Love is a topic that never loses its relevance, no matter how much we discuss it. It’s a universal experience, something that has been explored in countless books, songs, movies, and, of course, podcasts. But as our relationships evolve, it’s important that our thinking about relationships evolves, too.
How can we continue to be our best selves in partnership and friendship? In a special episode of The Sonya Looney Show, we take a deep dive into the complex and ever-fascinating world of relationships with psychologist Yael Schonbrun, Ph.D., and endurance athlete and podcast host Travis Macy.
Why Yael and Travis?
Yael Schonbrun, Ph.D., is not your ordinary guest. She is a clinical psychologist, an assistant professor at Brown University, former co-host of the podcast Psychologists Off the Clock, and a mother of three. Her academic research revolves around the intersection of relationship problems and mental health conditions. With an insightful newsletter, numerous scientific articles and chapters in books under her belt, Yael is an expert in her field. Her unique approach blends ancient Eastern philosophy with scientifically backed practices, helping individuals and couples manage work, parenting, and marriage more effectively.
Travis Macy, on the other hand, is no stranger to relationships. He’s an endurance athlete and the host of The Travis Macy Show. His perspective as a male athlete, father, and podcast host adds an exciting layer to our conversation about relationships.
Together, we venture into the science and practice of living well in our relationships and friendships.
The Intricacies of Relationships
Relationships are like a puzzle with infinite pieces, each one unique and offering a different perspective. Our conversation with Yael Schonbrun and Travis Macy touches upon various facets of relationships, illuminating the challenges, strategies, and joys of navigating the path of love in relationships and friendships.
One of the most insightful lessons? The importance of managing expectations. According to Yael, it’s essential not to expect your partner to fulfill all your needs. It’s a common misconception that one person can be everything to someone else; the reality is that we all have diverse needs and desires. Managing expectations by realizing that your partner won’t meet all those needs can significantly reduce relationship strain.
Relationships thrive on open, honest, and empathetic dialogue. Enter: effective communication. We unpack the importance of understanding different communication styles, like whether your partner prefers lengthy discussions or problem-solving. Recognizing these styles can make communication smoother and more effective, but it’s essential to be aware of your own tendencies, too.
Acceptance and Overcoming Overwhelm
For Yael, acceptance is a game changer in relationships. Learn why it’s so vital to embrace the uniqueness and individuality of your partner, quirks and all. This doesn’t mean avoiding important discussions, but rather approaching them with understanding and acceptance.
Instead of constantly adding more to our already overflowing plates, they encourage us to consider subtraction – doing less and simplifying our lives. By identifying what truly matters and cutting out the excess, we can reduce the burden of overwhelm in our relationships. Then I realized the thread of expectations: It’s about understanding and appreciating the limits of what one person can provide.
That being said, in the hustle and bustle of modern life, it’s easy for relationships to take a backseat. However, our conversation emphasizes the importance of prioritizing your relationship. Yael Schonbrun highlights the significance of making time for connection, even when life gets busy. Love isn’t something we can put on the back burner and expect it to flourish. It requires time and effort.
Balance in Relationships
So, how do we find balance in our relationships in order to thrive together? Let’s dive in. Grab your headphones, find a quiet corner, and join us on this enlightening journey into the heart of relationships. You’ll discover that love, with all its complexities, is a beautiful and transformative experience that’s worth every effort.
Here are Yael’s key relationship takeaways:
- Manage Expectations: Learn to appreciate the limits of what one person can provide.
- Effective Communication: Open, honest, and empathetic communication is the cornerstone of healthy relationships.
- Reaching Toward Acceptance: Find out why Yael believes “acceptance paves the way for change”
- Overcoming Overwhelm: How to identify what truly matters and do less to reduce stress in your life and relationships.
- How to Prioritize Love: Can personal growth and self-improvement strategies change the way we exist in relationships?
My podcast episodes mentioned:
- One of my most popular episodes: The Paradox of Expectations
- There’s always time to start with the basics: How to be a Better Communicator
- Ready to simplify your life? Listen to Subtracting with Leidy Klotz
- Interested in learning more from Yael? Sign up for her newsletter about the science and art of close relationships
- Check out this interview with Yael about her book Work, Parent, Thrive
Listen to this episode about relationships:
If you found today’s episode enlightening and want to hear more, make sure to subscribe and leave a review on your favorite podcast platform. Share this episode with friends and family who are curious about relationship health or considering making a change in their relationship journey.
Check out the Travis Macy Show for compelling conversations with interesting people about endurance sport, ultra mindset, exciting adventure, optimized performance, Alzheimer’s resilience, organ donation, good reading, and more.
- Relationship dynamics and dividing responsibilities. (0:02)
- Changing oneself in a relationship through acceptance and goal-setting. (4:25)
- Improving relationships through communication and acceptance. (8:53)
- Reframing negative thoughts and emotions. (15:13)
- Managing emotions through self-reflection and physical cues. (20:27)
- Marriage expectations and nurturing relationships. (23:57)
- Prioritizing relationships amidst busy lives. (28:41)
- Prioritizing less and letting go for a better life balance. (33:22)
- Communication skills and their impact on relationships. (36:13)
- Personal growth and self-improvement strategies. (50:42)
Sonya Looney 0:02
Yeah. Well, Travis, welcome to the show.
Yael Schonbrun 0:05
Thank you so much for having me. Good to see you guys.
Sonya Looney 0:08
I was just saying, Before we hit record that it’s so special to have both of you here, because there’s a lot of men that listen to podcasts. And also, like Travis just said, there’s a lot of men and relationships. And a lot of times men can think this is something that only women talk about. Or maybe they secretly think maybe I need to be learning more about this. So I’m really excited that Travis is gonna bring a male perspective here.
Travis Macy 0:32
All right, speaking for all men, here we go. No pressure.
Sonya Looney 0:40
So Yael, you’ve been on the show before and we talked about your book work parent thrive, which people should definitely go back and check out the book and listen to that podcast. But we wanted to have you back on because your Instagram is phenomenal. And you give such great relationship advice and communication advice. I wanted to ask you, what made you decide to specialize in working with people in relationships in your practice?
