09 Jan “What Can I Give You to Help You Give Me What I Want?” A Review of The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Know to Make Love Work by Terrence Real

Posted at 9:56 am in Uncategorized by jlbworks

By Philip Chanin, Ed.D., ABPP, CGP
Board Certified Clinical Psychologist
Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry
Vanderbilt University Medical Center


“We are drawn to people whose issues fit perfectly with our own in a way that guarantees a reenactment of the old, familiar struggles we grew up with.  We all marry our unfinished business.  You may think that a good relationship doesn’t bring up to the surface every hurt and anger you’ve ever carried inside.  But it does.” (p. 45)

“Real intimacy is born precisely out of the impact of your human imperfection with mine and how we both handle the maddening, endearing, challenging, and creative collision.”  (p. 48)

“The only part of the relationship that is under your direct control is you—and that is on a good day.  Give up the mad agenda of ‘getting’ your partner to change and try changing yourself instead.  While you cannot directly control either your partner or your relationship, you may be able to influence them both by experimenting with radical new moves of your own.”  (p. 77)

“In the repair process, the listener has only one goal:  to help the speaker move back into harmony, to help him or her feel better.  The listener’s attitude is: ‘I am at your service.  How can I help?’  Anything else will be perceived as at best extraneous and at worst infuriating…Whenever you shift attention away from your partner’s concerns over to your own, you create a situation in which there are two speakers and no listeners.  And that is precisely how most of us do it, how we try, and fail, to effect change.”  (p. 208)

“When we cast a cool eye over the so-called listening most of us claim to do, it turns out that we’re most often not listening at all.  Whether it’s out on the table or locked in our heads, what most of us do, sentence by sentence and point by point, is argue.  Then we have the gall to get ‘frustrated’ by mates who are being ‘difficult,’ when in fact we haven’t really appreciated a word they’ve said.  Finally, we answer most of their concerns by discounting them altogether or by replacing those concerns with our own.”  (p. 212)

When patients contact me about starting couples’ therapy, almost universally they say that they need help with “communication.”  Very few couples who present for therapy know how to listen.  Instead, as I have quoted Terrence Real just above, “what most of us do, sentence by sentence and point by point, is argue.”  My goal as a couples’ therapist is to help them have “constructive conversations” instead of useless arguments.

Chapter One:  Are You Getting What You Want—Outgrowing the Old Rules

Terrence Real’s position is that, starting in the 1970’s, the women’s movement “changed our society forever.  Newly empowered, women across America turned to men and began insisting on levels of emotional intimacy that most men—raised under the old regime—were not readily able to meet…women have radically changed and men, by and large, have not.”  (p. 6)

Real describes the couples he sees in his Boston office: “ What most of the men I work with don’t ‘get’ is that their relationship job description has changed…The refrain I hear over and over again from dissatisfied women is ‘I don’t feel like I have a real partner.  A partner who shares in the details of domestic life and in her concerns about the kids.  An intellectual partner who cares about what she thinks and supports her development.  And most of all, an emotional partner who shows interest in and appreciation for her feelings and who has a few of his own to bring to the table.” (p. 7)

Real describes how a wife’s resentment grows: “…when  today’s women back off, they do it resentfully…the discrepancy between the marriage you want and the one you’ve got gnaws away at you like a slow-growing cancer.  When you back away from your real needs, when you stop telling the truth—to your partner and to yourself—you shut down…When you shut down the truth, you shut down yourself—your generosity, your sexuality, your vitality.”  (p. 13)

Real suggests that most men are not unhappy in their marriages: “When therapists and other experts act as if both partners were equally dissatisfied and equally motivated to change, they are living in a fairy tale.  Men are not all that unhappy in their marriages.  They are unhappy that their women are so unhappy with them.”  (p. 15)

Chapter Two:  The Crunch and Why You’re Still in It—Bad Rules in a Losing Game

In my first session with every new couple, I tell them about Real’s five “losing strategies” that he outlines in this chapter: 1) Needing to be right; 2) controlling your partner; 3) unbridled self-expression; 4) retaliation; and 5) withdrawal.  I say to my couples, “If you want to have a good marriage, you have to get rid of these five losing strategies.”  Real states, “Whenever one or some combination of these losing strategies takes hold, you will never get what you want.” (p. 34)

Real lays out his take on “needing to be right.”  He writes, “Instead of focusing on Elizabeth and her needs, their debate centers on the burning question: Which one of them is ‘out of line.’…They each feel the need to be right, marshalling their evidence and arguing their case, two lawyers before the court…Like many couples, they try to ‘resolve’ their differences by eradicating them.  Faced with contrasting views of what happened, the way to end the argument, they think, is to determine which version is the more accurate.  They are in an objectivity battle…Instead of being a battle for the relationship, it is a constant war about who is right and who is wrong.” (pp. 38-39)

At this point in the book, Real makes a radical statement: “Objective reality has no place in close personal relationship.”  Real continues, “From a relationship-savvy point of view, the only sensible answer to the question ‘Who’s right and who’s wrong?’ is ‘Who cares?’…’You can be right or you can be married.  What’s more important to you?’…The seductive thing about trying to convince your partner that you are right is that a lot of times you are, in fact, right. And proving just how right you are can be a tough temptation to walk away from.” (p. 40)

Real adds, “Here’s the real deal on being right, which often degrades into self-righteous indignation.  It is always toxic in personal relationships and often dangerous in public life.  You will never find a solution from a position of self-righteous indignation for the simple reason that you’re not seeking one.  You’re too busy looking down your nose at your partner to care.  Letting go of the need to be right is a core principle of relationship empowerment.” (p. 41)

Real concludes this section with “Scolding your partner as if you were his mother, passing judgment on him, humiliating him—these are all forms of psychological violence…Relationship empowerment teaches you how to honor your own experience while at the same time respecting your partner’s…there’s a world of difference between assertively standing up for yourself and aggressively putting your partner down…Understand that the need to be right eats away at intimacy…You can be angry; you can defend yourself.  But lose that outraged, offended stance.  It’s toxic to the relationship and it’s toxic to your own well-being.  If you read this book and follow only one suggestion, I guarantee that your life will be substantially transformed.” (pp. 41-42)

Real’s second “losing strategy” is trying to control one’s partner.  He writes, “Our understandable, naïve, and utterly dysfunctional dream is that our partners will give us whatever we most missed in our childhoods, that which we most yearn for now as adults…The deeper our early pain, the more we are triggered, the more desperate we are to control the situation…Here’s the real deal on control:  It’s an illusion.  Short of outright coercion—holding a gun to someone’s head—no one ‘gets’ anyone to do anything.  Which, unfortunately, doesn’t mean that you won’t try…Even if you succeed in getting your way, you have won the battle but lost the war.  Whether your partner shows it or not, no one likes to be controlled.” (pp. 46-47)

Real’s third “losing strategy” in unbridled self-expression.  He says, “Here’s the real deal on venting:  When you are hurt or angry, spewing is not being authentic; it’s being a brat…venting is not an inalienable right.  You can vent, or you can move toward solution.  Which is more important to you?…What you need to understand about unbridled self-expression is that telling your partner precisely and in no uncertain terms how horribly you feel about his behavior is probably not the most effective way to engender a generous response.”  (pp. 47-48)

Real concludes this section saying, “I do support constructive self-expression.  But I’d like you to consider the act of sharing every subatomic particle of your displeasure with your partner as something akin to lighting a stick of dynamite.”  (p. 51)

