On the Regular version of today’s show …
I’m joined by Dr Steven Stosny as we discuss how abuse happens in marriage and relationships – and how compasion is the key to breaking the patterns.
Learn more about Dr Stosny at his site https://www.compassionpower.com/
On the Xtended version …
Pam and I have a conversation about how the meanings we place on things impact our desire and arousal in marriage.
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Transcript of Episode
You’ve turned on sexy marriage radio where the best sex happens in the marriage bed. Here’s your host, Dr. Corey Allan.
Corey Allan: So it’s still hard to believe sometimes, babe… This is Corey Allan, alongside my wife Pam.
Pam Allan: Hey, folks.
Corey Allan: Sexy Marriage Radio… That next week is the eighth birthday of Sexy Marriage Radio.
Pam Allan: It’s kind of cool.
Corey Allan: October 11th is when this whole thing started, and so here we are eight years later almost-
Pam Allan: Great to see the transformation.
Corey Allan: … or one week shy of eight years later, and here we are still going. In large part, thank you to the Sexy Marriage Radio Nation for helping make all of this happen. Because the feedback that they give, the comments, the questions, it’s a great relationship that’s been created and continues to evolve.
Pam Allan: Right. Just by listening and knowing that people are enjoying the content and getting something out of it and creating better lives. That’s what it’s about.
Corey Allan: And the way you can let us know that is you can call our voicemail line (214) 702-9565. You can also jump on the inbox world and email us at feedbock… firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pam Allan: Or feedbock, whatever.
Corey Allan: Feedbock, that’s kind of an interesting… How do you even spell that? If you like what we’re doing also and you listen via iTunes or Stitcher or Spotify or anything, write and review the show, leave a comment, help spread the word that married sex can be great and it evolves, and marriages can be great and evolve, and can be lifelong because we want life and marriage to be vibrant and alive in every aspect that takes place in your life.
Corey Allan: So coming up on today’s regular free version of Sexy Marriage Radio is an interview I had with Dr. Steven Stosny, who is an author of lots of books. But particularly, where we went with this conversation is something we’ve not ever really covered on Sexy Marriage radio is the whole arena of verbal and emotional abuse and how it plays out in marriage, and his belief and work that says compassion is an important aspect to overcoming and changing that dynamic. And so the whole entire free version of Sexy Marriage Radio is our conversation.
Pam Allan: Wonderful.
Corey Allan: And then coming up on the extended version, which is deeper and longer, and there’s ads and you can subscribe at smrnation.com, Pam and I are going to have an in depth conversation about how meanings disrupt and get in the way of desire and arousal when it comes to sex. So all of that is coming up on today’s show.
Corey Allan: Joining me for this section of Sexy Marriage Radio today is Dr. Steven Stosny, who is the author of nine books. The most recent one is Empowered Love. And the reason I’m reaching out to you, Steven, is when you’re dealing with marriage and you’re dealing with married life, and as that goes on with two humans most of the time, then we’re talking about all kinds of different emotions that can come up throughout the course of a relationship.
Corey Allan: And sometimes those can get into some of the “darker side” of things that would be where it’s on the verge of or is definitely emotional abuse, verbal abuse, even physical abuse. But it’s an area that… It impacts a lot of marriages. And I’m interested in you and your take on what are some of the best things that we can do because when I’m looking at your research and your work, that’s an area you don’t shy away from. And so how can we address that as clean as possible, as married people?
Steven Stosny: Well, emotional abuse is when you deliberately try to make your partner or children feel bad about themselves so that they will do what you want. There are behaviors that are abusive in intimate relationships that would not be abusive in other relationships, and the reason is abuse is basically a misuse of power. And when you’re in a love relationship, you have enormous power or the emotional well-being of the other people in the relationships, so you’ve got to use that power responsibly. You can’t deliberately make them feel bad about themselves just because you don’t like their behavior or because you want them to do something.