Yael Schonbrun 1:05
That’s a great question. And you’d have to go way back into my history to understand my I’m, I’ve long been obsessed with relationships, I’m just like a very relationally oriented person. And I don’t know you could go deep into the psychodynamic like family of origin stuff. But it was always something that I’ve been interested in, I actually went to graduate school to study relationships to study and research relationships. And it was a program as a clinical psychologist, I’m trained in a scientist practitioner model. So I did research on marriage and treatment of marriage. And then I also studied how to treat marriages in the clinical setting. And so although I wrote a book about working parenthood, I actually think about it from a relational perspective. So what I talk about in the book is how our roles relate to each other. So in my writing, and my research, and in my clinical practice, I’m just really interested in how things including people relate to each other that complexities but also the ways that they enhance our lives, and how we can enhance our relationships so that they can enhance our lives even more.
Sonya Looney 2:08
Yeah, something that I emailed you about was about dividing responsibility. And I’ve seen some research saying that men think that they’re doing more than they are and women, I’m gonna butcher this your answer, correct me men think they’re doing more than they think they are. And they’re actually doing more than women think that the men are doing. And dividing responsibility is really challenging, because in relationships, it’s not always going to be 50/50. And I even saw this thing that Emily Oster posted that just kind of show that women no matter what the model, whether they are the primary income earner, the sole income earner, they’re doing more for the family, and there is a culture a cultural aspect to that, I’m guessing, but I wanted to ask about dividing responsibility and how people can approach this so that there isn’t any resentment or minimal resentment?
Yael Schonbrun 2:57
Yeah, it’s it’s such a great question, it obviously is a very complex question. But just to kind of start off with some of the research that you’re pointing to is like, everybody thinks that they’re doing more than the other person. And then these really interesting studies where they look at the percentages that people report contributing to the running of the household, it always adds up to more than 100% when you get both partners. So like that can’t be and it’s kind of pointing to this fact that you know, our own contributions feel really effortful. And then to your other point, we tend to underestimate what the other person is doing. And partly, it’s because some of that happens outside of our awareness. Like if you even think about the kinds of contributions that you’ve made throughout the day, it’s probably the case, assuming that you’re in a committed partnership that you’re your partner, like, isn’t around to witness all of it, and may just not be aware, not to mention the fact that sometimes our efforts really cost us a lot. So like, if you’re helping your toddler get out the door, it feels like a big burden. So even though at the end of the day, you can say I got my toddler out the door, that statement doesn’t capture the effort that it took to get that child out the door. So the question of what we can do, I think is is complicated, but you know, even just to start with that recognition that probably our partner is also doing a lot to contribute that we’re overlooking can be helpful.
Travis Macy 4:25
Yeah, I like it. And I, my wife and I got the same advice from marriage counselor early on, you’re both gonna think you’re doing more than the other person. And furthermore, you basically have no idea what you’re getting into, which was also true. I had a lot of the times my strategy getting the toddler out the door. So you got like a two year old and an infant. You know, you take the infant, you put them in the little car seat, and you just set them by the door because they can’t go anywhere. And then hopefully they can hang out there for you know, half an hour or so while you get the the two year old ready. So if anyone else out there is doing that it’s It’s okay, you have my approval. So my question Yeah, I’ll is, is, let’s say you, you finally find yourself in this, you know, couples therapy session, you’ve listened to Michelle Obama enough, you’ve realized, Hey, we got to go get in and do this. Maybe you’ve been drugged there, maybe you felt like you were dragging the other person there. Maybe Maybe it was a good, you know, United decision very often both people in that relationship going and thinking, Alright, now this is finally my chance to change the other person, you know, make them a little more on board with, you know, with me or what I want or, you know, the how we how we balance roles and that kind of stuff. My question is, is yeah, why should we not go in with the idea that this is about changing the partner? And furthermore, what, what should we be shooting for? And maybe what are the changes over time you talk in chapter nine, your of your grade book work parents drive about this? You know, there’s a previous model, it was more focused on changing the other person. And now it’s kind of, it’s something else. So what should we be shooting for?
Yael Schonbrun 6:12
Yeah, well, I’ll first just add to what you’re saying, Travis, is that often people are coming to couples therapy saying, Okay, I really want to change my partner, and then they’re hoping that the therapist is going to change their bets,
Travis Macy 6:23
right? Yeah. Go talk to you. So you can see, yeah, we’ve already tried to change them. Right, exactly, exactly,
Yael Schonbrun 6:28
which is a lot of pressure. But what I always tell people is that I cannot change people, I can help people who want to change. And so that’s an important thing to remember is that we can never change somebody else. And in fact, the harder we try, the less effective that we’re going to be. Many people have heard of this concept called psychological reactivity. And it’s the idea that when we feel pressured to do something, we tend to dig our heels in and resist change. And so it’s paradoxical. But the better approach and Travis, your question kind of points to this is to sort of make space for the person to be like acceptance. And there’s this great phrase that we often use in psychology, which is acceptance paves the way for change, because it gives people the space to come there on their own. And at the end of the day, if somebody is going to change, it needs to be self driven. In fact, I’m gonna sound like a broken record, but the more you want your partner to change, and the more you try to push it, the less likely it’s going to be, that doesn’t mean that you can’t plant the seed and say, you know, I want things to be different, but it’s much more helpful to say, there are things that I want to grow in this relationship or ways that I want this relationship to evolve, that are much more inviting for your partner. And that is sort of the approach to take is how can you invite your partner to be a collaborator in in crafting a relationship that works better for the both of you, and maybe even that works better for you. And so to that end, one concept that I’ve gotten really behind in the research behind this is very, is very compelling, which is to set approach goals instead of avoidance goal. So rather than I don’t want you to do that, it’s more how can we together build towards something that feels more satisfying, more fair, for, you know, if we go back to the division of labor question, more supportive, more intimate, more fun, more, you know, more positive on the parenting front, for example, how can we build towards more of that together? And I think in a couples therapy context to sort of go in with that, with that mode of thinking of like, you know, what is it that I want more of how do I want this couples therapy to help me grow in the direction that feels more like the direction that I want to be going or that we want to be going so inviting your partner to be a part of the process, setting approach goals, and then remembering that acceptance paves the way for change are three strategies that are quite helpful?
Travis Macy 8:53
That’s good. Well, what if you know what if someone’s listening to this, and they’re and they’re like, boy, I would really like to engage with a couple of therapists. But my partner has made it clear that they don’t want to. What about that?