Real’s fourth losing strategy is retaliation.  He writes, “Far and away, the most prevalent underlying dynamic of retaliation is offending from the victim position…you wind up in the absurd position of being a perpetrator who feels like he’s being victimized even as he attacks…I believe that offending from the victim position accounts for 90 percent of the world’s violence…violence at all levels is fueled by the righteous anger of the victim.  And standing up to our thirst for revenge, no matter how ‘justified’ it might feel, is a large component of learning to live nonviolent lives.”  (pp. 52-53)

Real continues, “Here’s something we tell our children and too often forget as adults:  Just because someone has hurt you does not give you the right to strike back.  There’s a difference between self-defense and reciprocal attack…far too often, we give ourselves permission to lash out verbally.  Humiliating, ridiculing, telling your partner what he should and should not do—these are all aspects of verbal abuse, and they have no place whatsoever in a healthy relationship…you can start right now by making a commitment to take retaliation—physical and verbal, direct and indirect—off the table.  If you’re mad, say so, but don’t act it out.” (p. 53)

Real’s fifth losing strategy is withdrawal.  He writes, “…withdrawal can also be motivated by a distaste for retaliation, or a general fear of conflict, a mistrust of closeness, a reluctance to be vulnerable, a sense of futility, or just plain fatigue.  You can withdraw from the entire relationship, drifting further and further apart…You can also withdraw from specific aspects of the relationship—stop sharing your feelings, or stop sharing yourself physically—so that one or more of the five areas of intimacy—intellectual, emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual—starts to dry up between you and your partner.”  (p. 54)

Often, I work with individuals who are struggling to decide whether there’s enough good in their marriages to justify staying.  Real speaks to this dilemma: “In a grown-up relationship, when it becomes clear that, for now, a certain want or need of yours will not be fully met no matter how many different strategies you try, you run through a relationship reckoning.  You ask yourself:  Are enough of my needs being met in this relationship to make grieving those wants and needs that will not be granted worth my while?”  (p. 55)

Real illustrates this point in describing a couple in which the wife, a victim of sexual trauma, is unable to distinguish between being ‘ravished’ and being raped.  Real writes: “With coaching, Doug asked himself the ten-thousand-dollar question: Is there enough for me in my marriage to Phyllis to make grieving the loss of a totally uninhibited sexual partner worth my while?  His answer was an emphatic yes.  And so he owned his choice to be with her as a choice and not an unfortunate imposition.  Like all the people I coach, he learned to tolerate the pain and disappointment he experienced without seeing himself as a victim.  (pp. 56-57)

Real articulates the difference between withdrawal and responsible distance taking.  He writes, “Just as there is a big difference between withdrawal and acceptance, there is also a big difference between unhealthy withdrawal and a healthy need for space…real relationships are an endless negotiation between closeness and distance.  Both are important.  But there are responsible ways to take distance and there are irresponsible ways to take distance.  Withdrawal is irresponsible distance taking.  It is unilateral, and without functional communication—the one who withdraws is either silent or screaming.  By contrast, responsible distance taking is neither unilateral nor provocative.”  (p. 58)

Real elaborates on “responsible distance taking.”  He writes, “Responsible distance taking always includes two elements: an explanation and a promise of return…You call a ‘time-out,’ letting your partner know that you’re going to cool off for a while and come back when you are ready…(the elements are) ‘No.  Here’s why I’m saying no.  And here’s my alternative proposal.’  Whether it’s taking time to cool off, politely declining an invitation, or simply taking some time for yourself, responsible distance taking is an exercise in self-care that also respects the relationship.  Withdrawal may be an attempt at self-care as well, but by being one-sided, poorly communicated, and often at least a little retaliatory, it’s no form of self-care I’d recommend.” (pp. 58-59)

Chapter Three:  Second Consciousness—Stepping Out of Your Bad Deal

Real begins this chapter with “There’s a saying in family therapy that most couples have the same fight over the course of forty or fifty years.  These seemingly endless, irresolvable repetitions are like children’s Chinese finger puzzles: The harder you pull, the tighter they get.  They are vicious cycles that dig us in deeper and deeper, eating up, over the years, more and more of the goodwill and connection we started off with…I call the vicious cycle that a couple faces over and over again their bad deal.  It’s as if both partners have agreed to play out for all eternity reciprocal roles that gets neither of them anywhere.”  (pp. 65-66)

Real then asks, “Where does your Bad Deal come from?”  He writes, “While it might not be readily apparent, the vicious cycle most couples find themselves stuck in replays some aspect of the relationships they grew up with.”  Describing several such couples, Real states, “The painful dramas they each grew up with spill into their marriages with the seeming inevitability of a classic tragedy.  Their relationships are crowded with ghosts.”  (pp. 67-68)

Of one such couple, Real states, “You could drop just about any issue into the Cuisinart of this couple’s Scolding Father/Helpless Child Deal and the ensuing dynamic would look the same.  Because what partners do with this stressor will be pretty much what they do with every stressor.  You think that your relationship will improve once particular stressful issues, like money, parenting, or sex, ‘get resolved.’  But it’s actually the other way around.  You’ll be able to successfully tackle tough issues only after your relationship improves…Life’s stressors rarely determine a couple’s dynamic.  Your relationship’s dynamic will determine how well, or how poorly, you’ll handle life’s stressors.” (pp. 70-71)

Next Real asks, “Are We Doomed to Keep Repeating the Same Patterns?”  He asserts, “At a more spiritual, mystical level, we pick partners with whom we can re-create whatever it was that was relationally dysfunctional in our formative years out of a deep-seated impulse to heal it.   We are drawn to partners who meet two conditions: 1) The person’s character is similar enough to that of one or both of our parents that, with this person, we can re-create our most familiar and most unresolved childhood drama; and: 2) The person’s character is dissimilar enough from that of our parents that, with this person, the old drama carries within it the potential for a new and healthier outcome.”  (pp. 72-73)

Continuing with this theme, Real asserts, “It is the urgency of your wish to ‘get’ from your partner what you should have had but did not get from your parents that drives your losing strategies and guarantees failure…We hit the piñata this way and that, trying to get the candy we’ve always known lies inside.  But we are deluded.  Whatever it was that we wanted from them came and went a long time ago.  It’s far too late for anyone to give it to us now.  We are no longer children.  The only person who can learn to make up for what wasn’t there—the only person who can finally give you the missing skills and love you so yearn for—is yourself.” (pp. 74-75)

Real elaborates: “Try and wish as we might, as adults, no one else can re-parent us.  We must learn to re-parent ourselves.  We think we will be healed when we wrest from our partners the particular form of care we crave.  That, we think, will complete the uncompleted conversation.  But our ambition always fails; we have no better luck with our partners than we had in the past with our parents.  Because our healing doesn’t come when we replay the old failing drama and finally win.  Our healing comes when we replay the old failing drama and finally stop trying.” (p. 75)

Real summarizes this line of thought: “You need not steal what you already own.  Our relational healing comes as we learn to give to ourselves that which was not given, so that we turn to our partners not as longing, frightened, or overburdened children, but as freestanding adults wanting to share with another adult.  Perhaps you married your mate to steady you, or to be successful for you, or to give you value, abundance, culture, standing, or friends, or to stop you from drinking or start you having fun, or simply to give you the gift of not draining you dry.  And all of these things are wonderful; they’re great—as gifts.  But they’re poison as obligations.  As you move into relational health, you no longer need your partner to make up for your own areas of immaturity…You stop asking your partner to heal you and start seeing your relationship as the crucible in which you get to heal yourself.” (p. 76)

