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hosted by Dr. Corey Allan

Everything Isn’t Terrible #479

On the Regular version of today’s show …

Dr Kathleen Smith and I discuss her book, Everything Isn’t Terrible, and how appropriate it is for our lives here in 2020.

Learn more about Kathleen on her site

On the Xtended version …

Kathleen and I dive into the world of Bowen Systems Theory. Yes we geek out a little but it’s a great way to understand what’s going on in families. 

Enjoy the show!

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Audio: You are listening to the regular version of Sexy Marriage Radio, 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: Welcome back to another episode of Sexy Marriage Radio alongside my wife, Pam.

Pam Allan: Hey.

Corey Allan: Each and every week we spend some time going where you want us to go to answer your questions, what's on your mind, what will help you in your married life, the good, the bad, the ugly.

Pam Allan: Everything in between.

Corey Allan: That kind of covers it all, doesn't it?

Pam Allan: Yeah.

Corey Allan: The way you let us know what's going on with you is you can call our voicemail line 214-702-9565. That gets you towards the front of the line, or you can send us an email at where each and every voicemail and email is read, listened to, responded to directly, or becomes a show.

Pam Allan: Right.

Corey Allan: And over the eight and a half years we've been doing Sexy Marriage Radio, it truly is listener driven radio, if you will. The SMR nation is huge to help us each month as we go along, and they also are huge because they help us spread the word. So if you like what we got going on and anything speaks to you, please speak to others about it and jump on iTunes, rate and review, leave a comment on Spotify, iHeartRadio, Google Play, however you listen.

Pam Allan: Whatever media.

Corey Allan: We are so grateful that you do. So we are in the dog days of summer. It's now August. Hard to believe.

Pam Allan: It's hot.

Corey Allan: And so the heat is definitely there, depending on where you are in this country or the world. It could be at another part of the world that your listeners because we have, hey all you down in Australia and New Zealand. You guys are bundling up for winter.

Pam Allan: Yeah, and closing down again for COVID-19 I guess.

Corey Allan: Yeah. Yeah. As we head into some unknown times as the school year gets started here in the States, we wish you all the best in navigating uncertainty. Because if there is one thing 2020 is ringing true, it is the year of uncertainty, isn't it?

Pam Allan: Yeah, you got to be flexible and you got to be flexible in your relationships, right? Here we go. Who knows what's going to happen?

Corey Allan: Nice segue. I was about to say that exact same thing, babe.

Pam Allan: Hey, great minds think alike, and so do ours.

Corey Allan: And so do ours. Been behind the mic for a while now, I like it. So coming up on today's regular free version of Sexy Marriage Radio is a conversation that I got to have with Dr. Kathleen Smith, who is a fellow Bowenian family therapist. So she does family systems work with her clients up in the DC area. She has a book out entitled Everything Isn't Terrible. Aptly titled, although it wasn't written to come out just right now. It's been out for a little bit, so little did she know how appropriate it would be in 2020.

Pam Allan: Right. Right. Let's have a positive outlook here.

Corey Allan: And so we just have some conversations about anxiety and depression and how that could just run rampant. And one of the ways we can start to just lean into that is what's our self-talk? What are we doing? How are we controlling ourself? So it was a fun conversation. And then coming up on the extended version, which is deeper, longer, and there are no ads, you can subscribe at We continue our conversation, but here we kind of... It's not necessarily geek out.
Because anytime I have guests on that are in the field and have some research or books or different things they've published, I love getting into the nuances of the statistics and the research, formulas, and how did they come to their stuff, right? Well, this time, I guess a better phrase would be we theorize out. Because she being a Bowenian therapist, we just jump into the world of Bowen family systems theory.

Pam Allan: Okay. And that gives, I guess, our listeners a deeper life application on how this applies to them?

