Can you remember the last argument you had with your partner or a past partner? Most couples can’t remember the specifics of why they fought. Instead, they only remember the emotional baggage from it.
Here’s why I bring it up:
A listener recently wrote in and asked me to dissect two different types of fights: One with a couple who hasn’t gone through the therapeutic process, and one who has.
In this episode, you’ll discover how therapized couples argue, so you can argue in a healthy way that makes your relationship stronger instead of tearing it apart.
Show highlights include:
- The deadly myth single guys believe that sabotages their chances of having a successful, long-term relationship (6:23)
- Why getting rid of triggering situations in your relationship prevents your love from growing (8:31)
- How characteristics that attracted you to your partner can quickly morph into potentially relationship-ending triggers (and how to avoid this) (14:00)
- The “exile your partner’s parts” trap which causes relationships to end prematurely (19:16)
- Why seeking a couple’s therapist before an individual therapist could cause you to break up (21:08)
- How to argue like a therapized couple and prevent fights from devolving into breaking up (28:03)
Does your neediness, fear, or insecurity sabotage your success with women? Do you feel you may be unlovable? For more than 15 years, I’ve helped thousands of people find confidence, fulfillment, and loving relationships. And I can help you, too. I’m therapist and life coach David Tian, Ph.D. I invite you to check out my free Masterclasses on dating and relationships at https://www.davidtianphd.com/masterclass/ now.
For more about David Tian, go here: https://www.davidtianphd.com/about/
Get access to all my current and future online coaching courses by applying for the Platinum Partnership program today at:
Listen to the episode on your favorite podcast platform:
Note: Scroll Below for Transcription
Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast, where we answer key questions in dating, relationships, success, and fulfillment, and explore the psychology of masculinity. Now, here’s your host, world-renowned therapist and life coach, David Tian.
David: Welcome to the Masculine Psychology podcast. I’m David Tian, your host.
In this episode, we’ll be looking at three case studies that contrast how couples who have gone through the therapeutic process versus those who have not gone through the therapeutic process would handle a triggering situation in their relationship. This is inspired by a comment from Eloy on Episode 61, where he has a follow-up comment—and I’m pointing this out also because I want to show that I do read your comments, so please comment. Let me know any feedback you have at all on the episodes. I try to take this into account for future episodes. I often record two weeks ahead, but I’ll get to them. [00:57.2]
Eloy wrote he’d like to see an episode on the key difference between couples that have gone through the therapeutic process versus those who have not, what he calls “therapized versus the untherapized couples”, in the way that they handle triggering events and their aftermath. “Could you demonstrate specific examples from your own experience of how a therapy-going couple would experience a triggering situation and how they would work through that situation?” All right, Eloy, you’re getting your request fulfilled.
I’m also doing this episode because it’s very important I realize for guys who are single to understand how relationships actually work. I know there are a lot of guys, especially the statistics these days showing that a third of men under 30 are not having sex or have not had sex, and I assume that they’re also not in relationships. The studies have also shown that people in relationships, despite what popular myth might say, people in relationships have more sex than people who are not in relationships on average. [01:57.2]
So, I know that there are a lot of guys who aren’t in relationships or have never had a significant long-term relationship that lasted more than, let’s say, six months, so it’s hard for them to understand what I mean when I say, as your relationship gets more intimate, you’re going to have more triggering, more problems come up, whereas it’s easy to get into a relationship and to enjoy the honeymoon period, which is normally three to six months of the first three to six months of a relationship. That’s relatively [easy]. You just go on the momentum. It’s relatively easy.
After this episode, you’ll get a better idea of what it will look like, the challenges that are to come, to give you a kind of sneak peek or preview into why it’s so important to prepare for a long-term relationship now while you’re still single or before you’re in a relationship. It’s the best time to prepare for a relationship. Actually, it’s not the best time to prepare for a relationship once you’re already in a relationship, because, technically, you can’t then prepare for it. You’re now just troubleshooting. It’s better to get it right in the first place. [02:54.6]
It’s also why in the previous episodes I’ve been emphasizing mate selection, partner selection, as such an important part of a successful relationship. Understanding what it takes to succeed in a long-term relationship is required for understanding what type of person, what kind of person it would take to succeed in a long-term relationship, so you can start selecting for such a person and so that you can become such a person, both of which are required for a successful long-term relationship.
If you don’t know what’s in store and you’re, let’s say, a single guy who is mostly focused on just getting a second date or a third date as so many guys are these days, where there’s so much scarcity, they’re not even thinking about a relationship. They’re just thinking about “Can I get another date?” and then they just celebrate the fact that they’re now on the fifth date.
