Synergy Equals Loving Deeply

//Synergy Equals Loving Deeply

Stuart: Happy Presidents’ Day, everyone! I hope you are enjoying whatever you’re doing today, whether it’s having a picnic, being with your loved ones, or having to work. Today is a gorgeous day here in Scottsdale, Arizona. It’s approximately 80°. My wife and I just spent the morning walking over to Starbucks with our dog, Ollie, and my sister-in-law and family, who’s been in town most of the week to celebrate my mother’s 85th birthday.

happy birthday

It’s pretty neat to have parents that are still around and active, and being able to really share those experiences with them at this time in their life. And as I speak a great deal about connections and love, and really being there for people that matter to you, to share that with my entire family this weekend has been quite special.

Today, on The Couples Expert Podcast, though, we’re going to have Michael Diettrich-Chastain. He is a counselor who works out of North Carolina, and Michael works in an area of relationships that is quite interesting. He calls his practice Synergy. Synergy, which means all parts working together, and today Michael and I are going to be talking about all the different parts of each of every one of you, and how to make your relationships work in all areas of your life.

Michael has been in many different areas, in different careers. He really put all of his experiences to work and decided to really identify himself as a consultant and a coach, and he’s called his practice a Path to Synergy. Now, why would he call it a Path to Synergy? Because what he knows is that through all our experiences, what we want is to have the whole be better than the sum of the parts, which means that when you’re in a relationship with someone who’s special to you, that you feel really connected to, you know that together you can accomplish almost anything. And that sum of those parts, you and your partner, really will allow you to have something quite better than both of you separately.

What else has Michael been involved with? He’s been involved as a trainer and consultant to businesses. He also has some sales experience, conflict resolution, and really, Michael’s going to join us today here on the podcast to help us really understand how to make all the different areas in our lives really work together.

So, I’m excited to have you, Michael, here on the podcast, and welcome to The Couples Expert Podcast.

Michael: Thank you so much, Stuart. This is a real honor to be here.

Stuart: You know, one of the things that I always like starting with is asking people, how did you decide to get into this crazy field of mental health and behavioral health, and working with all these people who have these challenges? What was some of it that was interesting to you, and why did you get into the field?

Resized head shot (1)Michael: Sure, well thanks for asking. I suppose my answer is similar to a lot of therapists’ out there, that having an interest and understanding why people make the decisions that they do, and what motivates change, and how to be successful in life, and different practices that people take to make those changes and make those successful endeavors. But, I guess going further back, my dad’s a therapist, and so I’ve been around the world of therapy for most of my life, and so it’s been a bit normal for me. So, yeah, that’s the short answer.

The longer answer is that my education and experience has taken me through the therapy world, as well as the coaching and consulting world, so I kind of have a foot in a couple different industries.

Stuart: Maybe we could start right with that because you mentioned coaching and consulting, and I think it’s really confusing for people to understand. When you talk about a coach, I think of, you know, I think of a football coach or I think of a soccer coach, and I have a feeling it’s a little different in what you do.

Coaching vs. Counseling vs. Consulting

Michael: Sure, yeah, yeah, the coaching industry is interesting. I say that it’s continually developing. You know, with all the different titles out there, like leadership coach, executive coach, life coach, I think that there’s a lot of room for interpretation.

But, as far as my background goes, originally, years ago, I was interested in getting involved in industrial organizational psychology, which is more about the systems in behavior within organizations, how people relate, how people interact, how systems function. And, originally, out of school, I worked in account management and sales, and got involved in doing some career coaching and doing some account management. I got a little bit familiar with some of that consulting role, and through that grew more of an interest in doing some of the deeper work that clinical work provides, and so went back and got my license. I’m a licensed professional counselor.

But, I’ve still held on to this interest in doing organization work, and so the business that I have now, fast forward a few more years, offers both, within the concepts of helping businesses with the human side of their business. I hold workshops on things like communication, personal development, emotional intelligence, employee engagement, in addition to doing clinical work, and then, of course, doing the coaching work as well, which can look like a lot of different things depending on who’s coming through the door.


Stuart: So what I hear a lot about are people who advertise themselves as life coaches or relationship coach. What is the difference between coaching, and consulting, and counseling?