Yael Schonbrun 9:08
Yeah. Well, so interestingly, so research has been done looking at how long couples Wait, before they’ve identified a significant problem. And on average, couples wait about six years. So and I see this all the time in my couples therapy room, which, by the way, I’m recording it. And, you know, by the time couples often get to couples therapy, it’s the case that like, they feel like they’re out of options. So I do think it’s helpful to say, you know, couples therapy is an option for us. What would it look like if we didn’t wait until it was the only option before we were both feeling like that’s all there is that’s left for us to try? The other thing? I mean, just going back to this, not sort of forcing somebody into it, I am in favor. I’m in favor of couples therapy. Obviously, it’s what I do for a living but there’s lots and lots of ways to improve upon relationships. You can listen to terrific podcasts, you can read wonderful news. Letters, you can go to lectures together, you can read a book together or do a workbook together, you can go to like a weekend away, you can dedicate yourself to having talk time every week or a date night, once a month. So my advice is to say, you know, I have been really unhappy in this relationship, I would like to invite you to work on it with me, I was thinking about couples therapy as a place where we could make a lot of gains. But it’s just one option among many, it’s one that I would favor I’d be really, it would mean a lot to me if you would consider it. But if that’s not something you’re interested in, what are other things, so invite your partner to contribute to the brainstorming like I’m really unhappy, it feels really important for us to think about a way to improve this. Here’s one option. Do you have other ideas? And if you don’t, would you consider just trying it out? I like
Sonya Looney 10:56
I heard like the autonomy piece like asking them what their ideas are, instead of telling them what to do or what you should do is powerful.
Yael Schonbrun 11:03
Yeah, yeah. And that’s that’s such at the core of psychological reactivity is that when people feel like their autonomy has been removed, they really want to regain it. And so Sonya, you’re pointing to exactly the mechanism that we want to sort of allow our partner to have is this sense of, I’m not, I’m not taking away your agency. I’m simply inviting you to do something along with me. But you get to retain your agency and make some decisions about how it is that you would want to approach it or even at the end of the day, whether or not you want to approach it, right, because I can’t choose that for you. And in fact, again, going back to studies on on, on autonomy and on relationships, the more we allow for know, the more likely it is that we’re going to get a yes. So if we say to our partner, I recognize that you really may not want to go to couples therapy, I will respect it. But I hope that you will consider it that actually makes it much more likely that our partner would say yes, as opposed to, if you don’t go to couples therapy with me, I will never forgive you. Right, that sort of creates this a sense of, you know, you’re backing somebody into a corner, and they’re going to, if they go feel pretty resentful about it. Not collaborative, which is not the setup that you want,
Travis Macy 12:11
ultimatums usually don’t feel good.
Sonya Looney 12:15
And something else that you said was acceptance, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, you know, acceptance is a big part of this. But when does acceptance become resignation in a relationship, because you can accept the person and you want to be as accommodating as you can, but then the person might not ever care about changing. So when do you just say I’m accepting you? And nothing’s ever going to change? And I’m just going to stay in this or, you know, when do you say it’s time to make a change in this relationship?
Yael Schonbrun 12:45
Again, it depends on I think it’s such a great question. I mean, I actually wrote a newsletter about this, this and the title was like, should you stay? Or should you go kind of like the clash song? And I do think it’s a really important question that has a lot of complex answers. That really depends, but you know, I tend to be a relationship optimist, I think I have to be, and I have actually witnessed couples who are like, you know, my partner won’t change there or Something terrible’s happened, like an affair or another kind of really significant betrayal. And it turns out that there’s often more willingness than we’re able to see. Because we sort of develop these, these glasses, these biases, right over time, if our partner has hurt us, or let us down or been insensitive, in particular ways, we start to not believe that they’re capable of change. And in fact, most people are capable of some level of change, it just has to be a kind of environment where they feel invited and not afraid. And were you wearing your relationship glasses that has a hard time, they have a hard time seeing the ability to change can sort of look for disconfirming evidence, because for self protective purposes, we often come to the conclusion like there’s nothing like our partner won’t ever be a better person, and they kind of stink and I made a mistake. So I think that there’s a lot of room for questioning that conclusion. And at the same time, right, there are certainly circumstances where things are really unhealthy and not workable. And accepting it accepting that this is what it is can actually open up that pathway to say, You know what, I’ve tried everything I can I’ve gone to a therapist, I’ve tried to be inviting, I’ve tried to be warm and collaborative, it really doesn’t seem like my partner is willing to be in a mutually giving relationship. And this isn’t what I want for my life. And that acceptance actually can be clarifying. And so I mean, that is a place where acceptance can actually set you on a path to ending and that may be the healthiest path forward. It’s not an easy one. But that may be the most positive path that you can take. Those questions are not easy to answer and so you know couple therapy or individual therapy can be a really great place or just having a supportive friend or journaling. Because it can be so complicated to disentangle what would be the quote unquote, right choice? And of course, you know, any choice has pros and cons.
Travis Macy 15:12
Yeah, back to those, those glasses, Yale, you know, and they’re probably often they’re less of rose colored glasses and more like, I might say, mud splatter glasses, you know, like you’re biking down this mount bike trail, just mud on your face, and you can’t, it’s like, you’re not even seeing, you know, what’s there. We’ve we find ourselves at times hooked on these, these negative stories, or these negative? You might call it a rumination about, you know, he did this, she said that, whatever. And it’s these things that are, you know, playing on repeat, and you’re very right. You know, this may be an evolutionary mechanism that was helpful in keeping us alive, but it may not be the best thing for, you know, being happily in a relationship. How do we unhook from that? It’s really hard. You know, he’s sitting here today, you know, nice and calm and regulated. I’m like, oh, you know, when I get next time I get hooked on one of these things, I’ll just pop out of it. In reality, I know that once it’s there, boom, my mind is like a steel trap on this thing. How do I unhook? How do I rewrite that? That story?
