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!
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The Beauty of Conflict for Couples
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 a different job, or have children, or not have... It can seem like those really big things that make or break a marriage, but really it's all those little things that don't get talked about. Again and again, this shows up, and that in couples, what is most critical is that they know how to talk about their differences.
It's not about being loving and smooth. We may be looking for kindness, but we actually need to know how to deal with the conflict that's going to happen in an open, real way, as we get into that tension. When you can't control your partner, then you start to feel tension inside of you, because this isn't what I wanted. This isn't the way I... It gets uncomfortable. It gets uncomfortable inside of you, and then, ultimately, between you.
CrisMarie: It's such a great normalizer. I sometimes think about famous couples, Michelle and Barack, or whoever that Brad's broken up from everybody, but I was thinking about they can have people take care of everything, the food, laundry, whatever, nanny, but they cannot... You're stealing the sheets from the bed, like, no, these are my sheets. Those things, or like, could you close the door when you go to the bathroom? Whatever they are, those little intimate things where we go, huh, with the other person, everybody deals with them. I mean-
CrisMarie: Every single couple deals with them, yeah.
Susan: The thing about it is, it can seem like... I know a lot of people want to avoid that conflict, but the actual allowance of that tension and that ambiguity that comes up when you and I are different, that's really the juice and the fuel for a relationship. That's where, if you know how to use it, but what happens is it blows up into what seems... what we call conflict, then power struggles, and it's often very uncomfortable, because we don't know how to handle that. We tend to want to just cope or survive or what we-
CrisMarie: Or just even say, "Okay, forget it. I'm sorry." That takes all that tension away, which we think is a potential energy source, and maybe you have great makeup sex, but you haven't really resolved that issue, so the next time the other person's pulling on those sheets again, you're going to get just as annoyed, or bigger, because you haven't dealt with the first, or the first 30 or 100 times it's happened.
What happens is that's one cycle. People say, "Oh, I'm sorry. Let's just forget it," and they stuff it down. The other ways that we see people typically cope, and we go through these, are what we call opt-out styles. The first one is the superstar. The superstar is like, well, okay, we have a problem. I'm just going to go solve it. This is what I think we should do, and I'm just going to take care of it, and really stops talking to the other person, and just makes it happen.
I mean, this comes up in our business. I'm just like, well, I'll solve it. I'll just write this report, or I'll just do this, and I don't include Susan, and nine times out of ten, when I don't do that, it's not as good, because it's just me doing it. We have no creative energy in it.
Susan: Well, some of it. It's not as good, but also there's usually a point you reach where again-
CrisMarie: I'm very resentful.
Susan: She's really mad, and I had no idea that she was doing all these things. Some of them weren't even things that I thought we should be doing. That can happen. The other way... That's the opt-out style of what we refer to as the superstar.
CrisMarie: The superstar really values action and results, and thinks, hey, I don't need to talk. I've got the right way. I'm just going to make it happen, and she's probably going to thank me in the end. It can even be a little bit like, and you know what? She couldn't figure it out anyway, like I know more. It has a little bit more arrogance in it, at times.
Susan: Also, if you are one of those people who always wants to solve the problem, the fixer is someone who often will fall into that superstar category, because they're trying to fix it. They may not be dealing with the right problem, but that's not the point. They have a solution, and they think they know what it is. It's mostly designed.
It can seem like you're trying to be helpful, but let's face it. Most of you are uncomfortable, and it's like, if we could just solve this problem now, all this tension I'm feeling would be gone. That's the superstar.
CrisMarie: The next one is the accommodator. The accommodator really values harmony and relationships. This is me, wanting to keep things smooth, and so-
Susan: She's telling you. She was the-
CrisMarie: I was.
Susan: Superstar the last time, and now she's telling you she's the accommodator. Just to know, in advance, we all have little remnants of these.
CrisMarie: Well, this was definitely one where I started in the relationship. I think I'm more a superstar in our work, but I was an accommodator early on, like I'm not going to really say my opinion. It's too hard to disagree. She's going to get reactive. I don't want to deal with that, so I'll let it go, but what happens is that starts to eat at me, and eventually I start to feel pretty apathetic, like well gosh, is this all there is? This is the role that I have to play. I'm trying to be the good wife or the good whatever, daughter. This could happen in lots of different relationships, mother, employee.
Then I can start to become passive-aggressive, because I'm really not getting what I want, because I'm not bringing it forward. I'm stuffing it, and then I'm going to zing. It's going to come out sideways.
Susan: This is where, when we talked about earlier, the me and the we, anytime you're so worried about, I may lose this relationship, there's a good chance, if that's your primary focus, that you're going to nice it to death. That's the accommodator style, usually, because you're so afraid that this person's going to leave you, that you don't risk actually bringing yourself into the equation.
CrisMarie: Okay, now the third style is what we call the separator. We have little checklist things. You can check and see which one you are, but this one really values clarity and calm, and doesn't really like dealing with anything emotional inside of them or inside of anybody else, and so is like, you know what? I'm just going to go do something else, because this is a little too much, so let me go, I don't know, mow the lawn, or go grocery shopping, anything to get out of this tension. I just want to get out of here.
Susan: Yeah, or maybe it's like there's problems with the kids at home and parenting, but this person will choose to... I've got to go back to work, because I've got an important project there, and my job is what pays the bills here. Really, what they're avoiding is this tension that they're feeling around what's happening at home, maybe with the kids or wherever else, and so they go and focus where they think they can do something productive that's going to help.
CrisMarie: Now, each of these styles, it's not necessarily bad. It's a way that we've learned to cope with this energy inside of us and between us when there's conflict. It's a way that we've gotten through that situation. The problem is, it's not leveraging or using that energy of conflict to come up with something that would actually make us feel more connected, or more intimate together, or come up with a brilliant solution that we hadn't thought of before. We'll just keep recreating what we have already, and it leads to disconnection, misery, apathy.
Susan: Well, it could end eventually... Yeah, apathy or a decision to go outside the relationship, to end it. Often, that's because that conflict isn't really getting utilized as fully as it can. A big focus of the book comes down to how do you actually lean into that? How do you start to use conflict, and not just avoid it?
CrisMarie: There's three key areas that we think are really important, which we've been talking about: the me, the we, and then the situation, the context or the situation that we're in, whether it's talking about kids or marriage, or jobs, or whatever, or the chores. That's the situation, but we start with the me. We think all of those are, if I had a peace sign, and you'll see this in the book. There's a peace sign, which each of them should be equal. What happens is we tend to omit one of those in those coping styles, the opt-out styles.
One of the things in the me, the big thing, is to actually learn how you opt out, and what's going on in your nervous system that was entrained in you really young, when you were a child, because you just keep repeating that. We give you tools in the book to interrupt that, to actually come back and settle your nervous system, so that you can make a different choice in the midst of conflict, when you're feeling that tension. It can feel like life or death. We were just on a podcast today, and we were talking about that life or death feeling. It feels like, oh my gosh, when you're in the midst of that conflict.
Susan: Even as we're going through this, I realized we must be talking fast, because this is the point at which, usually, we're 40 minutes into something, and we're only 30 minutes in.
CrisMarie: And we had all those technical issues.
Susan: I know. I think this would be a good time to actually take a few deep breaths ourselves, and so-
CrisMarie: This is one of the tools.
Susan: Yeah, because if you are out there, and you're listening, just see if you can ground. Put your feet on the floor. Feel your bum in the seat, your back, if you're in a chair. Feel the support of that. Maybe even let your eyes either go soft, or close them, and see if you can let your jaw drop open a little bit.
Now, if you're in an office, you're not going to do this maybe as fully, but to some degree you can. Begin to let yourself take a few deep breaths. Slow down your breath, and increase the length of your inhale.
CrisMarie: You can even put your hands on your low belly, because that's really where you want to invite the breath to fill. When we're scared, we tend to be in our chest, and faster, so lower, and into your low belly slower.
Susan: Now, when I'm at a client site, I might do the same thing. Likely then I won't close my eyes, but I'll take a breath through my nose, and maybe through a slightly open mouth, but I consciously slow it down, taking a longer inhale, taking a longer exhale. The other thing to do, at the same time you're doing that, is to let your feet... If your feet are on the ground, rub them on the ground. If you're sitting at work, you can just curl them up in your shoes, something to move you down into your body, because this is really huge... Your body is a huge resource for you, so allowing yourself to regularly remember that it's there, because it's-
CrisMarie: Well, so often, when we're in stress, we... At least for me, energetically, I'm up and out of my body. We literally... There's brain science that shows your IQ drops 10 to 15 points when you're in that stressful situation. Those are the types of situations we're trying to make decisions on, in work and at home. These are tools that we're going to continue using that, or showing you, but that help settle you, and activate more of this blood flow in the rest of your body, and they bring your brain back online, so they make you smarter.
Susan: In any situation. Again, even if... Usually, if you're in a big, hot situation with your partner, you could take a moment to say, "Hey, before we go any further, I just want to take a couple of deep breaths." Now, I encourage you not to say, "I think we both need to breathe," because that can lead to other problems.
CrisMarie: We both need to is the problem.
Susan: It's usually not the best way to handle that, but if you just say, "Let me take a moment, because I think if I take a few deep breaths, it's going to be helpful for me, because then I might be able to listen better. I want my IQ to go back up."
CrisMarie: I talked over Susan. Sorry about that, but it's the phrases, "I think we both need to..." or, "I think we're both getting defensive." Let's say those are just not really good phrases that are going to help you in the midst of conflict with your honey. What Susan's saying is just talk about yourself and what your needs are. Even if you're thinking your partner needs it, it doesn't usually help to talk about them.
Susan: I know this is one that comes up between us. I think CrisMarie will notice what can happen for me when I'm under stress is my nostrils start to flare.
CrisMarie: She does.
Susan: It's not that... Okay, anyway, I can tell I'm getting defensive now. No, and then usually, there's, "Susan, you're getting kind of angry." It is just like, all of a sudden, what happens for me is it's just like having a little bit of fuel thrown on what is an embering fire, a lot probably, but still, all of a sudden I'm hot versus when she tells me she's uncomfortable. That's very different. I can get curious and interested in that. Even if I am angry, I usually don't get curious and interested if I feel I'm under attack. It's so easy, and to remember those things with the person who you love and care about.
CrisMarie: Even when you want to attack them, because it's that short-term gain of, ooh, I got to attack them, but you know it's not really from your higher self, nor is it really going to work to help the situation.
Shifting gears and talking about the me, and the way you can do that is settling yourself. Feeling your feet and your seat, and feeling that groundedness, taking a breath. Even another thing I do, because in this we've got some video, is just to turn your head slowly, and find another object to look at, and take it in. Then turn your head slowly in a different direction, find an object, and take it in.
This is really just to get out of that narrow focus, when we have... We've started to make our partner the enemy. They are a threat to us, for whatever reason. It comes up, like you think you're going to have to change, is we get really narrow focus, and so this actually helps widen, and also helps activate your parasympathetic nervous system to settle down.
Susan: I do a lot of work with horses, and in the equus world. One of the things that horses really... Horses have an amazing IQ. They also have the ability to read cues from an incredibly long distance. Any of you who have been out here, and worked with us and the horses, know that they can almost see 360. That narrow focus is just not really... doesn't happen with them. They're picking up things all the time, and they really are masters at, when we're working with them, giving us real-time feedback, because if you're anxious or nervous, the horse will read that from the minute you walk into the arena or out in the pasture. Likely, they're just going to stay away from you, because it's like you're not safe. You're not in your own body. Whatever's going on in there seems very stressful and unhappy, so they're definitely looking to see.
They want to be around someone who is in their body. That's why they're such great beings at giving feedback. I just wanted to mention that, because especially with the narrow and wide focus, horses are... They're in their body, so they're picking up the cues from all around. It reminds me. If I am in my body, I am more likely to notice things, as opposed to just honing in, into one particular spot.
CrisMarie: And she's laughing, because I keep telling her to look at the camera, which we have this little smiley face clip.
Susan: I know.
CrisMarie: I'll show you. It's a little smiley face.
Susan: I'm working-
CrisMarie: Look at the camera.
Susan: I'm working really hard not to get upset with her for continuing to do that, but-
CrisMarie: I saw the nostrils start to flare. Anyway, and so these are me tools, to help interrupt your ramp-up, because your IQ drops, so you want to settle yourself down, feel your feet and your seat. Just notice your breath, see if you can take deeper breaths into your low belly, and then orient, which is that, just take your focus off your partner. Just turn and look at something. Doing all three of these at once, whether you need to take a break and go do it in the bathroom, or away from your partner, or in the moment, they're very simple.
Susan: Yeah, and in the book, we talk about a number of other things you can do to support yourself, to recalibrate and come back. This is to take care of the me, because that's one of the three vital pieces that needs critical attention.
CrisMarie: Even when we do Couples Mojo, where we use the horses, what is so powerful about that is couples will have a horse between them, talking about an issue, and the horses are a huge resonance, too, that help settle your system, and so you have the courage to say things that you wouldn't normally say, because you were more settled. More of your brain's online, and it's a very profound experience that way.
Susan: Right. Now we want to move into talking about the we, because that's the... and we want to give you a couple of little tips about that. One of the first things to know, and this is something we often say to people, is that you either can be right or relational. When it comes to your most significant relationship, your coupledom, your person.
You really need to decide which one you're going to stick into, because that's actually one of the biggest challenges we have, as human beings, is we think we want the security of being right, knowing the right answer, having that certainty. The reality of it is, there really isn't anything that's that certain or solid.
CrisMarie: I think that is that internal sense of if I know... If I can be right, then I will exist. Something drives us to want, we're trained in school to get the... I got the right answer! It's very compelling, but it's really a problem in relationship dynamics.
Susan: It also is, will, and always be a point of separation. There isn't a way to stay in contact and connection, if I'm just going to have to be right, and be certain.
CrisMarie: Because if she's right, that makes me wrong, and who wants to feel wrong, so there will be a separation in that.
Susan: We fall into this all the time. You agree with me, right? You agree with me. All sorts of ways we're doing it, and yet in this coupledom, it becomes really important to be able to, one, notice when you get into righteousness — I am right; you are wrong, or I'm wrong; you're right, whichever way that goes — because, again, if you can notice it, you can make a choice, and get interested and curious. That's really the most critical thing.
The other piece that's vitally important is how can I listen differently? Because too often in the world, listening is one of those underrated skills. It's probably the most powerful resource you have in a couple, but who does it?
CrisMarie: Well, it's because people, as adults, we don't necessarily need to get our way, but we do need to feel heard and genuinely considered. When somebody reflects back what they're hearing me say, I feel like, oh, you got me. Whether she agrees or not is an entirely different thing, but I have the felt sense of feeling seen and heard, and that's very affirming to me, and it's affirming to many people in a relationship.
Susan: There is probably a little bit of a caveat on this, is that... I mean, I once in my life was able to memorize pretty much anything. People could read to me at night, and I could regurgitate it the next day, so I had an... What is it?
Susan: Auditory ability to hear and remember. Now, that's not really listening, just to be clear. That's just an auditory skill, you know? What listening means is that I am listening to what she's saying, and letting it soak into my beingness, with the intention of being influenced. It's not just that I'm going to bounce back and defend or protect. I'm actually letting it soak in me, and committed to allowing myself to be influenced by potentially a different position, whatever it is.
CrisMarie: When we're threatened, that's so... It's like, no, no, I don't want to let any new information in, because I'm holding my stance, all that sort of stuff. We're saying, in your relationship, you really do want to take in this other person, and understand how they put the world together so differently than you. If you can reflect that back and take it in, it doesn't mean you have to lose yourself. I think that's what people think is going to happen. If I let that in, I'm going to lose my ground, or lose my position. It doesn't have to be that way.
Susan: One of the things we wanted to talk today about is that importance of listening. Also, we talk a lot more about this, because there's this other whole piece of this WE axis that comes down to really beginning to explore and understand what you want and what the other person wants, without it getting about, okay, but I'm going to have to do something different if she wants... but to actually be able to listen to the fullness of somebody self-defining, and telling me about their world, and who they are, what they like, what they dislike, without taking it all personally.
CrisMarie: These are probably