Yes, this was an impossibility and now it’s here, and unfortunately, if you got that, got to the fifth date not having prepared for the road ahead, it’s going to be a lot more painful for you in the long run, because now you’ve caught the feels. You’re attached, and when the breakup happens, it’s a lot more painful. You’re going to be in the deep negative rather than just zero neutral. If you don’t know what’s in store for you, you can’t prepare for it and you just crash. [04:09.0]
This is also another principle of success. Begin with the end in mind. Know what the goal should look like, what you’re actually aiming for. Know it intimately. Know it inside out so you can actually see it in real life, visualizing it as if it were real in front of you, like it was real reality. Then your brain will start to move in that direction naturally.
You see this in pretty much every endeavor in life. If you want to be a good fighter, you need to know what good form looks like and what the high standards look like. If you want to be a musician, a professional musician, you need to know what it sounds like, so a professional musician is constantly listening to good music. These are all just examples.
Now, if you want to have a successful relationship, which is very difficult—the odds are stacked totally against you in the modern world—you’re going to need to know what that looks like and, for most of us, we did not have modeled for us a successful, loving, and passionate long-term relationship. [05:02.6]
For most of us, our parents are either divorced or they led a life of quiet desperation together for logistical, practical reasons, but the passion was gone, or they stuck together because of external pressures and didn’t actually have a deep kind of intimacy or especially didn’t have that kind of sexy passion.
Even if you were in the small minority, maybe 10, 15, 20 percent of people whose parents actually had a loving, intimate, passionate relationship, even in the long term, it’s a totally different world in totally different generation and a different cultural context for you versus for them, and for most of us, we have not seen modeled for us what a loving, passionate, successful relationship looks like. We also don’t have model for us even just what success looks like for most people or what happiness in the long term, lasting happiness and fulfillment look like. In all of these counts, it’s really important to be able to see what that would actually look like. [06:02.2]
What does it actually look like to have this thing that you think you ought to have, but you’re not really clear on what it would look like, so how could you know whether you want it or not? It’s really important to begin with the end in mind, and especially in this case here, we’re going to zoom in and hone in on a successful, loving relationship over the long term.
Now, one big myth that a lot of guys buy into, especially single guys, especially single guys who have never been in a long-term relationship, they think that the hardest part of the relationship is getting into one. That is total B.S. That’s a complete myth. Even harder than getting into a relationship, which, by the way, is relatively easy—I know for a lot of guys who have never even had a second date, this might blow your mind, but even if you get past that second date—things just get harder for you and that’s why it’s so important for you to figure this out now, rather than simply focusing on the next stage in front of you, like the next date, getting that next date. [06:59.5]
It’s like running a marathon and not knowing that you’re in a marathon, and you’re just trying to get to kilometer 2, but maybe you’re obese or out of shape or whatever it is. Unfortunately, this is a marathon that you’re in, but you don’t realize it, so you sprint or you go all out and you give it everything you’ve got and you make it to kilometer 2, only to realize that everyone is still trudging along and, eventually, at some point, you find out the hard way that you got 42 kilometers. Don’t you want to know what’s in store for you for the other 40 kilometers? Don’t you don’t want to know what it takes to succeed in that particular race?
But when it comes to a long-term relationship, you’re looking at a 50-year race, a 50-year journey, I should say, of discovery and adventure and love, or a total disaster and crash where you might lose half your assets and go through a ton of pain and rip apart your family. Considering what’s at stake, don’t you think it’s super important to come to an understanding now, even while you’re single, of what it takes to succeed in a long-term relationship? Yes. Right, so that’s why we’re looking at the end, so to speak, even if you’re currently single and just hoping for a second date. [08:08.2]
Don’t buy into what I call the “one and done” myth where the guy who’s single thinks if he just finds the one, then he is done. He’s done growing. He’s done having to learn anything. He’s done having to mature himself or to learn more about himself, or to become more self-aware or more emotionally skilled and so forth.
This actually dovetails very nicely with the previous episode where I was attacking the self-help approach to growth, because, if in a relationship, when you get triggered, you see it and feel it as something that you don’t want anymore, which is very natural—no one especially at the beginning, enjoys being triggered—but if you approach triggering as something that you don’t want and you just want to have stop so that there’s no more triggering, then you will actually stop growing naturally and you will only have toxic growth. That is growth, as I explained in the previous episode, that comes from the whip on their back, being forced to grow, not enjoying the process of growth, not enjoying the challenge ahead of you. [09:06.7]
Successful couples are those who have come to see that when they get triggered, it’s a great opportunity for them to be reminded of the parts of them whose needs are not fully being met yet or to even discover new parts of them that they didn’t even know existed or that were there. Especially in the relationship context, when it’s your romantic or intimate partner who is doing the triggering, successful couples will be grateful for that triggering because it’s now given them an opportunity to learn more about themselves and to pour more love into themselves, because there are parts of them whose needs are not being met.