Yael Schonbrun 16:21
Yeah, it’s, I love this question. And I do think that this even just the awareness that we are aware relationship glasses that that’s like a part, a part of how we see the world. And just as if you’re writing and you have multiple mud splattered glasses, and you’ve been writing for a while, you start not to notice it just becomes you habituate to it. And so this is something that with awareness, we can start to recognize, oh, I do wear glasses, and everybody does, right, there’s no way to see truth with a capital T with the world is too complex. And so part of why we develop these stories is to actually be able to understand the complexity of the world, it helps us to have coherence, it helps us to anticipate it helps us to make sense of something that’s happened. And so the storytelling that we do, as human beings is just a part of being human. And of course, we we tell stories about our partner, who they are and what they’re capable of, and what our relationship is, and what it means to us and what’s possible. And recognizing. So this is a skill and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy that we call self as context. It’s this idea, this notion that the mind creates labels and stories, and that there are different perspectives that can be taken. And often the one that we’re inside is our own perspective. But that is just one of many different perspectives that can be taken. And that the second skill that that your question points to is this skill of diffusion. And that’s the ability to unhook from the stories and the labels that our mind generates. And, you know, my, one of my favorite diffusion skills is the most simple and it’s just, my mind is telling me the story that where I’m having the thought that, so it’s adding this prefix, that helps you to recognize that this is just a product of the mind, it’s an important product of the mind, and it has some truth, and it has some utility, but it’s not all of everything. And there may be limits to the usefulness that it has. And there may be important features of the world or of your partner of your relationship that you’re missing, because that story is so so much covering the way that you’re seeing the world. And so being able to say like, Okay, I’m having the thought that my mind is telling the story that helps us to take the glasses off a little bit and say, what else could there be? And to look actively for that information? It’s almost like we have to change the filters in a pretty proactive way. Because left to its own device devices, our mind will naturally gravitate to the simple stories because it’s it’s efficient. It helps us make sense. And when we practice it so much that it feels like truth with a capital T even though it’s just a story.
Travis Macy 19:06
I like it. Sometimes I tell myself, I don’t have to believe everything. I think it’s also bad. It’s also really hard to do. I mean, one time I wrote a whole chapter about changing stories in your mind, and I really struggle with it.
Yael Schonbrun 19:22
Yeah, and your your question. I didn’t say I didn’t talk about the emotion part. But you mentioned like it’s okay here in this nice, calm collegial atmosphere where we’re chatting and nobody’s angry to say, oh, you know, I just unhook from the story. But when we are angry when we’ve been set off when somebody’s hurt our feelings, that’s a really hard time to say, oh, no, that’s just a story and one of many. And there’s an interesting physiological thing that happens when we feel emotional that explains it, which is that our attention Narrows and our body kind of gets into you know, preparation to protect us mode. And that’s not when our prefrontal cortex the calmer a more rational part of our brain can help us do this work of saying, Okay, it’s just a story. And so part of the practice is recognizing your cues when you get highly emotional, and having some grounding or calming strategies to help your emotion come down so that you can do that work. So you got to sort of take the emotion down first, because when you’re in highly aroused state, that’s not the time and place where you’re going to be most effective and saying, Oh, it’s just a story.
Sonya Looney 20:27
Now, I want to share something that I do whenever I get frustrated, and maybe you can help me make it even make this process even better yell. So the first thing I do is like, I labeled the emotion, because we feel these things. And it’s like, oh, we don’t know what we’re feeling. Maybe I’m angry, or I’m frustrated. And then I asked myself, well, why am I angry or frustrated? What what happened here? And then I say, Well, you know, I asked this person to do this 10 times they didn’t do it, or this person, I feel like this person is letting me down or you see you I try and figure out like, what what am I uncovering here that has been threatened? And then I also ask, maybe it wasn’t on purpose, like maybe it wasn’t intentional. There’s lots of things that we don’t do on purpose. And then the last thing I asked myself is, am I scanning for all the all the ways that this person did not fulfill the need that I had? And I’m a way to focus on all the things this person isn’t fulfilling, versus how are they actually contributing?
Yael Schonbrun 21:20
Yeah, I love all of the strategies. I mean, the first one is kind of the name it to attainment. And there’s a whole trove of research showing the value of that strategy. And I think it was Lisa Barrett Feldman, who’s an emotion researcher, who said, you know, like, aside from everything else, just naming the emotion is super, super helpful. And you can go online and google like lists of emotions, because the more specific that you can get, the better this works of like naming like, it’s not just angry, it’s like, hurt and frustrated you to get like really specific about it. And the second thing that you’re doing in sort of this asking of, could there be an alternative explanation is something that’s very common in cognitive behavioral therapy, when we work with thoughts? Is we ask them, could there be an alternative explanation? Or is there another way of looking at this, it’s sort of helping us do this, this thing, this, looking at it from a different perspective, and at the same time, trying to take off our glasses and sort of let other information in, then the lenses that we naturally might wear that are being prompted by our emotion, would allow into our, into our brain for the and make it available for interpretation. So I love those strategies. And I think, you know, for some people, like at the moment that they’re feeling high levels of emotion, you can even do a step before that, which is just like feel your feet. And that’s like, just a way to come back into your body. Because a lot of the time when we feel high emotion, it’s hard to even like have a coherent thought. So some sometimes for some people like going to the who feel that real dysregulation, like the emotions really just jumped up and you don’t even know sort of cognitively where to start. It’s it can be a practice of feeling your feet. And what I always recommend for people who have big feelings, and I include myself among these is to like know, your cues, like what are the physiological cues that you’re getting a little bit aroused, it’s sort of outside of the level where it feels like your brain can kind of come in and help you do the work that would help you to get through this situation, as is most in line with how you want to do. And like for example, you know, do you get, does your heart start to beat really fast? Do you feel heat in your face? Do you notice that your fist start, start to clench. And if you can kind of notice those red flags that that can be a cue to feel your feet, hold an ice cube, take three deep breaths, splashing water on your face, sometimes some of the more physical ways of bringing your emotion down can also be helpful as a precursor to some of the things that you might say to yourself.