Michael: So, I think that the easiest way to answer that is the difference between counseling and coaching, and this is the way I define it to my clients and folks that I work with. When I look at counseling I think about resolving a pain of sorts. So, you’re coming in with, maybe it’s depression, or maybe it’s a trauma, or maybe it’s an addiction, some kind of pain that is needing to be worked through. And sometimes, that involves looking at some history and looking at patterns from the past, so it’s a little bit more backwards facing. Even though coaching components can be involved in counseling, again, it’s about resolving that pain.

future pastCoaching, more specifically, is about really getting clear on goals, and so it’s more forward facing, it’s more resolution oriented, and it’s more about progress. And so, coaching and counseling may cross over with each other, but there isn’t the pain that’s involved in counseling as there is in coaching. I hope that answers the question.

Stuart: So, if I’m a relationship coach, or someone is going to a relationship coach, and they have marriage problems or relationship difficulties, what’s going to be different about seeing that person? Because the pain is still going to be there with both things. Counseling, they’re going to have the pain of loss or the emptiness that comes from a relationship that’s not working, and how would a coach, then, help them there?

Michael: Yeah, it’s a bit of a sticky issue, I think. You know, one of the freedoms that you have as a coach is that you’re not restricted by any of the state licensure issues, and so you can practice as a coach across state lines and even internationally, as some coaches do it, whereas within the counseling, relationship or family therapy, psychology, social work, those are bound, typically, by a lot of state laws.

And so, I think that where it gets a little confusing is that if you are a therapist and a coach, and you’re working as a couples coach, for instance, but then through that process something comes up about a trauma, about a more severe issue that needs to be identified, then the question becomes, are you doing coaching or does it fall into therapy? And so, I think, as a “relationship coach”, I think it could tend to be a little confusing, potentially.

Stuart: You see, that seems pretty dangerous to me. For my listeners, especially, that I would be concerned about someone reaching out to someone who says they’re a relationship coach, you’re saying there’s no real criteria, there’s no real licensure. How does someone, then, who’s seeking some help in that area know that they’re going to be with someone that’s credible?

Michael: That’s a great question. You know, one of the things that I do with all my clients, because I do counseling and coaching, if I have a coaching client, I’m really clear on the front end about, what are our goals and what are the expected outcomes, and how do we measure that. And so, if someone’s coming in and they’re wanting to understand how to build motivation, how to build discipline, how to build more structure around their practices that help them remain stress-free, how to re-engage in passion and purpose in their life, these are all, more so, coaching domains. The front end conversation always has to do with, if there are things that come up, like addictions, like severe mental health issues, then what will happen is that a referral would be made at that point because, again, you can’t really do the counseling and the coaching if you are a licensed therapist, to my knowledge.

Stuart: But give my listeners some helpful tips, if you can, on how to make sure that they’re not going to get themselves with somebody that doesn’t know what the heck they’re doing.

Michael: Sure, well that’s an interesting thing, also, about the coaching industry, is that it is not really that regulated. Within the counseling or therapy industry, you’ve got the process of getting your Master’s degree, then you’ve got the process of getting licensed, which takes, typically, anywhere from 2,000 to 3,500 hours of practice before you get licensed. And so, there are a lot of steps along the way in order to get that degree and that license, whereas with coaching, anyone can really hang a shingle, so to speak, and call themselves a coach within whatever context they choose, whether it’s executive, leadership, life coaching, relationship coach.


And so, I would say that there is, potentially, a little bit more due diligence that clients would want to go through to understand, is this person credible, is this someone that I could connect with. And, I would say as far as action steps to take for that, things that I think would be helpful would be, really get clear about what it is that they’re looking for, what would be helpful about a helping professional, what kind of characteristics are they expecting to see.

Are they wanting someone that is more supportive? Are they wanting someone that is more challenging, or more curious, or more willing to kind of call them out on their own things that may come up? Are they wanting someone that has a particular certificate? Because within coaching, even though it’s not regulated, there are many different kinds of certificates that you can get. And so, that’s another way to exercise the due diligence, is to look at, what background does this person have, what education to they have?

Stuart: Yeah, and it sounds like, at least from my perspective, and I guess the listeners of this podcast, I would highly recommend that you not seek out a coach if you’re having marital problems, that you should really start with a counselor and let the counselor then guide you and say, “Hey, I think we’ve reached a certain point, now all you need is sort of a supportive person to help you in some other areas.” Would you go along with me on that?

handshakeMichael: Absolutely, I like that, yeah. You know, one of the biggest conversations I have that seems to come up often with people that are seeking me for coaching, is just the desire to have an accountability partner, someone that can be there with you as you set goals, as you look at progress, as you look at barriers to progress, and just having that person to kind of brainstorm, whether it’s about, “How am I moving along in the direction I want to go to, and what’s preventing me from being successful?” And, I think you’re absolutely right, after some of that more severe pain is resolved, then moving over to that accountability partner or relationship coach, then it makes a little bit more sense.
It’s All About Balance, Consistency and a Daily Practice
Stuart: See, and I think what this brings up for me, and I think it’s a great lead way into our next sort of bigger topic and the reason I asked you on, is really about, all of it’s really about a business, kind of. You know, there’s many types of businesses out there. You have the counseling business, you have technology businesses. There’s probably as many businesses as there are careers and different things in the world, and what you and I have been talking a lot about is really how to put the two together, the personal life and the business life.

And I just really love the name of your business because Synergy just brings up so many nice… It’s got a nice ring to it.

Michael: Well, thank you.

Stuart: It sounds good. It sounds good.

Michael: I appreciate that.

Stuart: It’s sort of like Nirvana, you know? Years ago, when I started hearing about sort of the mid-Eastern kind of thing, and you heard the term “Nirvana”, it was just sort of like, “Nirvanaaaa!”


Michael: It just rings.

Stuart: It just feels so good! You just want to roll over and cuddle your dog and go to sleep, you know? That’s Nirvana, the pleasure. And, really, Synergy is not that different than that, is it? It’s having an equal balance.

Michael: Yeah, I mean, that’s pretty much how I look at it. You know, I see all of these different life domains that we have, whether they’re career, or our intimate relationships, or our friendships or family, or health, fitness, spirituality, you name it, I think that they are all so connected and so interwoven that to move one means that the other moves. And, I think, the more that we can embrace this idea that we aren’t compartmentalized as human beings, the more success we’ll have.

Stuart: You know, the whole yin and yang concept to me is really… And when we talk about couples and we talk about relationships, isn’t that what we really want, that my wife’s my… I don’t know which is the male side, actually, the yin or the yang, but one of us is one and the other is the yang, and it’s how we fit together. And when we talk about business, and we talk about stress and high pressure business especially, that’s where the two really need to meet.

Michael: Absolutely.

Stuart: And I guess I’d like you to talk a little about some of your thoughts and your advice to people on how to put them all together so it really does fit.

Michael: Sure, sure. You know, I think it’s a complicated issue if you look at all the different domains and all the different experiences that we have in life, our relationships, our career, our health, our wellness. To me, I think one of the things that comes up a lot, both in my own life and with my clients, is this concept of a daily practice, and you could look at that within the individual, and you could look at that within the context of a couple, too.

And what I mean by daily practice is just having some kind of activity, some kind of engagement, that you use regularly, disciplined, in your life that helps to destress, helps to reduce pressure, helps to reduce anxiety. That could be anything from taking your dog for a walk every day, to going to the gym every day, to practicing meditation, to ‘fill-in-the-blank’. There’s practices for everyone, and I think finding that one that resonates with the individual is the most important part.

Stuart: So, you’re really talking about rituals.

Michael: Absolutely, absolutely.

Stuart: You know, that’s one of the things with couples work, especially, that I think is so essential, is to put something in place. And you mentioned walking the dog, which just rings home for me because that is one of the things, for my wife and I at least, that is one of the best places to connect because you’re walking the dog, you’re away from distractions, you’re away from the phone, you’re just sort of walking down the street, and you could really just have such an intimate moment there. And that’s really what you’re talking about, isn’t it?

Michael: Definitely, yeah, and I like what you said about not being distracted. I think whatever it is that you choose to engage in, that’s a key element of it, is really removing the distractions so you can really visit whatever it is in a mindful way without the distractions, all the stressors, and things that come up in our lives.

Stuart: Yeah, and I think the other essential element that I teach with the couples that I see is, a ritual is only worthwhile if the purpose of the ritual is about the relationship because then it’s just doing stuff, that both people have to feel that the reason behind this, why we’re doing it, is to enhance closeness and to enhance the relationship.

Michael: Yeah.

Stuart: And for you, it’s probably more like, we’re doing this to alleviate stress or keep us focused.

Michael: In the context of the couples, I think it can be both a stress reduction activity, as well as a way to connect, and I think, again, the daily practice is great in that way.

Stuart: So, when you say “daily practice”, you mean doing it every day?


Michael: I do. I think that…and you’ll read a lot of research about how to form habits, but I think that in order to really embrace something to where it’s a part of your life, integrating it daily is the way to do that. And, I don’t think that we can effectively binge on behaviors and have them last over time. I think in order to really create a behavior that’s going to be long-lasting, it has to be regular.

Stuart: What do you mean by “binge on behaviors”? That’s an interesting term.

Michael: Yeah, yeah. So, what I mean by that is when you look at making any kind of behavioral change, so let’s say we’re talking about lifting weights, for instance, if someone is going to the gym five hours once a week, that might be much less productive than someone who’s going to the gym for 20 to 30 minutes every day. Part of the reason is that I don’t think you can really get as much done in five hours at the gym once a week because your fitness isn’t keeping up with the behavior, but the other part of that is creating discipline in your life. Again, regardless of the behavior, if you’re willing to and able to practice it daily, it essentially, eventually, becomes kind of a part of your routine. It’s less about, “Oh, I need to do this,” and more about, “Oh, this is just something that I do.”

Stuart: So, it sounds like you need to schedule it, you’re saying.

Michael: Yeah, I would agree with that. I would agree with that.

Stuart: Especially when we talk about busy executives or people who barely have enough time to even grab a lunch at work, how do you put that into… Are we just talking about in our personal life or are we also talking about doing this at work?

Michael: Sure, I think practices and scheduling, again, it’s this idea of all parts of our lives are connected. And so, whether it’s implementing self-care practices at work, like taking a lunch every day, which I know is hard for a lot of people, that we live in high-demand, high-pressure work spaces, and a lot of times the element of taking a lunch every day is not part of that, but again, I think that creating that schedule, creating that boundary on, “This is what I need to be doing every day,” is important.

Stuart: You mean I can’t have a Big Mac at lunch anymore? Two patties, special sauce, and cheese no longer is part of my life? Oh no!

Michael: I always say that there are no right or wrong answers, but there are consequences for them.

Stuart: There are consequences for everything we do!

Michael: That’s right.

It’s Also About Boundaries

Stuart: That’s right. See, what that also brings up is the issue of self-care. One of the things that I think I recently said in a video did was on how marriage or relationships is a key to your business success. And one of the comments that I made on the video is that if you’re bringing work home, and you’re sitting at home doing work, you’re not at home and that you should not kid yourself or kid your partner and say, “I’m relating!” because you might as well still be at work. You do need to have a ritual or a boundary, and that’s truly what I guess I’m bringing up because I know one of the things you talk a lot about are boundaries with careers and relationships. Talk some about that because I really would like to hear some about that.

Michael: Sure, yeah, I talk about that. That seems to be another kind of theme that comes up a lot with clients and I think that it’s important for all of us to recognize, just to, like you said, you can’t bring home your work and be checking your e-mail in bed at 9:00 p.m., and your partner’s next to you, and consider that time together.

Stuart: Right.

Michael: So, yeah, I think being really clear about, what are your roles at work, what you’re willing and unwilling to do and holding strong to that, and then, at home it’s the same thing. And I think a lot of that has to do with clear communication as far as partnerships go, understanding, what are the roles that each person has and what are you willing and unwilling to do, and what’s the expectation of the other person. I think that’s really important. Understanding expectations is such a crucial piece, both at home and in the work world. But, yeah, it all comes back to being really clear about what’s acceptable and unacceptable for you.

Stuart: Do you have any specific guidelines that you could offer my listeners on the kind of boundaries that you would recommend, that would help both from a work perspective as well as from a personal perspective?

Michael: Yeah… I think that’s a potentially tricky answer, only because people’s schedules and work, industries, are so different that that may impact the answer. But, I would say, you know, the example that you gave earlier is a great one, just being clear that at whatever point in the day, whether it’s a lunch break or somed kind of a time during the day where you allow yourself to decompress and move away from work, is really important. And you know, interestingly, there’s a lot of research to show that if we take those breaks and remove ourselves from our desks, for instance, and get a little movement during the day, that we’re actually more productive. And so, this myth that sitting at our desk and grinding out eight, to ten, to twelve hours a day is going to make us more productive is essentially that, it’s a myth.

