZs0gRNYCTQ6vgz4Q6Q

Instagram: instagram.com/linda_charlie_bloom

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/lindacbloom

Tumblr: tumblr.com/linda-charlie-bloom-blog

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

Linda, thank you for joining us.

I’m delighted to be here with you today.

Yes, me too. I remember you were a guest previously. So for people who missed that episode, I’ll make sure to put that link on today’s episode show notes. Today, I know you were interested in talking with us about the concept of ending an argument—or just ending arguing, period—in a relationship. 

Before we get started on our topic, is there anything you want to share about where you’re coming from as it relates to intimacy, for people who don’t know you or maybe missed that other episode? Just as far as you guiding couples and individuals negotiating long-term intimacy, what’s your orientation? What’s your focus on how you typically are helping in this way? 

Well, my husband and I, last year, had our 50th wedding anniversary. We had a fabulous celebration. People flew in from the east coast, and we had a recommitment ceremony. It was really quite wonderful. It was a celebration of how far we’ve come. We have learned so much over the years, and we enjoy a really beautiful relationship now that’s characterized by a lot: of harmony, and cooperation, and co-creativity. 

But this has not always been the case for a relationship. When we started out, we were really pretty raw and young and green, and didn’t have good models in our family of origin. But we got good help. He had some therapists, workshop leaders, and spiritual teachers, and friends, who really helped us to learn the skills that we needed. A signature strength of both my husband and myself is that we’re hungry learners; we’re committed learners. We did learn a lot. So since we’re in the field, and it’s our specialty to pass along all that we’ve learned about how to have an empowered relationship, a great relationship, it’s really quite wonderful to be able to pass on what we’ve learned. 

I’m a recovered hothead, and my husband is a recovered hothead. I really was never ever in danger of dying on the vine from boredom. But there was a time when we thought it may burn to death and just be overly crisp. We had some irreconcilable differences, some really basic value differences, when our children were really small. My husband worked a lot then, and I was not happy about it. Because we had made an agreement that we were going to have a partnership where we raise the children together, and that we were going to mutually support each other’s careers. But because his career was so demanding for some period of time, I had to put my career on hold. And I’m really a career woman and I was not a happy camper to have to do that. 

So that’s when we were motivated, when we were in the fire. That’s when we were motivated to learn how to handle differences well. Most of the couples who come to us have a lot of trouble with that. So it has empowered us to empower them about how to do it really gracefully. 

Well, just as you’re describing some of these early beginnings that really helped you connect with the idea and all the framework and the principles and the deep work to use intimacy in relationship as an opportunity for growth. Both of you being in a growth mindset was really helpful. You also really sought support for leaders and guides and therapists and coaches and friends and people that can offer some perspective. So being willing to take input and get support was really helpful. 

Also, just recognizing your agreement. It sounded like, while you had the agreement and intention to work together and share the domestic load, the parenting load, to some degree, when it came to live practice, it was happening differently. I think that happens for a lot of people, whether or not they don’t explicitly get clear on their agreements, or they find themselves perpetuating things unconsciously, and then recognize as they’re living it that it’s not working or that it’s leading to this conflict. Sometimes we can only anticipate so much, and when we’re in it, we can recognize the differences that seem insurmountable at times. This was one of the things you’re saying, that was the big alert and thing that helped you turn attention towards your relationship and how you were doing. Is that right?

That’s exactly right. It was comforting to find out that the happiest couples have plenty of differences, and they sometimes have some differences that are irreconcilable. But if you have many parts of your relationship that work for you, it offsets the part that doesn’t. Like, you can have five things that are really wonderful; you can have a great sexual relationship, you can both be devoted to your children, you can mutually support each other’s careers, you can have spiritual practice in common, you can have your values. Any kind of values: being active politically, spiritual practice. But the strengths will offset the parts where you do not agree, where you have different styles of being in the world. Some people process information differently. Some people really are very mental and cerebral about the way they process information, and some people are so heart-centered in their feelings. 

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“It was so comforting to me to find that you can have differences, you just need to make a big space. The spaciousness, the respect for the differences, and learning from the differences, is so essential.”

