How to be ME in a WE
Updated: Nov 18, 2019
We’re giving you an inside look!
This week’s podcast episode is all about things you can use in your own personal relationships to grow them closer to where you want them to be, starting today!
We are going to dive into some of what we share in our new book The Beauty of Conflict for Couples so you can begin thinking about these ideas and tools in your own relationship.
One thing we focus on is this idea that we all begin thinking relationships will be perfect- we will always be close, it will always be loving, it will fill our needs.
And then we get into relationships and they don’t always behave in a way we expected in our minds. This can show up in big and small ways, from the way they put on the toilet paper roll to how they interact with our families.
Our work with this has never been about making things smooth, we’re not fixing at a surface level, but learning how you can not lose yourself in your relationship, but be yourself and be in a healthy relationship.
It’s about how to be the ME in a WE.
So today we’re sharing our insights around this on the show and hope you will take away some thoughts or actions you can start using in your own relationship.
We hope you enjoy it and please let us know what you think about this ME in a WE idea!
Find Your Mojo in Montana - Early bird is open now
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. 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.
CrisMarie: We spent the last 20 years teaching our clients how to handle conflict in a whole new way. 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.
Susan: Hi everybody.
CrisMarie: The purpose of today's webinar, live-streaming, if it occurs, is really to give you an inside look into the book, and to give you things that you can apply to your relationship today, because a lot of times, we get involved in relationships, and then we start to realize this person, they're not behaving the way I want them to.
Susan: I think what you're saying is we imagine that this relationship is just going to be wonderful. We're always going to feel close. We're always going to be loving. It's going to just fulfill all of our wishes and dreams, and we're going to have someone to love life with.
CrisMarie: Then they don't behave in the manner in which I've been accustomed in my mind, like Susan may leave her socks on the floor, or I thought she was going to protect me, and she winds up not being so protective, or whatever it is. You thought they were going to always be on time, and they wind up being a late person all the time.
Susan: There are so many ways it shows up. You wanted to have a dog, and your partner really is a cat person. There's little things. There's big things, from different... Polyamory versus monogamy, to you want cats versus dogs, to how you even put the toothpaste lid on, or whether you put your socks out in the... leave your socks out or not.
CrisMarie: Because we tend to be well-behaved at the beginning of a relationship, and then things start to really happen, and then people relax and become themselves, and all of a sudden, they're just not who you thought they were. We have a book for you, because really, conflict is a natural part of any relationship. However, we grow up thinking... I grew up thinking a good relationship is one where everything is smooth. I thought it was my job to make sure everything was smooth. The way that I did that is I kept a lot inside. I thought, well, I'm not going to bring that up, because it might upset her, or I'm not going to say that, or I'll just let go of this part. It's not so important to me.
We even had one woman we were... She was in a Relationship Mojo class with us. She wasn't willing to leave the relationship, and she said, "Maybe in my next life, I can have the relationship that I want." That was just so painful. She shifted, and she wound up leaving that relationship, and she's much healthier now, but at the time it was like, no, do not sacrifice yourself to keep the relationship. So many people do.
Susan: I mean, here's the thing about it, is we have these two drives that are pretty inherent to being human. One is we do want to connect. We actually want to attach. We like that feeling of a safe place to land and be present. Then we also want to be self-differentiated and autonomous.
CrisMarie: Our own self.
Susan: Our own selves. That is a conflict that exists inside of us, and actually exists between us. In relationships, that is always coming up, like how can I be me, this person, my full me, be my expression of who I am? How can I also know that there's a we here that's going to... have somebody who has my back? We all have both of those desires, and yet they can sure be at odds and conflict with each other, which is one of the biggest challenges of relationships.
CrisMarie: Yeah, so in the book, we talk about the ME axis, and then we talk about the WE axis. The ME axis is how much am I in touch with what I feel, what I want, and even what I'm thinking? Because what happened for me, when I grew up around my family environment, I was so worried about pleasing and keeping the peace that I got really good at it. I had Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours of conflict avoidance training, growing up around my dinner table. As a result, after a while, I really started to lose touch with, well, what is it that I feel? Is this what I want? I don't even know. I was pretty disconnected from the internal me-ness.
We work with people, both in the coaching and the programs we do. Even in the book, we give you some exercises to really connect in what is it that I want? Especially if you feel like, wow, I'm living my life as a fraud, or if they only knew the real me, then all of this wouldn't work. Those are signs that you really want to spend time connecting with you on that ME axis.
Susan: Then the other axis is what we refer to as the WE axis. I mean, really it's your relationship, your coupledom, but it's also any other in your world. It could be your kids, could be your colleagues at work. The we is that bridge between us. You know, the thing about it is there is always a gap between me and the other person. I mean, the reality of it is me just understanding myself is almost impossible. To imagine that I could understand and know this other person completely is crazy. We all have put our world together differently, and there's always that how do you balance and navigate that gap between me and this other person?
CrisMarie: And you know, we-
Susan: Can I be curious and interested in the fact that this other person put the world together differently than me? So many times, there's been traumas or other events that have stopped us from actually really engaging in who is that other person?
