“If I can’t connect with you, I can’t connect with us,” Springsteen wrote. Curious to learn more from a therapist who has successfully worked with Springsteen and his wife, Patti Scialfa – and thousands of other couples – I sat down with Real to chat.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Ian Kerner: You write that you are convinced that “the very forces that pushed our world to the brink are also poisoning our closest relationships.” What do you mean?
Terrence Real: I talk about what I call ‘the toxic culture of individualism.’ And individualism is not a natural fact; it has a history.
During the (US) Colonial Days, (Social) is socialism on a small scale. It’s about farms, small towns and small villages. When you live face-to-face with your neighbor, it’s an obvious fact that the good of all is the good of each of us. Civic virtue is a power that goes beyond personal satisfaction. You have a sense of civic virtue that is part of being a civilized person.
With the Industrial Revolution, and the legend of the self-made man, it all turned out differently and each was his own.
Kerner: And the focus on individualism has the opposite effect on relationships?
Kerner: Was that a real mindset shift? Because we don’t automatically think from that personal point of view?
Real: That’s right. As a couples therapist, the most important question I ask is, “Which part of you am I talking to?” Am I talking about what I call the “wise adult” part of you – (() the prefrontal cortex, the most mature part of the brain? Or am I talking about some young part of you that is activated?
The autonomic nervous system scans our bodies four times a second: “Am I safe? Am I safe? Am I safe? Am I safe?” If the answer is “Yes, I feel safe,” we stay in place in our prefrontal cortex and the wise, mature part. But if the answer is “No, I don’t feel safe” – this has to do with trauma and your childhood experiences – then the adult brain goes offline and the raw parts go offline. more aqua will take over. You really lose your neurobiology part where you can remember that there is a whole relationship here. Then you evolve into “you versus me.” It’s all about survival.
When we are activated and we feel in danger, we lose our remembrance of ourselves as a team. And you will never solve a problem or make anything better in your relationship while you are in that place.
Kerner: You talk about being triggered, and what’s triggered is trauma that still needs to be witnessed and heard or soothed in our adult relationships.
Real: Yes, for sure. The trick is to distinguish between what I call the adaptive childish part of you – the you you created as a child to deal with whatever is missing or transgressive in your environment – and the human part. big wise. I see most couples on the verge of divorce, very successful couples. And almost all of them have lived their lives outside of their adaptive childlike self, creating huge world success and a mess in their personal lives.
Kerner: Can you give me an example from your own life of how our “adaptive child” is triggered by past trauma?
Real: A couple came to me on the verge of divorce. The guy is a common, chronic liar; lie about everything. He’s a champion dodge. I asked him, “Who tried to control you growing up?” Sure, his dad – a military man – has complete control over how he eats, how he drinks, how he sits, what clothes he wears, what friends he has, what courses he takes, everything. I said, “How do you deal with this controlling father?” He looked at me and smiled. And he said, “I lied.”
The child-adapted part of him did exactly what he needed to do at the time to preserve his integrity and integrity. But he is not that 4-year-old boy and his wife is not his towering dad.
Two weeks later they returned, hand in hand, all smiling. That weekend, he went to the grocery store with a list from his wife. She gave him 12 things to buy, and he came home with 11. She said, “Where’s the pumped bread?” And he said, “Every muscle and nerve in my body screams to say they’re out of it. And in this moment, I took a breath. I gathered my courage. And I said it. , ‘I forgot.'” And she broke down. into tears. And she said, “I’ve been waiting for this moment for 25 years.”
That is recovery. That is relational mindfulness. That’s the way out of this mess.
Kerner: What is one piece of advice couples can adopt right now?
Real: When your partner comes to you in disrepair, it’s your job to help them transition to the repair with you. Why? Because you live with them. You benefit when they are repaired with you. This is not altruism. This is self-enlightenment. If you are dealing with an unhappy partner, this is not a dialogue. This is not a conversation. This is a one-way street. Let’s put aside objective reality. Put yourself aside and replace that with compassionate curiosity about your partner’s subjective experience. Think ecologically – you are in it with them.
Kerner: How does one person in a couple ensure that they are not always the giver?
Real: My colleague Carol Gilligan has a saying: There can be no voice without relationships; and there can be no relationship without a voice. I want the strong to melt and the weak to rise.
For those of us who enter into relationships dependent on our needs in others – in keeping with traditional feminine socialization – entering a state of vulnerability can mean means to stand up for yourself. That’s not selfish; it benefits the biosphere. But you have to do it skillfully. I teach my clients, especially women, how to stand up for themselves with love. How to be clear and assertive while cherishing their partner and the relationship in the same breath.
That’s the difference between saying, “Hey, don’t tell me that” and saying, “I want to hear what you’re saying. Can you change your tone so I can hear it?” What’s the difference between saying, “I need more sex” and saying, “We both deserve a healthy sex life. What do we need to do to get this started?” The golden rule of relationships asks: What do you need from me to get you through for me? You can completely empower yourself and empower your partner if you remember that you are not the enemy and learn a few skills.