My husband is quite introverted. He needs a lot of time alone. When he’s stressed, he needs to go inside. He’s very introspective; he needs to go behind a closed door, maybe go off on retreat alone. I used to take that so personally and feel rejected or feel sorry for myself. Too bad, he doesn’t want me very much. Because I’m so extremely extroverted, I’ve got a list of 20 people that I call and reach out to if I’m troubled by something, if I’m confused, if I’m challenged. I need to talk about it. Because I figure out what I want to do, how I’m feeling about it, and what my options are, while I’m talking. And he has stretched into my world, God bless him, he listens to me, and I feel so given to because it’s a need that I have. But I have my support network in place, because my need as an extrovert to talk things through and process things through extroverted style is too much for just one person. So I have to spread it around.

Yes, that makes a lot of sense. I don’t know if you’ve ever come across this. But the Gottman Institute, I believe it’s been quoted that every relationship has at least seven to eight irreconcilable differences. When I came across that, I know I’ve referenced that many times on this show. But I just find it really helpful for people to consider that you have individuals who have completely different personalities, who come from different backgrounds, perhaps even different cultures, and there’s going to be differences. I remember culturally, both of my husband and I are American, but he’s from the Midwest and I’m from the Pacific Northwest. I would go for holiday, and we would have an appointed time that we were going to go somewhere. And they’re all in the front room, living room, by the door, ready to go, 15 or 20 minutes early, just sitting there. I’m like, what are they all doing, why are they sitting? I still have 15 minutes of things that I wanted to do. It didn’t even occur to me. So anyway, just on time, more spontaneous one and the planner, so there’s all these differences, the spender and the saver. So what you’re recognizing here is that there are differences. 

I love that you’re referencing, in a long-term relationship, when there is enough of that counteracting, and I would even wonder too, that secure functioning, where the bond and the love and the respect and the goodwill and that ability to really see each other is maintained or is established or is nurtured, then there is a little bit more capacity to tolerate some of those differences. Or to have the space that you’re talking about, to really recognize and maybe not take things as personally, or learn how to work with one another on those differences. 

Just lastly, as you’re talking about the arc of being together for 50 years, I am sure you’ve come across Jung. I think Carl Jung was talking about how we learn from one another, that we begin to integrate and learn from the strengths of our partner, maybe parts that are underdeveloped. So my husband is also more of an introvert—we haven’t been together for 50 years, but almost 20—and to recognize the value that comes from that contemplation, that introspection, that downtime, when I have a little bit more of a temperament to be out in the world and be extroverted. I feel like I’ve learned from him or vice versa. So I wonder if you see that as well.

Absolutely, we have learned so much from each other. He has taught me that there is a big difference between being alone and being lonely. I had those mixed up years ago. I really value alone time now, peaceful alone time, and that I can journal, that I can meditate, that I can contemplate, and I don’t have to fear it. It’s very important. I like to think, and I think if he was here, he would tell you, that he’s learned a lot about connecting, but really connecting in an open, vulnerable, a feeling way. To be able to speak about it when he’s sad, or afraid, or feels hurt, or lonely. The male conditioning, we’re well into the 21st century, but the men are still getting some version of big boys don’t cry, and it’s hard on relationships. 

One of the things that we teach, we almost always teach together. We usually teach together, so people can get the male and the female point of view, and the introvert and the extrovert point of view, and they can get Mr. spontaneity and Ms. form and structure and planning. To see that you can be very different. But if you bring curiosity and wonder, you can learn from each other, and it enhances your relationship. 

You mentioned John and Julie Gottman. I know them, I’ve read all of their books, I’ve taken their classes, and I have a very high regard for their books and their research. They are very clear that they see the couples when they first fall in love, and then they see them decades later, they did not homogenize; they’ve got the same differences that they came with, decades later. But the really wise ones, the empowered couples, the ones that brought curiosity and that kind of wisdom of wanting to learn from each other, have been so enhanced by it. They’re the ones who made the big space and really respect the differences well. So they don’t fight so much. They have their differences, they may be strong, they may even have impassioned and intense interchanges. But they know where that line is, where it turns into an argument, where it’s not just a debate and a fruitful exchange. That very crucial moment, when you want to coerce the other person to do something different; thinking about it differently, having a different attitude or a different behavior. That’s when you get into trouble. 

Free Man and Woman Looking at Each Other Stock Photo

“When people start to feel like they’re being made bad and wrong, they get reactive, and then they want to fight back. It’s human nature to want to do that. So to have that interchange, but to be so mindful in the way that you do it, that you come to an understanding. Not necessarily agreement, but an understanding of each other’s point of view, that’s highly respectful.”

