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The Power of Working on Communication from the Beginning with Rob and Jo-Ann Kevala

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

The Beauty of Conflict Podcast Cover

CrisMarie: Welcome to the Beauty of Conflict, a podcast about how to deal with conflict at work, at home, and everywhere else in your life. I'm CrisMarie.

Susan: And I'm Susan. We run a company called Thrive, and we specialize in conflict resolution, communication, and building strong, thriving teams and relationships. Conflict shows up in our lives in so many ways. Most people unfortunately, are not very good at handling conflict. Most people have never been taught the right tools for dealing with conflict and then it leads to unnecessary friction, arguments, passive aggressive emails, tears, hurtful comments, stuckness, all kinds of things we don't want. We're on a mission to change all of that.

Susan: We spent the last 20 years teaching our clients how to handle conflict in a whole new way.

CrisMarie: We're here to show you that conflict doesn't have to be scary and overwhelming. With the right tools, you can turn a moment of conflict into a moment of reinvention. Conflict can pave the way into a beautiful new system at work, a new way of leading your team, a new way of parenting, a new chapter of your marriage where you feel more connected than ever before. Conflict can lead to beautiful things.

We're delighted to have Rob and Jo-Ann Kevala on the show today. They are a couple who attended our Couples Alive workshop that we co-designed and lead up at the Haven in British Columbia.

CrisMarie: Welcome to the show Jo-Ann and Rob.

Jo-Ann: Thanks, thanks for having us.

Rob: Thank you.

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CrisMarie: We are so excited that you're here and just for our listening audience, you two are in a relationship.

Rob: We are.

CrisMarie: But there would also be ... Still, it's still happening. Why don't you first tell us a little bit about you individually, like what you do, your backgrounds, and then about your relationship, like where you live, how long you've been together, do you own a home together, pets, kids, things like that.

Rob: A bit of my history is, I was 34 years in the military. I left there and ever since, I'd be running a neurofeedback institute. I was married three times before. I try and say I've only married twice before, but the truth is I married three times before. At the time when I was looking for somebody, I realized that I wanted a partner in life. I wanted somebody that was my equal and that didn't need me. I was looking for somebody who didn't need somebody but wanted to be in a relationship. That's what I definitely found.

CrisMarie: Good.

Jo-Ann: For me, I mean I had been married twice before. I was sort of a single parent and co-parented with my kids, two boys' dad. But had been a single parent from when they were quite young. I'd had another marriage that had ended quite badly. So I was in a state of, not sure about relationships when I met Rob. But really liked who he was, and also was looking for someone. I had a history of running over my relationships, being in charge and not necessarily ...

I would sort of cut and run at the end of them, rather than work through problems. So I also knew that I didn't want to go through another relationship with someone where I was the boss and I was in charge, and I wanted more of an equal type relationship.

CrisMarie: That's neat. I mean, I guess Rob, you did pull in somebody that you weren't going to have to take care of. Actually the other way, she might take too much charge.

Rob: I think both our favorite sayings is, "You're not the boss of me."

Jo-Ann: Yeah. That's probably what mattered most in the earlier stages of our relationship.

Susan: How long have you two been together?

Jo-Ann: 12 years.

Rob: 12 years. Yeah.

Jo-Ann: Yeah.

Susan: Wow. Good. You even gave the same answer at the same time. Sometimes that doesn't happen.

Jo-Ann: He's attached me on his arm.

Rob: It's not like I forgot.

CrisMarie: Jo-Ann, you have kids from your previous marriage?

Jo-Ann: Yeah.

CrisMarie: And Rob, you do as well?

Rob: Well, that's the shocking thing is, we both have two boys and not only that, but each of us have a boy named Matthew James.

CrisMarie: Oh, how funny.

Susan: Oh wow.

CrisMarie: I had no idea.

Susan: I didn't know that. That's amazing.

Jo-Ann: Yeah when we started living together, we had, I think four teenagers between ages. It was 13 and-

Rob: Mine just finished. Mine were 20 and 22, and yours were just stepping in. So I got to do two teenage years with four boys, so ...

CrisMarie: Wow, that's a lot of testosterone in the house.

Jo-Ann: Oh yeah.

Rob: Even our male dogs.

Susan: That's right, you have two dogs in addition, they're still there huh?

Rob: Yeah, yeah, yeah. She's ran a male dominated testosterone household for quite a while. Wait did I just say she's ran it?

Jo-Ann: Yeah.

CrisMarie: Now when you first met, what was something that really attracted you to each other? Like was it, you know, Rob's eyes or Jo-Ann's sense of humor or kindness or something completely different?

Jo-Ann: We met at hot yoga and so we actually met at a yoga class where we hadn't talked quite a lot, so we mostly saw each other half naked across a room.

Rob: Yeah, not wearing much clothes.

Jo-Ann: We both have very different stories about each other. My story of him was, he was a sort of, you know, zen kind of mellow guy and ...

Rob: Then my story was that she was a Martha Stewart that I wanted to corrupt.

Susan: A Martha Stewart?

CrisMarie: Oh I love it. I love how you actually recognize what you were projecting onto each other. And how long did you believe those stories about each other or did you decide to check it out or what happened?

Jo-Ann: Well I think we learned pretty quickly that neither of us ... I mean, we were intrigued with each other, but neither of us were the person that would imagine the other was.

Rob: We talked a little bit to each other for over a year, but we were both in relationships. And so it was just a, you know, conversation for about five or 10 minutes before class. And then one day I noticed ... She's the only person in yoga who walked in here with rings and watch on, and she'd put this little pile in front of her, her rings and watch. And one day I noticed that the watch came off and there was no rings. So, I chatted to her and I said I noticed that. And it turned out again, something odd that both our respective spouses left our individual homes at the same month, months before.

