Terry Real is a big deal.
The veteran marriage counselor, who has prominent disciples from Bruce Springsteen to Gwyneth Paltrow, has spent 25 years pulling Hollywood marriages from the brink.
In the UK, where 42% of nuptials end up in the trash, we could pull a leaf out of his book.
Luckily, there is one: Us, a practical guide to stepping back from feuds and gaining awareness in your relationship. Can he fix us? If that’s good enough for Gwynnie…
The veteran marriage counselor, who has high-profile disciples from Bruce Springsteen to Gwyneth Paltrow (pictured with Brad Falchuk last month), has spent 25 years pulling Hollywood marriages from the brink
HOW TO ARGU LESS
People have two faces they show their partners, Real says: “adult mode” and “kid mode.” All is sunshine and rainbows in “wise adult mode” – we are rational, reasonable and can express ourselves with confidence. It’s when we support that “child adaptive” mode kicks in and the strategies we’ve learned to defend ourselves under stress as the tweezers come screaming back. The first step? Recognize your preferred style of argument…
- Always right You believe that “we will solve this problem when we determine which of us is right and which of us is wrong”. You’re the kind of person who makes a virtue of being “the logical person”, hammering home hard facts, often ignoring your partner’s feelings and pushing them further.
- Assuming control This behavior can be overt (“shut up and do as I tell you”) or covert, in the form of manipulation intended to make your partner weak and insecure.
- Unbridled self-expression Or, essentially, a tirade. Instead of focusing on the topic at hand, you escalate and continue to wreck your partner’s character, using phrases such as “you never have”, “you always” and “you are”. Ironically, this weakens your partner’s ability to change, as it suggests they have a fixed, failing personality rather than behaviors they can work on.
- Retaliation You retaliated, tit for tat. Hurting your partner the same way they hurt you is an “understandable human impulse,” says Real. However, “it’s flawed, because you’ll never get someone to be more responsible or empathetic that way.”
- Withdrawal It’s “huge for men,” Real says. He says, “I’m not interested, we’re closing this” and backs out of the conversation (this can happen emotionally, as well as physically). It’s very different from “responsible distancing” which is saying “I’m taking a break, here’s where I’ll be and when I’ll be back”. These are all “losing strategies”. Discussing who you are (or who you are) when you’re calm can help you spring back into adult mode during disagreements. Try asking for a short break (different from coldly withdrawing) when you feel like you’re starting to lose control. “Tell your partner how long you’ll be, then go splash cold water on your face, meditate, or take a short walk,” advises Real. “Talk to that little kid inside of you and try to figure out what he wants from this situation.”
Terry Real lent a hand to Bruce Springsteen – pictured with Patti Scialfa in New York, 2017
In the meantime, if your partner is the one in child mode while you are not, it’s time to “stand up for yourself, with love.” It involves saying something like, “Please don’t beat me to it, it’s pushing me away.” Could you excuse me so I can feel close to you again? If your partner is extremely reactive — yelling or yelling at you — a more formal break is needed.
THE BEST WAY TO PICK UP COINS AFTER A DISCUSSION
If one partner is left in distress, it is up to the other to “initiate the repair”. It’s like working at a customer service desk – you’re there to meet the other person’s needs, not belittle them.
Can’t imagine how it turns out? Try the following real special: “I’m sorry you felt bad. I love you and I don’t want you to feel that way. Is there anything I could say or do to make you feel better?’ In short: be the tallest person.
The “feedback wheel” is another method Real recommends after the argument, when you’re both feeling calmer. First, make sure your partner is open to the discussion (“tell them it’ll only be ten minutes”), then discuss the following:
Terry Real and Gwyneth Paltrow pictured speaking on stage at the in goop health summit on January 27, 2018
“What I have experienced” Tell your partner about your subjective experience of the situation that caused the argument. For example, “I came home from work and the groceries hadn’t been put away.”
“What I Made Up About It” Explain your assumptions. “I made it up that you didn’t care about doing chores and that I thought I should do them all instead.”
‘That’s how it made me feel’ Describe the emotions this aroused for you. “I felt angry, frustrated and unrecognized.”
YOU CAN FORM YOUR RELATIONSHIP, BUT YOU HAVE TO WORK AT IT
‘What I would like’ Be clear about how your partner might behave differently in the future. “If there are errands to put away, I would really appreciate it if you could prioritize that.”
As another conversation partner, Real recommends…
- Listen, then repeat what you have heard.
- Ask if you understood correctly.
- Acknowledge and accept what you can.
GET MORE OF WHAT YOU WANT
“Almost all couples have ADD: Appreciative Deficit Disorder,” says Real. “If you want more of something, be careful – you’ll get more of what you want by enjoying it. It’s much more effective than complaining about what you don’t get. Her three-step plan for getting more of what you want involves the following…
Help your partner succeed Be specific and teach them what you would like. “Remember, you have no right to be angry because you don’t get what you didn’t ask for,” he says.
Make it worth it Reward and encourage your partner’s efforts — “appreciation is more powerful than all of the other strategies combined,” says Real.
Avoid saying “You only did this because I told you to.” According to Real, “You can shape your relationship – you don’t have to be a passive passenger. But you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and work for it. If you don’t want to help your partner learn, stick with what they give you. But if what they give you isn’t working, it’s time to teach them how to do better.
Us is published by Cornerstone Press, £18.99