Now, Linda, as you’re describing, do you feel that having this secure functioning, if you will, of having this curiosity, this regard, this respect, is critical to shifting out of arguing and more of this exchange that’s fruitful?

I do think it’s critical. I think it’s one of the reasons that couples don’t reach the highest levels of well-being that a relationship can reach. They can be close, they can enjoy each other, they can have comfort and security. But for those of us who have the ambition to be an empowered co-creative couple, you have to have mastery in the dealing with differences as part of your relationship. Of course, that’s not the only requirement for entrance into the highest levels that relationship can be. But it is one of the really critical parts that we must have mastery in that area. If people understood the enormous benefits, the bonanza payoffs that come with it, they would want to learn these skills. How to speak the truth of our experience without the blame and judgment in it, to speak from our heart, to speak about our feelings and our needs, to be willing to be courageous enough to be vulnerable and to open up, and to be a committed listener. This is all speaking from our experience, not from our mind, which is full of opinions and is often critical, coming from a very deep place in ourselves. 

We were mentioning some of the people who have been profound teachers, and I mentioned the Gottmans. But Sylvia Boorstein is also a really important teacher for me. She’s a Buddhist teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. She gave me the title of Talking Meditation. I had something that I was doing already, but I didn’t have a name for it. It’s slowing down the rate of the interchange of our talking, speaking, and listening in a very slow meditative way. So that we take in what someone is sending to us, and really be with it and feel into it, before we shoot back our message. And when two people are doing that, you can drop down to a deep level of communication. Even these subjects that are hot and fiery, and we’ve got sore spots about them, maybe distrust, feeling threatened. It’s usually money, sex, power of decision-making, rearing the children, household tasks, and the in-laws. Those are the top issues that couples get into these fights about. 

Free Happy Couple Toasting Stock Photo

“If you can slow down, and you use those difficult, challenging subjects, to really deeply listen to each other, and why this gets inflamed, and why it’s scary, and why we get defensive, and why we want to run away, and why we want to say I don’t want to talk about it, and why we raise our voice and interrupt. There’s so much gold in there. Those breakdowns, they’re just growth waiting to happen.”

Thank you. Yes, yes, yes. If I’m understanding and resonating with what you’re describing, that these conflicts can be initiation, or even sometimes might call it curriculum, for our developing as a couple and individually. So as an individual in relationship, the growth that can occur when we’re entering into that, working together to resolve the conflict, being in the talking meditation. That that’s going to grow ourselves individually, and then as a couple, we’re growing together. That that initiation or that initiative, that can be the source of developing, engaging in that curriculum, if you will. 

And what we typically do, whether or not we haven’t been modeled the good structure, we’ve had trauma, that we will avoid or will come in blazing, like you’re talking about. It’s too threatening, we have to kind of really persuade or influence or all these strategies to make the other wrong. That this is our systems getting hijacked, or we’re feeling compelled to engage in certain ways, that typically either perpetuate the drama, or perhaps keep the no go-zone and the restriction. And that we can’t further the dynamic because we’re saying: No, we’re not going to go there. Am I hearing you? 

You’re exactly right. People get to that really tender place, and they’re afraid; they tense up. They may not be naming it as fear, they want to quit. The only part of the brain that’s working when you’re really emotionally overwrought is the primitive brain, the reptilian brain. It only knows fight, flight, or freeze. When people learn how to regulate their emotions and calm themselves down, sometimes they need to take a few breaths. Sometimes they need longer than just a few breaths, they need to take longer break; half hour, an hour, a few hours, not days or weeks. But when they learn to regulate their emotions, then they don’t just have the reptilian brain operating. They have the neocortex working for them. That’s the most evolved part of the brain. That’s the part that sees lots of options. That’s where the curiosity and wonder comes in, the patience, the committed listening. About why is this topic so inflamed for you? What did I trigger in you? Why is this topic so inflamed for me? What got triggered for me? That’s the real important conversation. Sometimes people quit too early, before they dig down deep enough to understand. 

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“I love this phrase that’s commonplace in the therapeutic community. If it’s hysterical, its historical. If you’re really amped up emotionally, and you’re just wild out of your mind, that you’re feeling so threatened and you’re enraged, it’s probably something very old. And a relationship is great for bringing that up to the surface where you can deal with it.”