Corey Allan: Okay. And so what about the times, because this is what comes to my mind is I love the idea of deliberately doing it, but what about the times where we kind of get caught in our own blind spots or blinders of, “Oh, I’m not deliberately doing, that’s just the way they feel.”
Steven Stosny: It doesn’t matter if your intention is to hurt or not. When you recognize your partner’s hurt, that’s all that’s important. Your intention is not important. The trick of a sincere connection in a relationship is to focus on the hurt not in the intention. And the irony is if you do that, “Gosh, that hurt you. I’m so sorry.” You don’t have to say you didn’t mean it because it’s obvious from your caring that you didn’t. But when you say, “Oh well, you just feel that way. I didn’t mean to hurt you,” then it seems like you did mean to do it. It creates a consciousness of guilt.
Corey Allan: Okay, and that’s an interesting realm-
Steven Stosny: So that-
Corey Allan: Yeah, that’s an interesting realm where marriage really takes place a lot, isn’t it? That there’s this dynamic of what we say in the secondary message built into it, or what we do and the message is built into it. And so what I’m hearing you say is, how do we start to recognize the messages I receive back can be great data for how am I dealing with myself and the relationship? What are the consequences from what I do or don’t do?
Steven Stosny: Right, and what you’re defensive about it as your ego, not your deeper values. We call it core value. Your core value is to protect the emotional well-being of the people you love. That is the most important thing about most people, to protect the well-being of the people they love. When you violate that by hurting the feelings of the people you love, you’re going to experience guilt and shame. But the guilt and shame, if you blame it on them, will come out as resentment and anger.
Corey Allan: Okay. So what do you do when you recognize that in your relationship? And I think we need to take both sides of this. I mean, tell me if I’m wrong, but if you are the one that’s the perpetrator of this, if you will, versus the one that you’re involved in that with your spouse.
Steven Stosny: It is not really the vulnerable emotions, the guilt and shame or fear that causes the abuse, it’s the coping mechanism. And the abusers will use what I call the toddler coping mechanisms, that’s blame, denial and avoidance. We start doing that at two. If the two year old breaks the lamp and you ask them what happened, they’ll blame it on somebody. My daughter was an only child, she used to say, “Jimmy do it.” That was her imaginary friend. She’s now a lawyer because she figured out that the Jimmy defense-
Corey Allan: There you go.
Steven Stosny: … wasn’t very good.
Corey Allan: Make a life out of it.
Steven Stosny: And if that doesn’t work, if blame doesn’t work, denial, “I don’t know.” And that’s kind of what you do, and you say, “I didn’t intend to hurt your feelings.” Or avoidance, the toddler will hide when the lamp is broken.
Steven Stosny: And blame, denial, and avoidance are what produces emotional abuse in adult relationships. It’s a retreat to the toddler brain. And if you’re in the habit of doing that, you’ll be doing it automatically. Now, everyone has a toddler brain, and everyone is susceptible to retreating to it under stress. All animals, not just humans, but all animals retreat to previously learned habits under stress. So you’re likely to blame, deny and avoid.
Steven Stosny: The trick is get to the vulnerable emotion, the guilt, shame, or anxiety, those will drive connection. The guilt is telling you, you violated your core value, make up for it by connecting to your love one. Don’t blame it on your loved one, connect with them.
Corey Allan: Okay. So if you recognized that you had a pattern of being toddler, then you’re saying, don’t just do that as the reaction. Try to get to the deeper, “Okay, what’s my feeling from that reaction?” And then that can helpfully steer me and align me with my values that I’ve had all along.
Steven Stosny: Yes. I feel guilty and ashamed that I hurt my partner’s feelings, and if I get in touch with that, it’ll motivate compassion for her.
Corey Allan: Okay. Is that just kind of a natural thing in what you’ve found?