Real continues: “Relationship practice is very akin to a mindfulness practice.  In this second, in front of you right now, will the actions on your side of the seesaw be conscious or automatic?  The automatic response is, of course, the one you learned, the one that fuels your part of your  vicious cycle.  The cultivated response is novel.  More than a set of techniques, relationship practice is nothing less than a new level of awareness, a second consciousness.” (p. 78)

“Your first consciousness is your knee-jerk reaction: ‘To hell with me?  Well, baby, to hell with YOU!’…Relationship practice…means the development and use of second consciousness in this moment, right here.  In this moment, when…every muscle and nerve in your body is screaming to do the same old same old—fight, flee, or fix—and, through sheer force of discipline and grace, you lift yourself off accustomed track A and place yourself, kicking and screaming, onto track B.  Your journey toward health and a great relationship consists of strings of such moments.  The more such moments there are, the stronger and more effective your second consciousness becomes, and the further along you are in your practice.”  (p. 79)

Here Real introduces us to a couple, Maya and Arjun.  He writes, “The problem with trying to help Maya and Arjun stop arguing with each other is that they aren’t arguing with each other anymore; they’re arguing with each other’s ghosts.  By the time they move into ‘You always’ and ‘You never,’ they no longer address their real partner but rather a caricatured version of that partner…They are no longer actually fighting with each other, but rather with each other’s core negative image.”  (p. 82)

Real elaborates, “A couple’s repetitive fight remains unresolved because neither partner truly engages with the other, but rather with his worst fantasy about the other.  As with losing strategies, each partner’s negative fantasy leads to accusatory and defensive behaviors on both sides that only further confirm their fears.  Our negative fantasy is the engine that drives relationship vicious cycles.”  (p. 83)

Your core negative image—or CNI—of your partner is that vision of him that you feel most hopeless and frightened about.  You say to yourself, in those furious, or resigned, or terrified moments, ‘Oh my god!  What if he really is…?’ (You can fill in the blank.). What if he really is a vicious person?  What if she really is a cold-hearted witch?  A betrayer?  An incompetent?  Constricted?  Selfish?  Your CNI of your partner is your worst nightmare.  It is who your partner becomes to you in those most difficult, irrational, least-loving moments.”  (p. 83)

Real continues: “Each of their CNI’s calls forth and reinforces the other’s.  Each CNI is like Brer Rabbit’s Tar Baby: The more you fight against it, the more stuck you get…each of their CNI’s is a direct carryover from their childhoods.  Remember the idea that our repetitive bad deal represents a fight we never finished, a wish to get from our partners something critical that we didn’t get growing up?”  (p. 83)

“Both Arjun and Maya have married their fathers.  And in their worst moments, endlessly and irresolvably, each sees the other with the same anger and with the same sense of hopelessness that they each felt toward their father.  But, in fact, they are wrong…Unlike each other’s real fathers, at their best, each of them has much more to offer.”  (p. 84)

“Remember the rule that said that each of us chooses a mate enough like what we grew up with to enable a re-creation of the old struggle—to be heard, to be appreciated—but at the same time enough unlike what we grew up with that the old drama might have a new outcome?  Here is that moment:  when CNI meets CNI.  The moment of challenge, and opportunity.”  (p. 84)

Real explains how a couple can use each other’s CNI to make progress: “There is an old Wampanoag saying:  To find your unique strength, look deep into the heart of your worst enemy.  Left to themselves, partner’s CNI’s will at best create logjams and at worst, fester and poison the relationship.  But for many couples, learning to work with each other’s CNIs has proven to be the single most transformative aspect of relationship empowerment work.” (p. 84)

In my work with couples who are stuck, I often suggest that they do Real’s exercise to utilize each partner’s CNI for healing.  He writes, “Your partner’s CNI of you can serve as your relationship’s compass.  CNI’s always point in the opposite direction from your goal.  What follows are five strategies for using CNIs:  1) Make each other’s CNIs explicit; 2) Acknowledge the truth is each other’s CNIs; 3) Identify CNI-busting behaviors; 4) Use CNIs as your compass; 5) Set up dead-stop contracts…Step One:  Sit down with your journal and write, in no more than a paragraph or two, your CNI of your partner—how you see your partner as being when he is at his all-time, absolute, most despicable, most impossible worst.  Step Two:  Write, as honestly as you can, what you imagine your partner’s CNI of you is.”  (p. 85)

Obviously, this is a challenging exercise for most couples.  Real elaborates: “When our partners confront us with their CNIs of us, we almost universally react to the fact that their CNIs are distorted and caricatured.  In other words, we argue with them…Instead of denying the truth of your partner’s CNI of you, I want you to try a radically new approach.  Imagine that your partner’s CNI of you is not, as you’ve been thinking it was, completely fabricated and nutty.  Instead, consider it as an exaggerated version of you at your very worst.”  (p. 87)

Real encourages the following: “Try on the idea that the CNI, exaggerated and limited as it might be, is nevertheless essentially true.  Your partner’s CNI doesn’t describe someone else; it’s you.  It’s how you can be when the most immature parts of yourself have grabbed hold of the steering wheel.  Your partner’s CNI of you is a super-bright, high-contrast photograph of your fault lines.  You work hard not to fall.  But when you fall, this will be where you go.  Words cannot convey the power that comes when you stop denying the truthful aspects of your partner’s CNI of you and join him in his concerns about them.”  (p. 87)

Real summarizes this approach: “Your partner’s list of behaviors that serve to either support or dispute his CNI of you is the most direct set of operating instructions for your relationship with him that you will ever receive.  Use it.   Know that every time you behave in ways that come close to his CNI of you, you will likely trigger upset in him.”  (p. 88)

“Anytime you behave in ways that are emphatically different from your partner’s CNI of you, ways that are the opposite of his expectations or that are found on his CNI-busting list, your behavior will most likely reassure your partner, feel good to him, and, at the most profound level, touch something deep inside him…These acts of kindness are not obligatory.  And they do not take the place of your partner’s own healing.  But they are merciful.  They are generous.  If your partner can take them in, they will fall on his soul like warm, cleansing rain.”  (p. 89)

Next Real explains his concept of “Dead-Stop Contracts.”  He writes, “The dead-stop contract itself is an agreement to interrupt the vicious cycle of CNI-meets-CNI…If I feel, rightly or wrongly, that you are behaving in ways that reinforce my CNI of you—if I feel, for instance, that old, horrible feeling of being bossed around by you—I will signal a dead-stop.  And you agree in advance that whenever you hear that signal, understanding that your behavior is CNI-triggering, you will come to a dead stop—whether you agree with my perception or not.”  (p. 89)

Real elaborates: “Whether I am nuts for feeling bullied by you in this particular instance or not, you agree, upon hearing my signal, to stop whatever it is you are saying or doing on a dime.  Instead of continuing, you agree to turn to me and say your version of ‘I’m sorry.  I don’t mean to bully you.  Forgive me.  Is there anything I can say or do right now that might help you feel better?  On my side, I promise not to use this as a moment to give you a hard time but rather to appreciate your effort and move on as quickly as possible.”  (p. 90)

Real adds, “When you agree to use a dead-stop contract, nothing short of physical safety takes precedence over your goal of stopping your repetitive pattern.  No matter what you think your partner may be doing, you pledge to honor your side of the contract.”  (p. 90)

Real concludes this chapter saying, “It is always within your power to disrupt your repetitive dance, no matter how your partner responds…even if your partner clings to the old pattern, you have the ability to step away.  You cannot single-handedly shift your relationship from a bad deal to a good deal, but you can single-handedly stop your bad deal in its tracks by choosing healthy behaviors for yourself.”  (p. 92)