But if you bring that spirit of curiosity, it’s what is it from my past? Did people intrude on your boundaries? Were you ignored? Were you abandoned? Were you trivialized? Were you treated with less value? Were you compared to your sibling? Were you threatened? There are so many sore spots that we bring. Our parents did the best they could; they really wanted to get us off on a good start. But sometimes they wounded us and they failed us, and we brought this all into our adult relationships. That’s a great opportunity, another friggin growth opportunity (AFGO). Work it some more about why do we keep coming back to this? Because there’s a level of understanding that we have not gained yet, about why this place is sore.

So it sounds like just one of the initial tips or tools that I’m hearing you encourage, is that if there’s a heat or a charge or an escalation in the interaction, that could there be the wondering as to what is triggering this, what is fueling this, can we pause and slow down, take a few breaths, maybe even a few more breaths and moments, to get that ground? It’s almost that ground to be able to move from to have a different experience. Because if we keep approaching the interaction from that escalated, reactionary place, then we’re going to likely do what we’ve always done and kind of get the result we’ve always gotten, which is either further conflict or disconnection. So how do you help people recognize those moments? Is it just further identifying the places that are charged, and when it happens, just inviting a little bit more of that pause to get that prefrontal cortex onboard, to then perhaps get that solid ground to then start practice. Or what’s the initial step here?

That’s right, the initial step is the agreement. That you make an agreement that when we get to those places and we start getting overheated, we’re making a commitment, like a holy vow: that we’re going to investigate what in the world is going on here that we keep coming back to this place? We want to understand what gets triggered here. Now, this is predicated on taking a very high level of responsibility to meet that commitment. Because it’s so obvious what the other person is doing and not doing and saying and not saying that’s triggering us, and we can feel like a victim of the other person. But if we start to not think in terms of victims and perpetrators, and think in terms of co-conspirators.

Yes, that’s what I was wondering of like, how to see your partner as an ally here.

That’s right, that we both have a part to play. Now it’s not so neat. It’s not even-steven that it’s 50-50. Sometimes it’s 60-40, it’s 70-30, 80-20, it could be 90-10. But we both have complicity when there’s some kind of a breakdown, and when we get so inflamed and we’re so triggered that we’re not thinking straight, and we say and do things that are unskillful. We make an agreement, steadfast, firm agreement, we’re going to stay engaged in a dialogue, no matter what it takes, no matter how courageous and vulnerable we need to be, no matter how patient and persistent we need to be, no matter how creative, if we need to get help. Because we keep hitting the same blind alley, that we’ll ask for professional help, or clergy, or a friend. Some people have a wise relative; they can go to grandma, granddaddy, or an aunt or uncle or parent. Some people have family of choice, that they’re not literally related to them, but they want somebody who’s really wise. It doesn’t always have to be a paid professional person. But to be willing to go outside the system, if you keep coming up against the same difficult place. To get another point of view. 

We live in a culture that doesn’t really honor intimate relating. It’s a very materialistic culture, and success is defined with money and status and power and not the depth of your intimate relationships. It breaks my heart that most of the people who get divorced haven’t even gone for one counseling session, what a shame! Because sometimes, if you can be willing to allow your difficulties to be seen—and everybody is challenged more or less—and not pretend that you’ve got it all together, you can get a different point of view, which could help you to break the impasse. That can make all the difference. 

I think we need to train our friends about how to support us. That we don’t go complaining to them and they say: Oh, my husband does the same thing. No, help me see how I get in my own way. Am I contributing to this difficulty that we keep cycling through this over and over and over again? Because sometimes, our friends, if we give them an engraved invitation to confront us, they can help us see what’s not so obvious to us about us, and they can get us out of that victim mentality. 

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“Once you get out of feeling victimized by the other person, and you locate the power within yourself, that’s where our real power is, to make changes. The way we dance with our partner, they have to dance differently with us. We’re not doing the same old steps anymore.”

Exactly. And with this firm, steadfast agreement, I wonder if it’s a learning curve to know when they’re in the more primal amygdala part of their brain and that reactive part? Or if they’re in that very prefrontal ability to be creative and see emotion and be grounded and regulated enough? I know it’s not either/or. How do you help people? Because if they’re saying: Yes, I’m going to stay with this, no matter how long it takes. But they’re triggered and activated, likely that’s not going to be fruitful, to your point. How do you help people discern when they’re in that place, or when they’re not in that place?