Steven Stosny: Excuse me. It is if we allow it to be, if we don’t short circuit it with blame. It’s interesting if you look at other social animals when they will be… Usually it’s inadvertent, hey will hurt each other playing or roughhousing. That motivates, they’ll start licking at each other. Humans have evolved, something as other animals don’t have and that’s an ego. So when we hurt our loved ones, we wanted to defend our ego, come up with some excuse for it. And that’s why humans are the only social animals that will use anger and aggression against loved ones. No other animal does that.
Corey Allan: Okay. And it’s self-protection or self-identity as far as the-
Steven Stosny: No, it’s ego protection, not self-protection. Anger evolved in social animals to override self-protection. When will you get the angriest if attack you or your children?
Corey Allan: Okay. I got you.
Steven Stosny: Anger evolved to protect loved ones. We subverted the natural function of anger and transferred it from protecting loved ones to protecting the ego, and that’s really why you have family abuse [crosstalk 00:11:21] because of the ego.
Corey Allan: So what’s a spouse to do when they recognize this pattern either in themselves or their spouse?
Steven Stosny: They have to replace blame, deny and avoidance with improve, “How can I make this better,” rather than whose fault it is. Appreciate, appreciate your partner more; connect, feel what your partner’s feeling; or protect, any one of those. Those are the adult coping mechanisms. But because it’s a habit to blame, deny and avoid, you’ve got to develop new habits to improve, appreciate, connect or protect. I call that emotional reconditioning. And that’s really what our bootcamps for chronic resentment, anger or emotional abuse do. It builds new habits, but you’re going to like yourself better.
Steven Stosny: Think of, we all have a little bit of resentment for people we love just because it’s a stressful world. Resentment’s a perception of unfairness and relationships can’t always be fair not every interaction can be fair. It’s a complex world, so there’s going to be some resentment. So think of yourself when you feel resentment for your wife, and then think of when you feel compassion for her, and which do you like yourself better? Feeling resentment or compassion?
Corey Allan: That’s an easy answer.
Steven Stosny: Yeah. You’ll always like yourself better feeling compassion for someone you love than resentment. It’s hard to like yourself when you’re resentful, and that’s your central nervous system trying to communicate with you. So do what’ll make you like yourself better.
Corey Allan: There you go. Right. So this is about creating a better relationship with myself through the whole thing too.
Steven Stosny: Right. Because everything you resent about your partner, you could also feel compassion about; and everything you feel compassionate about, you can also resent. It depends on how you look at it. What I want my clients to see as they like themselves better when they look at it compassionately and might like themselves less when they look at it resentfully. And also the resentment is very contagious. So if you’re resentful to your wife, you can bet your mortgage, she’s going to be resentful back.
Corey Allan: Right. Yeah, because it’s tit for tat in some regards of, I’ll get what I’m getting.
Steven Stosny: Yeah. Well there’s a law of emotion interaction called positive reciprocity and negative reactivity. If you approach a partner or a social animal positively, about 70% of the time, you get a positive response. And if you approach them negatively, almost 100% of the time you get a negative response.
Corey Allan: Amazing how it works that way, isn’t it, Steven.
Steven Stosny: Well, negative emotions get priority processing in the brain, so they’re always more salient.
Corey Allan: Okay. So you mentioned that, in some regards, it’s about creating new habits of, if I start to recognize that, “Man, I am quick to blame,” or “I’m quick to deny,” or I have some of those “skillsets” that I’ve been following, that’s not really helping in the long run and in the overall scope-
Steven Stosny: It’s making it much worse.
Corey Allan: Right. Can you give an example of what would be a habit that someone might start with that would adjust that process?
Steven Stosny: I’ll do something very trivial. It happened in my house this morning. My wife banged a dish really loud on the counter and cracked it little bit. And I wanted it to blame her for that, but I said, “Oh honey, did you cut your finger,” instead. And that made it much better. She had a much more positive response and I liked myself better. But my habit was to say, “Would you be careful. What’s wrong with you?”
Corey Allan: “What are you doing?” Okay. This is just almost a learned thing of just recognizing my tendency, and it’s not necessarily if… Tell me if I’m wrong with this. It’s not necessarily, I don’t have that thought or that reaction, I just don’t follow that through and make it the visible one. I go a different route.