CrisMarie: Oh my goodness! I can't believe that.

Rob: So we chatted and ...

Jo-Ann: Yeah, we ended up tempting dating but we were both busy and then I was heading off to a program for a couple of months.

Rob: Well we actually did date three times.

Jo-Ann: Yeah. Okay, cool. I was still dating other people though.

Rob: Yeah, we actually kissed and then she left for a month core long course. Yeah, which was excellent because it turned out we ... It was a course called phase three at the Haven and because of being away, we had to get acquainted the old fashioned way of talking and phoning, and no physical contact until she had a little one-day break and then we were like schoolchildren on a bench in a park.

CrisMarie: Well what finally sealed the deal that you decided, "Hey, we're going to make a go at this, third or fourth time?"

Jo-Ann: Well, it's interesting because we started a relationship and because I was doing a lot of personal work and I decided that my pattern in relationships had been to sort of keep a lot of secrets and only share portions of myself that I thought would be attractive to the other person. This wasn't particularly working very well for me. So I thought I would just kind of bare my soul and tell ...

I remember writing him a long email and telling him, because I'd had a history of some affairs in my previous relationship and other things that I wasn't particularly proud of, but I was tired of hiding that part of myself and not owning it. So I kind of wrote him a letter that said, you know, bared my soul. And then I got back to this one word email that said, "Oh."

CrisMarie: Oh my gosh, really? That's all you said, Rob?

Rob: But, what happened is, I was about to write this long email back and when I pressed, oh, I pressed send instead of enter. So I did follow right away with a ...

Jo-Ann: Phone call.

Rob: ... a phone call.

Jo-Ann: But there was a feeling like, well I guess that experiment didn't work.

Rob: And as I think she did that, I had no idea what she was, you know, she was on this journey of, you know, honesty in that. But because she did that, I felt that gave me a license to be honest myself. And so we just started learning each other's history.

Jo-Ann: And I've done a lot of personal work and I said to him, "If you're going to be in a relationship with me, you're going to need skills." Good communication skills.

Rob: But, but what happened is, she at that time, I remember her saying to me, "Well, you know I'd really like to get to know each other and maybe remain friends, you know," and I had to be honest and say, "You know, at this point in my life, I've done that. I have a lot of friends. I'm actually looking for a life partner. I'm not looking for another friend." I think that's the first time anybody's ever ...

Jo-Ann: Yeah, I was kind of looking for friends with benefits and Rob said, "Yeah, no I have enough friends."

So that actually was a turning point because he had really clear ideas about what he wanted and was really good about communicating it. And that was attractive to me because I'd had a history of sort of kind of getting my way in relationships and so the fact that he would take a stand with me was attractive. I don't know if it's still attractive, it's probably why we're still together and our relationship is quite strong is that, you know, we started doing the Couples Alive programs and others.

And what we learned was, you know, how to communicate, how to set clear boundaries with each other. And I think because we did some of those programs early in our relationship, when we did get into trouble, we actually had the skills to work through it.

Rob: Right at the beginning. Yeah, right during our first trip to Mexico, you know, together. Early within a-

Jo-Ann: We were in romance for probably about three or four months and then we were in heavy, heavy conflict. And sort of a power struggle and learned that, you know, we needed to communicate to get through that.

Rob: I needed to use my skills that I learned and communication or it just wasn't going to work. We were on an isolated beach and what was going in through your mind when I ...

Jo-Ann: I was figuring out how I was going to get a cab to the airport and leave you in Mexico.

Rob: And I was thinking, well, I guess I'm going to stay and enjoy my holiday anyway. But we're driving back not talking at all.

Jo-Ann: For probably two hours.

Rob: Until I finally ... Practically praying the whole time going, what have I learned? What do

I do? What can I say? Communication, communication. Finally I said, "If you don't mind, I'd really like to sit down and talk about what just happened." And I think that's what ...

Jo-Ann: Yeah, I think you said, "I'd like to check something out with you."

Rob: Yeah.

Jo-Ann: And I'm like, "Oh well, I've got a couple of minutes before I get the plane."

CrisMarie: So walk me back a bit because I'm a probably a little confused. It sounds like you guys went on this trip, you were in Mexico together and something occurred that made you each have an experience of, "That's it. We're done. This isn't gonna work." You were going to stay on vacation, Rob, and Jo-Ann, you had decided, "That's it, I'm flying back home." But was it a particular fight you had or was it just, "Wow, we're ...

Jo-Ann: I think it was this difficult defense pattern that we get into. It's like, you know, I think he said something.

Rob: I said, "Oh yeah you're always raging," or something like that.

Jo-Ann: Yeah. And I felt dismissed and it's a similar pattern that we still do, but it escalated. In the early stages of our relationship, it would escalate pretty fast where I felt dismissed and he felt attacked.

Rob: Yeah.

Jo-Ann: I grew up in a family where we could communicate and fighting was quite a good thing. Like, you know, it's how you communicated and how you solved problems and so when I would say something, but he grew up where that just didn't happen. So the minute I would raise my voice or get excited about something, he would just want to dismiss me.

Rob: Shut down and, yeah.

Jo-Ann: And shut me down.

Rob: And so we literally drove like two hours we were literally on an isolated beach and we had to drive back. We were in the middle of nowhere and we went back to the Jeep not talking to each other because I remember saying, "Yeah, of course, you're right about everything." And I was mad and you were too. Unless one of us said something, I think we would've just carried on and packed our bags. And that was it. We were both taking our stand and neither one of us were moving.

CrisMarie: Well good job Rob, that you actually remembered what you learned in Couples Alive and we're willing t