Corey Allan: To set the stage, and we'll talk about this in the extended content, Bowen's systems theory describes really well and accurately what goes on in families and how we carry it forward, and then it reeks problems because of the dynamic of a system. There are different seminal things to be thinking of that are just standard in every system. And so we get into some of the nuances of how do you see this playing out? What do you see most with your clients? What stands out the most about why you chose Bowen theory?
We get a little academic, but I think it's going to be a conversation that if you've been around SMR Nation for any length of time and you've heard me speak about systems work, there should be some light bulbs that go off, "Oh yeah. I've heard that. It just hasn't been framed that way."

Pam Allan: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I see this as how it plays out for me.

Corey Allan: Yeah. And that's the hope is you start to see the more I can understand the landscape I'm within, the better I can navigate that landscape. So all that's coming up on today's show. So joining me today for today's episode of Sexy Marriage Radio is Dr. Kathleen Smith. And I'm really intrigued about this conversation and largely, Kathleen, it's because the title of your book is Everything Isn't Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxiety, and Finally Calm Down. It seems very appropriate with the world that we live in right now of anxiety is running rampant, insecurities are everywhere, and people are freaking out.

Kathleen Smith: Yeah. I mean, everything does feel terrible most days. I could never have predicted that the title would be so relevant for 2020.

Corey Allan: Absolutely. So I guess to start, Kathleen, I would just love to hear, how did this come about for you? What kind of drove you to landing on this for a work? Because producing a book, it's no small feat, so it's got to speak something deeply to where you've been and where you're going.

Kathleen Smith: Yeah. I'm a therapist in Washington DC, and so I have a lot of clients who are readers. They're sort of your anxious overachievers, and they are always asking me, "Tell me what books to read. What should I be reading?" They want homework, right?

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Got it.

Kathleen Smith: One of the dilemmas as a therapist is there's a lot of things that are very academic, very theoretical, right? And then there are a lot of pop psychology books that just have sort of one idea that gets repeated over and over again. And what I wanted to be able to do is to give them a book that says, this kind of summarizes the theory I was trained in, but in an accessible way that's narrative and that describes what it looks like as people sort of inch by inch are working towards having calmer, more mature relationships in their life. And that's what I tried to do, and hopefully it's been helpful for lots of folks.
It's just sort of a guide, and it's a description of what it looks like as people kind of grow up while they're working on themselves.

Corey Allan: So what is the one thing that would be your go-to when you're talking about how do I deal with anxiety?

Kathleen Smith: The theory and the ideas I were trained in is that we look at anxiety in relationships. When you think of anxiety, it's easy to think of it physiologically, right? Maybe what physical symptoms you experienced, or maybe you think of negative thought patterns in sort of from that vein, which all of that is very helpful and relevant. But it's also useful to look at yourself and say, "How does my anxiety get me into trouble in my relationships?" My family, where I come from, my marriage, how I interact with my friends, my coworkers, to see how anxiety is at work and how it's adaptive and useful sometimes.
But then other times it really gets in the way of the person you're trying to be and having a more intimate relationship with somebody.

Corey Allan: Okay. So let's go the two sides of that, how anxiety can be adapted and useful and then how it can just wreak havoc. Because that's one of the things I think that's a little uncommon is to think most... I mean, because this has been my experience too is most people when they think of, "Oh, I'm struggling with anxiety," that the real golden is, "I got to get rid of it completely." But I think you're in the camp that, ah, it's not going to necessarily go away. So let's look at the two different sides of that coin.

Kathleen Smith: Well, I think just first I think anytime you're doing something different, if you're growing up, you're going to experience more anxiety. So sometimes it's a sign of progress, right? That you're kind of mixing it up and going into the unknown. But when I say anxiety is adapted, if you think, we have sort of evolved to do certain things. We have an autopilot, right, when we're stressed out. And for some people that autopilot might be to distance, to avoid tricky conversations, to just talk about sports or the weather, right? And that's not good or bad. It's just sort of a thing that we do to keep things stable in a relationship to not talk about sex, right?
That's a stabilizing decision, but then you have to ask yourself, what's the cost of that over the long-term, right?

Corey Allan: Right. Absolutely. Because one of the things that happens in that particular topic even is I don't really want to talk about it, but I want to have it, right?