Chapter Four:  Are You Intimacy Ready?–Cleaning Up

More than other therapists who have influenced me, Terry Real reflects on the responsibilities of any adult in a grown-up relationship: “If you or your partner is struggling with an issue such as depression, anxiety, phobias, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, you owe it to yourself and your family to get—or insist that your partner get—help.  There is simply no way your relationship is going to get healthier when one of you is in a state of emotional distress.” (p. 95)

Real continues, “Neglecting to get treatment is your individual choice if you live alone, but once you elect to create a family, getting help is no longer a decision that impacts only your life.  It is your responsibility to be the best spouse and parent you can be…If you are the one who has been reluctant to get help, understand that your unwillingness inflicts unnecessary suffering on those around you.  And if you are the partner of such a person, you should know that a spouse or parent in disrepair affects everyone in the family.  You have an absolute right, even an obligation, to insist on health in your family.”  (p. 95)

Real elaborates, “Some people hesitate to confront their mate’s emotional difficulties for fear it will ‘set off’ the person and ‘make things worse,’ That might be true in the short run, but I don’t think you have much choice.  It is rare for these conditions to get better all on their own, and in many cases they only get worse…It is far better for your children to see healthy argument as part of dealing with a tough issue than for them to watch an adult operate as an emotional drag on the whole family…my advice is to put principle aside and do whatever it takes to get your partner in front of a mental health professional.  Even if you need to make the calls, screen the potential therapists, and make the initial appointment, I suggest you do it.”  (pp. 95-96)

Real addresses the role of addictive behaviors in marriage: “Self-medication does not mean that you can’t do without whatever it is that makes you feel better.  It’s that you can’t be very happy without it.  In Terry Real’s model of relational recovery, the first and foremost task is to address addictive behaviors, whether that’s a substance like alcohol or drugs, or overindulging on food or television, or workaholism.   Real describes these behaviors as “misery stabilizers.” (pp. 99-100)

Real writes, “Misery stabilizers are the things that people turn to instead of turning to each other, staying engaged, and facing their issues…in situations of chronic displeasure, one or both partners have probably been turning for comfort or vitality to someone or something outside the relationship…Turning to misery stabilizers is one form of the fifth losing strategy, withdrawal.  A partner will not fully engage, and real intimacy will be severely compromised, if misery stabilizers are not dealt with.” (p. 100)

Real suggest that misery stabilizers give a person “just enough satisfaction to be able to stand a situation you’d be better off challenging.  Men tend to use workaholism, substance abuse, risk taking, gambling, food, exercise, television, the Internet and sexual compulsivity.  Women tend toward love dependence through overinvolvement with their children, food, prescription drug abuse, spending, exercise, ‘busyness addiction,’ and love dependence on a romantic adult…In order to get the juices flowing in your relationship, you and your partner need to kick out the props that hold you in stasis.  Let your relationship go into crisis…Doing so throws us into a confrontation with each other, and with the unresolved aspects of our relationship that we’ve been far too comfortable avoiding.”  (pp. 100-101)

In addition to untreated psychiatric conditions and addictive behaviors, a third issue must be addressed “before deep work on the relationship can begin…If either of you is prone to acting on your sexual or aggressive impulses, the relationship is simply not safe enough for real intimacy.  In order to be able to engage with each other, you must first remove the threat of retaliation or high-risk behaviors.”  (p. 102)

Real continues, “Sexual acting out includes any current affair.  You cannot work on your relationship while having one on the side…during the period when we are working together, neither partner can have contact with another romantic figure.  This is true for physical affairs and also for emotional affairs, in which a partner has all the intrigue of infatuation without getting physical.  Being involved in a platonic romance does not diminish the impact of degrading your primary relationship.”  (pp. 102-103)

Real speaks to the threat of aggression: “Aggressive acting out includes any retaliation against a partner that poses a real danger to that person or to the family.  It could be a credible threat to take away someone’s children, to hurt someone professionally, or to withhold needed finances…I will not see couples in therapy when there is a threat of physical violence…I believe it is unethical to place a woman in a dangerous position of facing possible physical retaliation if she dares to tell the truth.”  (p. 103)

Next Real addresses what he terms “Psychological Boundary Violations.”  He writes, “Behaviors are abusive when they violate your psychological self, when they cross your internal boundary.”  His examples of psychological boundary violations include: “Yelling and screaming, name calling, shaming or humiliating, telling an adult what he or she should do, making contracts and then breaking them, lying, and manipulating.”  (p. 104)

Under “shaming and humiliating” he includes, “Communicating that someone is a bad or worthless person.  Shaming behaviors include ridiculing someone, mocking, being sarcastic, humoring, or being patronizing.”  Under “telling an adult what he or she should do” he includes: “Unless you’re someone’s boss, therapist, or advisor, you have no right to tell another grown person what he or she needs to do.  That’s intrusive.  The same is true for dictating what someone should think or feel.  And it’s even more intrusive to tell someone what he ‘really’ thinks or feels, as in, ‘You’re not disappointed, you’re angry.’” (p. 104)

Real becomes very directive with aggressive couples: “I sometimes tell verbally abusive couples that they must separate for a time if it seems that they just can’t stop assaulting each other.  I strongly encourage verbally abusive couples, even if they need to separate, to keep working on their relationship and to continue with couple’s therapy.  These are not couples that necessarily need to break up; they just need a break.  I insist that verbally abusive couples separate if the fights occur regularly where children witness them.”  (p. 105)

Real is a big believer in the importance of couples being able to take time-outs.  He writes, “The best defense against verbal abuse is a formal time-out…When either partner calls a time-out—by saying the word ‘time-out,’ by using the ‘T’ hand signal, or by using any agreed-upon sign—the interaction comes to an immediate stop.  The spoken or gestured signal is understood by both partners to be an abbreviation of the following words:

‘Dear partner, for whatever reason, right for wrong, I am about to lose it.  If I stay here and keep this up with you I am liable to do or say something stupid that I know I’m going to regret.  Therefor I am taking a break to get a grip on myself and calm down.  I will check back in with you responsibly.  Notice that the time-out is always taken from an ‘I’ position, never from a ‘you’ position.  It’s a singularly bad idea to tell your partner that he is being a brat and that he needs a time-out.  You take it…Once the contract has been agreed upon in advance, either partner has the right to leave the interaction whenever he or she chooses, and should not be stopped…When reconnecting after a time-out, you must take a twenty-four-hour moratorium on the subject that triggered the initial fight.”  Real adds that if you don’t take this moratorium, “you run a great risk of just getting wound up again.”  (pp. 106-108)

Real urges all couples to “commit to a life without violence…Time-outs represent a contract in which you both agree in advance that your commitment to end physical and/or psychological violence in your family is unflinching, and that someone’s right to leave a potentially abusive confrontation is sacrosanct.  As relationship grown-ups, you have come to appreciate that no problem will ever get solved until both parties put retaliation aside.  Nothing other than immediate safety takes precedence over ending retaliation as a technique in your relationship. Whatever the topic at hand, if either or both of you becomes abusive, drop it…Nothing short of a life-or-death emergency is more important than ending violent behavior between you.” (p. 109)

Real challenges those partners who say about their anger “I can’t stop myself.”  He writes, “I tell men and women who use this line of reasoning, ‘There is, in fact, a very small group of people who truly cannot control themselves.  By and large, they are in mental institutions or in jail.’” Regarding marital conflict, Real urges, “But you always have the option of keeping your mouth shut, turning around, and leavingplease, no matter what, make a commitment to do whatever it takes to stop inflicting your anger on others.  When anger overtakes you, walk away.  And there is equally no justification for the recipient of verbal abuse to just stand in the jet stream of someone’s cruelty and tolerate it.”  (p. 110)

Real adds, “Both the aggressor and the recipient must learn to break the pattern and walk away.  The bottom line is that you come to realize with unshakable conviction that there is no earthly reason you should tolerate cruelty anywhere in your life.  There is no reason to dish it out and no reason to subject yourself to it.  Ever.” (p. 110)

Real concludes this chapter by challenging all couples to practice “full-respect living…you make a deep commitment that, no matter what, the line separating anger from disrespect—from contempt, control, retaliation, or punishing withdrawal—is never crossed again.  And you are equally passionate about removing yourself from harm’s way…You can do it.  You can push back against the lure of retaliation, or the entitlement to take liberties.  And you can demand respectful treatment in all your dealings with others, just as you give the same…At any given moment, whether your partner honors the contract or not, your commitment to end your participation in actions that are disrespectful to you or to anyone else places the power to stop emotional violence clearly and forcefully in your own hands—now, and for the rest of your life.  Use it.”  (pp. 111-112)

Chapter Five:  Get Yourself Together: Healthy Self-Esteem and Boundaries

In this chapter on boundaries, Real begins by defining one’s sexual boundary.  He writes, “Your sexual boundary is one specific example of your physical boundary.  Having a sexual boundary means that you understand that all people—including yourself—have the right to determine whether and how they will touch or be touched for the purpose of sexual arousal and release.  In other words, you have the right to say no.”  (pp. 121-122)

Real continues: “I have been amazed at how many partners—more often men—feel that it is their right to be sexually serviced when they want to be.  And how many women perform a mental calculation that tells them that it will be ‘less trouble’ to ‘keep the man happy’ than it would be to deal with the pouting or irritability that will follow if they don’t.  There is a place for asserting one’s desire for the two of you to have a healthy and satisfying sex life as a couple, but that’s different from demanding gratification.  On the other side, there’s a place for saying, ‘I’m not turned on this particular second but I know if we get started, I’ll get into it.’  There’s even a place for being generous sexually as well as in every other way.”  (p. 122)

Real adds, “But there’s a difference between all of these and feeling coerced.  I tell the men I work with that the price they will pay in the long run for not respecting sexual boundaries is the drying up of their mate’s desire for them—not infrequently to the point of their being thoroughly disgusted and repulsed by the partners they no longer give in to…Few things diminish one partner’s desire for sex more effectively than the other partner’s demand for it.…If you don’t stand up for your needs, you begin shutting them down, often feeling like a resentful victim.”  (pp. 122-124)

In his second book, How Can I Get Through To You?, Real devoted an entire chapter to his concept of an “Internal Boundary.”  It has become the foremost strategy that I try to teach to almost all of my patients.  I keep hard copies of that chapter in my office and frequently give them to my patients.  In this chapter, he refines his approach, saying, “Your psychological boundary is to your psyche what your skin is to your body.  It’s where you end and the world begins.  And just like your skin, it has two functions: it contains you and it protects you.  Imagine your psychic ‘skin’ as being like an orange rind.  Like the covering of an orange, your psychological boundary has an inside and an outside.  The outside, protective part of the boundary shields you from the world; the inside, containing part shields the world from you.” (p. 124)

Real elaborates: “Containment means your capacity for restraint.  The containing part of your psychological boundary (the inside of the rind) stops you from leaking out your ‘stuff’ out onto those around you—your rage, your anxiety, your sexuality, your certainties about right and wrong.  It stops you from acting out your inappropriate impulses…dead-stop contracts and time outs..,strengthen the containing part of your psychological boundary.  Clamping your mouth shut, taking a time-out, or walking away from a fight are excellent examples of how to build strong containing muscles.”  (pp. 124-125)

Real continues, “Fully developing the containing part of your psychological boundary is a necessary prerequisite for closeness, because without it you will behave inappropriately, or even offensively…People with a weak containing part of their psychological boundary will be intrusive.  They are prone to the losing strategies of control, unbridled self-expression, and retaliation.  When you commit to the practice of full-respect living, you stop making excuses for uncontained behaviors—either yours or anyone else’s.”  (p. 125)

Here Real explains the protective part of one’s psychological boundary: “The protective part of your psychological boundary (the outside of the rind) protects you from others’ intrusion just as containment protects them from yours.  Fully developing the protective part of your psychological boundary is a necessary prerequisite for closeness, because it allows you to be connected and protected at the same time.  People for whom the protective part of the internal boundary (the outside of the rind) is weak or nonexistent are prey to any idea or emotion that someone they’re close to throws at them.”  (p. 125)

Real continues: “When people speak of being ‘thin-skinned,’ or ‘too sensitive,’ they probably mean that they lack a protective psychological boundary.  When someone feels wounded that ‘you could even think that of me,’ he is in boundary failure…Remember, there is no place for ‘objective reality’ in personal relationships…Imagine the person’s assertions about you going splat on your psychic windshield like an egg sliding off glass.  You say to yourself, ‘That’s about him; it’s not about me.’”  (p. 127)

Real elaborates about the protective function of one’s internal boundary: “Your partner’s inaccurate images of you are just his projections, the products of his imagination.  You needn’t get wound up about them.  And you needn’t become high and mighty either, because you have the good sense and humility to appreciate that getting things wrong, imagining all sorts of nonsense, is just what we humans do in close quarters.”  (p. 127)

Real continues, “When you have a poor protective psychological boundary, you are in a constant state of emotional vulnerability.  If you are fighting with your partner, for example, and he says something negative about you, you will immediately and invariably start feeling bad—not just about him, but about yourself as well—even if what he’s saying is totally untrue.  You lack the means to keep his negativity at bay.  Without a protective psychological boundary, the only way you can make yourself comfortable is by stopping the upsetting stimulus…you have to either get him to stop saying that or else leave, removing yourself from the disquieting material.  Your only options are the two losing strategies of control or withdrawal.” (p. 128)

Real summarizes the enormous benefits of a protective internal boundary: “And this newly developed capacity to self-regulate, independent of changes in your environment, releases you from endless, seemingly uncontrollable reactivity.  You don’t need to feel hurt; you don’t need to fight back; you don’t need to ‘get’ your partner to see things differently; you don’t need to be defensive; you don’t need to run away.  In fact, you no longer need to do anything.  Protected by your internal boundary, you have the miraculous new freedom to simply stand still and be present, or said differently, to utterly transform your relationship.” (pp. 128-129)

Real also addresses the situation when a person is too boundaried and lives behind a wall:  “When you’re behind a wall, you take in nothing.  You are not engaged with the speaker; in fact, no matter what you may look like from the outside, you’re not actually listening at all.  You are shut up in a closed fortress that no one can breach.  When you are boundaryless, you are connected but not protected.  When you are behind a wall, you are protected but not connected.  Neither condition is intimate.  The number of things we can use as walls is simply astounding: walls of silence, walls of words, walls of anger, intoxication, preoccupation, charm, humor, condescension, helpless fatigue.”  (p. 129)

Real adds, “The one and only circumstance in which using a wall is appropriate is when you’re on the receiving end of someone’s abuse and you can’t, or choose not to, remove yourself.  You’re stuck in a full airplane and your partner’s being a jerk to you.  Or you’re in a car with him ten minutes away from the dinner party you’re both attending and he’s directing his anger at you.  Then, and only then, you can choose to use a wall in order to protect yourself.  And even then, you must soften your wall back into becoming a pliant boundary the minute the abuse stops.”  (pp. 129-130)

Next Real describes healthy self-esteem: “Self-esteem is your capacity to recognize your worth and value, despite your human flaws and weaknesses.  Your value as a person isn’t earned; it isn’t conditional; it can’t be added to or subtracted from.  Your essential worth is neither greater nor lesser than that of any other human being.  It can’t be.  Self-esteem is about being, not doing.  You have worth simply because you’re alive.”  (p. 135)

Real believes that “Self-esteem comes from the inside out…It is the central principle of democracy itself: ‘All men are created equal.’  We understand the essential equality of all human beings in times of crisis…Instead of a spiritual clarity assuring us that no one is fundamentally better or worse than anyone else, our lives are ruled—day by day, hour by hour, even minute by minute—by the confusion of believing that we must justify our existence, that we must earn our worth every day, and, even worse, that our value or its lack will be coolly judged against a backdrop of unending competition.”  (pp. 133-134)

Real brings in the cultural context: “It is more accurate to say that our culture runs on unhealthy self-esteem.  The feeling of inadequacy, and the dream of its cure through acquisition, is the fuel that drives our economy.  We are constantly barraged with the message that simply as ourselves, we are not enough.  We’re too fat; we’re too dumb; our sex lives could be better; our dishes could shine more; and, to be frank, we could smell a lot fresher…Instead of the inner strength that arises naturally from healthy self-regard, our society feeds on three types of unhealthy self-regard: 1) performance-based esteem; 2) other-based esteem; 3) attribute-based esteem.”  (pp. 134-135)

Real continues, “Performance-based esteem is a favorite among men.  Its message is ‘I have worth because of what I can do.’  I can hit a home run, close a tough deal, earn a fat paycheck, make my partner happy.  The great problem with performance-based esteem—as any honest man will admit—is that you’re only as good as your last game.  You can never rest…The question is, ‘What have you done for us lately?’…For some people, everything become a performance.  Their self-worth is always on the line.  How well they cook breakfast, how well they drive, and, of course, their prowess in the sack determine their sense of value.”  (p. 135)

Real writes, “Other-based esteem has been favored among women.  It is the belief that ‘I have worth because you think I do.’  The ‘you’ in that sentence could be family, friends, or colleagues, but, of course, it most often means ‘you, the man I care about.’  Pushed to the extreme, other-based esteem becomes love dependency, in which someone’s lack of the ability to cherish herself is supplemented by her partner’s warm regards for her.  His esteem of her becomes a drug on which she is dependent in order to feel good about herself.  The vulnerability inherent in basing your sense of value on another person’s opinion is obvious.  The lengths that people will go to in order to hold on to someone else’s regard can be truly sad, even frightening.”  (pp. 135-136)

Real next defines attribute-based esteem: “…attribute-based esteem is used equally by both (sexes).  Its message is ‘I have worth because of what I have’—a big car, big muscles, a rich husband, a child at an Ivy League school…Behaving generously is laudable and behaving criminally is reprehensible; we can even call one person morally superior to the other, but neither is essentially superior.  Understanding this brings a great sense of internal stability, one might even say peace.  Not that you check your brain at the door.  Of course, you feel great when things go well and poorly when they don’t.  But there is a firewall between such ups and downs—your unchanging birthright to remain a dignified human being.”  (pp. 137-138)

Real sees grandiosity as another self-esteem disorder.  He writes, “Healthy self-esteem requires an appropriate amount of shame.  Too much shame pulls you into a ‘one-down’ position, engendering feelings of inferiority.  But too little shame pulls you into a ‘one-up’ position, engendering feelings of superiority.  Both states are unhealthy, and both need correction before effective work on your relationship can take hold…If we want to move into true and abiding intimacy, we must deal with both self-esteem issues, going one-down and one-up.  Because every single one of us does both.”  (pp. 139-140)

In describing grandiosity, Real states, “While toxic shame and grandiosity are both self-esteem disorders, there are two key differences that you should appreciate:  Grandiosity feels good.  Grandiosity impairs judgment…In your attempts to deal in a healthy way with a grandiose partner, and in your attempts to deal in a healthy way with your own grandiosity, virtually all of the techniques that help with shame are completely ineffective.”  (p. 141)

In Real’s approach “Grandiosity makes you oblivious…grandiosity always involves a blunted sensitivity to the effects of your behavior on others, to your action’s potential consequences. This is why traditional, nurturing therapy is largely irrelevant to people struggling with grandiosity…Relational sensitivity and good judgment are the missing ingredients the grandiose person needs to develop…Shame-filled people have pain.  Grandiose people have troubles.  The conflict is not inside them, but between them and their environment.  They’re not in pain; the people around them are in pain.”  (p. 142)

Real continues, “Here’s the real deal on grandiosity.  It can be dangerous to your health, sometimes even lethal.  It destroys intimacy.  It destroys love.  Every shameless act—every offense, crime, injury, willful violation—is committed by someone in a state of grandiosity. Why do you want to practice coming down from the high of grandiosity?  Because it’s the only way you will ever be happy.  I call grandiosity the poisoned privilege.”  (p. 145)

Real believes that “The violence that occurs between you and others is always fueled by grandiosity.  And the violence that occurs between you and you, the voice of that harsh critical chorus we carry inside, is shame.  Being in a shame state means that you’re holding yourself in contempt.  And being in a state of grandiosity means that you’re holding others in contempt…Shame and grandiosity, being one-up or one-down, are not primarily opposite emotions.  They are the same emotion pointed in different directions…When the beam of contempt swings inward, we call that shame.  When the beam points out at those around you, we call that grandiosity…Relationship empowerment means stepping off the contempt conveyor belt, as it carries you toward either direction.”  (pp. 145-146)

Real concludes this chapter with a provocative assertion: “’What I have to say is that it’s abuse to be with someone and give him the message that you’re not sure he’s really right for you, really quite good enough.  I believe that kind of ambivalence has a very short shelf life before it begins to get toxic…I believe it is an assault on someone’s self-esteem to wake up and go to sleep each night with someone you’re not sure you belong with.  And I don’t quite know how to help someone get over depression when he’s in the middle of depressing circumstances.’” (p. 154)

Chapter Six:  Get What You Want: Empowering Yourself, Empowering Your Partner

Chapter Two introduced Terry Reals “Five losing strategies.”  Chapter Six begins with Real’s five winning strategies:  1) Shifting from complaint to request; 2) Speaking out with love and savvy; 3) Responding with generosity; 4) Empowering each other; and 5) Cherishing.  Real writes, “Second consciousness opens the door to a new world—a world in which we have options, in which we develop the ability to control our responses rather than being controlled by them—we can think about how to intentionally shape our relationships.  (p. 165)

Real remarks, “I can’t tell you how many women I’ve heard say, over the years, ‘If I have to tell him, it doesn’t count.’  Well, I’d like you to look around and ask yourself how well spontaneity  seems to be working…Most people of either sex do not want to do the hard work of sitting down, clearly identifying their relational wants and needs, figuring out how best to ask for them, going after them, and then, if the first attempt fails, regrouping, rethinking, and trying again.  What both sexes seem to do equally well and remarkably well is complain.” (p. 166)

Winning strategy 1:  Shifting from Complaint to Request

Real writes, “Instead of using assertion, both men and women seem to subscribe to the truly nutty idea that an effective strategy for getting more of what you want from your partner is to complain about not getting it after the fact…Here’s the real deal on complaint.  It is such an utterly contorted way of trying to get more of your needs met that I’m tempted to call it perverse.  Complaint is double negative thinking.  Instead of saying, ‘I’d be really happy if I could have more of this positive thing,’ you try to get more of something you want by saying, ‘I would have been happy if only you hadn’t engaged in that negative thing.’  (p. 166-167)

Real suggest an alternative strategy: “Instead of focusing on what your partner has done wrong, discipline yourself—and it does take discipline—to focus on what he could do now or later that would be right.  You shift from a negative/past focus to a positive/future focus…remember this phase: Don’t criticize, ask!  Real asks, “Why does asking for what you want feel so uncomfortable?”

He responds, “As crazy as it might seem, complaining, arguing, and even getting downright nasty actually feel safer to most of us than simply and directly making a request…there is not one but three reasons why you may be squeamish about making requests:  1) You must own your right to have wants and needs; 2) You risk possible disappointment or rejection; 3) You risk shaking up your relationship…If the essence of traditional masculinity is invulnerability, the essence of traditional femininity is selfless service to others.  (pp. 168-169)

Real continues, “Complaining in your relationship is a form of pseudo-pursuit.  If you listen to the content of your complaint, it sounds as though you’re trying to connect.  But if you attend more closely, solution is rarely what’s on your mind, while being right, control, unbridled self-expression, or retaliation are very much on your mind.  Complaint is just the flip side of acquiescence.  It is personal empowerment’s clarion call.  And it works no more effectively than acquiescence does.”  (p. 169)

Real believes that “One of the great paradoxes of intimacy is that in order to have a healthy passionate relationship, you must be willing to risk it, …You cannot sustain a great relationship without taking risks.  Too many of us are afraid of rocking the boat.  We’re frightened of staying as truthfully engaged as we deserve to be because experience has shown us that asserting our wants and needs simply hasn’t worked.  And so we ‘compromise,’ trying to make peace with what we see as our partner’s limitations.  This common outcome woefully sells short both you and your partner.”  (p. 171)

Real again asks, “Why is the shift from complaint to request so important?  He responds, “Because it’s the only way you will ever get your needs met.  You have no right to complain about not getting what you never asked for.”  Real gives an example of the shift from negative/past to positive/future—the shift from “’I just hate it when you talk to me like that!’ to ‘I’m not speaking disrespectfully to you.  Would you please do the same?’”  Real adds, “As a strategy for helping your partner change, (complaining) doesn’t work.  Criticizing what your partner has done wrong rarely engenders an attitude of increased generosity.  Complaint doesn’t 1) Identify what it is that you want; 2) Express what you want in a way that your partner can understand; 3) Help break down your request into actionable behaviors that your partner can accomplish; 4) Appreciate his willingness to try; 5) Reassure him that sincere attempts, even if imperfect, will be valued; 6) Motivate him; and 7) Make talking to you about your relationship something he’ll look forward to.”  (pp. 171-173)

Real continues, “Most men don’t expect this particular discussion to be either constructive or a whole lot of fun.  What they anticipate, and not without reason, is that they’ll find themselves on the receiving end of an extended, overheated, one-sided ration of…complaint…If I were allowed to offer only one piece of advice, this would be the one new rule I would choose: Great relationships mean more assertion up front and less resentment on the back end.” (pp. 173-174)

Real encourages, “If you want to be happy, then do whatever you reasonably can to keep your partner happy.  And if you want something more or different in your relationship, do what you reasonably can to facilitate that happening; get down off your high horse and help out.  Of all the rules in the practice of relationship empowerment, the one that sums up the essence of this new orientation comes in the form of a question.  ‘What do you need from me so that I can help you give me what I want?”’

Next Real asks another question: “Positive, future-focused requests help keep your relationship steady.  But how do you get back on track after you’ve already veered off?  For that you need a process of repair.  What is repair and why is it so important?  The process of repair…is a couple’s mechanism of correction.  Repair, just as the name implies, is how partners come together to fix what’s wrong—how they get back on course…The essential dynamic of all relationships is a dance of harmony, disharmony, and repair.  Like walking, the rhythm of relationship is an endless loop of balance, imbalance, and the restoration of balance—closeness, disruption, and a return to closeness.”  (p. 178)

Winning Strategy 2:  Speaking Out with Love and Savvy

Real suggests that “perhaps the most important part of this strategy occurs before you open your mouth.  If you’re unhappy, before reaching out to your partner to initiate the repair process, take a minute to recall your goal.  And take a minute to recall that the person you are about to speak to is not a monster, nor even your enemy.  He is someone you love.  Someone you’ve pledged your life to.  At the very least, recall that he’s the person that you have to live with.  This powerful internal strategy is remembering love.”  (p. 180)

Real describes his work with one couple.  He speaks to the wife: “’What I’d like you to do is to close your eyes for a moment.  Would you do that?’  She nods and then does so.  ‘I want you to feel that, that love-despite-everything feeling.  I want you to remember that the person you’re speaking to is the man that you love.’”  The wife responds, “I know that.”  Real states, “’But I want you to really feel it.  Get grounded in that remembering: ‘I am talking to the man I love in order to help him understand some of the things he does.  So he can do them better.  So we can be better.’”  (p.182)

Here Real asks another question: “How do I speak in a way that empowers my partner?  Remembering love, the internal prelude to repair, means getting straight about your goal.  As such it is really just a particularly focused moment of second consciousness…You’ll ask yourself two key questions virtually every time you’re about to speak:  1) What do I want here; what’s my goal?  And 2) Is what I’m about to say going to lead me closer to or further away from my goal?”  (p. 183)

Real responds to his own question: “If, before you speak, you realize that your goal is unconstructive (usually one of the five losing strategies) question it.  Is it your real goal, your deepest goal?  If your goal is constructive and it’s clear that what you’re about to say won’t help you achieve it, shut up…In order to effect true repair you must, along with asserting yourself, do your best to support your partner’s ability to listen and to respond as you’d like.  Approaching your partner in such times of distress with a sincere desire to be of help to him is a profoundly uncommon attitude.”  (p. 184)

Real continues, “So here you are in the midst of some upset—feeling alone, perhaps hurt and angry.  And my suggestion is for you to think of yourself as dedicated to helping empower your partner.  Sound a little daft, doesn’t it?  Until you recall that what you are trying to help your partner do is to give you what you want…Functional words or actions on your part enable your partner to do something.  Dysfunctional words or actions render your partner helpless.  The more a move engenders helplessness, the dirtier and nastier it is…most of the adults I’ve worked with do a better job of this with their children than they do with one another.” (pp. 184-185)

Next Real introduces us to the feedback wheel.  He writes, “The wheel is the simplest and most structured formula for speaking that I’ve encountered and the least likely to get you into trouble.  The steps in the feedback wheel are: A) Ask your partner if he is willing to listen; B) Remember that your motivation is that you love him; C) Take the four steps of the Feedback Wheel. Tell him: 1) What you saw/heard about one particular event; 2) What you have made up about it; 3) How you feel about it; and 4) What you would like to have happen in the future. And D) Let go of the outcome.”  (pp. 188-189)

Real explains this strategy: “The behaviors you describe must be particular and specific—never ‘you always.’  And they must be observable…Before speaking, ask yourself if what you’re about to describe is something that a video camera could record.  If the answer is no, then you’ve drifted into intangibles like your partner’s attitude, emotions, or motivations.  You want to share information about what triggered you as a way to assist your partner’s understanding of what happened to you, what you experienced that was disturbing…Interpersonal conflicts are not resolved by eradicating differences, but by learning how to manage them.”  (pp. 189-192)