Travis Macy 23:57
Yeah, oh, good stuff. I like that feel your feet. And I also like that it’s nice and simple. Because at those times, particularly when you have two people who are both feeling dysregulated and you know, likely have a very long and dynamic history together pretty soon, it’s not even two people talking at each other. It’s it’s these two dysregulated things and no one is actually speaking from, you know, a sense of self or from wisdom, as it were, I read recently somewhere that this idea that the contemporary American marriage and maybe maybe we should even say North American we can lump in the Canadians in here Sonya this marriage like it’s one of the hardest to navigate because culturally we’ve come to this expectation or this myth really of like the perfect marriage or the perfect partner or the you know the quote soulmate this person who will always be on board with me the movie line You know, you complete me, right? These these things, they all sound really good. And like, it’s it’s the story that sold to us. You know, how do we how do we navigate that? And how do we, if we’ve come to terms with the idea that like, Okay, this other person is not perfect? I’m not perfect. We’re not perfect for each other, but neither is anyone. How do we navigate that? And also, what are the reasonable expectations to place on a marriage? If we’re, if we’re not going to say, Well, this one person is going to solve everything for me or complete me or you know, all always satisfy all my needs or whatever? What should we do? And what Furthermore, what are what are other places that we might be able to meet, you know, certain needs in our lives?
Yael Schonbrun 25:50
I love this question. And it really gets to this. Actually, I had this book right here. Oh, I’ll lift it up. But this was a book sorry for the noise. This was a book that I got really, that sort of set me off on the marriage journey. Yeah. So
Travis Macy 26:07
there’s a nice thick book that looks you know, that’s, that’s a good one to show because that shows you really read it.
Sonya Looney 26:13
So I’m gonna jump in just for a second and tell you that I got this book when my great grandma died. And the book was written in like 1928. And it’s called ideal marriage. And it is, like, that thing is, is just crazy. From the 20s, so anyways,
Yael Schonbrun 26:32
before audible, so they actually had to pitch. Yeah, but I’d be interested to know Sonya what was in that book, because Stephanie Coontz who’s a marital historian, talks about the evolution of marriage that, you know, back in the 18th century, in the 19th century, that we really look to marriage for, like financial protection and like physical protection. And then, you know, you sort of go forward into the early 1900s. And it started to become more about match. And we started to think more about love. But it was really in like the countercultural revolution in like the 1960s and 50s, that we really started to think about marriage as the place that was supposed to provide us with sexual satisfaction with professional support, with best friendship with co parenting, you know, meeting of minds. And the pressures have just increasingly mounted on marriage since then. And I do think that there is so much that we expect for marriage. And at the very same time, just as our expectations are rising, and rising and rising, we’re actually contributing fewer and fewer resources, because we’re so taxed by the intensive parenting pressures by the work pressures by you know, that the fact that life is just busy, and there’s a lot of things that we want to do, and we have this idea that we should be doing at all. And I think that’s okay, but we need to sort of, it’s okay to expect a lot of your marriage, it’s okay to want to do a lot of things. But we need to sort of recognize that there’s a mismatch, that we’re expecting more of this relationship and giving less to it. And marriage is not like a static thing. It’s sort of a living entity, and we need to nurture it with our attention, if we and energy if we are to expect it, to be able to give back to us. And we should expect it to give back to us. I think that that’s sort of what you know, there’s this Harvard longitudinal study in this book that recently came out called The Good Life by Bob Waldinger, it’s great read. And what they say is, on balance, the thing that makes for a happy, full life is the quality of our relationships. And that’s not just your marriage, but that marriage is a big part of it. Or it can be if that is a part of your life. And so what the answer isn’t to expect less necessarily, although you can, but if you do expect a lot to really think about what you’re willing to contribute to it, if you want it to flourish and give back to you, you need to feed it. And so I think, you know, that is really an important question for people to be asking amidst busy lives. And, you know, I work with a lot of parents who have read a lot of couples who have recently become parents and for them, it’s like really, really hard to make time for their relationship for totally understandable reasons. Like they’re not sleeping like they’re constantly on the hook, they still need to nap now even more pressure to like, sustain their job so that they can make sure that they can feed in How’s their new child, it’s really, really hard. And so the question then becomes like, how do we find a way to conserve some things that we can send to the relationship so that we can make sure that we still have this thing that we really want to be giving back to us? And so I hope I’m answering the question, but but the answer is to like, make sure that it’s a priority to give to it if you want it to give back to you as most people who get married do.
Sonya Looney 29:49
Now Yeah, something that was really helpful for me and I’d love to hear your opinion about some of Esther Perel’s work, but I first heard this that from her like, you shouldn’t expect your harder to be everything and do everything, like you need to have multiple friendships and multiple relationships in your life. Otherwise, it’s way too much pressure on one person. And at the same time, like you just said, a lot of people, you know, especially that are married and have kids and are working and are doing all these things. Maybe you aren’t making time for friendships, like maybe the only free time you have is maybe one hour a day at that time, and you’re so tired that you don’t want to go and see your friends. So you know, there’s this pressure to not put all all your eggs in one basket with your partner, because it’s kind of unfair. And at the same time, it’s hard to make time to have friends and relationships. So that’s kind of this interesting paradox.
Yael Schonbrun 30:40
It is an interesting paradox. But I think that it is an important question of like, what are you spending the most time on? And where do you spend the least time on? And does that match with what’s most important to you, and what’s least important to you, because I think that we tend to get caught up in doing things that maybe aren’t a value, and then we stopped doing things that are really valuable. And they do think, you know, we got to give to our marriage if we wanted to give back but and you would ask this question, I sort of went off on a tangent and forgot to include it in my response. But it is absolutely the case that we can’t expect our partner to meet all of our needs, right? For example, you know, our partner may have maybe a great listener, but may not be as good of a problem solver, or they may be really kind but not as good at like being assertive and like sort of pushing back on some of our ideas. Like everybody’s got strengths, and everybody’s got weaknesses. And if there are things that you’re looking for that aren’t your partner strengths, that’s totally fine, and actually works out really well. If you have other friends or family members who can kind of fill whatever need that you’re looking to get filled, it does put less pressure and allows your partner to shine in the way that they shine. But Sonya, you’re bringing up this important point, which is you know, but we don’t have all the time and energy in the world to, you know, devote to like, also the friends and also our work, and also our kids and also our marriage. And I think there are realities there. But what I think is comforting is there’s phases of life, like certainly when your kids are really young, it’s a hard time to make sure that you’re not only, you know, nourishing your partnership, but also finding friends and also doing the work that’s really important to you. And in all the in it, finding time to sleep and maybe you know, have a break and stare at a wall once in a while. Like, if your time is just constrained, I was actually just reading a story, sorry, a research study that was looking at sort of the trajectory of marriage after parents had their first baby. And what they found was that there is like a pretty predictable drop not for all couples, but for many couples marital satisfaction goes down after they have their first child. But it tends on average to return to the level that it was before the baby arrived at about age seven, when the child turns seven, which is like when they’re in school, and they’re a lot more self sufficient. And so there’s some hope to recognize it like a lot of the demands that can be honest, when we have really young kids are time limited. And so it’s really a question of like, for now, what do I want to make sure that I’m prioritizing? What do I want to keep the ball rolling on even if it’s just a little bit of effort? And what can I let go of for now because there’s only so much time and energy that I have in a given day?