Kathleen Smith: Right.

Corey Allan: And I want it to be novel and spontaneous. I mean, all these different things that we can add as a litmus test to it. I think of this is how I quantify it as good, but yet the struggle to talk about it. And then you wonder why is nothing changing in my life? Because I don't talk about it.

Kathleen Smith: Yeah. People are allowing the anxiety to create this stability that gets in the way of having more interesting and fulfilling relationships.

Corey Allan: And so then if you're dealing with anxiety, would you be... Because I'm in the camp of... One of the things I try to think of is this idea of anxiety tolerance. Because you're talking about when you try something new, it is a sense of yeah, that's anxiety provoking. It's going to happen. So how do I tolerate that better to see it through and create the new norm? Is that kind of where you're coming from too?

Kathleen Smith: Yeah. I mean, what I think happens a lot in relationships is that we feel distressed or anxious or nervous and we assume the other person is. It's our own anxiety, but we're like projecting it onto the other person. And there's this sensitivity that we develop, right? We think, oh, I need to come up with a perfect way to introduce this topic, or I have to be very careful when I mention sex, because I'm going to spook or scare the other person. And when we treat it like a sensitive topic, we become more sensitive to it, right?

Corey Allan: Shocking, isn't it?

Kathleen Smith: If you walk on eggshells, the other person starts to think, well, maybe this is upsetting, right? You sort of reinforce the sensitivity. And I think what people start to realize is that if I can put up with a little bit of the discomfort, but also act like it's a manageable thing that I can talk about, that nothing's going to explode, no one's going to die, right? Then the other person kind of calms down as well. The calmness is contagious also.
And so I think people who can put the focus back on themselves and say, "How do I stay calm about this," not, "How do I keep everybody calm? How do I keep my partner, my spouse calm," then it's a little bit easier to talk about some of these tricky things, if that makes sense.

Corey Allan: It does, and my anxiety is kind of going up right now because I have an 11 week, almost 12 week old puppy right at my feet, starting to bark at me saying, "Notice me and pay attention." Then you would like this idea of the phrase that those that can't control themselves seek to control everything around them.

Kathleen Smith: Absolutely, and that is adaptive.

Corey Allan: Yes.

Kathleen Smith: It works well sometimes, but to a point.

Corey Allan: Okay. What's the difference then? What makes it adaptive to where it's working versus not?

Kathleen Smith: At some point, the wheels fall off the wagon. You introduce a certain amount of stress and what you normally do doesn't work anymore.

Corey Allan: Right.

Kathleen Smith: And people end up getting tired of being managed I think too. They start to kind of shook up against that.

Corey Allan: Sure. And so then you start looking at the idea of how am I... Just like you mentioned earlier, how am I handling myself and confronting what's going on to just addressing my own anxiety rather than projecting and also absorbing other people's?

Kathleen Smith: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Corey Allan: Okay.

Kathleen Smith: Yeah. I think what people want to do is they want to rush into the relationship piece of it and fix that before just looking at themselves and going, "How do I dial down my own sensitivity and anxiety when it comes to thinking and talking about sex or things related to it? And what would it look like to engage in thinking about it and being able to talk about it in a way that is less sensitive?" And often the other person can meet you there because you've done that work yourself versus, okay, we need to do this together, or you need to do X.

Corey Allan: That's perfect. And so then how does one do that work, I guess, is probably the crux of this whole conversation, Kathleen, isn't it? If we were to kind of put it all in a nice little bow for people. And I've realized it's not as simplistic as what we're describing, but what do you say?

Kathleen Smith: To get curious about it, whether that's listening to this podcast, other podcasts, reading books about sex, relationships, I don't know, reading novels. There's all sorts of sorts of things you could do, right? I look at the science of it. Curiosity engages that front part of your brain, the part that can think and solve problems and be objective. It's not the lizard brain that's freaking out about it, right?

Corey Allan: It's just reacting. Exactly.