CrisMarie: We do learn our relationship skills, really, through watching our parents, and developing our own skills in reaction to our parents and whatever family system we're in. That's the extent of our learning. We don't go to school and go to Relationship 101, rarely, so we just keep repeating these patterns that we learned probably even before we could talk, a lot of these relationship patterns, and so it's about interrupting that old pattern and finding new ways of responding, so that I can get to know this person over here versus how I've been trained to get to know the other person on the other side.
Susan: We introduce this in the book, and talk a little bit about why people even enter into relationships, because a long time ago, I mean, it really was a matter of probably survival and procreation, and it was very... Nowadays, you don't have to have a relationship, but there might be reasons why you choose to. When we've interviewed and talked to people, they give us all sorts of reasons.
Some people want somebody who they can travel with and have adventures with. Other people want someone who they can have their kids with and raise a family, or maybe they want to build a business together. There's all sorts of reasons that people choose to get into relationships.
CrisMarie: Although they still find that men... The first quality that all of us want in a mate is kindness. They've shown this in a study.
Susan: That's interesting. Yeah, this is a new-
CrisMarie: Men still want sexually attractive women.
Susan: Young women.
CrisMarie: That means, usually, in Western society, a tiny waist and tiny feet. Now, if you go to societies outside of the Western culture, they actually like women that have big feet and big waists, because their surefootedness, and they're sturdy, but not all part of Western society likes that.
Susan: Generally speaking, what women want is that they want to be able to have security and know that whoever they're with will have the means to support them. Now, that's interesting research that's been done with younger people, in terms of picking who they're going to date. I do think those are still drivers. It's amazing that they're still there, you know?
CrisMarie: You know, it's funny, because I never came out thinking... I thought, I have to financially support myself. I never thought of... although now I would really like it.
Susan: She keeps hoping I'm going to be that million dollar card that's going to... Just wish it.
CrisMarie: Yeah, but I definitely didn't think... I thought I wanted somebody. What starts to happen is we start to get a romance about who our partner is. You see them across the room, and your bells go off, and just because of the way they look, or how they hold their head or open a car door, or whatever it is, we start these stories about who this person is to us. It's our romance.
I know that when I met Susan, my romance was she was facilitating this group of people, and she dealt with this bully. I grew up with one, and so I thought, great, somebody who's going to protect me from the bullies in the world, and she's going to be strong and powerful. That was my romance coming in.
Susan: I think that's so funny. I never knew that that was exactly what it was that drew me in, and likewise, I looked over at her. A friend of mine had told me she was an Olympic athlete. I was just thrilled about that. She did have great eyes and, in my opinion, a great torso also. There are lots of things I was drawn to, but what really struck me was she was an Olympian. I imagined that if we ever got together, here was going to be someone who shared my passions for sports and the outdoors and doing athletic activities.
CrisMarie: That doesn't happen.
CrisMarie: I don't like that.
Susan: I'm very sure I didn't tell her that early on.
CrisMarie: No, I didn't know any of that, nor, but that didn't fit... Again, so what was happening is we were both having a relationship with our imagination. It's like I'm projecting a movie over there, and I've cast her in a part, and she has no idea what she's cast in, so she's just being her, which really doesn't work well for me, if I've got a different role that I want her to play.
Susan: Yes, I mean, one of the things we talk about in the book is it can be really important to start to think about, what was the story I told myself about this person, because during that... A couple things about romance, and we mention this in the book, one thing, it's a pretty drug-related experience. When you're in love with someone, it's like all these dopamines get released into your system.
CrisMarie: Yeah, neurotransmitters, dopamine, serotonin is shooting off. Everything seems great.
Susan: Truthfully, you are having a relationship, at that point, with your own imagination. You're projecting that story out on the other person. We don't want to squelch romance.
CrisMarie: It's fun! Oh, we love romance. That's what draws us together.
Susan: Yeah, that's what actually makes it. I mean, if it weren't for a strong romance, we would never go through what it takes to actually have a sustainable relationship. Think about it, when you think of your children. They have to be cute, or you would not tolerate that. I even think of that with our dogs. We don't have kids. They're cute, and that actually helps us attach to them, bond with them, so romance is vitally important.
CrisMarie: That is the goal of the romance phase. Susan's bringing in kids, because we have romances not just about our partner, but about stages in our life, having kids, buying a new house, moving to a new city, starting a new job. All of these are romances, where we're making up stories about how it's going to be when we have that over there. We just want to call attention to it's all made up. Sure, some of it may wind up being true, but when you're in a primary relationship, this other human being has a lot more inside of them that we don't know about yet.
Susan: Even if you're at a later stage in your relationship, and you think you've lost that romance, sometimes actually even just going back and talking about, what was it that attracted to me? What stories did I tell myself? That can begin to stimulate and stir that romantic, rekindle that romance again.
CrisMarie: You know, even in the book, how this is designed is at the end of each chapter, we have different things that you can explore, either on your own or together, and I think this is the romance chapter. I have to get my book now.
Susan: She doesn't have her glasses on.