Steven Stosny: Right. Once your brain’s developed a habit, it never loses it, but you can always extend it. In other words, the old habit, the blame is going to condition the new habit or the improve, and you actually build a conditioned response. Now it takes about 800 repetitions over several weeks for that to become automatic. But the way it works, like after our bootcamps, after about six weeks of practice, something will occur. Something that will be annoying or devaluing or ego threat, and you’ll just improve it. You’ll make it better. And after that you’ll think, “If that had happened six weeks ago, I’d have gotten really upset, but here I just made it better. What’s happened to me?”
Corey Allan: “All these changes going on, I blame you, Steven,” even though it’s a good change.
Steven Stosny: Right.
Corey Allan: Okay. So if you are on the other side of this, as the spouse that is being treated in these manners, what’s the best steps for them?
Steven Stosny: Well, it’s the same thing. They have to look at themselves more compassionately and their partners. Now, compassion means to suffer with, it’s not about behavior. They can condemn the behavior and still be compassionate to the vulnerability that leads to the behavior. Because a person’s much more likely to change if you’re compassionate than if you’re resentful back.
Steven Stosny: See, it’s your choice is if you’re living with a resentful person, you are almost certainly going to become resentful yourself unless you are compassionate, and that’s your choice. Now, if you’re more compassionate and your partner doesn’t change, your relationship is going to end. Just because when you’re more in your core value, you gravitate towards what raises the value of your experience and get away from what lowers it. So if you’re with a resentful spouse and your spouse doesn’t change, then you’ll probably separate.
Corey Allan: Okay, and so you’ve mentioned this a couple of different times when you’re talking about when you’re more to your core value. How do you capture that? What do you exactly mean by that?
Steven Stosny: Core value is the most important thing about you as a person. Just think off the top of your head, what is the most important thing about you as a person?
Corey Allan: Okay. So it’s just one of the things that really do define you as who you are.
Steven Stosny: Yeah. But I help clients With that because it’s not an uneasy question. For your listeners, I’ll go through the exercise. Imagine that you have children and your children are grown and they have their own families, and God comes down and gives you a choice of how your adult children are going to feel about you. Choice A is, dad was honest, loyal, a hard worker. The reason I picked those three things, we used to do research on core value and those three things always came up, honest, loyal and hard work. Those are important, but they’re not the most important. So mom and dad were honest, loyal and hard workers. We’re not sure they cared about us, but they were honest, loyal, and hard workers. That’s choice A. Choice B is, mom and dad were human. They made a lot of mistakes, but we always knew that they cared about us and wanted what was best for us. What would you choose A or B?
Corey Allan: B.
Steven Stosny: See, for most people, the most important thing about them is being compassionate and caring to the people they love. Now, we know from research, that’s almost universally what late-life regret is, not being loving and compassionate enough to the people you love. It’s almost universal.
Corey Allan: Right. That’s that proverbial, you’re not on your death bed going, “Man, I wish I would’ve worked more.”
Steven Stosny: Yeah, right. Exactly. You get a little presage of that. You don’t have to wait till you die. You can get a little presage of that if somebody you love dies, a parent or somebody close to you. Even if you had a real close relationship with that person, there’s this little voice in your head, “Did he or she know how much I love them? Did I make them know how important they were to me?”
Steven Stosny: That’s because attachment was instrumental to human survival as a species, so you’ll always have that little doubt about it, and that doubt is going to come out usually when it’s too late. Now is the time to prevent regret. I see myself as in the regret prevention business.
Corey Allan: That’s not a bad one to be in. Because if you can help people create a life that has less of it, and in return is replacing it with the whole idea of compassion and connection and true value that you can offer and get with other people, man, that’s a much more depth of life and living.
Steven Stosny: Right. So core value in a relationship is, “I might want my partner to do something, but I don’t want her to do something that’s going to make her feel uncomfortable. So I am always attuned to her emotional well-being as well as my own.” But in an attachment relationship, if your partner isn’t well, you’re not going to be well either. Your emotional well-being is tied up with one another, and with your children. That’s the bad news is that if they go down, you’re going down with them. The good news, if you build them up, you’re going to go up with them.
Corey Allan: Okay. So where does the world of of building myself up to build them up go?
Steven Stosny: Well, self-compassion always has to be in balance with compassion for loved ones. That means you’re not going to be Mother Teresa, self-sacrificing all the time. Because that’s not really compassionate in close relationship because it doesn’t give your partner a chance to be compassionate. Compassion’s the healing emotion. To really deeply understand the hurt of your partner is to heal your own. It’s not really getting compassion, it’s giving it that that does the healing.
Corey Allan: Right. I get exactly what you’re saying because when we receive something, it doesn’t create what we get when we actually give it.
Steven Stosny: Right. And if you’re getting compassion without giving it, you’re liable to construe it as pity and start to resent it.
Corey Allan: Okay. Well, that’s a slippery slope then.
Steven Stosny: Yeah. Yeah. And lot of people get offended when you are compassionate to them because it makes them feel guilty and ashamed. They don’t think they deserve it, one, and they don’t think they can return it.
Corey Allan: Okay. So with all the work that you’re doing because I love the idea of trying to just help people recognize that we got to move out of some of these normal, instinctual reactions at times that we can have that are habits that are built deep down and almost move it to a higher level of processing, of evolving.
Steven Stosny: Yeah, but let me correct you about one thing. I think it’s returning to the instinctual habits-
Corey Allan: Thank you.
Steven Stosny: … by building new habits. See, the instinct of a child when they feel hurt is to connect. They’re going to run to mommy and daddy and hug them, and they will continue to do that until mommy and daddy started punishing them for doing it. And then they started blaming, denying and avoiding. So it’s returning to the instinct and following the motivation of the guilt and shame, which is to connect, to reinstate the attachment bond.
Corey Allan: So summon this all up, the real goal is how do I learn to view and then approach things that are through the compassionate lens, through some of the ways that maybe we were intended all along to be doing.
Steven Stosny: Yeah, and that we do under emergency. What I always ask people to test… Because chronic resentment will eventually destroy your relationship. And if you are resentful in a relationship, you are almost certainly going to become verbally or emotionally abusive because it has a retaliation mode of you feel like you’ve been hurt and you want to get back at that person. So a good way to know if you’re emotionally abusive is if you’re very resentful. You won’t know that you’re abusive, but you certainly will know that you’re resentful.
Corey Allan: Okay. That’s good. That’s good. So Steven, thank you so much for spending some time with Sexy Marriage Radio Nation today. I want to let everybody know how can they find you and more of what you do, the nine books, the bootcamp and the different courses and webinars, the different things you offer, where do they find all that?
Steven Stosny: The best way is at our website compassionpower.com.
Corey Allan: Okay, and that’ll all be in the show notes. So Steven, thank you again for your work and for your time today. Well, it’s interesting because if I think about the two different aspects of our show today, it’s basically two different shows-
Pam Allan: Yeah, it really is.
Corey Allan: … because they don’t really play off each other although they could. But thank you again to Dr. Stosny for jumping on and dealing with the topic that, man, it’s a tough one to deal with when you’re just talking about some of the real pain and struggle and icky side that can play out in married life.
Pam Allan: Yeah, how mean we can really be.
Corey Allan: Yeah.
Pam Allan: Right.
Corey Allan: So kudos to him and his work. Check out his work if you want more. And if you want more of Sexy Marriage Radio, jump on smrnation.com, join the Academy. And if not, show up next week too, listen to what we’ve got going on.
Pam Allan: Yeah, love to have you listening.
Corey Allan: So this has been Sexy Marriage Radio. Thanks for taking some time out of your day to spend it with us. We’ll see you next time.