Kathleen Smith: That curiosity can be contagious as well in a marriage, in a relationship, but we want to rush to the other part and have the other... We know so well what the other person should do, right? We seldom stop to think and go, "How do I be more curious and more interested in this?" Because I think curiosity is the antidote to anxiety.

Corey Allan: Okay. And so what do you think then if you're talking about curiosity? Because I think of things in terms of higher desire, lower desire. I think there's probably one person in a partnership that is more naturally curious. That's what drives them into whatever they do in life, whatever they do in marriage, whatever they do in sex, that they just have this natural bent. Whereas the other is going to be more reserved, more reluctant, more stick in the mud-ish. That's a technical term, right?

Kathleen Smith: Sure.

Corey Allan: If I'm married to someone that really struggles with that, that creates another level of anxiety?

Kathleen Smith: Sure.

Corey Allan: So what do we do?

Kathleen Smith: Because that is one way you stabilize things is we must be on the same page. We must do things exactly the same way. You must have the same level of interest in sex as I do or then you start to catastrophize, right?

Corey Allan: Right.

Kathleen Smith: And see if you can say, "You know what? I'm going to do this my own way if I can share my thinking, I can share what's interesting to me, I can share ideas that I have with my partner, with my spouse." But they may engage with it a different way, and that that's okay. And I think it's not the difference that causes the problems. It's the intensity and the anxiety we bring to that difference that exaggerates or complicates the conflict.

Corey Allan: I almost hear you saying the person that's the higher curiosity person needs to use that superpower towards their partner's reaction to their curiosity, right? My spouse reacts to me, and so I need to now rather than just like, "Ah, how can you do whatever," because we can have that lizard brain, deep down just a reaction, how do I move it towards the prefrontal cortex area of my brain that then is doing more of the whole, "I wonder what their reaction and response is coming from?" And now all of a sudden I'm using that same kind of skillset.

Kathleen Smith: Yeah, absolutely. And I think the key is not to over function for the other person. I work with a lot of couples. They start talking more about sex. They start reading things, and they start giving homework to their partner and themselves. And they're checking up on them. They're saying, "Have you finished this book yet? How are you doing?" First of all, that doesn't put anyone in the mood, right? That doesn't generate intimacy at all, because they're trying to manage how the other person works on themselves and thinks about it.
That doesn't mean a person can't be honest and say, "This is really important to me, or let me share what I've been reading about, or what I've been thinking about." But when you start to manage and try and function for the other person, I think that really trips you up and gets in the way, because people don't like to be managed.

Corey Allan: Well, absolutely. I mean, there's an element of... I sum up a lot of couples, if not all, including my own relationship, under the auspices of, "I love you, but don't tell me what to do." So I think that that runs rampant because it seems like at some point in our married life, we get in this mindset that I know what's best for my spouse when, nah, I really don't. I know what's best for them in the way I would want them to be. But if I follow even that all the way through, that may not be what I want.

Kathleen Smith: Yeah, and I think thinking what's best also is accompanied with mind reading and then we start to assume, or that we know what the other person is thinking or how they'll react. We assume that they don't have their own ideas and thoughts to contribute, and maybe they do. And that goes back to that curiosity and saying, "What do you think we're going to do about this? I have a higher sex drive. You have a lower sex drive. How are we going to figure this out? I'm just really curious what you think?" That's so different than going, "Oh my goodness. We need to be on the same level, or this is a catastrophe. How are we going to stay together?"
Right? Those are two very different ways of talking about the same issue, right?

Corey Allan: Totally.

Kathleen Smith: Being curious about the other person's thinking, giving them the space to do that thinking can be very helpful for folks.

Corey Allan: And then that goes right back into what you started this conversation with, with the book of, even that route in and of itself is going to be anxiety provoking. And so then it's that, I got to calm myself down, I got to stick with what matters and what's important.

Kathleen Smith: Yeah, and I think if you can see the goal as managing your reactivity and not coming to a compromise or to the problem being solved right away, that allows you to have an ongoing conversation and to continue to share ideas and challenges with each other, because it's not something that gets fixed right away. It's something that is always a conversation, is always a piece of a marriage.