I think building in those breaks is a really good example, and then, within the home life, I really like what you said too, building in time, whether it’s an agreement that’s made within the partnership that at a certain time of night, whether it’s 5:00, or 7:00, or whatever they choose is appropriate, that that’s when the devices go away, that’s when the work goes away, and then that’s the time to connect.


Stuart: And, I would imagine, living up to the commitments is a key element to that.

Michael: Absolutely, absolutely, I agree with that.

Stuart: Because so many people have, I think, the image that work is what brings in the money, and the work is what allows the lifestyle, that that should take precedence. And I see so many people who make these commitments, and then a phone call comes in at home, and before you know it, the commitment that they made to their partner, it goes down the tubes. How do you live up to a commitment like that?

Michael: Well, I think what’s interesting about that, you know, I think it’s kind of an opportunity. For instance, if this is a couple that you or another therapist might be working with, I think that implementing some of these strategies, like the devices go away and there’s going to be time for connection at a certain hour of the night, and then those commitments aren’t lived up to, then they come back in the next session and the question is, “Well, what happened?” I think that offers the opportunity to discuss what it is that’s really meaningful to that individual that’s not willing to stick to these boundaries. And then, I think you have the opportunity to explore, what are their beliefs, what are their values, what’s really important for this person, in the hopes that that would lead in a direction to offer some resolution.

Stuart: So, having it be personalized, is what you’re saying.

Michael: Oh, of course.

Stuart: Yeah, I think that’s key, and also, if it doesn’t happen, to maybe have a dialogue, if you have a genuine, authentic relationship, to then be able to turn to your partner and say either, “You blew it,” and have your partner accepting that, or if you could make it a priority because this issue came up, help them understand what made it that important, or more important than what they promised.

The other thing that I tell people is, if you were told that you had to be at a staff meeting and if you weren’t there you’d lose your job, and something came up, like tickets to a great ballgame, would you go to the game or would you say, “Oh, I’d love to go to the game, but this is a commitment that, if I don’t go, I’m going to lose my job.” Can we make it that important to be present for our partners?

Michael: Yeah, I like that. Well, I mean, I think what you’re saying is that you’re talking about, what are the consequences?

Stuart: Right.

Michael: Not that the consequences need to be, “If you don’t meet this boundary…” you know, the person is going to leave the other, but I think that getting really clear about, again, about those boundaries, about this is what the expectation is and if this isn’t met, this is the consequence, yeah, I like that.

Stuart: Yeah, and I think people think, you know, when I have couples come in, they turn to me and they go, “Well, we used to love each other, but we fell out of love,” like it was a light switch, like, “One day I was, ‘Oh, I’m so passionately in love with you and now I’m not.’” It doesn’t work that way. It’s the small things. It’s the not being there, or not making a phone call when you promised, or cancelling on a dinner that chip away at it. So, you have to remember that one dinner isn’t a huge problem, but if that seems to be the pattern of the behavior, is that the ritual, is that, as you were talking about, the… What was the term you used?


Michael: The daily practice?

Stuart: The daily, sort of the binge, almost.

Michael: Right, right.

Stuart: If cancelling is more what’s expected, then trust goes away, and if trust goes away, what have you got?

Michael: Sure, I agree. Yeah, remaining consistent over time, both with behavior change, as well as within the context of relationship, holding on to that consistency is really important.

Stuart: See, you have a very realistic approach on things. I mean, your answer earlier, when you said, “I’d love to answer that question, but I can’t because every situation is so different,” that’s just reality and I love how you do that because so many people want to sort of just really quickly give you that quick answer, “Oh, just do this and everything will be wonderful.” And we all know that it doesn’t work. Life doesn’t work that way.

Michael: Absolutely.

Call Michael for Your FREE Consult

Stuart: One of the things you’re offering my listeners, which I’m excited about because it’s really cool, is that you’re offering a free consult of some sort, aren’t you?

Michael: Yeah, I would love to offer your listeners a half-hour coaching session, a break-through coaching session. (828-365-6228) So, what that means, again, we’re not talking about resolving a pain necessarily, we’re not talking about working through trauma, but we are talking about how to take actionable tips towards goals. And so, within that half-hour I would hope to be able to identify what the goal is, and this could be within work context, or boundary context, or managing stress, and then be able to give at least one or two tips on how to move the ball forward towards that goal.

Stuart: So, if someone who’s listening is struggling with wanting to be able to really be present at home, but recognizes that, you know, whether it’s fear of losing their job, or fear that “I’m going to screw up somehow,” but they know that it’s important to also be present with their partners, they can do one of these consults and you’ll give them some ideas on how to try to look at it somewhat differently, perhaps, or even giving them some specific things they can do to help?

Michael: Yeah, definitely. Like you said, and I really appreciate it, every situation and every context is different, whether it’s relationships, or businesses, or work worlds, and because of that, every answer might be different. It’s hard to give blanket answers for complicated questions. And so, yeah, that would be my hope, is to be able to give them something to walk away with to practice.

The Business Side of Relationships

Stuart: I think you may have answered this question, but it sort of still comes up for me, is I’ve heard you use this before, and I think when we’ve talked about you coming on the podcast, about how relationships are so much like a business, and I’m sort of curious about that, if you don’t mind.

Michael: Sure, yeah. It’s funny, I was featured recently in about an article, a longer article, I was just a part of it, but it was this idea exactly – how are relationships and business similar. And so, a few things that come up that I think are similar are ideas of boundaries. We talked about that, there are boundaries in business like there are in relationships and how to navigate the two of those.

When you’re looking at things like confidence and clarity, for instance, and again, I think we talked about that too, this idea of how do you remain consistent over time, I think that applies very well in business. You know, someone who brings in erratic behavior to the work world is going to be seen as not very trustworthy and there’s going to be a lot of question around that person’s behavior, and so, similarly, like we said, in relationships that can be problematic too.

And I think the other thing that goes a long way is this idea of curiosity versus arrogance. That’s another principle you could apply to both business and relationships. Oftentimes, when there’s conflict, when we get frustrated or revved up by a situation, our go-to space is often arrogance, or that we are convinced we have the answer. And so, I think that if we can move to a place of curiosity instead, whether it’s about our partner or it’s about our business endeavor, that there’ll be more success to be had.

Stuart: Or about your boss.

Michael: Absolutely, yeah.

Stuart: Because I hear so many people saying, you know, “My boss is a jerk,” or this, that, and the other, and sometimes I have to sort of slow it down and I go, okay, let’s talk a little bit about what their self expectations might be and where’s that coming from and, “Are you sending the message to your boss that you’re a team player or are you sending the message that you don’t believe in them, and how does that then play itself out in the triggers that go on between the two of you?”

Michael: Yeah, I like that a lot, this idea of really engaging in personal awareness.


Stuart: Which is the curiosity.

Michael: Yeah, exactly, exactly.

Oh, Quit Your Belly-Aching!

Stuart: Michael, one of the things that I was thinking about is, I happened to see something you wrote on a website called A Complaint Free World and it was sort of this challenge of some sort about, I think it was not complaining. And, actually, I once was at Toastmaster’s a couple of months back, and someone actually threw that out to the crowd about, “Can you not say ‘no’?” or “Can you not complain about something?” You know, I don’t know if I could even do that, to be honest. Talk a little bit about that.

Michael: Sure, yeah, that’s a great question. I recently stumbled upon this site too,, and wrote a blog post about it, which you can check out on But, the thing that I took from this, basically the story is… I’ll back up.

The story with it is that you order a bracelet, it’s a purple bracelet, and the objective is to not complain for 21 days. And so, every time you do, you switch wrists with the bracelet and you start over, and the idea is to get to 21 days. And so, I started this experiment myself, December 25th, and am only on day 9, currently. So, it’s definitely a challenge, but what I really like about this experiment is that it bridges the gap between this idea of awareness, and understanding, and mindset, and action.

I think one of the challenges we have is that there’s so much information out there about how to be a better partner, for instance, how to be a better person, how to be successful, and so there’s a lot of information, there’s a lot of knowledge, but then the question is, how do we take all that information and put some action behind it? It’s experiments like these that push us into action, which is something that I really appreciate, and can say that it’s definitely a worthwhile challenge to take.

Stuart: What do you think the benefits of it are, “I’m not complaining”?

Michael: What I’ve noticed so far, and I just speak for myself, is that I am much more mindful of how I phrase things and what I focus on. And so, I’ve really, especially in the beginning it was a lot more challenging, but really being cognisant of what it is that I’m speaking to, where do I put emphasis. You know, ultimately, whatever we’re talking about and how we move through the day, conversations we have, that’s a choice. We choose to engage with others in a particular way, and I think that if we can build more positive ways to engage, the happier we’ll be and the more successful we’ll be. And so, this is just an experiment in that.

Stuart: Would you say it’s a similar topic if we call it “complaining” or “negativity”? Is that the same thing or does it have to be like, “Oh, I don’t like my peas today”?


Michael: Sure, yeah, and that’s an interesting question, to recognize what’s a complaint versus a comment.

Stuart: How do you define what a complaint is?

Michael: So, the way I’ve defined complaining, and you can look at this on the A Complaint Free World website, where they give ‘frequently asked questions’ and define it, but the way I define it for myself is, if I’m making an observation of a fact, like I hurt my knee, for instance, I’m not going into how awful it is or it’s ruining my day, it’s just, “Okay, I’ve hurt my knee and I’m moving on,” I wouldn’t consider that a complaint. But, if I’m resonating in the negativity, if I’m really getting into talking about how horrible it is, then I would absolutely consider that a complaint. So, again, I think it’s been beneficial for me because it’s really made me more cognisant of how I’m choosing to speak about my experience.

Stuart: And also, I think that if you have a tendency to be someone, and I think we all are, which are complainers, it also allows you to feel more positive within your world because it seems like everything’s much more positive and doesn’t have that negative feel.

Michael: Yeah, I agree, I agree. You know, I would be curious to see how this experiment would work with a couple, if they’re both engaging in this, because I think, particularly in relationships, it’s sometimes easy to get into a rhythm of complaining or whining about our day, about our experience. And I wonder what that would do for a couple, to really try and eliminate some of that talk with each other.

Stuart: That’s a great idea. Maybe you offer a contest for couples who do it. Whoever has less complaints, you’ll give a 45-minute free consult!

Michael: Yeah, that would be cool. I’d be happy to, yeah.

Michael’s Learnings

Stuart: You know, we’re getting close to being out of time here, and one of the things that I would like you to respond to, if you’re willing, is a little bit about yourself and about how, through the course of all of this and some of your own self-study, and through your own sort of finding your own way, what have you learned about yourself that may have surprised you, or how have you taken what you are teaching now and applied it to your own life?

Michael: Interesting. Yeah, I appreciate that question. A couple things that I think I’ve learned, relatively recently, from starting this business particularly, I think I’ve always had a sense or a curiosity about entrepreneurship. And I think starting this business in the last couple years has really helped me to engage in that part of myself that I think was hiding for some years. I’ve really been enjoying that.

And secondly, I would say, the idea of the daily practice is something that’s been part of my life for a long time, and so that’s not only something that I speak to clients about, but it’s something that I can resonate with because I’ve seen its effectiveness in my own life. A lot of my regular routine has to do with exercise, regular journaling every day, regular meditation every day, and I just find these things invaluable, both from a way to kind of continually explore my own process and how I understand things, as well as just being able to reduce stress. I really notice a difference if there are days when I don’t get my routine in, how I have a harder time moving through the day and engaging with people, and engaging with conflict, and kind of managing my own ups and downs. And so, yeah, I have a lot of respect for the daily practice.

Stuart: Well, Michael, thank you very much for joining us today on The Couples Expert Podcast. I think that if you’re inside, in that synergy or balance, I think can really make a difference for people, both in terms of their relationships and not feeling like it’s a choice, like one or the other, and just really allowing people to really take a look at what they’re doing and how they can just make everything fit so well together, to just change everything.

Michael: Thank you so much, Stuart. I really appreciate the opportunity and, as always, it’s really nice chatting with you.

Stuart: All righty, take care, and we’ll talk to you next time. Bye-bye, everyone. Bye.

End of Transcriptionend of transcription


About the Author:

Stuart Fensterheim, LCSW helps couples to overcome the disconnection in their relationships. As an author, blogger and podcaster, Stuart has helped couples around the world to experience a unique relationship in which they can feel special and important, confident in knowing they are loved deeply and that their presence matters. The Couples Expert Podcast consists of weekly provocative conversations offering the perspectives and insight of experts from a variety of relationship related fields. Stuart also offers daily relationship video tips on The Couples Expert YouTube channel and by subscription in Stuart's Daily Notes. Stuart is happily married and a devoted father of 2 daughters. His office practice serves the greater Phoenix, Arizona area including the cities of Scottsdale, Chandler, Tempe, and Mesa.

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