Travis Macy 33:22
Yeah, well, I love what you’re saying, I hear you talking about patience, which I think is so important. And and you know, maybe some people are more naturally wired for patients than others. For me personally, patience is really hard. And it’s good to be too. It’s good to it’s good to hear those messages. And I do know, in my experience, my kids are now 10 and 12 like, things have gotten easier, the fact that they’re a little bit more self sufficient. I know that my wife and I feel less overwhelmed. And it’s in a little more fun, you know, honestly, like it’s fun, the at least for me, I have more fun, doing stuff with kids and sort of taking care of young kids at home which honestly was was really challenging. That leads me this, this conversation about overwhelm and just all these demands that we feel from ourselves from our partners from society from work, you talk about this again, and your great book work parents thrive, which I highly recommend. And you talk about in one chapter, the idea of what if we consider less you know, I think about back to another kind of cycling metaphor like when when you’re riding a bike, very often the wise thing to do is to coast for a little bit right free wheel. This is when you recover, it’s when you replenish, it’s when you get ready to to push hard again. Often we forget to or or don’t don’t even consider doing that in certain parts of our lives. So you say in the book that when we feel really overwhelmed and stressed that’s when we’re actually most likely to add More writes, fix it fix it at this at that, you know, instead of maybe what if we did less? What if we could trim? You know, what if we could cut cut certain things out? How do we? How do we move more towards like that wisdom of doing less? Or how do we make ourselves okay, with a little free willing and just allowing things to unfold as they will, whether that’s professionally, or in our marriage? Or, you know, with everything being perfect for our kids? And And what about the idea of here we are talking about relationships? Could the wise thing at times just be to let the relationship free? We’ll for a little while, you know, maybe we maybe we aren’t always fix, fix fix, right? Maybe we just let it boil the coast?
Yael Schonbrun 35:46
Yeah. Yeah, I love this metaphor of just coasting on your bike. And it is a perfect metaphor for what the science shows about how we tend to overlook subtraction as a good life design choice. And if listeners are interested, a terrific book that goes deep into this science is called subtract, it’s written by Lady clots, who’s a colleague of mine. And for me, reading this book was literally transformed, transformed my life and transformed how I approach things. Because what it suggests is that our brain is not wired to think about taking things away, we’re more wired to add. And so like, the classic example that I was think about is like, when my house is a mess, I don’t think about what I can get rid of, I’m like, I’ll go to The Container Store and buy some more containers just add more stuff to my messy, chaotic, overly full house, which is an option and it might work. But it’s important in healthy lives to balance the adding and subtracting so that we’re not just like ratcheting up the chaos all the time. And what the science shows that I think is even more important is that when we are overwhelmed when we are more cognitively taxed, the tendency to overlook subtraction as an option becomes even less available to us, we’re just not naturally likely to think about it. And appreciating that we don’t naturally think about it helps us be more deliberate. So rather than just expecting ourselves to like, okay, like, well, if I’m really overwhelmed, then I’ll just naturally take something off my plate. No, you won’t. It needs to be more deliberate. And I think recognizing that helps you to build practices, it certainly helped me to build practices. So now when I feel overwhelmed, instead of you know, just saying yes. And sort of plugging on, I do a pause and I say, Okay, it’s too much, what do I need to take off my plate so that I can be more wholeheartedly invested and engaged in the things that really matter to me, because the alternative is that I’m spread so thin that I do a terrible job in everything, which feels terrible to me. And I do think that the same ideas can apply to our relationship that, you know, we’re like, Okay, well, I’ll just add more time with my partner on top of the end of the day, where I’m really exhausted from work and from parenting. Well, what are ways that you can like take things away, or even have down quiet time with your partner like, so this can be sort of a way that you combine, coasting, and still find a way to incorporate your partner and connectedness into into the mix. Now, I will say that I use that for myself, my partner and I are really busy with their our three kids and our jobs, and you know, all of our other responsibilities, and we both have hobbies and like to work out. But we and we really like our downtime. So we do our down quiet time together on the weekends. And we’re really deliberate, like we we make very few social plans on the weekends. And we every night, sort of, not every night, every Friday night, at the end of an exhausting week, like we try to come together. And sometimes, like we’re not awake very long, like before we pass out, but it’s sort of like that’s our that’s our tradition, as we come together. That is our time to be just the two of us after the kids go to bed. And so building in those kinds of practices, even the quiet kinds of practices and sort of making even like a couple’s commitment to doing a little bit less, so that you can be more available to be together, I think can be really healthy thing because lives are really chaotic.
Sonya Looney 39:06
So I want to, I want to shift gears a little bit, because I think for the majority of this podcast, we’ve talked about perception, how we’re perceiving our relationship and the things that are going on around us, you know, the things that are going on in our head, but there’s a communication piece, what what’s coming out of your mouth, and how that’s landing on somebody else. And we can’t control what somebody else thinks about what we say. But we can control how we say something and how we try to convey you know, how we’re feeling or what we need. So I just want to shift gears to starting to talk about communication. And I guess the first question is, you know, how do people even understand how they’re communicating or get a feel for what type of communicator they are?