CrisMarie: Yeah, this first one is take some time to write down what originally attracted you to your mate. Think of physical qualities, as well as other characteristics. What were your original hopes and dreams of who you would be together? As time passed, have you noticed a gap between who you fantasized they would be, and who they actually are? Then, how do you see your original romance continuing to show up? Because it does, so much.
Susan: Here's the thing. If you don't-
CrisMarie: There's more questions on the back of that, too.
Susan: If you don't explore this romance, you could make a decision that, oh, this person is no longer that romantic person. I need... Obviously, I picked the wrong person. I'm going elsewhere.
CrisMarie: Well, that's often when I get a call and she's like, oh, I think I have the wrong person.
Susan: The reality of it is, if you leave it at that, you're just going to go find somebody else, who looks-
CrisMarie: Good on the outside.
Susan: Outside, and probably all... You may be attracted for a different reason, but likely those same patterns are going to show up, if you don't do something to consciously begin to address, what is my romance? What is it I'm wanting? What do I project out on the screen? Think of it like a movie. What's the movie that I'm imagining into the future? Because I'm probably trying to create that, and what happens is you-
CrisMarie: Well, I just wanted to say, no matter where you go, there you are. You can change the person in the movie, but they're never... Even if you get somebody closer, they're never going to match that part exactly. They're really not.
Susan: Here's the thing, though. You're in that romance. You really do believe. I really did believe this Olympic athlete was going to be biking, hiking, camping, and exploring with me. I still have roots of that imagination in there, but I get compelled to want to be in this relationship. Then we get together, and we start living together day after day.
CrisMarie: Oh, my God, you make it sound so laborious, day after day.
Susan: Well, sometimes what happens is you start to notice, wait a minute. They do not clean up well, you know? I do not like the way that they do the dishes, or I am not fond of the fact that we are always late getting to the airport. It doesn't matter-
CrisMarie: Or we don't have sex enough. I thought we were going to have more sex. We did in the beginning, and now we don't.
Susan: All these things, these little things, start to happen. Now we're not... It's kind of like, we're like, okay, but maybe if I just push a little here, manipulate. It's like, if I could just change them just a little, it's all going to be okay.
CrisMarie: Usually, we try to hint or manage or move them over. One of the things with Susan is we both wanted to work together, so that was part of a joint romance. I wanted us to work in the corporate world, so I brought her into a corporate client, and she showed up in very casual clothes, and I was-
Susan: I might be failing at that again today, as I have on my Smartwools.
CrisMarie: We're in our casual office.
Susan: Okay, good.
CrisMarie: I thought she was going to be this... I just thought she wouldn't be wearing that, jeans and a sweater. I didn't actually address that with her directly. No, instead what I did is that afternoon, I'd called a personal shopper at Nordstrom's. We were in Seattle, and I took her to a personal shopper, thinking, oh, maybe this will... She used to be like, "What is all this? I don't like these clothes," because I wasn't being direct and saying what I really wanted, which is, "I don't like the way you dress," or, "This isn't okay for me that you show up in such casual clothes when I take you to a corporate client." Anything like that would spark a real conversation versus me just manipulating her and trying to make her conform to my role in the movie that I want her to play.
Susan: Of course, I didn't get it, because I didn't know that-
CrisMarie: She didn't.
Susan: Really what she was trying to do was get me to look more corporate, or look a certain way. I remember, I took her out on a tandem bike ride, thinking this would be great. In my opinion, it was great. We were in Seattle. We had a wonderful time, and she did not tell me how miserable she was. I know you told me later you weren't really pedaling. To this day, she doesn't own up to that.
CrisMarie: I think I was actually pedaling really hard, because I was angry, and I didn't like being angry.
Susan: I thought we were going to be biking forever. We've taken one other bike trip since then. It's talked about in the book. I won't give it away, but that was at my 50th birthday. Let's just say, that is not really what pulls us together.
Susan: I'm now rooting for a Peloton, and I want to get the family... See, our romance continues, because I figure maybe inside with the bike...
CrisMarie: Anyway, so what we're saying is we want you to think about what was your original romance, and how does it still play out, maybe in smaller ways, maybe in different ways? Now, I did actually become more direct with Susan, and I hooked her up with a personal stylist, and she's come up with a style that works for her and me, when we go to corporate events.
Susan: The thing about it is there's two parts to this. One is really beginning to explore. What was my movie screen? What was my romance? Then also look at what are the ways that I've been doing little things to get what I want, and can I own up to it? This isn't about telling your partner all the things you thought they were doing to make you different, but it's about you sharing in this conversation. I can't believe I did this, but really here's what I did to try to get you just to be a little bit different, but we never talked about it.
CrisMarie: Yeah, you know, I'm trying to think of how that happens with me wanting you to be all that and take care of things, because it still, I'm sure, comes up. You could probably tell it.
Susan: I could, but we're not going there, because that'd be more like a therapy session, or coach.
CrisMarie: It might be more entertaining for them.
Susan: It might be more... Okay, so you go through that, and you try to make these little tweaks, and you don't talk about it. A lot of stuff... Here's the thing. As a marriage and family therapist for years, I realized that couples don't break up because of big things. It may look like that. It's the affair, or somebody wanting to have