Terry Real in Cosmo: How to Deal with a Moody Man

Even good guys can be testy, but that’s no consolation. Resist killing him and follow this advice.

Patriarchy Now Webinar Replay

Thank you to everyone who has stepped forward to engage in this dynamic topic with me through your emails, questions, and listening in for the live call. We had an excellent discussion today, and I’d like to share the recording for those who were not able to make it.


How Not to Hate Your Husband (from Jancee Dunn)

From How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn

“Get Off Your Ass and Help Out!” Our Encounter with the Man from Boston

There is this amazing guy from Boston. You have this long, excruciating session with him where he drills down to your problems really fast, then sets you both straight. It’s not cheap. And he’s no bullshit, so you need to have a very, very thick skin. But he stopped us from getting divorced.

I frequently write about relationships for magazines, so I have long known about Terry Real. A family therapist and founder of the Relational Life Institute in Boston, Real is a vociferous advocate of moving men and women beyond tired traditional gender roles. Famously blunt, he’s an East Coast version of Dr. Phil, sans mustache and Texas twang. Real’s specialty is working with couples on the brink of divorce whom no one else has been able to help, sort of a Memorial Sloan Kettering for marriage. Clients, among them celebrities and CEOs, fly to Boston from all over the country for his dramatic relationship overhauls—and pay $800 an hour for the privilege. I reason that a bracing session with him would be the perfect jump-start.

Suffice it to say that neither of us is looking forward to it. We aren’t alone in dreading couples therapy. (Even therapists do: an article in the trade magazine Psychotherapy Networker revealed that many therapists are traumatized by the sometimes-vicious battles between couples, and infinitely prefer individual sessions.) But it can be life-changing to learn how to talk to each other in an effective way—a survey of counselors found that the main reason couples got divorced was not infidelity, or money troubles, but “communication problems.”

Our squabbling is not just affecting our marital health, but very likely our physical health, too. One study found that if a married couple’s method of fighting was harsh or controlling in tone, it was just as powerful a predictor for risk of heart disease as whether a person smoked or had high cholesterol. Researchers at Ohio State University, meanwhile, found that married couples’ wounds actually healed more slowly when they had hostile arguments compared with so-called ‘low-hostile’ couples. The stress from a fallout, they discovered, boosted blood levels of hormones that interfere with the delivery of proteins called cytokines, which aid the immune system during injuries.

Conversely, an avalanche of research shows that happy marriages can boost your health and wellbeing. People in positive long-term relationships have lower rates of heart disease, live longer, and are less likely to develop cancer. Swedish researchers even found that being married at midlife is linked with a lower risk for dementia.

I’d like for us to be a long-lived, low-hostile couple.

Terry Real books up months in advance, so I quickly secure an eye-wateringly expensive five-hour session. Soon afterward, I receive a note from his assistant:

The office is a large, olive-green Victorian-type building. Come on in and have a seat, and Terry will come and get you when it’s time for your session. Dress for the session is extremely informal. Terry dresses comfortably and invites you to do the same. You’re going to have a long, hard-working day. Feel free to call me if you’re anxious.

We are not sure what to do with Sylvie during our session: even though she has just turned six, we don’t have a regular babysitter. Tom and I, committed homebodies, rarely go out and are quite content being a trio. (It is not lost on me that our lack of dates is probably part of the reason we are in this mess.)

Still, a couples therapy session is perhaps not the ideal place for a child. But my folks are out of town; Tom’s live in Chicago. Both of my sisters offer to take her for two nights, but because she had never spent the night at their houses, Tom and I worry: what if she can’t handle it for some reason, and we have to cut short our pricey session? Real has a strict cancellation policy.

I phone Real’s assistant (well, she did say to call if I was anxious) and ask if we can bring Sylvie and stick her in another room.

“I guess so,” she says hesitantly. “We had a client bring his dog once. But many clients cry and raise their voices. I’m just concerned about your daughter hearing that.”

“Oh, I’ll bring headphones,” I say breezily. “We’ll load up the iPad with cartoons, and she’ll watch until her eyes bleed. I just need to position her near an electrical outlet in case it needs charging.”

I can detect the hope in her voice when she tells me to let her know if anything changes and we are able to get childcare.

Finally, the day arrives. We drive from New York to Boston and, after a restive night in a hotel, are dressed and ready to go an hour in advance. We make a tense drive to the large, olive-green Victorian-type building, Sylvie happily clutching an armful of stuffed animals and a loaded iPad.

We arrange a makeshift nest for her on a sofa, and Tom assembles her gizmo, while I produce a large bag of cookies, candy, and chips. (Later, Sylvie will proclaim her parents’ therapy session “the best day ever.”)

Tom and I seat ourselves and wait, leafing distractedly through the magazines on the coffee table. Is Real on the premises? A sign on the wall reads “Children Learn What They Live.” “Tom,” I whisper. “You will be open to this, right? I mean, if we’re going to do this, we should really jump in.”

“Yes, I’m open,” he whispers back, although his demeanor is that of a cat about to be stuffed into a carrier for a trip to the vet. Time for your shots!

