Valentine’s Day Is Not For The Faint Of Heart

//Valentine’s Day Is Not For The Faint Of Heart

Stuart: Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! And I want to just thank all of you. As I did in the intro, I wanted to make sure all of you were aware that we have hit 20,000 downloads. 20,000 downloads! I mean, that’s like… I can’t even imagine how many of you that took to really listen to our podcast, to really spread the word that loving connection is the answer to really make sure that all of us feel special in the world, know how important we are, and know that we’re not alone in this world.

One of the things we know is that being alone in this world, you can really go insane. Loneliness, when you have a partner there, lying next to you, there isn’t anything more painful than that. So, how can we make sure that our partners truly see all of us – the good, the bad, the ugly – and that we feel secure in their love? That is what my vision is, to help all of you never, ever have that experience. But how do you do that? How do you make sure that you’re with that person, that you know is there for you, that you can answer that question, “Are you there for me?” and there isn’t any guessing with the answer, the answer is a definitive, “Yes, this person is there for me. Even when we fight, they’re there for me.”

One of the really exciting experiences I had last weekend when I did… I guess it was two weeks ago, when I did my “Hold Me Tight: Two Days, Seven Conversations”Flyer Couples Weekend Valentines Special weekend, is people left the weekend knowing that their partner, truly, is there for them. That doesn’t mean they didn’t still argue or didn’t still get triggered when the two of you would speak and something comes up, but when the triggers happen, we understand why, we understand where they’re coming from, and together, the two of you now have a language to be able to talk about that.

And here’s the key: To be able to see it the same way. What that takes is vulnerability, it takes authenticity, and it takes a geniuneness of being who you are and knowing your partner loves you in spite of all the things that may be not exactly how they would like you to be, at times. And at times, they see those sort of failings, that they might interpret as a failing, as part of who you are as a person. So, the entire package is what matters, not the particular situation, not the particular isolated time when you two really pulled apart.

But then, here’s the key, and this is what I think the people in my workshop did experience, over and over again, as we worked through some of the exercises over the weekend, is that there is an ability to repair that. So, the key is, arguing and fighting is not the problem. The problem that most couples have is a lack of repair. And there’s nothing that triggers couples more than this next week because, as you know from my intro, this is Valentine’s Day. And Valentine’s Day can be the happiest day in the world, but it also can be a time of pulling away, pulling apart, and interpretations and misunderstandings that go beyond the normal conflicts.

So, I’ve brought back one of my previous guests, Renee Segal. Renee is a friend of mine, who we talked a while back, about couples’ conflicts and what I know is, Valentine’s Day, more than almost any other holiday, brings up for people the feeling of not being important, and that feeling that we talked about a minute ago, about feeling alone. Because unless the two of you are clear about expectations, about what it’s going to look like and what the day should be or shouldn’t be, and who should be part of that day and who shouldn’t be part of that day, there’s so many misunderstandings that can occur.

So, I asked Renee to come on to talk about conflict, but in a different kind of way than she did before. This time, what I’d like to talk with her about is how to handle and manage those interpretations, those things that come up for couples that quite often are not even talked about, but in the middle of an argument, when you’re triggered, saying some mean awful things at times, and I want her to guide us to see how to understand what happens and what some of the solutions are.

So, Renee, welcome back to The Couples Expert. I am so thrilled that you’re here.

Renee: Stuart, it’s really nice to be back. I’m glad to be a part of the Valentine’s program.

Stuart: Yeah, and also, you’re part of this really new venture with hitting that 20,000. That’s been pretty cool.

Renee: Yeah, it’s very exciting. I’m glad that you’re spreading the word about love, and couples, and conflict, and how we can have more positive relationships.

Stuart: You know, I realize in my intro, since you were here previously, I didn’t really introduce you, I just said it was great to have you, so why don’t you tell my listeners a little bit about who you are, and where you practice and that, you know, just some things about you.renee segal image

Renee: Okay. So, my name is Renee Segal, and I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist. I’m a certified Emotionally Focused Therapist and my practice is in Minnetonka, Minnesota. And I deal primarily with people recovering from affairs and other betrayals, sex addiction, other types of addictions, and people that are dealing with some sexual trauma in their relationships. I’m also a yoga teacher, and I love what I do. And I have a group practice. I have two employees that work with me, two other wonderful therapists, and I love emotionally focused therapy. And I think that that’s pretty much… That’s a little bit about my practice here in Minnesota, where it’s cold. It’s cold and snowy.

Stuart: Yeah, I know. Can I tell you what the temperature is here today?

Renee: I don’t know if I want to… I don’t think that I want to know.

Stuart: You don’t, I’ll tell you that. But you know what? I chose to live in Arizona because I decided gloating is not something that I don’t like. I actually like doing it, and I’m going to gloat because I believe today it’s going to be 75°.

Renee: Yeah, well, it started off warm today and now it’s going to get very, very cold. It’s windy, and yeah.

Stuart: But, I’ve been there because I used to live outside of Erie, Pennsylvania, and a lot of people who live here don’t understand the term “white-out”. They think “white-out” is what you fix papers that you’re writing, that have a little bit of a problem, so you want to erase the letter. A white-out is snow!

Renee: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Stuart: Anyway, Renee, I’m really thrilled to have you back here. And you know, when you were introducing yourself, one of the things that came up for me is, you know, I’ve done some work on an Indian reservation, and the city that you identified, Minne… How did you pronounce it?

Renee: Minnetonka.

Stuart: Minnetonka. Is it a native word?

Renee: It is, and I think it means something like “laughing waters”, or maybe that’s Minnehaha. I don’t know, I think it’s actually…

Stuart: Minnehaha, yeah, maybe.

Renee: Minnetonka, there’s a big lake here and I believe… Well, it’s a suburb of Minneapolis, but it’s… I don’t know the origins of what Minnetonka is, but it’s a huge lake here which has lots of different channels, and people that are from Minnesota would know about Lake Minnetonka.

Stuart: It sounds very pretty and very sort of…

Renee: It is beautiful, yeah.


Stuart: And one of the things that you mentioned, and I know you talked about it a little bit at our last podcast, about you being a yoga instructor, and it just sort of… Minnetonka, EFT, yoga, spirituality, genuineness, just, it all seems to go together and the podcast that I recently had right before yours is a friend of mine who has a practice that he identifies as Synergy. And the reason he talks about that is, synergy is sort of all the parts fitting together. Isn’t that what we do?

Renee: Mm-hm, it is. It is how everything all fits together. I think my yoga practice, and I have a meditation practice, I meditate every morning, that’s what helps me be completely present to my couples. It’s something that’s really important to me. But, people are people and everybody has struggles, and it’s just sort of being awake and being present to what’s happening in the room and what’s happening with me. So, I think that my yoga practice and my meditation practice helps me be present to others, and teaching yoga is a little bit the same, but I like to move and I’m an active kind of person, so it helps me keep going.

Stuart: Right, and I think as you’re talking, you’re talking about everything being aligned, aren’t you?

Renee: Yeah, yeah, I am.

Stuart: And I think one of the places we need to be very aware of, which just sort of leads right into our topic for today, is what’s happening in the world, what’s happening in society, and what’s happening on television, and the commercials, and the florists, and Valentine’s Day is, like, all over now. Every commercial is about Valentine’s Day. Candy – you walk through the malls and you see all the Valentine’s Day. And the hard thing is, when you have all of those external influences on you, how to take control of what’s happening for you from a trigger standpoint, isn’t it?

Renee: Mm-hm. I think it’s particularly hard, whether it’s sort of a Hallmark holiday or not, it is the love holiday. So, for people that are not in a relationship, it’s incredibly painful for some of them that want to be in a relationship, and for those that are in some of these escalated couples that are in a relationship, a lot of times people end up getting let down.

And a lot of the men, and this is what I’ve seen over the course of my practice, say it’s a set-up for failure. They are confused about what to do, and the women have higher… And we’re talking heterosexual couples, I know, but the women have higher expectations and the men feel very, very let down, or the women feel very let down, and the men feel like they’ve been set up for failure because they’re not really sure what to do and how to please their partner.

So, I’m glad we’re going to talk about this because I think that there are a few things that people can do as a preventative way, and then also, what to do when you have let down your partner and how do we repair that.

Stuart: Right, and I think the other piece, because I want to have a much more… It felt a little bit negative as you were talking about the men’s perspective about being set up. I think that that’s true. I think there’s clearly those thoughts and those feelings, but I also think there’s another part, and I guess what I’m thinking is, the men that truly want to be present, truly want to be there for their partners, the thing that I think comes up is feeling like you let your partner down. And that element, I think, is another element, not just being set up, because that sounds somewhat like you’re already triggered, but more, “Here I am. I want my wife (or girlfriend) to really feel like I’m there for them because that’s important, and how do I do that without taking some of the joy away from

I’m relating to an experience that I had with my wife this past weekend. We were walking through Costco, and as we were walking through Costco… Costco, if some of you don’t know, it’s sort of this, like a Sam’s Club. I don’t know how you… It’s a warehouse, it’s a discount warehouse. And, basically, they have a jewelry and a watch display as you walk in the door, at least at ours. And she’s wandering around the jewelry because she loves jewelry, and she’s pointing to these diamonds that are, you know, $250,000, and a watch, which is Rolex or Cartier, and it’s sort of like, I began to feel rather quickly, like, “Oh-oh.”

Number one, I haven’t even begun, truthfully, to even think about what I’m going to get her, and number two, how am I going to, you know, “That’s not really what we had agreed to do, that kind of expense.” And so I turned to her and I said, “Okay, I need to be vulnerable, I teach this stuff.” So, I opened up and I said, “You know, I’m feeling sort of like I don’t know what to do here,” and I asked her what she would like for Valentine’s Day. And what she said to me is she wants an orchid. That’s what she wanted. And as we’re walking through the store, they have orchids, and she picked one out and said, “This is what I want you to get me for Valentine’s Day.” And I said, “You’re serious? Is that really what you want?” And she said, “This would make me the happiest of anything that you could get me.”

And, number one, I had this, “Whew!” sort of this attitude of, “Wow! I’m in good shape.” But then, there’s another thing that came up on me, and this is going on a little bit, but I wanted to sort of ask you to speak on this, is the whole concept of, “Aren’t I supposed to surprise her?”

Renee: Yeah.

Stuart: Aren’t I supposed to do something that she doesn’t know, that she didn’t initiate it, and that it’s going to cause her to not feel as loved and it was the total opposite?

Renee: Yeah, and I think what you have… I’m going to comment on a lot of what you’re saying, Stuart. First of all, good for you for being vulnerable and noticing in yourself that you were feeling like, “Oh-oh, I might let her down,” and that is the feeling that I’m saying, that the ‘set up’ piece of it, where people feel like there is an expectation that, “We’re supposed to do something for this holiday, and I don’t want to let them down,” and that’s where I guess I was using the language ‘set up’, is exactly right.

I think that what you did, which was something that is really healthy and important, is to say, “Oh-oh, these are things that are out of my price range, and is this really what you want? Because if it is, we have to really talk about that.” And she said, “Absolutely not.” What she wanted was an orchid, which sounds lovely.

Stuart: $15.00.

Renee: Yeah, $15.00, which is much more in your price range.

Stuart:Yeah, really.

Renee:But then, the piece about surprising her, and I think, really, what that’s about, from what I see in my practice and in my own life is, “Does my partner really know me? Do they really know what I might like?” And it’s this feeling of attunement that they’re looking for. And we also sometimes hear this, and people will say, “I shouldn’t have to tell you what I want, you should just know.” Sue Johnson talks a little bit, and she always says, “You have to teach couples to say to each other, say what we want, and request that.” I look at it a little bit differently, as well, and that’s something that, like, “I want you to notice me and know so much about me that you can tell what it is that I like and what I don’t like.” And, I think it’s really about noticing and being attuned to that partner.

That said, I think that sometimes couples like surprises and sometimes couples don’t, and I think that that’s unique to each couple. Some people don’t like to be surprised and some people do. I think it’s really more about attunement.

Stuart: Yeah, and how you define ‘surprise’ is an interesting question because my wife is not one that typically wants to be surprised. But she does like not knowing, so what she does, like over Christmas, she’ll give you a choice of five things, and I get to pick which one. So, she’ll say, “I would like this or this, this or this,” and now it’s up to me which I do. To her, that’s a surprise.

Renee: And I think what’s working so well in your relationship, Stuart, is that you’re not an escalated couple and you’re secure, so she can do that. I think when we’re in a situation where the relationship is stressed and insecure, everything is raw, everything is loaded. And so, what I’ll see is, you know, I’ll have couples that have had an affair and they’ll say, “You bought your affair partner ‘this, that or the other thing’, and you only gave me this.” You know, “You bought your affair partner flowers,” or “You bought your affair partner underwear,” or whatever it is, a ring or earrings, or something like that, “And all I get is a dinner?” And I think that it’s really the meaning that’s behind it.

Stuart: The interpretation of what it really means. So, if I don’t know that my wife likes rubies as opposed to emeralds, or that she likes a certain brand of perfume, what I interpret that to mean isn’t about the perfume, it’s about, when you were talking earlier and I really like what you’re saying, is it’s about the meaning that gets attached. “Do you see me when I talk?” It’s really about the A.R.E. that I’ve talked a lot about. It’s about, “Are you there? Do you see me?”

Renee: Yeah. The A.R.E. is Attunement…

Stuart: It’s Accessibility, Engagement and Responsiveness.

Renee: Yes.

Stuart: So, “Are you responsive? Are you really seeing me for who I am and do you make the things that matter to me important to you? Will you remember my birthday? Will you remember our anniversary? Will you take time off work?” All those things fit into this, doesn’t it?

Renee: Mm-hm. Like you said, it’s that, “Are you paying enough attention to be responsive to what it is I care about? What matters to me needs to matter to you.” And so, couples that are not escalated can get on track easily. So, you can have somebody buy somebody something they really don’t like and say, “Oh, go ahead and return it. I don’t care, I’m just glad that you thought about it.” Or, if you have an escalated couple, you know, “See? You don’t even know that I like ‘this thing’,” or “You don’t even know that I detest ‘whatever it is that they got them’ because you’re not really there for me.” So, that’s how it ends up spinning out of control with people.

Stuart: Yeah, and I think there’s a flipside to that too, which is, let’s say you give your partner a gift, they don’t really like it so they exchange it for something that they do like without talking about that, and you come together to meet for dinner or whatever, and they’re wearing something different than the item you gave them, and how you then interpret that.

Renee: Right, and all of these things can get… They’re even more… On any given day, it might not matter so much, but with Valentine’s Day, at a time when our culture and the media put so much into it, it just can be very, very, very, painful for people.

Stuart: Right, and then, I think we also need to talk about sort of the way that the love is represented in the media, and the looks between couples, and you know, you watch a Valentine’s Day, particularly a jewelry commercial, and you see the look in the eyes and you see how they’re basically melting when they’re together, and if you don’t have that kind of relationship where you feel any of that, what happens to you? Number one, if you’re the person that tends to be more negative, but even, I think, more painful is when you see the look in your partner’s eyes and it doesn’t feel loving.

Renee: Mm-hm. I think that, yeah, because the expectation is so high.

Stuart: Right.

Renee: Couples can feel very connected and couples can feel… You know, you can be in a secure relationship, where a couple can go through a time of distance. Maybe you’re distracted because you’re dealing with a sick parent, or maybe you’re distracted or pensive about work, and one or the other of the couple is just a little bit distant and they haven’t had, maybe, that kind of connection. I think what we see in the media is something that is, like, so… You know, it is the media.

Stuart: Not real. So not real.

Renee: Yeah! It is the media, of course.

Stuart: Right. They are trying to sell something.

Renee: Exactly! And I think that, so some of these things, I think… You know, you also make a really good point, Stuart, jewelry, flowers, these are things that are more for women, and men also want to be thought of on Valentine’s Day. And, I also hear my men saying that, you know, “I wanted something and she didn’t really give me anything,” and he might not have felt cared about. So, I think it goes the other way, too. For whatever reason, it feels, and as we were talking earlier, it does feel like it’s a little bit more pressure on men to do something for women.

Stuart: Thank you, Renee Segal, for finally having the guts to stand up and say, “Men have needs too!”

Renee: Of course they do!

Stuart: It’s true. We don’t talk enough about this, and that how sad a man could be if his wife didn’t get him something that he enjoys.

Renee: Mm-hm. Or maybe, you know, whatever kind of gift that is, there’s lots…

Stuart: And it doesn’t have to be, necessarily, a gift-gift, like a watch or a ring. I like the more active gifts, like vacations and things like that. To me, that’s a better gift.

Renee: Did you say vacations? I didn’t hear.

Stuart: Uh-huh.

Renee: Yeah, vacations, or it’s also like…

Stuart: It doesn’t have to be that big, yeah.

Renee: Yeah. I have a client who, well, it’s a woman who loves to have her feet rubbed, and so her husband gives her gift certificates, “I’ll rub your feet”, that she can cash in, or something like that. Or, even massages or spending time together, some of those things are also gifts, so we want to make sure that we’re not thinking about it in terms of a physical thing. There’s also emotional gifts like writing somebody a note, somebody writing them a love letter, doing something like that.

Stuart: One of the best gifts I heard a client do with his wife was, he put together a CD. He bought a two-dollar CD, went through his song list, and made her a CD of all the songs that he knew she loved.

Renee: Oh, that’s lovely!

Stuart: That was the entire Valentine’s Day gift and there was nothing more special to her than that.

Renee: Mm-hm.

Stuart: The other thing that I hear a lot about, and I sort of joke about with some of my clients, is about, now with the Internet, so many people are purchasing items online, and if you let your partner know that you didn’t do it online, in some subtle way, for most people that’s much more meaningful because it’s about, there’s time and energy that has gone into that. And that’s part of what I think the joy that other gift was, where she really knew he spent the time and thought about it.

Renee: Well, and I think that is, as we talk about that, that’s really what people are looking for, is as we said, that attunement, that it’s like, “You’re thinking about me. I matter to you.” And I think that view of ‘other’, how they view you matters so much to people. Like, who doesn’t want to be thought of and matter to somebody else? And we need that so much from our partner.

Stuart: See, one of the things, in my practice at least and it’s probably a lot to do with where I practice, in Scottsdale, I work with a lot of fairly wealthy people, and CEOs, COOs, those types of folks, and they have all the money that they will ever need, so buying an expensive gift isn’t a big deal, it’s not going to take a lot of work. Half of them are letting their secretaries buy it for them. So, if it’s just a gift, a physical gift like that, it doesn’t have much meaning to their partners because they know that stuff. It’s when, as you’re saying, when you take the time, there’s thought in there, there’s energy, emotional energy in there, it’s really something that’s really personalized, that’s what people need.

Renee: Well, and I think, exactly what you’re saying, it could be a really expensive gift that the secretary bought, and that partner’s going to know, you know, “He didn’t put any thought into this,” or “She didn’t put any thought into this,” and then they end up in a situation where they’re hurt. And then, we end up in a situation where they’re escalated again and it’s just doubled because it’s Valentine’s Day.

Stuart: Right, those triggers become so intense. And I think one of the things that I want to make sure we talk about today, that I’d like to ask you about, because when we talk about emotionally focused therapy and how this all fits together, we’re talking about, when triggers happen, some of the internal dialogues. And one of the things that I’ve talked a lot about, in terms of the cycles, is what we say to ourselves about our partner, what we say to ourselves about ourselves, and what we say about our relationship. Those interpretations, when you have a trigger that’s prompted and the intensity, I think what you’re really saying is, the intensity is worse when it’s something like a Valentine’s Day.

Renee: Exactly. So, I think what you’re saying, and I like that we’re talking now, we’re sort of getting more into the, maybe, what do we do, all of a sudden you find out your partner didn’t do what you wanted and you’re really, really upset. He didn’t buy you the thing, he didn’t honor you in the way that you wanted to be honored, and you’re so mad about that. And that’s what’s on the surface, but underneath, under those surface emotions, are things like you’re saying, what do we say to ourselves about ourselves and about our partner. And, a lot of times what people are saying is, “He doesn’t care about me. He doesn’t think of me.” “All she wants is a paycheck. I’m not special to her,” and how we’re talking about that.

And sometimes when couples are in that black place, some of those deeper feelings might not even be aware to them, it may not even come into their awareness. They’re just so mad, but underneath the anger is all of that sadness, like, “I really am longing to matter to you. I’m really longing to know that I am that special person to you.” Because we all have that need.

Stuart: And that, I think, the other piece that goes with that, and I appreciate everything that you’re saying, it’s just so right on, is, and if I’m someone that, for relationships, they’re incredibly important and they make me feel good in the world, “Do I make a difference in my partner’s life or are they okay just on their own?” And if I don’t feel a sense that what I just did really made a difference for them, a part of what comes up sometimes is, “Well, they’ll be fine without me. They don’t really need me.”

Renee: “They don’t care.”

Stuart:  “They don’t care because they can do it all on their own. They have money, why would they need me in their world?”

Renee: Mm-hm. I think that that’s really something, and if we talk a little bit about men, I hear this a lot from men, that, “I don’t think that she…” If we’re talking heterosexual relationships, like you’re saying, your people who are these high-power executives, and if they’ve got a wife who seems like she’s pretty competent and doing just fine, sometimes they can wonder, “What is it that I do for her besides just bring home the paycheck? Why am I special to her?” And they need that. I think we all need that. We all need to know what it is, our own special uniqueness, and how that touches our partners. It’s just how we’re wired. As Sue Johnson says, it’s wired in.

Stuart: Chemically, it’s wired in.

Renee: Yeah! Yes, it is! It’s like, you know, you can think about your partner and it can calm you down or it can make you feel worse if you’re in an escalated position. So really, Valentine’s Day is more loaded with that type of thing. “Does he really (or does she really) care about me? What is she going to do to show me that I’m so special?”

Stuart: And I think what people forget about is, the emotional piece is what people look for, is what matters. It isn’t what you do, it isn’t whether you make a lot of money, it’s, do you touch a place in someone’s heart that no one else touches?

Renee:  Right, and then, when you’re giving this gift, this Valentine’s Day gift, are you saying… And like you’re saying, if you’re spending for a $15.00 orchid, for somebody like your wife, she’s thrilled. For somebody else, they’ll say, “I don’t like orchids.”

Stuart:  Or, “That was easy.”

Renee: Or, “That was too easy,” or “It doesn’t seem like you’re really thinking about me.”

Stuart: “Not personal enough, not…” you know.

Renee: Right. It doesn’t matter what it is, I think it’s the message, and I think that’s, really, the message that we want to send, is, “You matter to me and you matter to me enough so that I’m going to think about you when you’re not there. And, I’m going to know you enough that I’m going to be able to give you something that will touch your heart.”

Stuart: And then, I think we have to make sure we talk about, Renee, and I’d like you to respond to is, okay, so all of the things we’re talking about, those sound real good, and I think we all need to pay attention to that, but now we have a situation where you’re triggered, and the interpretations that we were just talking about. How do you then reconnect? Because we want to talk about that repair.

Renee: Right. We talked about this a little bit in our last podcast, Stuart, and I think it’s great that we’re bringing it up. So, let’s say that, for your listeners, let’s say you’re really disappointed with the gift that your partner gave you and you’re feeling a little sad, and you’re feeling like they didn’t notice you or something like that. If you can go to them and share that vulnerable feeling, “You gave me this gift and I didn’t feel like you cared about me, it didn’t come across that way,” and tell them about that feeling rather than the anger, share that vulnerability with them, it’s much easier, then, for that partner.

The vulnerability pulls the vulnerability in the other partner and you can have a real conversation rather than a conversation around, “Ugh, you always do this. All you did is go to Target and you bought me chocolates, and that doesn’t mean anything to me, and you know I don’t like chocolate,” or something like that, instead of saying, you know, “You bought this and I feel like you didn’t really care,” and letting them know what’s underneath and inside of you.

Stuart: And the flipside is the partner that then says, “You always do this. You never like anything that I ever get you. I’m done! I’m not going to ever buy you another Valentine’s Day gift again, so there!”

Renee: Yeah.

Stuart: There’s that piece, too, that I think we have to respond to, really helping each other come in from a gentle point of view.

Renee: Exactly, and so that person who said, “Aw, I went to Target, and I went in Minnesota in the snow, and I went and I got this for you, and I was thinking about you,” for that partner to really access, yes, he disappointed her or she disappointed him, and to talk about, like, “Here it is again. I tried and somehow I didn’t get it right, and I feel badly about it. I feel like I hurt you,” to talk about that rather than kind of get into that defensive response.

And I think it’s really about going into that vulnerable place, where you feel like, “Oh-oh, maybe I’m failing,” or “I don’t know what to do,” and that takes work, to be able to kind of get present with yourself and say, “Oh-oh, I’m afraid,” like you did, Stuart, when you were at the store and you noticed she’s looking at all of these fancy things, and you said, “Oh-oh, I’m feeling like I might not be able to do it,” and you could communicate with her in a vulnerable way. “Those things are way out of my price range, but is that really what you want?”

Stuart: Yeah, and I think the other piece that goes along with that is that if your partner is really upset, and you were talking about, you know, saying, “I didn’t think you really saw me,” and all those things, can you rise above the defensiveness and the sort of automatic response to go, “Well, why are you doing that to me?” and go, “You know, the only thing that matters is you being happy, to me, and if I let you down, number one, it wasn’t intentional, and number two, I really want to fix it for you and I’m willing to do what I need to do. Let me go get you something else, let me do something else,” and not allow yourself to get into this mode that says, “Ach, you don’t care about me.”

Renee:  Well, I think it’s really a matter of accessing in yourself, kind of, those more vulnerable emotions, and nobody, let’s face it, nobody likes to be vulnerable. It’s hard to get there, and it’s easier to judge another person.

I had a friend this week that was talking about something where, you know, her husband needed her to do something and she was sort of waiting while he was doing it and then their son called, and she started talking on the phone to her son, and her husband said, “Why didn’t you put him on hold? I want to know that you’re there for me.” And she was like, “Oh, why does he need me so much?” Well, of course he needs her, and when we started to talk about it, she felt like she wasn’t valued and she said to me, “Renee, why can’t I just be right? Why can’t it be his fault?”

Stuart: I love it! And we can all relate to that, can’t we?

Renee: Yeah, yeah.

Stuart: Why do I have to deal with my own feelings about this? Let me just focus on him.

Renee: Yeah.

Stuart: And that’s the other thing I think Sue Johnson talks a lot about, because as I was doing my weekend, you know, you watch those videos and there was a part of it that came up for me, that I for some reason missed and it’s such an important piece, which is the whole focus that a lot of people do is, they go outside to the other person, as opposed to really focusing on you. And even in the exercises, it was that one with Arwen and Blair were talking, and he said he felt all this shame because he realized as he’s doing this exercise, he’s writing all these blameful comments about his wife and the whole idea is getting in touch with your feelings, not focusing on what your partner’s problems are.

Renee: Well, it’s really easy to say to your partner, “You always do this. Oh, you’re too needy. You’re too this, you’re too that.” But really, if you stop and think about it, the ‘you’re too needy’ in the other partner, the partner that’s saying that, is saying, “I can’t meet your needs. I’m not meeting your needs.” And so, we really have to try to reorient ourselves back to ‘us’. Instead of blaming that other partner, reorient yourself back to your own self and say, “Okay, wait a minute, what’s going on for me inside?” And it’s work, and it takes a moment. So, I think that a cue for people is that if you notice you’re starting to blame, stop, and say to yourself, “Okay, wait a minute, what’s going on?”

Stuart: “Just stop!” –

Renee: Well, “What’s going on inside of me?” I mean, that’s a way to say it.

Stuart: Right. No, that is the way.

Renee: Yeah, like, “What’s going on inside of me, and where is it that I feel like I’m inadequate here?” That’s something that’s going on. It’s so easy to blame somebody else, you know, “You always… You never…” all of those kinds of things, but I think, like you’re saying, Arwen and Blair, like, “Wait a minute, what’s going on?” It’s hard to get in touch sometimes.

Stuart: “Why did I do that? Why was it more important for me to come up with what my partner did wrong than really saying, ‘How can I take control of what I feel to make it all right?’”

Renee: Well, and I don’t even know about it’s taking control because I think it’s not necessarily taking control, it’s communicating that, those vulnerable feelings, communicating to their partner exactly what you did with your wife, Stuart, when you said, “Wait a minute, I’m feeling like you’re wanting that and I can’t do that for you. Is that okay?” And for her, like, I think that vulnerability pulls vulnerability. You know, we have the mirror neurons, and so when we’re vulnerable with our partner, they’re vulnerable with us, and then you can have a real conversation.

Stuart:I think the reason I said “control” there wasn’t so much about because I think sometimes people get caught up in the controlling the other. What I was talking about is controlling your own emotions, is that we have to, when the automatic impulse, and we’ve all been conditioned to do this, our society is conditioned to blame other people, to just find blame. “Where’s the fault?” and, “If I know who’s fault it is, then I don’t have to worry about it,” and I think we have to get…

Because, impulsively, we all do that. That’s just who we are as mammals, I think. If we can then take control of our natural instinct to blame, and this is why I’ve been sort of on the soapbox lately in my office, of having what I’m calling intentional relationships, intentionally doing what you know is right, what you know is best, what you know is going to get you what you want, if we can control the instinct and stay to our gentle side, to our softer side, and share that with our partners, then that can be beautiful.

Renee: Yeah, and that’s really, that is the basis of connection and closeness. When you can share what’s going on inside of you, that vulnerability, that’s really what is the beautiful part of a relationship. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to do.

Stuart: You know, Renee, I just really have enjoyed today and having this dialogue, and as I’m sitting here, I’m having these sort of, all these different thoughts about just bringing you on and how good it feels to me to have someone that I can sort of talk about these things with, that you really understand. And I think your clients, who you see, and the couples, with all the tragedy that we deal with as couples counselors, and all the sadness and all the aching pain that we have, to have someone that they can really, when you talk about attunement…

And I was going to ask you this earlier, and I’ll just do it myself, for some people who’ve been listening may not understand that term. It really is about tuning in to our partners and understanding. It’s really sort of an empathy type of concept, right? Wouldn’t you agree with sort of that… Well, no, I wouldn’t say empathy, I would say more as, you understand and you’re really in touch with where they’re at.

Renee: Right, well, I think that it’s, we talked about it earlier, I would add this. I think you’re absolutely right, I think attunement is made up of the A.R.E., which is Accessibility, Responsiveness and Emotional…

Stuart: Engagement.

Renee: Exactly, emotional engagement, and I think that’s what attunement is, is those things, is that, you know, you’re really with the partner. I think that that’s such a great word, attunement. And I think that is a form of empathy, so I think you’re absolutely right about that. I agree with you, Stuart, I feel like we’re like-minded people. Maybe it’s because of our emotionally focused therapy background, and it’s so fun talking about this. I’m even thinking about myself and what I’m going to do for my partner for Valentine’s Day, talking about the men and how important it is for the man.

Stuart: Right, and I think the other piece I want to end with for today is just your kindness, Renee, of your giving nature, taking your time, coming back on here. Who knows, maybe we’ll have you on again. And really, just having that giving nature that you have. And I think some of us go into this field for lots of different reasons, clearly this is sort of your mission and your path because sharing who you are is what it’s about.

Renee: Yeah, thank you, Stuart. I really appreciate that and I would love to come back on again. I love talking about this kind of stuff, and like you said, it is sort of a life’s calling. I think you have the same life calling. It’s just such a gift to be here and to talk about this, so thank you very much.

Stuart: So, thank you again, Renee, for coming on The Couples Expert Podcast. And we’ll see all of you next time with another exciting guest who’s going to talk about how to really be yourself in a relationship. Take care. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Renee: Happy Valentine’s Day.

Stuart: All right, bye-bye.

Renee: Bye.

Introducer: Thanks for listening to today’s episode with your host, Stuart Fensterheim. You’re one step closer to reigniting that fiery passion with your partner. For more information and your 30-minute free phone consultation with Stuart, visit We’ll see you next time.
As I looked back over the transcription in the section I said Stop I couldn’t help but remember a Bob Newhart show episode. Here is the Youtube clip.


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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