This, of course, connects with two episodes ago where I went into the tor-mentor concept and that I’m borrowing from Richard Schwartz, and it’s a great book, You are the One You’ve Been Waiting for, which I recommend anyone interested in this topic of what it looks like for, quote-unquote, “therapized couples” to be with each other and grow from triggering events. [10:01.7]
That’s probably the best book existing on the planet right now for this topic, You are the One You’ve Been Waiting for by Richard Schwartz, and he introduces the concept of the tor-mentor where the person who’s tormenting you is actually mentoring you by giving you an opportunity to learn more about yourself and your parts, and the parts of you that need further support or love or connection, or to have whatever needs that are being unmet met.
With all of that said, let’s get into the three case studies. The first couple we’ll look at is Sarah and John. They met at a club during Halloween weekend.
John at the time was working for one of the big accounting firms. He was in a job that was stable, but not too exciting to him, but things were stable, and he wasn’t particularly ambitious, but then he wasn’t all that excited about life either. This was what he had gone through university for and trained for, and now he’s in it and he’s been at this job, I think, for a couple years by that point. He was dragged along to the Halloween club party by his friends and he did not dress up. He just sort of went reluctantly and decided at the last minute to go, and there he was, in the club. [11:11.7]
Sarah was very different. Sarah was all dressed up for the Halloween party, according to John. John is a client of mine. I learned this through John. I did interact a bit with them as a couple, so I got to know them a little bit, but I know John a lot more, so this is the telling from John’s side. They met at the club. Sarah was dressed up for the Halloween party. She was really into it and she took a liking to John and she has flirted with John, and they hit it off really well.
That night they hooked up back at John’s place and that was Halloween weekend, and for the next, all the way past Valentine’s Day of the following year, they were on this sort of whirlwind romance, where, as I’m trying to recall now, they had the Halloween weekend in October. Then they started traveling together to a few different rave parties out of their country. [12:01.8]
They were from the UK and they were traveling to Europe for various rave parties, and then they went to Asia for some Burning Man style of outdoor events and then they stayed in Asia for Christmas. Instead of family Christmas, they did all this partying for Christmas, and then right into New Year’s Eve where they had a big fight apparently on New Year’s Eve, but it was in the context of a big party. That was, as John tells it, their first major fight, but it was in the context of a huge celebration.
Since the time that they met on Halloween weekend, they were traveling internationally to basically party all the way through to New Year’s Eve. Then they had a little bit more of a stability in January, but they were still going out pretty much every weekend in a kind of wild partying phase, right through till Valentine’s Day when they tried to have a kind of couple’s romantic time and that didn’t go so well. [12:58.1]
Then for John, because he worked in one of the big accounting firms, it was audit season and he got suddenly very busy. He wasn’t able to go out on the weekends. He was working late in the office and, at this point, Sarah had already moved in with John and Sarah had only had a part-time job working as a waitress, which she had quit during this partying phase and basically just moved in with John and relied on him for the expenses.
John, over the months around February, March and April, was incredibly stressed out as he was saying and now he was taking issue with Sarah going out at night and without him because he was at the office or just exhausted from all the work and couldn’t go bar-hopping or clubbing with her, but she kept going.
By his own admission, she stuck around till late at night, sometimes 10:00 p.m. or 11:00 p.m., waiting for him to come home, but eventually she stopped doing that and just started putting herself first more in that sense of if she wants to go out and meet her friends, she’ll do it and not wait around for John and she was just sort of holding out until audit season was over. [14:00.6]
But during this time, John got really annoyed with Sarah. All of the things that really drew him to her in the first place, the up-and-down drama, how she was incredibly unpredictable, very spontaneous, spur of the moment, like when they flew to Europe for these rave parties. It was just the same day when they bought the tickets or the day before and they just threw everything in a bag and went, and it was spontaneous and he loved that about her that she brought this out in him, because he had never had this type of fun adventure before in his whole life.
But with her lead in a kind of manic fairy dream girl way, she brought him out of his box, so to speak, until January to April–May period of intense work that he found her going out all the time, coming home late, kind of waking him up in bed or finding her passed out on the couch in the living room. He found all that very annoying, the very wild nature of her and that kind of dramatic [way]. She’d pick fights and they’d be really up and down. There was very little moderation in the way that they are with each other. [15:01.8]
He was also taking issue with her sexy attire, which turned him on before and he loved to show her off when he was with her, but he did not like her going out like that, and so he was trying to control her to cover up more. Even in winter, she’d go out in club gear.
For most couples, this would be the end of it. They’d have these big dramatic fights. They’d discover that they’re not for each other and they just break up, maybe in a very dramatic fashion with the big fights and throwing things at each other, and saying all kinds of things about each other and towards each other that they regret and because each other to hate the other person, and then that would be it, right? Then maybe a year later, they might bump into each other in a club and there would be this awkward hi kind of thing, “How are you doing?” That would be how most couples would go, right?