Yael Schonbrun 39:48
Yeah, that’s such a great question. And I certainly do a ton of communication training as a couples therapist, and I will say I’ve loved your episodes on communication. I think it’s such an important skill and Um, one thing, though, that’s really interesting about the literature, the studies on communication is that they matter less than we think the thing that matters more is sort of like the the sort of feeling that you have. So it’s, the skills are really helpful in giving one another the feeling of being cared for being heard, being connected being seen, but you don’t have to do it perfectly. And so I think that’s just an important sort of, like starting point is like, nobody has to do it perfectly. It’s more about effort. There’s actually one study that I’m constantly sharing about on social media and with my clients, that suggests that empathic effort is far more important than empathic accuracy, right? It’s the effort, it’s the care that we put in that matters so deeply. In terms of what kind of communicator you are, the major distinction that I have found most useful. And this comes from cognitive behavioral couples therapy is the distinction between discussions and problem solving. This is a really simple tip that is very helpful with your partner with your kids at work with friends. And it’s to recognize that how you approach a conversation, what your sort of agenda is, is often not, you may not be aware of it, but it is probably falling into one of those two categories. You either want to share what you think feel and how you see a situation, or you’re wanting to solve something to make a decision to figure something out. And what often happens between communication partners or between partners in a relationship is there on different pages, like you have one person that wants to vent about their day, and the other who’s who hears like I had a hard day helped me fix it. And so they’re coming in with problem solving strategies. And when that happens, the person who just wanted to vent about their day feels really invalidated. Because rather than hearing and really being sympathetic and understanding about what it is that I’m feeling, and how the day went, you’re telling me that I should have fixed it. But that’s how it feels, even though that’s not the intention of the person who’s trying to problem solve. And so appreciating that there’s these two different kinds of conversations and that being on the same page and being able to clarify, like, Hey, I think you just heard that I wanted to problem solve, but actually what I really want was just to vent is help will help you to get more on the same page and to be appreciative to be able to connect in an appreciative way with what it is that each of you wants to get out of the conversation. And so the other point that I often make in couples therapy, and I write about two is that people often go too quickly into problem solving. When things are hard, the temptation, and we live in a society, that’s you know, and if you’re good at work, you’re probably a great problem solver. And it’s well and good. But in close relationships. Problems are often very complex, right? They have a long history, there are triggers, there’s family of origin stuff, there’s your complicated housing, household division of labor stuff, like there’s, you know, what you each want in terms of your long term and short term agendas, it gets so complicated. And so if you jump too quickly into problem solving, you’re probably going to end up generating a solution that is very simple. For a complicated problem, it’s not going to work, you can’t simple solve a complicated problem. And when you do, it ends up being much more frustrating. So it’s helpful to kind of slow down before you problem solve, like deeply discussed, how do you each feel about the issue? What are your perspectives? What are your priorities, what feels important, what feels not important? What do you want the other person to know about about whatever the thing is, and to kind of slow it down. There’s other really simple things that are important. Like, you know, if two people are speaking and nobody’s listening, that’s going to be pretty frustrating for both people. If you’re telling somebody that if you’re sort of mind reading, you feel this way, you think that that’s not going to feel good for that person, this is not going to be very connecting. So there’s kind of some simple tips and you talk about them to have like speaking from your own experience, sharing things subjectively, not objectively. Being curious, expressing curiosity about how somebody else feels doing turn taking. So some of these basic communication skills are really helpful. But again, you don’t have to do it perfectly. The point is to sort of show up and give your partner the sense that you care, you care to express yourself and be known and you care to hear and know better about the other person.
Sonya Looney 44:16
Yeah, this might be off topic a little bit. But something that I experienced in past relationships was that like, I’m not somebody that yells and screams, I’m very calm. Whenever I’m having conversations, I try to not let things escalate. And because of that, previous partners would perceive that I wasn’t that upset about it, that this isn’t that big of a deal. And I would end up eventually ending the relationship over you know, one of those things that I brought up repeatedly and feedback that I received multiple times was, well, you didn’t seem that upset about it. Like I don’t understand why this is such a big deal. Because I wasn’t yelling and screaming and getting all emotional. So I mean, that’s a communication thing. So like how, how to better convey that this is a big deal. If you Not somebody that wants to get agitated and emotional and yell and scream.
Yael Schonbrun 45:04
Yeah, that’s a, you’re raising something that comes up a lot in couples therapy and it for the person on the other side. So like your partner, they probably were like, Where’s this coming from? I thought everything was fine. Like you just pulled the rug out from under me, and you are probably more of the mind. What are you talking about? I’ve said this so many times, how did you not hear it? And it is, it’s really a communication issue. And people having those glasses on, and your partner, for example, saying, if she was really upset, her voice would be raised right, then I would understand it. But the fact that she’s speaking so quietly, I’m going to interpret is it’s not such a big deal. And so I think, you know, it’s both on the shoulders of the listener to sort of be more attentive, like, oh, this keeps coming up. So I will say, you know, one cue is, if you find that a conversation keeps coming up, like pause, and get curious. And I think the best question to ask is, you keep raising this, and I think I understand it, but the fact that you keep raising it might mean that I don’t, what is it that you think that I don’t yet understand. And just like getting curious on the listener side, I think is really helpful. On the speaker side, if you’re noticing that your partner isn’t appreciating the depth of your upset, or the depth of whatever the thing is that you’re trying to communicate, to pause and say, it doesn’t feel like you’re understanding me fully. And maybe we can try a little bit of that paraphrase, like this sort of all say, and you reflect back what you think I said. And then through that, we’ll figure out like, where the gap is, because I don’t feel like you totally get it. You do. But let’s have that back and forth of me, say me making the statement, you reflecting it back? And then try to figure out like, what is it that’s getting lost in translation? Because if you keep saying the same thing, they’re not going to hear anything different
Travis Macy 46:56
in navigating these sorts of communication style differences. Yeah. Well, is it is it helpful to look at, you know, both partners, families of origins, maybe or, you know, maybe maybe in one family sanyas, for example, you know, people talked about big important issues, and they weren’t yelling, they were they were talking, that’s, you know, that’s the experience she had, you know, maybe someone else had an experience where the house they grew up, and if something big came up, people were people were what some might perceive as yelling or angry, and maybe in their family, it was just like, This is how we navigate, you know, big issues, which I know from experience can be, you know, when those two styles meet, you know, maybe one person that has a sense of like, Oh, if she really cared, she would have gotten all fired up about it. And, and maybe, maybe another person has an experience, like, what is this? This, you know, yelling or whatever? Like, that’s not how people who love each other, treat each other? How do you how do you navigate that? And then does that usually have to do with, you know, family of origin? Would you say?