It’s the mindfulness practice of tuning in. When you tune in to your body, and you feel your chest is tight, you feel your jaw is clenched, you’re tensed and you’re tight, and you hear grumbling in your mind, doing it again, you start to notice: I am not in a place of empowerment right now. I’m losing energy, I’m losing influence. I’m losing power. I need to take care of myself. I need to use auto-suggestion. I need to say the words that will help me to realize that I’m going to get through this. We’ve had difficulties before, and we got through it. There are people available who can help me, I don’t have to hold the world up by myself. To settle ourselves down. It’s a felt sense, but you need to tune into your body. Then you start to know when you’re more at ease and when you’re open, or when you’re defended and you’re ready to battle them. To keep putting the emphasis on the accent on opening, and revealing rather than concealing, and expressing rather than repressing, and opening up rather than closing. That is the key. 

If people feel that it’s too dangerous to do that, they need to report out to their partner what it is that would help them to feel safer and more secure so they can open up. That’s a very powerful contract that a couple can make with each other, that they both feel respected at that level, that they want to both contribute to creating the foundation of safety and security, so that they can both be open and honest and vulnerable with each other. Because that’s the kind of exchange where both people can tune into what their needs are and tell the truth about them, which is, we have to stick our needs out there and tell the truth. That doesn’t guarantee that they’re going to be met, but it increases the chances that they might be met. It’s quite a powerful contract, when we have a contract with our partner that: “I will be vulnerable with you and tell you what my most important needs are. I will be forgiving for the times that you can’t meet them or you won’t meet them for whatever reason. But I want to meet your needs whenever I can, and I hope that you love me and care about me and respect me enough that you want to meet mine too. I want us to both feel safe, to be able to reveal what our needs are, and to negotiate for them.”

Okay. So to the question around discernment around when we’re able to engage in a new interaction, the fruitful, the talking meditation, and the way that you’re describing here, that the awareness of the body. You mentioned the fight, flight, or freeze. Just noticing the bodily cues, if the heart is racing or if the jaw is clenched, like you’re describing, or if we feel really disconnected and shut down, those are good indicators around our capacity or our ability. 

You’re talking about these agreements, and really being clear in the intention and what we’re in service of. Can you give some examples of that? I mean, one simple one, oftentimes, couples, to this point about being escalated or dysregulated, and then getting back into resolving something instead of sweeping it under the rug. Perhaps taking a 15-minute walk or doing something to take those breaths or get regulated, and then revisit. But oftentimes, it’s this classic: one person wants to walk away, the other one wants to stay in and flush it out. Typically, if there is a period of break, the one that feels more primed for abandonment knows that we will get through. Let’s make an appointment to come back, or we’re going to revisit this. So that that can be very reassuring. 

Also, how we do it. There’s a process you’re saying, of real commitment and ownership for each individual to be in this place of more reveal, more awareness, and more offering from this place of like: “Here’s what’s going on for me, here’s where I’m going, and I’m going to share that with you.” Typically, when we’re in a softer place, we want to lean in and we want to help. That’s that loving exchange and helping one another. Can you give some examples around what this looks like in practice, just for people who are listening?

Yes, thank you for asking. The mighty tool of intention is so powerful, that when you do a little preliminary work yourself, before you rush into the exchange. That you’re very polite, is this a good time to talk, rather than just blurting the topic out. That’s respectful, and it invites cooperation. If they say yes, then you announce your intention. I used to call this introductory remarks years ago, and I sometimes still refer to it as introductory remarks. It sounds something like: “I have something laying heavy on my heart, I really want to talk to you about it. I am not here to criticize you. I just want you to know that I love you so much, and I don’t want anything laying between us. I want the channel open and clear, and it’s because I want the greatest possible relationship that I’m bringing this up.” So I sandwich it at the beginning with something very positive and sincere, and then I talk about the thing that’s bothering me. Then I end with the sandwich on the other side about: “Thank you for listening. It means so much to me that you were willing to hear me and what’s bothering me.” So I can’t say enough about how mighty intention is. It has to be sincere, no BS. It has to be sincere for it to work, because the person will feel it if you’re buttering them up, or there’s any manipulation in it. So the intention, the invitation. 