If you’re asking, “What are the triggering things?” obviously, the very things of the drama, the sexy, the wildness that attracted John to Sarah in the first place are the very things that triggered him now when he was in achiever-performer mode at work. [15:58.8]
I didn’t talk about how Sarah was triggered. The more I learn about this couple, because they didn’t do that, they didn’t break up, they actually went the therapeutic route. Remember this is a contrasting how an untherapized couple would be versus a therapized couple. Let’s look at Sarah’s side of things.
Sarah came from a high-achieving family. Her father was a very successful businessman who was rarely home, and when he was home, he was not very present with her. It was normal for him to be on the road, away from the home from Monday to Friday, and then when he was there on the weekends, he was sleeping a lot and just not interacting with the kids much. He was also very hard on the kids in terms of snapping at them, expecting them to be doing their homework instead of playing, especially instead of playing with him. Apparently, he also went on work trips that could last months and he wouldn’t be back home.
As a result, when John started focusing on his work because of that busy work season, it was triggering Sarah and bringing up the memories of what it was like back then to be abandoned by her father when she was a kid. Even when he does come home, he’s not present, he’s just exhausted. While she intellectually understood why this was happening, her little inner child parts were rebelling, and then they began to cope in the same way that she did back then, which was to be a rebel. [17:17.3]
This is, in fact, what attracted John to her, the rebellious nature in her, the drama, the sexy, unpredictable, wild child kind of rebelliousness that he lacked in his life, because that was his shadow, the part of him that he pushed into the shadows, because his coping strategy for getting his parents’ attention and love and approval was to achieve.
But, as a result, he ended up having a kind of empty life. He achieved all of these external goals, getting the job that would please his parents or at least get them off his back, but then he found himself having no excitement in his life and relatively little motivation to do much more in life without much ambition. [17:58.5]
Of course, part of what attracted Sarah to John was that John, in many ways, resembled the father that she had and that this was another opportunity, her inner child parts thought or were thinking, to win back that love from this Dad-like figure, in the sense he’s a Dad-like figure in all these ways that he resembles her dad, this responsible, stable, reliable workaholic who would later abandon her, and she was noticing that emotional abandonment might come from this particular guy and that drew her to him, so they ended up as a couple.
Of course, the honeymoon period is where you see how the parts of them that are attracted to each other’s shadows—because the other person is a reflection of their own shadowed parts or the parts that they have thrust into the shadows—create that chemistry, because they’re actually looking for themselves. That’s you are the one you’ve been waiting for, you are the one you’ve been searching for, in a sense.
If they were open, as they became later, to discovering this about themselves, they would be able to learn more about themselves as reflected in their partner. But most people don’t have any clue of what’s actually happening in their unconscious mind, so they just demonize the other person, “It’s your fault that I’m feeling crappy this way,” and they end up rejecting the other person just as they did in childhood. [19:13.0]
There’s this push-pull dynamic that of “I want to be attracted. I’m attracted to this part. I’m attracted to this person and these parts in that person because I want to integrate these parts in myself, because I have these parts in myself that I can’t access, but you remind me of them,” and that draws them to each other. But then they also, because back when they were kids, they also disowned, they thrust those parts of themselves in the shadow, so they do the same thing to those parts in their partner. They exile their partners’ parts, so then they end up just breaking up.
Fortunately, John was a student of mine who was taking the dating skills courses, and this is part of the reason why I think that despite his relative emptiness in life, he was able to flirt with Sarah and she saw him as a fun repartee interlocutor and a fun partner in crime, so to speak. But then, of course, that heavy work period sets in and he goes back to his achiever parts in charge and that triggers Sarah. [20:15.0]
But, anyway, John was following me for the dating skills advice and products and programs, and then he realized that this was a relationship issue and that he cared a lot for Sarah and he actually wanted this to work. Hearing about me teach about relationships, he thought maybe it’s worth a shot, so he did end up getting the “Rock Solid Relationships” course, worked through that with Sarah, because they lived together and so when he was watching the videos and going through the meditation, Sarah was noticing this and she’d want in on it.
They end up going through “Rock Solid Relationships” together, and right off the bat, the first module, they learn about each other’s needs. They do the needs analysis for each other, your partner’s needs as well, and they discovered that they didn’t understand their own needs, let alone the partner’s needs. That was the first step, and then from there, every module was a big awakening for the two of them. [21:01.0]
After a few months of that, even though they were still in heavy tax season in audit season, they were able to have the patience to wait it out and then they got their own therapists, not just a couple’s therapists, but one each for each other, individual therapists.
I actually recommend, if you are, as a couple, having relationship problems, that you actually don’t first go to a couple’s therapists. This might be controversial. It’s probably counterintuitive. But my advice is that each of you seek your own individual therapist first, because the issues that are causing the problems in the relationship are individual issues in yourself. You need to make headway on those and understand yourself first before you further complicate matters by bringing the two of you together, because now you’re actually compounding the complexity. So, I highly recommend that you each get an individual therapist first, then get a couple’s therapist.