“Don’t worry,” I whisper. Why are we whispering? I squeeze his hand. “I think if we can—”

Just then, the office door swings open and we leap up, almost knocking heads. The Man from Boston.

“Hi,” he says, extending his hand. Tall and attractive with penetrating blue eyes, Real looks to be in his early sixties, and possesses a droll warmth that puts us slightly more at ease. He leads us to a wood-paneled office done in soothing greens, browns, and blues.

He shuts the door and we settle in, fussing with our seating arrangements. Then he looks at us unblinkingly over his reading glasses. “I always start with the same question,” he begins. “This is a lot of money and you’ve come a long way. What are your hopes? What would a grand slam look like?”

You can read more in Jancee’s Book: How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids

What’s the “Love/Lust Split” We See So Often?

How can we therapists help heal what Esther Perel calls the “Love/Lust split” we see so often?

As therapists, we’ve seen over and over that while couples, as I say, tend to do in the bedroom what they do in every other room, sex cannot be faked. All too often, fears, resentments, and grudges – all spill out into our most intimate domain and block it from being the source of excitement, fun, and closeness it was meant to be.

As I say in the upcoming course, The Power Of Intimacy, Sex is one of a couple’s most powerful renewable resources. But to stay alive, it must be renewed. 

Personally, I find Esther Perel to be literally the most imaginative and inspiring voice on sexuality alive today. Her work on keeping passion and mystery alive in long-term relationships is thrilling. Her Ted Talk: The secret to desire in a long-term relationship has drawn over 8 million views. Esther teaches us therapists how to fearlessly invite partners to articulate and unblock their deepest fantasies, desires, and erotic dreams.

I look at sex in it’s relationship to power: In general, people don’t want to have sex with people they’re mad at. What happens when one partner wants more sex, or a different type of sex, than the other? What happens when one (read, the man) uses sex to get close while the other (read the woman) needs closeness to have sex?

How can we therapists help heal what Esther calls the “Love/Lust split” we see so often? And what of those many couples who simply lose each other, surrendering their erotic connection to kids, bills, friends, family? In the class I say,

“For passion to spark, the couple needs to move from side-by-side energy to nose-to-nose energy. The partners most rouse themselves from life’s daily tasks and turn to face each other, be fully present to each other.”

Some couples are fine once they are sexual but have a heck of a time getting through such a transition. This course will teach you how to help with that–how to help the couples we work with push beyond their reticence or resentments to open up fully to their own sexual needs and desires with their intimate partners, how to, as Esther puts it: Be selfish in the presence of their partners.

Sex is an arena most fraught for many of us. As couples and as couples therapists – and an arena that, successfully managed, can be a well-spring of vitality and renewal, healing deep wounds, forgiving transgressions, opening our bodies and hearts to each other–despite the inevitable clash of our imperfections.

Harness the raw, brilliant energy of eroticism in our therapies.

Soon we’ll be announcing the opening of our course: The Power of Intimacy. 

You won’t want the miss this exciting dialogue crammed with new ways of thinking, new approaches, and specific, practical tools on sex and power!

Stay tuned for details. More to come.


Learning to Live a Non-Violent Life

Full Respect Living

Part One: Healthy Self-Esteem

Let’s talk about the relationship between you and you.

I have a saying. In adulthood, we tend to hold ourselves the way we were held. We internalize what came at us and now we throw it at ourselves. If you were indulged, you’ll make excuses; if you were treated harshly, you’ll be unkind to yourself. Sometimes, what’s key is not so much a replay of exactly how you were treated, but how you adapted to how you were treated. Say my mother was intrusive – I adapted by going behind a nice, strong wall. My parents were neglectful. I didn’t make demands, fending for myself, but all the while lonely – as I still feel now.

We men, in particular are prone to holding ourselves to a standard of perfectionism and being unsparing with ourselves if we fail to measure up. Some of us have internalized Patriarchy’s false narrative of masculinity so thoroughly that we hail self-flagellation as a constructive goad to excellence. Harshness is the enforcer, the muscle behind high standards of excellence. This is bullshit! Wake up, please. As I’ve said elsewhere, there is no redeeming value in harshness.

There’s nothing that harshness does that loving firmness doesn’t do better.”

It’s an exact analogue to assertion versus aggression. In the same way that you can stand up for yourself without aggression, you can stand up to yourself with out aggression – just as you would if it were an external relationship. You can drag yourself up at 5:30am in the dark to go to the gym; you can bring yourself back to your desk after a short break and finish your work. But you needn’t be judgmental or unkind.

And let’s not even start on the criticisms, those shame messages – that sucked, you’re stupid, you’re fat, there you go again, loser.

I want you to stand up to those harsh voices. They are simply the voice of the Adaptive Child part of you, “a kid in grown-up clothing.” You need to start loving that little boy or girl… and put them in their place. You don’t want them driving the bus. I say, put your arms around them, love ‘em up. And take their sticky hands off the steering wheel.