One of the things that’s in our book, An End to Arguing, we have this chapter called: The most underutilized tool in the toolbox. The most underutilized tool in the toolbox is the timeout, and having the agreement in place before you get into the topic is important. If anybody gets overheated, they get to have a timeout. Shorter is better, and always within agreement to come back to the topic. Don’t let it go underground. That’s an agreement that’s very supportive of having a productive interchange. 

One of the things that I’m always talking to my couples about that I work with, is how extraordinarily important it is to be a champion of repair. We need to make a sincere, thorough apology when we screw up. If you messed up, fess up. It’s embarrassing. But if you do make a misstep, take responsibility for it. If you feel that you are in need of forgiveness, ask. “Are you willing to forgive me? I realized I had a cutting tone on my voice. I’d like to do that over. Could I begin again and do it over?” 

And making amends. “I realize I’ve been working so much. I’ve been so preoccupied with the kids. I’ve been so preoccupied with my new job. I feel I’ve neglected you. I’m so sorry, I hope you’ll forgive me. I don’t want you to think that this is an empty apology. I’m going to make it up to you and make amends. So I want to sweep you off your feet and take you away from it all, and let’s go to the beach this weekend.” To realize there’s so much power in taking that level of responsibility and showing our care in very tangible ways, the ways they want to be loved. 

I’m very, very appreciative of Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, because he really nails it. Even if that’s the most popular relationship book, Gary Chapman’s book, because it’s a little jewel. He talks about some people, I’m touch-aholic, I got the maximum amount of points you can get for touch. For some people, it’s words of affirmation, and some people it’s acts of service, and for others, it’s how they spend their quality time. I got no points for gifts. Neither one of us got any points for gifts. But some people, that’s important to them. And we must know our love language, and be willing to remind our partner that it may be very different than their love language. Because we tend to give the way we like to receive, but their language may be different. So my husband is not as touch-aholic as I am. But God bless him, he stretches into my world and cuddles me and caresses me a lot. But he is much more appreciative of acts of service, and he likes words of affirmation too. But everybody is different. This goes so, so far, heading off trouble at the pass. When people feel loved, they’re not so irritable. Maybe the chronic issue is flaring up again, but you have more goodwill about it because you feel like you’re getting lots of love.

Well, thank you for giving some language and some example. As you’re describing this, it feels that there’s both an attention to the bond and the quality of loving and bringing attention to that. I do think as humans, we have this propensity to be more negative-focused, especially when there’s challenges. That’s just survival mechanism in us, to be more tracking for challenges to mitigate. So to really bring into focus the attention for how much this person matters, and the intention around caring and showing up and the quality of the bond. And also, as you’re describing, there just seems like such a high level of emotional maturity to be able to both recognize, be aware of the nervous system state, to be able to take that pause, to do the U-turn, to look at self and ask those questions, and then to be able to take ownership. In all of your language, I’m hearing just this real recognition to be able to offer this vulnerability, this ownership, this transparency, so that the partner can see it’s not a blame. It’s not the sandwich of like: Here’s what’s good, and then here’s my attack, and then here’s my positive affirmation or appreciation. There’s a real ownership in what you’re allowing the other to see, and that just seems like a process for people to develop that. Do you want to speak to that?

I’m so glad that you’re asking about that. Because sometimes people are conflict-phobic, and they won’t say what’s hurting them because they’re afraid it’s going to come across as an attack. So they harbor it, and they hold it in. It doesn’t do anything except fester. When people realize that they can speak the truth without the blame and judgment, it opens up a whole new world to them. That underneath the irritability and the anger, even the rage, there’s always fear or hurt. 

If they make a commitment to each other that they want to keep the relationship safe and secure, to build the trust, because they’re both committed to growing a great relationship, then there’s room to get vulnerable, and speak about the fear that’s underneath the irritability and the anger and the resentment. To speak about the loneliness, and the hurt, that’s under there. That’s a totally different conversation. That’s a healing, learning conversation. It takes people out of the right and wrong and the good and bad and the black and white thinking. And when you’re not in right and wrong—nobody is the perpetrator and nobody is a victim, nobody is right and the other person is wrong—it takes you out of conflict mode, and then you’re companions on the path, you’re pilgrims on the path. You’re both committed to the same thing. You’re learning together, how to negotiate for your needs, and how to more deeply understand each other. That’s what lifts you into the thrives.