Yael Schonbrun 48:08
Yeah, a family of origin certainly plays a role. Although interestingly, you know, you can, it can go either way. Like, if you grew up in a family where there was a lot of conflict, you might think, you know, speaking loudly and more aggressively is okay. Or you might go the opposite way, and say, that was so painful. As a kid, I’m going to do the exact opposite. And if you if you start getting aggressive, like I’m out, that’s too much. For me, it’s triggering. So it can go either way. But it is helpful to understand like, what are your ways of communicating? And what do they represent? And to kind of break through some of those overarching stories that you might tell like, oh, you know, a loving person doesn’t, doesn’t yell, right. That might be a belief that you have. And that’s a story that makes sense, but also isn’t entirely true. Lots of loving people. Yeah. Parents love their kids. And we mostly yell, not that we mostly yell. But most parents yell at some point. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t love somebody, but it is a particular way of expressing yourself that works for something that sort of more a fit for some people than others. And so getting curious, like, what does it mean when I yell or when you yell? What am I trying to communicate? Or what does it mean when i Very quietly tell you that I’m upset, like what and to be able to say, I don’t think you totally understand that when I speak to you quietly. That’s actually really meaningful for me and I need you to pause and really pay attention. And you can explain your that comes from my background, like I come from a quieter family, or it’s more temperamentally consistent with how I want to show up. It’s more consistent with my values, like I want to show love and these quiet sort of level headed ways. And so to be able to share with your partner, what the meaning of the way that you’re communicating is and how they can understand you better because being understood being seen in a deeper way is part of is one of the hallmark characteristics of happy couples, they feel like they’re part or season kind of gets them and is interested in sort of overtime way, knowing them more and more and more deeply. And as they change being interested in knowing the new parts of of you that emerge over time. So understanding the history, understanding the present and being curious about, like, how you’re going to go forward, I think is so important and being able to talk about that is such an important part of relationships. Yeah,
Travis Macy 50:24
that’s really helpful advice. Thank you.
Sonya Looney 50:27
So we have time for basically one more question, which I feel like there’s hours of conversation we could have. And we haven’t even talked about friendships, which is something that I’ve thought about a lot in my adult, you know, progressing adult life. So Okay, final question. How do you not take things personally like and Don Miguel Ruiz, his book, The Four Agreements, one of the Four Agreements is do not take things personally, I take things personally, and I’m working really hard to not do that. How can I work on this?
Yael Schonbrun 50:56
I take things personally too. But it is there’s there’s lots of interesting strategies, actually, Jill Stoddard, who I don’t know if you’ve had on before, but I love so much of the way that she some of the practices that she develops for act for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. And one of them is sort of, I think it’s like WWOD what would Oprah do? And I think it’s really helpful to say like, what would Oprah think are like a friend who doesn’t take things personally, like, I have a friend called Erica, and she never takes things personally. So I always think, but how would Erica interpret this? What would Erica think WWET.
Travis Macy 51:29
know? So it’s good? Let’s get her on the next podcast.
Yael Schonbrun 51:31
Yeah she’s awesome. She’s so she’s so good about not taking things personally. But I think it is, it’s really the practice of selfless context, recognizing that we have a tendency to take that certain temperaments and I happen to be one of them, tend to take things personally, we’re internalize errs right? internalize it versus external users, internal users tend to say, What did I do? Like? Are you mad at me? Or, you know, Did I did I mess that up? If my husband was actually just telling me yesterday that if something went wrong, and it had nothing to do with me, I would still say, oh, sorry about that. And I totally would like I always think it’s my fault. And so the practice is to notice that you have a tendency to do that. That’s a pattern way of thinking and interpreting the world and to unhook from it. Okay, I’m having the thought that this is about me. And to do a bit Sonya of what you were describing earlier, could there be alternative explanations? In the past, when I thought something was my fault? Or that this was a real personal attack? What What was the conclusion of that of that story? And like, what was the conclusion of what happened? Was it actually my fault? Is it sometimes the case that I think it’s my fault, and it’s not at all my fault. And so to kind of pause in that story, unhook from it. And then what I think is really helpful. And certainly you’ve talked a lot about this on your podcast, and we talk a lot about this and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to reconnect to your values. So how do I want to show up in this moment where something isn’t going quite right, and I’m taking it kind of personally, do I want to be assertive? Do I want to apologize? Like, if it really is my fault? Should I apologize? I think that’s, that’s valuable, or what I have started to do, because I mean, the one thing that’s important and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to recognize is like, there’s no delete button in the brain, if you tend to personalize, you might simply personalize. So like, for me, it’s just a thought, it happens often. But the behavior that can follow can be really different, even though the thought persists. And so for me, it’s I’m not going to respond as if it was personal. I’m going to, I’m going to respond as if it’s not personal. And if it is personal, I’ll figure it out. I’ll apologize. I’ll make it right. But for now, I’ll just kind of let that thought be and let a different value guide my behavior forward. So it’s selfless context, recognizing that our story our mind, generate stories, unhooking from those stories, and then letting values guide the way forward.
Sonya Looney 53:55
All right, I’m gonna keep working on that.
Travis Macy 53:58
It’s tricky. I’m right there with you. Yeah, if we can get that delete button, you know, maybe in the next five minutes or something, I’d probably buy one. Hopefully, it’s covered by insurance, you know?
Sonya Looney 54:10
Well, thank you so much to both of you for coming on the podcast. Yael, you have joined the growth equation, and you have a newsletter. It’s called “Relational” right. Yes. So where can people subscribe for that? And of course, we’ll put that in the show notes too.
Yael Schonbrun 54:24
Yeah, so you can subscribe to it through my website, which is workparentthrive.com. And there’s like a nifty little button we just added that makes it easy to subscribe or you if you’re a fan of the Growth Equation, you can always go there. And there’s an about the team section, and I’m one of the contributors, so you can subscribe through their growth equation as well.
Sonya Looney 54:45
And I also highly encourage everybody to follow y’all on Instagram, a lot of these things that we’ve talked about. She has amazing content on there that is actionable and helpful, that I personally am always looking for and at So thanks, thanks for all the work you’re doing well and such a great conversation.
Yael Schonbrun 55:00
thank you for having me. I always love talking with you. Travis, it was so nice to meet you and I’m such a huge fan. So thank you guys. So
Travis Macy 55:07
thanks to you both. I really enjoyed your book, the newsletters, great. The recent one was about this communication styles discussions versus decision making. Great stuff, great examples, and I know that you have another book project coming as well. So I will very much look forward to that and wish you the best with with writing process.
Yael Schonbrun 55:28
Thank you so much.