Corey Allan: Well, yeah, because I have the belief that marriage is not a problem to be solved. And even the whole concept of sex in marriage is not a problem we solve it, because it seems like that's kind of like rearing a child. That as soon as I figure out that stage they're in, it changes, right? Because now all of a sudden something's different in their brain or their environment or just their developmental stage. All bets are off on what I knew, because my 15 year old still doesn't stay in a playpen, right?

Kathleen Smith: Right.

Corey Allan: So it's realizing, okay, we got look at this differently. So is there any other last kind of thoughts that are just from what you keep seeing with the clients that you work with, your view of what's going on, and then the work that you've got, any other last thing that's just like, make sure you're also aware of this and doing this because the anxiety piece is huge, but what else is there?

Kathleen Smith: Well, I think it's easy to do the work on yourself and to think about it, but there is that second relationship piece. There is the actual contact, the actual conversation that has to happen, right? And I think that that is the most anxiety provoking part.

Corey Allan: Right.

Kathleen Smith: It's just a piece of it. If you can do it in a marriage, you can do it almost anywhere.

Corey Allan: That's true.

Kathleen Smith: And I think people forget that... We tend to focus on specific issues like sex, politics, religion, all the things that can cause conflict, right? Like I said, it's not the issues. It's the intensity. And being able to work on that is so beneficial to other aspects of your life. And I think people, they get so focused on the issue, they forget that all of that work multiplies and is so useful elsewhere in life. So if no other reason, you're going to get the multiple effects.

Corey Allan: That's great. Because that's the thing I love is that we're always in relationship, right? And it's beyond just our marriage. It's in every aspect of our life. And so when I work on one, I'm working on all.

Kathleen Smith: Absolutely.

Corey Allan: And that just enhances our life and all our relationships, and then all of those, and then how it touches and it just is a domino effect.

Kathleen Smith: Sure.

Corey Allan: Kathleen, for those of the members of the SMR Nation that are wanting to check out more of your work and find your book, tell them how they do so.

Kathleen Smith: Yeah. So my book is called Everything Isn't Terrible and you can buy it anywhere you buy books. And I also write a weekly anxiety newsletter called the Anxious Overachiever. And people can just go to my website, which is It's free to sign up for that.

Corey Allan: Perfect. Well, Kathleen, thank you so much for just the contribution, because anxiety is one of those things that it could be such a buzz word, but it's really not. It's so much more than that, right? It's a drive wheel. It's a fuel, and it's also a debilitating thing. And so I love the framework of trying to recognize both.

Kathleen Smith: Yeah, absolutely.

Corey Allan: Thanks so much for the time. Bowen's work, if you are a true theorist in the marriage and family field, Bowen was accredited. And all the people that really do love Bowen, they accredit to him. His theory is the only true theory. That it's the one that's most researched and seen all the way through and truly does encompass life, where a lot of others are more situational theories. And so that doesn't mean anything to you, but it does something to me. So I'm just kind of pointing that out.

Pam Allan: The phraseology there. I immediately go to the one true God, right? I'm like, hmm, okay. We hold someone on the pedestal too high.

Corey Allan: Not that far. No, this is among human terms and dealing with human systems.

Pam Allan: Understood.

Corey Allan: Wow. That took a turn I wasn't expecting it.

Pam Allan: Well, here we are.

Corey Allan: But I love having a chance to have conversations with other people in the field and other professionals just to hear how do they navigate the world of mental health and the world of families and the dynamics that we all face.

Pam Allan: We're all affected by this. Yes.

Corey Allan: If there's one thing I think I hope people recognize in the SMR Nation is you are not alone in your problems.

Pam Allan: Right.

Corey Allan: Right? That what you face other people face as well. And so if there's something left undone from today, let us know, 214-702-9565, or So wherever you are, whatever you've been doing, thanks for taking some time out of your day to spend it with us. See you next time.