Yes. Can you tell me, it’s my science and my experience that this is a process that it’s not like, I acquired these skills, and then it’s forever now accessible? For me, depending on life circumstances, sometimes the challenges are more difficult or it asks me to look at different parts of myself. Or sometimes it feels scarier than others, depending on how resourced I am. Or just in my early stages of practicing, what you’re describing, I was not sure of my ability to do it, what was going to happen. And having enough practice with it, I am so committed to it, and plus I have enough experience now with my husband, that I know that most likely he’s going to respond. But in the beginning stages, I didn’t know that. But also, what came from just holding myself differently in it, it was worth that in and of itself. Just to have my own integrity around what I was sharing versus engaging in maybe old behaviors. I tend to do more of that questioning and seeking, and not really being in full contact with my own vulnerability. So is your sense of this, that it is a process, that it takes some developing and a learning curve?

Absolutely, it’s a process. It’s not rocket science. When you first commit yourself to it, it can feel really overwhelming. “How am I ever going to get this? Oh, this is so beyond me. I didn’t have good models. I don’t know if my partner is going to respond. Maybe we’re going to end up worse off.” It’s all in the book. There’s 101 valuable lessons, little short chapters. If people read this, study it, and implement it, it’s going to lift their relationship up. But it can be daunting when you first really commit yourself to studying this. It’s just, day by day, week by week, conversation by conversation, we get better at it. It’s like any skill. It’s like learning a foreign language or learning to play a musical instrument or growing into being an excellent parent. 

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“Some people have romantic notions about we love each other, and everything is just supposed to flow. No, it requires some skills. It’s on the job training.”

We may need a tutor. We may need books. We may need the workshops. We may need a counselor who really knows what they’re doing, to give us some guidance. 

But then we implement what we learn, and we notice: “Oh, I’m really enjoying my relationship. Whoa, we’re not fighting so much. Or that same subject comes up, but it’s not so inflamed anymore. Whoa, we’re really having a lot more good sex these days. I think we’re getting this stuff. I don’t feel afraid to bring the subjects up anymore. I feel like my concerns are welcome now, and I welcome my partner’s concerns. They seem to be more at ease. I noticed we’re laughing more.” The evidence starts to come in. So it’s just a skill set. Learning negotiation skills, conflict management skills, repair skills, and how to have a deeply intimate relationship where we really know the innermost parts of each other, that the other people that are alive don’t get to know those.

Absolutely, I mean, that’s where it’s at. It’s really the up-leveling, the dialing in. It’s going to these depths that we wouldn’t go to if we weren’t confronting and really showing, and the intimacy that comes. Anytime we go through something together, and we are stronger for it, that builds trust, that builds closeness, that builds so many of these intimate bond-connecting glue. So thank you. 

You’re already mentioning your book here. So what would you like to recommend in this, as a support tool here? 

Well, sometimes people feel like the The End to Arguing is a more advanced course and they want to take the basic first. I just tell people, get our first book: 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married. Because it’s nice and basic and platform. And when you start to implement some of the things that you learn there, then you can go on to some of our other books: Secrets of Great Relationships, and The End to Arguing. But I also like to encourage people to take a workshop. We cram a tonne of value into a weekend workshop, and we teach at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, for people who want to come out to California. We also teach at Kripalu for East Coast folks, and that’s in New England in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. We will be in the spring in May, at Esalen. And then we will be in the fall, in Kripalu, the last weekend in October. November, first we’ll be in Berkeley, California, with Love, Sex, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. 

So if people go to our website, our courses are always listed there. We’ve got all kinds of free stuff on our website. We’ve got free e-books for people to download. We’ve got several hundred blogs on Psychology Today, where we’ve got 10 million hits, so they’re user-friendly. We also have a lot of videos on our YouTube channel. So people can get a lot from Linda and Charlie Bloom. Sometimes that wets their appetite to attend one of our workshops, and that’s one of those gifts that keeps on giving. Because it filters down in the generations when we give our kids the great gift of a model of an exemplary relationship, a really happy couple that commits and brings out the best in each other. That’s hitting the jackpot in my book. 

Absolutely. Well, I’ll make sure to have all of these links on today’s show notes. Linda, thank you for sharing with us here today. I imagine people will be interested in getting one of your books, if not all of them, and also maybe even engaging in a workshop and going deeper with these principles. So thank you again.

Well, thank you for having me, and thank you for your very juicy questions.

You’re welcome! 

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching