Stan Tatkin is a PACT developer, and co-founder of the PACT Institute. PACT stands for Psycho-biological Approach to Couples Therapy. Stan joins Charlie on the show today to discuss why couple relationships are so hard, at the same time that they are so great and necessary. The main challenges stem from the fact that we are reactive beings first and fast, and thoughtful, loving beings second and slowly. Knowing this about ourselves allows us to build relationships that enable us to thrive.
[3:05] – Relationships are an important part of our lives, at the same time that the challenges with those relationships can be a bad part of our lives. Relationships are hard, because people are difficult. Some in particular are harder than others - love relationships (like that of a parent and child) are hard because they are long-memory and dependency relationships. In our other relationships, we can try to resolve the problems in that primary relationships.
[5:50] - We are memory-driven, and when we do things according to recognition, it’s lightning fast while thinking is very slow. Our brains are also fully automatic, and this can cause us to go on autopilot in our relationships. We can start to make errors in communication and perception, which can lead to fights in a relationship.
[7:05] - The cognitive aspects of our decisions translate over to our emotional behaviors as well. We are more likely to act and react according to recognition. The emotional reaction comes after. Our survival instincts often lead us to go to war over love.
[10:20] - Stan and Charlie discuss being feeling beings over thinking beings. As much as we believe we are thinking beings, we are really feeling beings first.
[13:00] - It would be ideal if early education covered how to learn, and also how to be in relationships. Students would learn what relationships are, and what it means to be in a relationship. This might foster learning how you feel in different scenarios as well, and widening the range of emotions (Charlie likens this to primary colors). We also have primary emotions, and as we grow up we begin to feel more, and get blended emotions. Some people have alexithymia, where they don’t know what they are feeling.
[17:10] - Stan doesn’t have a statistic on how many people are affected by alexithymia, but it’s a developmental capacity model, so it looks at what people can and cannot do in the social/ emotional realm. Some of the limitations in the social/ emotional realm can cause problems in our love relationships. Stan provides some specific examples of how this can play out.
[19:38] - As humans, we are more primed for war and fighting, and we have unequal capacities in the emotional realm. When we add our historical relationships into our new relationships, that’s where the complexities arise. While we are primed for fighting, we are also dependent on relationships with others. They often interfere with our other need to survive; this creates a constant tension between our need to depend on others and our fear of getting hurt.
[22:18] - The good news is that there are ways to understand this complexity so that it doesn’t become such a problem. You can confide in a trusted person, but love relationships also provide tremendous repair. It is up to us to foster our love relationships to be productive rather than destructive.
[24:50] - Relationships are work - we have to work to get them to where we want to be so we can thrive together. There are some indicators that might predict relationships that don’t work out. On a biological level, two nervous systems may be so reactive that they don’t get along. The things people do as mistakes are: 1. They come from an insecure model where the family operates unfairly and unjustly too often, and they carry that forward into their own relationships that accrue this same unfairness 2. They don’t understand the primacy of the relationship, and don’t understand third things that are added to the relationship that take time away from the pair 3. They don’t have a sense of purpose or vision, or a sense of why they are together.
[29:35] - How do we come up with the guiding principles and vision in a relationship? It is almost irresponsible to not make the time to think about this. As you are coming up with principles that will protect you from each other, think about the intention behind each principle. There are shared beliefs that are fairly universal, and these can guide you in coming up with the vision for your relationship.
[32:55] - In a relationship, as you start defining your principles and vision, make sure you also agree on the purpose behind it. Challenge each other to explore why the vision serves a personal good and a mutual good. Practice full transparency without conditions.
[35:35] - What are general dealbreakers people should look for as they start to have these conversations? One of them is the transparency without conditions, and finding someone who believes the same. Deal breakers will eventually get to people. If you disagree on fundamental items, it will perpetuate the same problems down the road.
[37:55] - Some people are under the assumption (and hope) that the other person in the relationships, or they themselves, will change their stance on one of the deal breakers. As a couples therapist, Stan doesn’t see that this usually works out. It is hard because people don’t want to experience the loss. It is very painful, but there would be worse things to come other than breaking up.
[41:05] - There is a difference between surviving and thriving in a relationship. You can survive by negotiating on your non-negotiables, but it is hard to thrive in a relationship like that. As change is the only constant, even as a thriving couple, time may change your views on these non-negotiables. A task throughout the relationship is to know how people are going to adjust, and how they’re going to bargain so it’s good for both people in the relationship.
[43:26] - People may resist taking the time to outline some of these non-negotiables and their vision, because they are afraid there is something they will have to change or something will come up that they don’t want to face. This is part of the human condition; people don’t always show exactly what they want, even to themselves.
[45:04] - When you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, like Charlie and Angela, it may be a good time to occasionally come together to talk about some of the decisions you’ve made previously and make sure that you’re still on the same page. Charlie shares the example of himself and Angela and the topic of having kids. Even if the relationship is comfortable, it could be productive to check in and make sure it’s still set up for the couple to thrive.
[47:37] - Recommitment offers a time to remarry and redo your vision for the future. As you move through time together, there are a number of things that can change the playing field. It’s hard to get people to do this proactively, but it could save a marriage (or relationship). The fear of loss can be a good motivator for coming to terms with what you could now agree on.
[49:30] - Stan doesn’t want couples to fear each other, except for in one sense. At any time, either person involved has the power to pull the trigger on the other, and leave the relationship. This gives rise to a kind of respect in the sense that there are lines you don’t cross. Both people need to make sure their needs are being met.
[51:40] - When someone is giving up their sense of self or their sense of fairness, it will backfire on both partners. This might become a therapeutic issue, and often when previous offenses show back up. These things can be corrected quickly if people have the right attitude.
[54:45] - Stan’s invitation for listeners is to come to one of the couples retreats coming up. He challenges listeners to come up with a plaque-able “10 Commandments” for your relationship. Don’t overthink this - it should be easy and simple to understand.
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