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  • Writer's pictureThrive Inc.

What the Broadway Play Sylvia Can Teach You about Your Relationship

Have you ever found yourself being invested in a new goal or dream while your partner doesn’t share the same sense of enthusiasm? Or have you ever found yourself feeling left behind as your partner begins to change the narrative and direction of the relationship? How do you cope when this happens? That’s what we’re discussing in today’s episode.

As you might know from one of our previous episodes, CrisMarie is currently appearing in a play called Sylvia. The play is rich in relationship dynamics, and there’s a lot we can learn from it, namely what to do when one person in the relationship wants something very different from the other. We’ve learned from the play that, often, when we think there is a problem in our relationship, it’s actually a problem within ourselves, and we’re showing you how to deal with that prospect.

Join us on the podcast this week as we discuss what we’ve learned from the play Sylvia and show you how to apply it to your relationships. We share personal experiences of how we’ve navigated issues within our own relationship and explain why sometimes, being able to sit with each other wherever we’re at is more important than trying to solve the issue we're facing at the time.

If you want to make a difference for either yourself and your career, or your team and your organization, be sure to reach out to us and sign up for coaching! We can come and do a book club or simply visit with your team! Don’t worry about physical limitations – we work really well virtually, too!

If you enjoyed the show, please share the podcast with your family and friends, or post a five-star review on iTunes. Rating and reviewing the show helps spread the word, which means less friction and suffering for everyone, and who doesn’t want that?

Listen on Apple Podcast | Stitcher | Spotify

Learn More:

  • The importance of communication in a relationship.

  • Why there is a need for individuals in relationships to be in touch with their authentic nature.

  • What the 555 technique is and why it’s important.

  • Why it’s never a good idea to tell your partner something negative about their character.

  • The two things we have the hardest time handling in a relationship.

  • Why you should be curious within your relationship.

  • How relationship patterns are built over time.


Full Transcript:

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 am CrisMarie.

Susan: And I'm Susan.

CrisMarie: We run a company called Thrive Inc, and we specialize in conflict resolution, stress management coaching and building strong, thriving teams and relationships.

Susan: Now, we know, no one likes conflict, not even us and we’ve written two books on the topic. In our work over the last 20 plus years we’ve found most people avoid, manage or diffuse conflict. The problem is when you opt out of conflict in these ways you miss the creativity, the connection and the possibility that lies in conflict.

CrisMarie: We also know 2020 has been, well, let’s face it, a stressful year. And what Susan and I realized is all the tools that we’ve developed and utilized around conflict apply directly to uncertainty, which is what we’re living in now.

Susan: In this podcast we have tools; concept and interviews that will help you cope with the stress and uncertainty of conflict, of Covid, of social justice issues and, yes, even politics. We hope you’ll walk away from this episode with some fresh ideas that change your day, your week and even your life.

Susan: Hi. This is Susan. And I am kicking off today’s podcast, the Beauty of Conflict with CrisMarie here.

CrisMarie: I am here.

Susan: However, she’s sort of playing dual roles today because CrisMarie happens to be in a play called Sylvia here at the Whitefish Theater Community Company. And she just did the preview last night and just so you know, they’re doing it by all – everything’s Covid friendly, we’re wearing mask. We’re distant. It’s even being live streamed so at the end of this you will have an opportunity to potentially see CrisMarie perform.

But why we really wanted to do this on our podcast is because this play really is all about relationships, and all about – and can teach you maybe as much as our book, although I don’t know. And it is a lot of fun to – so the play is fun, so is our book I think. But aside from that there is a lot to learn about relationships in this. And we find in our work that this – what comes up in this movie is a pretty common…

CrisMarie: A play.

Susan: A play – is a pretty common theme. There’s times and transitions in a relationship where one person in the relationship wants something very different than the other. Or one person finds themselves in apathy around their career or around some aspect of their life. And maybe the other is just taking off. So we will tell you more about the play. And I’ve been told that it’s important that – we may actually give away some of the play but not all of it. It’s still worth watching.

CrisMarie: It’s fun.

Susan: And it’s fun. And just so you know, Sylvia is a dog and Sylvia is actually played by an amazing actress.

CrisMarie: Amy Galt.

Susan: Who plays the dog and she does a phenomenal job of.

CrisMarie: She does.

Susan: I mean I felt like I had our dog Rosie right there on the stage at various points in time.

CrisMarie: So if you’re a dog lover you’re going to love the play.

Susan: Yes, and if you’re a cat lover maybe not so much.

CrisMarie: Or even if you just like plays or stories about relationship dynamics, it’s funny and fun.

Susan: And even if you really don’t even care about that, it’s funny and fun. But we wanted to talk about it because we do think it’s so rich in relationship dynamics. Plus I also know CrisMarie’s fresh off of the preview opening night and she is just dying to talk even more about this play. So I want to have her talk about her role as Kate the wife, because it is a quite ritual that she played.

CrisMarie: Yes.

Susan: But first just as a frame to listen to this, those of you that have read our book and know the work we do…

CrisMarie: And our book is the Beauty of Conflict for Couples. We’re talking about the couples book.

Susan: Yes. And we based that on a relationship model that has to do with that any time you’re in a relationship, you come into that with that romance, like I just love this person, they’re magic. Like when I met, I think we’ve talked about this before when I met CrisMarie. She was an Olympic athlete, it was going to be wonderful because we were going to have all these great – and I didn’t really talk to her about any of that. But not really happened, no.

CrisMarie: No.

Susan: And usually, I mean she had romances too around I was going to be really committed to the same degree of work and look good.

CrisMarie: A New York Times Bestselling author.

Susan: Yes. And you notice though, we do have – I mean we live in Montana, an amazing state for being outdoors, beautiful.

CrisMarie: Are you going to make me wrong that, being an author.

Susan: No, I was going to say, no, I was going to say, and we’ve written two books. Now, it’s not the New York – you can see the roots of our romance, our coming through in our relationship. And one of the things that drew us together was we enjoyed our work and what we did together as partners.

CrisMarie: What we do together.

Susan: What we do together as partners. And at some point in time CrisMarie realized a point of dissatisfaction in our relationship. I think at that point you actually thought it might be over.

CrisMarie: I did.

Susan: It wasn’t until there was some exploration of that for you that you realized, no, there were just other things that you really needed to be doing, like acting.

CrisMarie: Which is true.

Susan: How we got here.

CrisMarie: That’s amazing. We didn’t plan this.

Susan: No. But at that point you decided this is something I want to go after. And it was hard, it is hard, when she’s in a play, she’s in a play. And especially during Covid when she’s in a play she has to be in her own little bubble. So yes, I do see her and I’m part of her bubble, but it’s like it’s all about the bubble and the play. And now that it’s happening real time it’s long evenings, it’s a huge commitment.

CrisMarie: I get home about midnight.

Susan: So this is why it’s also coming into our Beauty of Conflict podcast, so work can continue.

CrisMarie: And even the strain it puts on our relationship because I’m your person and especially with Covid there’s not a lot of other things you can go do while I’m dedicated to this play for six hours a night.

Susan: Yes, it’s very true, and then the expectation that I come to every viewing of the play.

CrisMarie: Of course.

Susan: And of course I do have – there is some benefits to Covid because there’s good reasons why I might not be there every single night, sometimes in plays, the expectation. But it actually is such a fun play, I might – who knows how many times I’ll see it? But in the meantime let’s go back to what we wanted to frame up. Because what is so wonderful and I think we can each adjust this too. In couples that we’ve been working with and in our coaching practice, and also even we both realized that these themes in this play are so applicable.

CrisMarie: But why I don’t say a little about the play, can I do that?

Susan: But let me talk to you about it since you’re in…

CrisMarie: Okay, you can interview me.

Susan: I’m going to interview.

CrisMarie: I’m going to let go of control.

Susan: Yes. There’s a lead line to that, because this is…

CrisMarie: I am very much like my character let’s just say.

Susan: So let me start off by saying there are basically four key actors in this, even though one of the actors happens to be playing a variety of different parts. CrisMarie is the wife in this particular…

CrisMarie: Kate.

Susan: Kate in this particular relationship. And her husband Greg, who’s probably still your husband, and there’s Sylvia the dog. And CrisMarie, yes, it sounds like you’re having something you want to say.

CrisMarie: Well, I just want to frame up the state of the relationship because Kate and Greg have been married for 22 years.

Susan: 22 years.

CrisMarie: Yeah. And the kids have gone off to college and Greg is – they’re in New York City, Greg’s kind of tired of his money managing job. And Kate though has now started her teaching job. She’s got a master’s degree and is excited about teaching Shakespeare to the inner city Harlem kids to help them use that in their raps and their rhymes. And Greg – you can take it from here.

Susan: Okay. And Greg in sort of this place of what we would refer to in terms of relationships, a little bit of apathy in his career. And has – maybe not very inspired, and is finding himself often not at work as planned.

CrisMarie: It’s true.

Susan: And he gets introduced to Sylvia. Now, if any of you…

CrisMarie: The dog.

Susan: The dog, who is really in a lot of ways throughout this movie I think the…

CrisMarie: Play.

Susan: The play, [inaudible]. It’s okay, if I keep using the wrong word, she’s either going to correct me, and hopefully you’ll just hear it as play, whatever.

CrisMarie: Well, I guess if it’s streaming it may feel like a movie.

Susan: There you go.

CrisMarie: Okay, I’ll let you go.

Susan: Okay, thank you for giving me a little.

CrisMarie: It’s so funny because Kate doesn’t like outdoor stuff, me too.

Susan: Quite fashionable.

CrisMarie: Fashionable and yeah, and is very controlling.

Susan: And is very concerned about money and finances.

CrisMarie: It’s true, she is me, oh my gosh, we are so much alike.

Susan: And I don’t know that I really want to compare myself to Greg. Well, actually I don’t mind because he falls in love with the dog.

CrisMarie: He does.

Susan: And there you’re getting a gist of it, gets introduced to Sylvia who really pulls him in at a much deeper level. So it’s kind of like in our world through Haven, we think about this as he gets back in touch with some of his authentic nature. She pulls him into this journey and he really starts to wake up. And in waking up though he’s also doing that in what can seem like, well, way that’s taking him out of his job, taking out of the things that Kate has been used to.

CrisMarie: And out of his relationship.

Susan: Out of his relationship. So I want to…

CrisMarie: So even thinking you listeners out there, think about your relationship. And have there been times where you or your partner all of a sudden got invested in this new dream, or new goal and either you were excited about it and your partner wasn’t? So there is that tension, or your partner was excited about their new goal and you kind of felt left behind and like hey, you’re changing the game on me.

Susan: Yeah, this wasn’t the way we agreed to play.

CrisMarie: Yeah, this wasn’t the plan we had.

Susan: And in that place of angst of wow, I’m watching my partner blossom but I’m not included in it. I may not be there. And I think that’s the angst. So I now want to kind of bring in Kate because Kate is there excited about her career. And suddenly she finds out that Greg is very different and is actually not even showing up at work at times, and the challenges. So what’s it like for you CrisMarie, as Kate in this role? Tell us a little bit.

CrisMarie: Well, as I was even saying, just even realizing now the similarities that I have with Kate in who she is and how she is so passionate. Her passion is coming up, after taking care of the kids she’s like now she has a new lease on life and she’s teaching in the public school system in New York City. It’s very exciting. And doesn’t understand the fact that like what the heck are you doing, Greg? You’re changing the game on me and wait a minute I supported you through your career while I took care of the kids. How can you not be supporting me?

Susan: I think there might be also a little bit of like we had dogs before and it was never like this.

CrisMarie: No, I took care of the dogs, I fed the dogs.

Susan: She makes a point of saying that.

CrisMarie: You weren’t so invested in our dogs when we had kids and what’s going on now? And just the whole idea of this is not what we planned. And I don’t know how to adjust and you’re threatening our kids’ college tuitions, quitting your job or losing your job is not going to pay the kids’ tuitions and how is that going to be? So she has all these expectations that he’s threatening.

Susan: And what we believe is so often in couples and of course this doesn’t come up quite as – it’s in the show, they talk about it. But really it’s those underlying expectations that so often maybe the other person doesn’t even know you have. I doubt that Kate talked to Greg. Now it’s I really want you to stay in this job so that I can really blossom.

CrisMarie: No, she just assumed, of course you’re going to stay in your job so that we can afford our apartment, we can afford the kids’ tuitions. What are you doing? You’re acting crazy.

Susan: Yes, you’re playing your part really well right now.

CrisMarie: And he really is going through a midlife crisis of who am I and what am I doing?

Susan: Although when that’s broached, when you make a point of saying that to him I don’t think that goes very well. However it’s usually not ever a good idea to tell your partner, “This is what’s happening to you. You are really having a midlife crisis or you are really angry and you should do something about it.” Those things usually don’t work so well.

CrisMarie: No. Well, and I think what is often – so another part about Kate and Greg is they’ve been going on along their lives and he has supported her through college and getting her master’s degree. And so he has been really supportive. And they have all these expectations. And I don’t know how much they’ve actually been talking. He hasn’t been talking to Kate about really on an ongoing basis how dissatisfied he is. He winds up doing it but he’s not…

Susan: He probably doesn’t even, you know, we talk about this a little differently when we’re working in our Couples Alive program over time. The idea that, you know, we talk about with these super – in the immediacy of things what happens in conflict with the superstars, the accommodator and separator. But in relationships sometimes these patterns are built up over time. Apathy can be something that – it’s like he probably didn’t realize. He wasn’t in apathy about his relationship, but he was in apathy about his work. And as a result everything gets deadened.

And you don’t even notice. It’s like the frog in hot water, if you toss a frog in hot water it’ll jump. But if the frog sits in the water while it’s heating up it boils.

CrisMarie: And think about that, listeners, for yourself, have you at times gotten into apathy about something in your life? And then it starts to – you notice the – maybe you don’t notice, people outside you may notice the impact it’s having, how much that brings all your energy down.

Susan: And interestingly enough in this play, it kind of – you even see where possibly transcending a little bit, she’s so excited, this is a new theme that I’m coming up with, having watched. Because we talk about, that’s another thing that happens, I think she at some point in the midst of this is sort of like, well, he’ll get it. He’s going to figure out that this is, yeah. And I’m already, I’ll wait.

CrisMarie: I think Kate plays along, okay, we’ll try Sylvia. And then she’s trying Sylvia and she sees Greg going deeper and deeper into the relationship and falling off in the career. And then is like okay, that waiting is really not working. So then she starts to plot, how can I get rid of Sylvia?

Susan: She does move to a different strategy at that point, you’re right.

CrisMarie: Yeah, a different strategy because she’s getting so desperate. And so maybe if I get a grant to go to England to study and we go, because England you can’t bring your dogs. Maybe that will make him see the light. And it backfires, it doesn’t help, he gets more entrenched in Sylvia. And then that’s the cracking, the possible fracturing of the relationship, really, you’re going to choose Sylvia over me? Oh my God, this is really serious.

And I think that happens in relationships, even when I get so invested in the play and you can feel quite like wait a minute, what about me sort of thing. And if it’s not addressed or talked about it, it can feel like that cracking.

Susan: Yeah, because what can happen and has happened even during the course of this play is if I don’t, you know, I’ve blown up a couple of times, we’ve gotten into a big blowup about it.

CrisMarie: Every night.

Susan: Because it’s like why are you coming home this late, and whereas if I can say, “No, I miss you when you’re so connected there.” When I’m in my more wise and wonderful place and taking care of myself I can just acknowledge the missing and still see the joy in you doing what you’re doing. And if I’m not or if you try to – don’t really let me know, it’s going to be…

CrisMarie: That’s another strategy I use that is not successful. This is CrisMarie. Well, I’ll just not let her know, it’s really going to be six hours not four hours. And then I’ll just let her know at the end of four hours, “Well, it’s going a little bit over.”

Susan: That usually really backfires.

CrisMarie: That backfires. So how often are you trying to manipulate, or fudge, or get by with something because you think your partner, or you’re pretty sure your partner’s going to be upset with that?

Susan: Yes. And in this play, Sylvia the dog is played by the human interpretation of it. It’s so rich with just that what a dog can bring to the, you know, I love the horse work, but this is dog being therapist in some respects. And really wonderfully played out, and the bringing, you know, at points you feel like I’m in the middle of this. And I hate being in the middle. And she actually does become, you know, offers quite a bit of wisdom in various ways.

CrisMarie: Yeah, she does, in very pure ways, it’s a great reflection. Another thing that happens and this happens in relationships, when you have an issue, like it’s clear Kate is like oh my gosh, he’s going deeper. And she doesn’t know how to talk to him so she talks to her friend. Her friend, like, “Oh my God, he’s doing and he’s doing that.”

Susan: And they commiserate about it because, you know, and just like what can happen when you’re dealing with your marriage or a partnership outside of your relationship instead of dealing in it.

CrisMarie: And you think it’s going to help because you get to vent to this person. But it really doesn’t help, unless you bring that back in and have the conversation with your spouse. I mean even the thing that you were referencing when we got to a yoga retreat – I don’t know – 10 years into our relationship. And I said, “I’m really dissatisfied with this relationship, I’m not sure.” And Susan’s like, “Oh my gosh, our first vacation and now you’re telling me you’re miserable.”

And you were really good about like, okay, and we have a podcast on the 5-5-5, you said, “Let’s do a 5-5-5,” which is a listening tool, 15 minutes long twice a day, to help you to process this.

Susan: Talk about the quality of our relationship in different ways, what’s happening.

CrisMarie: Yeah, not to solve it, and this is – I’m really underscoring, not to solve it, but just to keep exploring it where one person listens and the other person talks.

Susan: Because too often when you’re talking to your girl friends about it or your…

CrisMarie: Therapist.

Susan: And hopefully your therapist might be a little – there are some sketchy therapists.

CrisMarie: In the play, Leslie is…

Susan: But meaning well, meaning well. But in this particular situation when you’re talking with your friends so often what can happen is you start to problem solve. And you think, okay, I know what I need to do, which usually isn’t talk to your partner. It’s usually control your partner.

CrisMarie: Control your partner.

Susan: Convince them to do something else and yeah.

CrisMarie: So the idea when we were on this yoga retreat, that conversation that we had, the problem that I thought was really about you, Susan, was really a problem about me and my passion. I was in apathy. Basically I liked our career and what we were doing for our business but the rest of me was dwindling. And at the end of those five days I saw my process shift. I stopped blaming you in the relationship and I started going, what else could I need? And that’s when I did start acting, and dancing, and painting, and I just came alive.

And so often a problem that we think is about – a problem about the relationship is often a problem about me.

Susan: Yeah. And we talk about that, that relationships are really, there’s a me axis and there is a we axis, and then there is the context in what we’re in. And I mean in part of this play, Sylvia, what happened in the lives of Kate and Greg is the context had shifted.

CrisMarie: It’s true.

Susan: But they hadn’t really – they weren’t necessarily talking about that. And they weren’t actually – and then what was happening for Greg was he was also having his own angst and recognition of apathy in his me axis. And I think probably even Kate was out connecting to her world, but not necessarily connecting to Greg.

CrisMarie: Yeah, not bringing it back into.

Susan: Not bringing it back.

CrisMarie: Not bringing it back into relationship.

Susan: Into the we, yeah.

CrisMarie: Yes, I just wanted to say that sentence.

Susan: Okay, sorry, I interrupted her there. And how often that happens.

CrisMarie: One partner, the husband is very passionate about something and it’s the same as the play, he’s very passionate about this new project that he has and the wife feels like, well, is this a good project or not? And he’s not very excited about his work. And of course the wife wants him to be excited about the work so they can make more money. But that’s not where his passion is. And if they can slow down and actually be curious about each other and what’s going on. Why is this so important to you? Ernie McNally who was a leader like Susan and I are…

Susan: And part of our team that helped.

CrisMarie: Yes, up at Haven. And part of the team that developed Couples Alive with us, him and his then wife, Cathy. When your partner’s doing something that you think what the heck are they doing, asking yourself why would the person that I love and adore, hopefully, why would this person be doing something so out of character? That puts you more in a curiosity place, versus they shouldn’t be doing that and I’m going to do everything I can to stop them doing that is really where Kate goes to in the play. And so she tries to control, control, control, and that does not work.

Susan: And I think one of the things in relationship is usually when someone is going through a crisis apart, needing to do something for themselves. If you’re in and you love that person and care about them, what can happen is as they are evolving and changing, it can just feel like inundation for you or abandonment, the two things that we have the hardest time in our me axis handling.

CrisMarie: And just to slow down. Inundation means oh my gosh, I’m going to have to change. This is going to affect me in ways, I’m going to have to do something I don’t want to do. We’re going to have to move. We’re going to have to live with less money, that’s the sense of inundation. Or abandonment, like oh my gosh, what about me?

Susan: You might be gone all the time, you’re not going to available. And I’m working with a couple who one of them has gone back to school to go into medical school, which is absorbing. And the other one – they have kids. And it’s the challenge, he’s…

CrisMarie: He’s like Kate.

Susan: Yeah. And at the same time he is in his own struggle because he’s feeling guilty that he did this. And then of course if they’re not talking to each other about all of that, then it just makes for more and more distance. And the key in talking about it isn’t to solve it. It’s actually to be – we call this in our work, boundarying, to be exploring and interested in this other person who you at some point in time loved and cared about, even if you’re not right now.

CrisMarie: Not right now.

Susan: And being curious about, so why is that so important to you? And without – keep going back to we’re not agreeing to change our lives, try to do anything different. We’re just talking.

CrisMarie: And I think this sometimes, people don’t understand. I know I didn’t understand, well, what’s that going to do? Let’s just figure it out and come up with a solution. But time and time again, this happens with the work that we do on teams, it happens with couples, it happens in our relationship. When I can slow down and actually get interested and curious, what’s the impact to you about what I’m doing like in this whole play piece? Or why is that so important to you?

Things happen at a deeper level, not at a head level, but at a heart and connection level where we start to see this other person and go, “I didn’t recognize that.” And it works on me. And as it works on me hearing you, then new possibilities or ideas open up. And it opens solution making as opposed to narrowing it down and driving to a solution. And I don’t know, I never got that, and it happens with teams, and it happens with couples, and it happens with us. That’s the beauty in conflict.

Susan: Yes. Well, I also think sometimes some of these things that I think about, crisis of the heart or whatever’s going on, aren’t necessarily about solving. And it’s really not even about getting to a creative solution. It’s about getting to a sense of connection and being willing to sit with each other, even if it – but to just be with. That’s the angst that I go through sometimes. My solution sometimes when you’re in a play and it’s taking you away for way too long, it’s like surely at some point she won’t do it this way.

But if I think about that, it’s like no, I am willing to deal with my pain. I don’t want you to fix it by not doing what you love and brings you to life. But I also, you know, so it’s not about – sometimes it’s not even about a solution. It’s just being able to sit with each other in wherever we’re at.

CrisMarie: I think that is so wise. I think it’s that what we all thirst for really in relationship is that sense of connection, being seen and heard and being met. And we get lost in the transaction of relationship. We’ve got to pick up the kids. Now we have to do this. And so that’s why we’re in our brain and solution focus, but we are often thirsty, so hungry for that connection. And that’s why slowing down and really having that and being with, all that sort of is what we – really fills our soul, even if we don’t get what we want.

Susan: Yeah, it is the solution sometimes, it really is because it fills your heart, and if I can fill my heart…

CrisMarie: Even if you break, it may be even the breaking of the heart.

Susan: Yeah. And then it’s like okay, and we’ll keep going through this. And there’ll be beauty in it because I love, even I love watching you shine. And then sometimes I’ll miss you when I’m not part of it. And so often it’s so hard to talk about both because I think in our relationship, there is a desire. I think you’ve gone through this, where it’s like, well, I don’t want to cause you that much pain.

CrisMarie: That’s the hardest thing I think even when you’re upset when I come home at midnight.

Susan: Or after.

CrisMarie: For me or whatever the issue is, for me to stay, I am okay even if you’re upset. And letting you have your upset-ness and not trying to fix it. Not trying to make it better because that makes it all weird.

Susan: It does.

CrisMarie: But that’s my impulse is oh my gosh, I’ve got to fix it because otherwise we’re not going to survive. She’s not going to like me, all that sort of stuff.

Susan: And it would be like if, you know, and you have, when you do, do, you just give me the space to say, “I hear you and I get it, I can see why.” I mean I think I did make a choice.

CrisMarie: This was last night even; I made a choice to stay. This is what I said to you, “I made a choice to stay with my cast.”

Susan: And I did this kind of…

CrisMarie: Displaced you.<