Obviously, there are exceptions, but there are a lot of couple’s therapists who just go through a formula and it ends up becoming a very cookie-cutter, one- size-fits-all formulaic approach and I don’t recommend that. It’s best if you are able to learn how to meet your own needs individually with your own individual therapist. That means that you get one hour each at least with your own therapist, and then you get an additional hour, the two of you together, if you can then go see a couple’s therapist on top of that. [22:18.7]
But I would recommend you first get your own individual therapist and that is, in fact, what Sarah and John did so that Sarah was able to go through her issues, do the grief work, the inner child work, able to get to know her protector parts, the coping parts, and then find the inner child exiles that were getting triggered by John and that were definitely triggered by her childhood.
Then she was able to access more of her higher self or true self to be able to meet the needs of her inner child exile so that she doesn’t require John to meet them; or when John triggers them because he’s starting a pattern that resembles what she went through as a child, she’s able to be there for her own parts and doesn’t require John to, for instance, quit his job or to change his career or whatever. [23:02.3]
The reason John was busy was obviously reasonable and he wasn’t doing what her dad did, but it resembled it enough that it would trigger her into the sort of fear response and then she would go into her rebel strategy, as a result of her perceived abandonment, because, in her mind, the inner child parts in her are saying, “I can see where this is going, so I’m going to head it off at the pass,” and she just goes right into what she knows. She does her own individual work and heal the parts of her that took on those burdens from her childhood.
Similarly, John in his individual therapy work, did the same, working with his achiever parts and why they would be both attracted to and triggered by the drama, the sexiness, the wildness, the unpredictability, the spur-of-the-moment spontaneity, the adventurousness, and integrate those parts of himself back into him so that he still attracted to them. He still loves them, but he is not triggered by them so much. [23:57.8]
Do you struggle in your interactions with women or in your intimate relationship? Are fear, shame, or neediness sabotaging your relationships or attractiveness? In my Platinum Partnership Program, you’ll discover how to transform your psychological issues, improve your success with women, and uncover your true self.
Get access to all my current and future online courses by applying for the Platinum Partnership today at DavidTianPhD.com/Platinum.
Now, as I said earlier, triggering doesn’t stop. It just goes up another level. But when that happens, as you become more and more mature, you actually don’t see them as triggering. You just see them as another opportunity to grow or to learn more about yourself and each other, and then this becomes an enjoyable part of the journey, just as when you embrace fitness, the feeling of working out, maybe the burning in your lungs when you’re running or the burning in your muscles as you’re getting that pump or whatever, you’re actually learning to enjoy that feeling and you enjoy the feeling in your body after the workout, rather than feeling like you’re sore. [25:14.6]
I don’t know if you can remember before you started working out and then you just started working out, that soreness and you’re like, I wish I’d just not be sore anymore. Eventually, you learned to love that, because it’s actually a sign of growth and you learn to love the activity, and this is what guarantees that regardless of whether you get the result at all, you would like to get the result, but regardless of whether you do or not, you’re still enjoying yourself, and in that sense, it was still worth it, just that feeling.
It’s the same in a relationship and this is what Sarah and John learned that they are each other’s tor-mentors and they were able to embrace that. Of course, that took multiple years for them to get to. When they met, this was pre-COVID, and now they’re still together despite being locked down in their countries and not being able to travel. [25:57.0]
Then, of course, that really triggered Sarah in the sense of not being able to act out in her normal way of the drama and the sexiness and the wild child, and so she really needed that individual therapeutic support. As a result of her own individual growth, she actually found a new career calling and has a side hustle with quite a bit of potential, and she’s excited about it and seems to be enjoying it, and John and Sarah are going strong.
Now, this isn’t to say that they’ll have no problems in the future. It’s just to show you that that crossroads that they were at for those several months that most couples would’ve just broken up and thought that they had chosen the wrong partner and simply blamed it on the other person. But if you’re humble enough to look in the mirror, instead of just blaming your partner, then you can actually take an opportunity to learn more about yourself. [26:44.6]
That might mean, in the end, that you’re not well-suited for each other and that you just didn’t know that until further into the relationship or that you’ve grown in such different directions that that connection is no longer there, or that it turns out the person that you had selected for this relationship was just too immature at the stage in his or her life for you and for the type of relationship that you want, a loving, passionate relationship, and you’ve grown beyond the point at which you were when you started, so then it would make sense for the two of you to go your own separate ways.
But if you simply, when the going gets hard, break up and blame the other person for their faults, the other person, you blame them for being a psychopath or a narcissist or whatever as the Red Pill want to do, then you’ve lost a perfect opportunity to learn more about yourself and the parts that are being triggered.
That was the first case study I wanted to share. I realize now looking at the time that we spent a lot of time on Sarah and John and I don’t want to rush through the other two case studies, so I’m going to be looking at those in the next episode, so make sure you come back to that. I’m going to get into the details of the next two case studies, which are very different from Sarah and John’s situation. [27:58.6]
But just before we wrap up, I noticed that in Eloy’s question, he wrote, “I’m interested in seeing the processes that the couples would use in the heat of the moment and afterwards between a therapy-going couple versus a non-therapized couple, a play-by-play of sorts to get an idea of what that would look like.”
Let’s get an example of a very detailed example of an argument, a triggering event, a triggering argument between Sarah and John, and it’s one that is very common among couples that have that dynamic of a woman who is sexy and wild and has this dramatic nature, and a man who is so enlivened by her kind of adventurous and spontaneous nature, but he’s normally a pretty straight narrow type of guy.
John comes back from work late at night, later than he had told Sarah he was going to be, and it’s a weekday and Sarah had cooked dinner and she had prepared everything for yet the umpteenth time and John didn’t have the courtesy to call ahead and let her know, because while John was at the office, he was putting out fires and he was too busy to do that. [29:05.8]
From both sides, you can see that they have some justification for their feeling, in Sarah’s case, of being neglected and not put in a place where she feels respected. For John, he feels so exhausted from work and it’s not like he’s enjoying it. She’s making it out to seem like he’s purposely neglecting her, but he’s actually not enjoying it and this is hard for him.
He comes home from work exhausted and now he’s hearing complaints, but Sarah is not even complaining about what’s really bothering her. She’s not telling him that she feels neglected and abandoned and lonely, and she just wants more of him, because that might have helped him to understand and sympathize and empathize.
But instead she comes at him with other complaints that she makes up maybe that have really nothing to do with the actual issue. They’re just the things that are easier for her to nitpick and nag at him about, because those things that she picks, maybe he forgot to take out the trash or pick up the eggs on the way home from work or whatever, were actual things that he should have done, or maybe she attacks him for not texting her that he was going to be late. [30:15.0]
These are all relatively small things, but all things that he really did do wrong, because she understands that she can’t attack him for something that’s not his fault, which is that his bosses are making it harder for him to get home and that he is in this heavy tax or audit season that keeps him from coming back. She can’t go there and complain about that because it’s not his fault, so she’s looking for other little things.
From John’s perspective, she’s blowing these little things way out of proportion and she’s not empathizing or understanding the stress that he’s under and how exhausted he is from yet another late night where he comes back at 10:00 p.m. Then this fight that starts at, you know, 10:00-ish p.m. with an exhausted John in a very lonely and neglected-feeling Sarah, which starts off with small little nitpicking type of things, from John’s perspective and even from Sarah’s, but these are things that are true, at least that he did fail in. [31:13.4]
That blows up, kind of explodes into a much bigger thing where now they’re just feeling hurt and misunderstood, so they start saying things that are not just about actions or behaviors, but now about the person, like, “You are always this way” or “This is just the way you are and I can’t stand it,” or just straight up name-calling and insults. They’re not actually talking about the thing that could be changed.
For example, if you forgot the eggs, you can just go and get the eggs, but now it’s about “You are always so forgetful. You are always putting yourself first. You’re always so selfish. This is just the way you are. You’ve been this way for so long,” and blah, blah, blah, right?
Then they bring up things from the past that were unresolved and they dredge up all of this stuff from the past, and then, of course, the other person gets really sensitive and defensive, because it seems unfair, and so then they push back and that escalates, so it just keeps escalating. [32:06.6]
Then, of course, if this has been happening for a while, a while being anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, there’s also this layer of contempt to the tone of voice, the looks that they’re giving each other, the sneering. Now it’s not just the things that are being said, but now the way that they’re being said feel very disrespectful, dismissive.
Because John is more of a logical rational type of guy and he is exhausted by this point, he can’t deal with this emotion and this drama that’s coming at him, and from John’s perspective, it is drama, which is this pejorative term for it because he’s looking at it as a negative thing, whereas for her she’s expressing herself emotionally. What she wants in response is for him to be present and feel her emotions with her, to be able to feel through what the surface-level complaints are about and feel through to her actual fear of being alone and abandoned, and being ignored and neglected. [33:05.6]
But all he’s hearing is what she’s saying, which is the surface-level nitpicking insults, and it starts off with nitpicking and then devolves into insults and straight out criticism and this kind of contempt. He becomes defensive and then what he’ll do is what most guys who are tired from work, come back, and dealing with emotional stuff, they just stonewall.