Many of us have come to some version of this realization in our relationship with others. We do a good job of taking a break, counting to ten, and letting the wave of triggering pass over us. We don’t want those immature parts of ourselves to run our relationships.

But how about in our relationship to ourselves? I say all the time to my clients: You wouldn’t let anyone outside of you talk to you like that. But because it’s you talking you think it’s okay, or else that you can’t do anything about it. I’ve said in the past, sustaining relationships with others requires a good relationship with ourselves. Healthy self-esteem is an internal sense of worth that pulls one neither into “better than” grandiosity nor “less than” shame.

I invite my clients to begin noticing moments when they are one-up or one-down, what’s the sensation of “one up” or down in their body? What are the thoughts, feelings….

What triggered the jump or the dive? As you truly realize that essential worth and dignity are not conditional; they belong to each of us in equal measure; they can neither be added to nor subtracted from, you begin to work the daily practice of intervening – imagining that Adaptive Child part of you and disarming him or her. Just as you’d say to an external offender you say, “I will listen to whatever point you want to make, but only if you’re respectful.”

What Does Healthy Self-Esteem Look Like?

So – Part One is about stopping, or at the least beginning to quiet the harsh voices, those unkind messages.

Part Two is then actively summoning up the energy of kindness, tenderness, compassion and giving it to yourself – even in the face of imperfect or bad behavior. It’s okay. You’re human. Pick yourself up and dust yourself off. Learn from your mistakes, be humble, be wise and be accepting,

For those of us with significant trauma, such a minute-to-minute practice can be hard. Our shame is particularly thick and sticky – difficult to get rid of. Trauma work – one that centers on divesting of that  “carried shame,” will help a lot.

Deep release work, coupled with daily practice, makes for a great one two punch.

Finally, I just want to add that depression is a particularly nasty shame disorder, a disorder of self-violence. I wrote that if you could take a stethoscope to the psyche of a depressed person, you’d hear one part of the psyche mercilessly beating up the rest. If neither trauma work nor practice alleviates the self-harshness, read my book on depression and get evaluated for the condition. If it’s moderate to severe you should consider medication – still a necessary and effective part of treatment for those who really struggle.

I had to do all three kinds of therapy to begin having a harmonious relationship to myself.

For most of my life, I was subject to bouts of severe self-loathing. It wasn’t much fun being inside “my skin” much of the time. I didn’t really relax and be okay with myself from the inside out until my forties. But I did it. I am now quite comfortable internally most of the time – no matter what life throws at me. I can differentiate between life’s challenges and my personal faults. I don’t take myself apart anymore. I am at peace. Those of you who’ve heard me may guess at what I’ll say next: If you come from a dysfunctional culture, so do I. If you hailed from a dysfunctional family, so did I. I spent decades oftentimes disrespecting myself. I don’t anymore. And if I can do it, you can do it.

So, good luck.

May this be the day you resolve to treat yourself better, speak to yourself less harshly.

It IS achievable.

And it’s what YOU deserve.


How to Work With ‘Carried Feelings’

In this blog, I share with you different ways to work with Carried Feelings.

Sometimes as therapists, working with past trauma and shame can be a heavy, but lifting process.

In working with carried feelings, you can have the person literally in their minds’ eye, scoop up the shame out of their body and hand it, throw it, or transmit it somehow back to the person or perpetrator who made the feel shameful in the first place.

Ultimately that person might be very rejecting, even sticking out their tongue, or they might be making fun of them in a real nasty way in your clients mind. Then you, as the therapist, comes in and reads the “riot act.” You sit there and act like a father or a grandfather, and you take this in (and mind you it can be heave at times).

Sometimes you have other group members come and stand by the empty chair in which the perpetrator sits and hold them to it. It’s a pretty assertive process. You don’t let the person be abusive to the perpetrator, but man it can get intense. It can be really, really angry. It can be reactivating, particularly with sexual shame, people can get nauseous. I’ve seen Belinda and when … somebody gets nauseous, she even brings in the wastebasket and places it between their knees and says, “Well, if you need to throw up, throw up. Let’s keep going.”

By the end of the session, you have given back all of the carried feelings that you took on to the person who threw their shameless behavior, and had transmitted their feelings to you.

Shame will be something which you can almost universally count on being transmitted.

The person is behaving shamelessly and their inner child takes on that shame. Then there will be other feelings…. I took on your anger…. I took on your fear…. I took on your sadness…. I have my own sadness, and I hold the part of sadness that is mine…. I give you back the sadness that is yours. I will not carry your sadness for you any longer. I have carried it for most of my life…. I’ve been depressed most of my life, I will not carry this sadness for you anymore!!!

This is a depiction and how it goes: the perpetrator is then asked to leave. Their inner child is brought back into the body. The person then proceeds to open their eyes to be able to receive feedback in their group setting from other members. If this type of dialogue happens in a couple sessions, you turn to the partner and say how was this for you?

In 99 out of 100 times you’ll get an empathic response. Often the partner is crying – along with the client that you’re working with.

That’s what carried feelings feels like.