Now we have Gottman’s Four Horsemen—if you don’t know about this, it’s just common knowledge, in my opinion, John Gottman, the Four Horsemen, you can google it. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling—and as a result, they devolve or, you could say, escalate into a much bigger fight. They don’t actually get to discuss what the real thing is, the real issue that triggered the whole thing. [33:51.7]
Plus, they are ignorant of why it hurts them so much that they’ve become so emotional about it that they say and do things that, when they’re in their cooler frame of mind, they regret. In fact, if you ask them the next day what the fight was actually about, neither of them will really be able to tell you, because it wasn’t the content of the fight per se. It was the emotional impact of what was said and done the contempt, the character attacks that they remember.
The normal type of couple, the untherapized, the couple that has not done much therapeutic work for themselves, would basically just do this over and over, and then, eventually, there would be too much of it and they’d just break up. Right? Then the woman would blame John as being selfish and self-centered and neglectful, and John would blame Sarah as being needy and clingy, demanding and shrill, and critical, whatever, right?
This type of pattern where the underlying triggering issue isn’t being discussed or even aware of by the parties that are being triggered—in this case, it’s Sarah then triggering John when he comes back—it’s normal that people in relationships aren’t even aware of what it is that’s really bothering them, and instead they just go for the easy stuff, the superficial nitpicky stuff. [35:13.8]
Then the other partner who is being attacked sees it as superficial and nitpicky, and doesn’t understand why this person, the partner, is making such a big deal out of it, and then when the partner realizes that, in this case, John doesn’t get the emotional impact for Sarah, then she’ll take it up a level and attack him in his character and make it a lot more personal. Then it’s about him, not just the things he’s done or not done, or the things he’s said are not said.
Then when it escalates, both parties do things that they later regret that they don’t actually mean, and then they can’t take it back. When they do that too often, that’s the part of the relationship that each of them really remembers. Then when this negative escalation is all that they really remember about their relationship, or when they think of their partner, the emotions that come up that are associated with their partner are now the sort of negative escalation that has happened. [36:11.0]
When the negative escalation overwhelms or overrides the earlier positive, then it’s natural for the two of them to just not want to bother anymore and then they break up. This is common, not just for the type of dynamic that Sarah and John have, but for pretty much every relationship in the modern world.
Now, the rare thing is to see what therapized couple or a couple has gone through the therapeutic process, or has gone farther into the therapeutic process, how they would handle this. Sarah, having gone through the therapeutic process, would be aware of her abandonment issues. When her partner comes home late from work, she’s aware of the feelings that are coming up for her and she takes responsibility for those feelings. She has boundaries.
Healthy boundaries are when you take responsibility for your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and you do not take responsibility for another adult’s thoughts, feelings or behaviors, and you do not demand that another adult take responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. [37:10.0]
In this example, Sarah then started to learn, after going through the therapeutic process, about her abandonment issues, and when these started to come up, John had a perfectly legitimate reason for being late. She’s able to be with her own parts that are being triggered. She’s able to take that time for herself, and maybe she will excuse herself in the heat of the argument, let’s say, and maybe she didn’t realize it at first. Then she realizes, “Oh, wow, what’s really bothering me isn’t these little things like he didn’t pick up the eggs,” but this deeper thing of this fear that she has in herself, her inner child parts have of being neglected or abandoned and where this is going to go.
As she gets more experienced, she’s able to notice it right when it comes up, so when he starts being late and she starts to panic, even before he shows up at home, she can just take some time to be with those parts and go to them and meet their needs. [38:08.5]
But sometimes, especially early on in the therapeutic process, she’s not as aware, she’s not as experienced at this, and the fighting starts. Then at the moment she’s aware of it, she can just excuse herself, say, “Look, I need a moment.” Maybe she goes outside. Maybe she goes into the bedroom or the bathroom or something, just take some time out for herself and she’s able to be, in just first sense, into those parts of herself to first being curious about it, because she realizes this is unusual or it’s out of proportion, and then she’s able to be there for herself.
Once she’s able to be there for those parts and have enough self-energy with them and they’re able to calm down enough, she can then go back to John and then voice what’s really going on. She can say, “I noticed that I have these parts of me that get this way when you’re coming home late from work and then they feel this way,” and then she can explain. She can share the fear that’s coming up, not needing John to go and then meet those needs because she’s doing those for herself. [39:11.4]
Her own parts, she’s able to go and meet their needs herself, but she’s just explaining to John what’s going on in her, which is why she is being this way or why her body is reacting this way, why she’s having this sort of panic reaction or was having this sort of panic reaction.
Similarly, if the fight goes long enough, John will be getting triggered and John will then be able to do the same thing when he notices that he’s becoming now a lot more emotionally activated than he was before. He’s then able to also, because of his therapeutic [process], going through the therapeutic process, understand why he’s taking this so personally and why he’s not able to deal with emotions right now, and why he needs to do that if he wants to be in this relationship. So, he is able to take that moment to go to those parts that do a lot of the day-to-day work at the office to let them know they can rest now and that he, his true self, his higher self, needs to now take charge, if his higher self wasn’t already in charge. [40:13.0]
It’s common for people who work at the office to have to switch over, because at the office, maybe they have parts that enjoy the work. You probably don’t enjoy being overworked, but, hopefully, if you enjoy parts of your job or a lot of your job, there are parts of you that enjoy that.
Then when you come home to your home life and now you’re into the emotions more, assuming your job doesn’t require a lot of emotional processing like for John, which is mostly doing the accounting work, he then needs to do that switch. He then learns that he needs to do that switch before he walks into the door and through the door in his home that he can do it on his commute home and begin to make that transition.
But for John having come back from a 10:00 p.m. late shift from the office, he’s still in the office frame of mind of being logical and rational and not leaving room for emotions, and now Sarah is being very emotional, so he needs to switch into that and be present for her and give her his full attention, and feel with her, because that’s really what she needs. [41:15.5]
If Sarah is doing her work, her therapeutic work, she’s able to take time out and do that for herself, and take responsibility for meeting her own parts’ needs. Then, as she’s doing that, she can then come out of the bedroom or the bathroom or whatever and explain to him what was happening and how she’s being with her parts, and then John will have a much better understanding of what was going on with her, and, therefore, it’d be a lot easier for him to be able to enter into empathy with her parts as well.
Then, at that point, if John is a good person and is able to access his higher self, then he will then be able to give more compassion to Sarah and apologize for whatever, in this case, in this example, not texting her earlier and making a note to do that because he realizes what she’s working with, what she’s dealing with from her past. [42:09.8]
If the arguments in the early times when you’re still just learning the therapeutic process, if the argument escalated to name-calling and really hard-hitting character attacks, then when they get into their higher self, they will then apologize to the other person saying, “I didn’t mean that. I said this because of XYZ triggering that happened from my childhood.” Then the more that they undergo this transparent self-awareness with each other, the easier it will be for them to understand why the other person is being this way and sometimes even when the person doesn’t even see it him or herself.
Maybe John comes home late from work at some future date and his phone died, so he wasn’t able to message her or he was in an important meeting and he wasn’t able to get out of it or whatever, and he comes home and she’s really anxious again. [43:03.2]
He will understand why she is that way and he will be able to help her soothe herself by being present with her, feeling with her with the emotions and having this calm presence with her, and not taking too personally the attacks that she might be giving, meting out, as a result of her triggering and giving her that space to be able to calm down and then be with herself so that she can meet her own parts’ needs that are being triggered.
That’s what it would look like. In the one case, if you haven’t been through the therapeutic process, you get triggered and then it escalates, and then you attack each other. Then sort of the morning after, you wonder, “What did we even [fight about]?” If someone were to ask you what the fight was about, you wouldn’t be able to tell the details. You’d just remember the emotional oomph of it, and if you have enough of those, over time, they outweigh the positives and then you just break up.
With a couple that’s been through the therapeutic process, they understand for themselves why they themselves, why the person takes responsibility for his or her own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and is able to sense when they’re getting triggered, and then when you get triggered, it’s your responsibility in healthy boundaries to be with the parts that are being triggered. [44:14.8]
Sometimes that means to remove yourself from the situation, taking the responsibility to physically remove yourself from that room or that home and take that time out, or if it’s a much bigger issue, like physical abuse or something, to move out.
Then, of course, the much deeper issue is all of the childhood issues. The therapeutic process helps you understand your own parts and their roots in your childhood and, as a result, you understand your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors now in adulthood. When you’re able to understand why your parts are responding in this way, you’re then much better equipped and prepared to meet their needs and to be there for them. When each partner is able to be there for their own parts, then the relationship can succeed. [45:05.2]
A couple that is more experienced in the therapeutic process or further along in the therapeutic process would be taking responsibility for their own, for his or her own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and be able to meet their own needs on their own, and have enough experience to soothe themselves or to bring themselves back into self or to become more calm in their bodies, physiologically, with their sensing and being aware of when they’re being triggered, and then knowing how to deescalate for themselves to regulate their own emotions.
That’s a big part of the therapeutic process, being able to notice when it’s coming up, when the triggering is happening, when the activating is happening, and then knowing how and what to do with which parts are being activated, why they’re being activated, and what they’re really needing. [45:56.8]
Okay, I hope that’s clear. That was one case study. In the next episode, I’ll get into the other ones that I was hoping to do in this episode. Thanks so much for listening. This episode was prompted by a comment to an earlier podcast episode. I read all the comments and I try to respond to as many as I can, so please let me know what you thought about this episode and any feedback at all. I’d love to hear it or see it. If this has helped you in any way, please share it with anyone that you think would benefit.
Thank you so much for listening. I look forward to welcoming you to the next episode where I’ll be digging into more case studies in detail. See you then. David Tian, signing out.
This is ThePodcastFactory.com