Here Real introduces a surprising strategy regarding the expression of feelings: “I’d like you to name all the emotions you are feeling, certainly, but I invite you to be especially interested in the emotions that are not the ones you customarily experience and express.  What feeling or set of feelings comes most easily to you when you’re in a state of disrepair?  Fear perhaps? Anger?  Loneliness? Or even guilt?  Whichever emotion comes most automatically, the strongest and quickest, the one you most often express—that is the emotion I am least interested in.  Instead, I want you to express—and more important, to deeply feel—the other, less familiar emotions.  And I’d like you to pay special attention to the feelings that seem in a way the opposite of your usual set.  If you are used to leading with anger, shine the spotlight of your attention on the quieter feelings of hurt or fear.”  (pp. 197-198)

Real continues, “If you are accustomed to leading with vulnerable feelings, try leading with emotions of assertion and power.  And if you are used to leading with strong, assertive feelings, try moving into increased vulnerability.  In short, access and express the unusual.  More of the same emotion most often brings more of the same interaction.  Lead with the unaccustomed and see what happens.”  (p. 198)

Real adds, “You cannot legislate what your partner thinks or feels…’I’d like you to reassure me that…’ is a phrase that often seems helpful: ‘I’d like you to reassure me that you understand, you care, you too see this as a problem, you will follow through this time…When making a request, you can start with intangibles like changes in attitude.  But then you must translate the changes you’re asking for into clear, actionable behaviors.”  (p. 199)

Here Real gives an example from a couple he’s working with: “’What I’d like now,’ Julia tells her husband, ‘is some reassurance that you’ll believe me when I tell you your anger is over the line.  Whether you see it or not..And I want you to get help for it.  Commit to do what it takes already.  Get it done, Larry.  Get that…crap out of our house.’”

Real summarizes his discussion of the feedback wheel: “Once you understand the basic working principles of the feedback wheel…the steps should each be no more than a sentence or two.  Janet Hurley, the wheel’s creator, saw the task of hearing someone describe the ways that he’s made himself miserable about his partner’s behavior as about the most challenging kind of listening there is.  She believed most human beings have a four-sentence-long attention span for that sort of listening and not much more.  She used to say, ‘If you haven’t pared it down to four clear sentences, you’re not ready to use it yet.’  I’m not as strict as Janet was, but I do recommend that you keep it very short.”  (pp. 199-200)

In the practice section for Chapter Six, Real recommends: “Experiment with a complaint-free ten days.  Hold a ten-day moratorium on all complaints, large and small.  Do your best to deal with issues as they come up by focusing exclusively on what you’d like to see happen.  See if you can say what you need to without resorting to the past—even the past two minutes…to yourself, say it first the way you normally might.  Then rephrase it in your head until you feel ready to try it out loud…For one week, work with two of your wants.  The two things you’re after, such as more talking or greater punctuality, should be fairly bite-sized, not the biggest issues you face.  See if and how well you can grow more of the behaviors you’d like using only these two practices:  1) Appreciating anything your partner does, or has ever done in the past, that gives or gave you some of what you’re after; and 2) making requests (as opposed to complaints).”  (pp. 202-203)

Chapter Seven:  Give What You Can:  Empowering Each Other

Winning Strategy 3:  Responding with Generosity

Here Real introduces the idea that partners must take turns in resolving conflicts.  He writes, “Overwhelmingly, our common approach to problems is have a dialogue: You tell me your side and then I’ll tell you mine, and then we’ll thrash is out together…For most couples, any intensely charged issue quickly reveals that the that’s your side, here’s my side approach carries a high risk of increasing rather than decreasing tensions because neither side feels sufficiently heard or understood.  In a great relationship both you and your partner can, if you must, air your upset about an issue, but not at the same time.”  (p. 207)

Real continues, “The repair process is unilateral, not mutual.  One partner asks for and receives help from the other in order to move out of a state of acute discontent (disharmony) back into the experience of closeness and connection (harmony).  The listener must put his or her own needs aside…someone experiencing distress, even if he’s intent on making things right, isn’t  really interested in your thoughts, your feelings, or your reasons or explanations.  In those first raw moments of reconnection, the upset partner doesn’t care all that much about you one way or the other.  What he needs to know if whether or not you care about him.”  (p. 207)

Real adds, “Once you have demonstrated your care and sincerity, once you have addressed his concerns, then he might have an interest in you.  But before that occurs, a distressed partner will inevitably perceive any bid on your part to focus on your experience as a deflection.  And though you may have nothing but the best of intentions, he will see your behaviors as defensive, ungiving, selfish, or evasive.  And, by the way, he’d be right!”  (pp. 207-208)

Real elaborates on this point: “The truth is that when most of us engage in so-called listening, we have a hot nanosecond’s worth of attention span before we’re off and running.  And just what are we off and running to?  Rebuttal.  ‘Geez, that’s not right,’ we might say, or ‘Hey, I never said that.  That is such an exaggeration.’  Or, if you’re a psychologically sophisticated couple, you might sound something like this: ‘Honey, that’s your projection.’  ‘No, dear, it’s your denial.’”  (p. 212)

Real expounds further: “The challenge lies in letting go of your story enough to enter into your partner’sNo matter how it might seem to you, you can trust that your partner’s story makes perfect sense to him.  Pretend you’re one of those FBI profilers so popular on television, an empathy expert brought into a tough case with the task of getting inside a very strange mind—your partner’s.  See if you can see things as he does.  This is called ‘understanding.’…You’re making headway when you can say to yourself, ‘Yes, I can see how, if I saw it the way he did, I might feel the way he did…Emotions follow cognition.  The way you perceive an event will determine how you feel about it.”  (pp. 214-215)

Real adds, “The most responsible way to express an emotion is to take explicit ownership of your own process.  You’d say, ‘I made myself feel,’ which sounds more stilted in the abstract than it does in real usage, as in ‘I drove myself crazy.  I scared myself.  I worked myself up and got really mad.’  The important thing when you speak is to not take a victim position, as in it made me feel, or the absolute worst: you made me feel.  Delete the phrase ‘made me’ from your vocabulary.  Short of outright abuse, no one makes anyone feel anything.  Our feelings are our own…if you can see something the way your partner sees it, you will understand his feelings about it.”  (p. 215)

Real emphasizes how critical it is to make the effort to really understand our partner’s distress: “Understanding builds empathy, empathy builds compassion, and compassion ends combat.  To be compassionate means that you are sensitive to, feel the pain of, someone else’s suffering.  Compassion comes from empathy, your ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  The more you can understand someone, the more able—and the more willing—you will be to, in an act of imagination, become that person for a moment, feeling as he does.”  (p. 216)

Real adds, “The more you understand and empathize with your partner, the easier it will be to remember to whom you’re really talking.  In troubled relationships, a partner may be someone you need to stand up to, perhaps even someone who must either grow up or get out.  But, short of outright abuse, he is still not your enemy…Your core negative image (CNI) represents, at its core, the fear and despair that comes over you when you view your mate as unalterably ‘other.’…Partners rarely engage in toxic combat with each other; they combat each other’s CNI’s.  When the real person emerges from the caricature, combat subsides.”  (pp. 216-217)

Here Real urges accountability: “When your partner confronts you about some behavior or character flaw, do a one-eighty on defensiveness; Rather than deny whatever you can, admit whatever you can.  Transform argument into acknowledgement.  In the wake of difficult behavior, the most reassuring thing you can do is to show accountability.  If you refuse to ‘own’ what you’ve done, your partner will think that you either don’t understand or don’t care.  In either case, there’s no reason you would not repeat the behavior.  In other words, you are dangerous.  Acknowledging whatever you can is so reassuring—and not acknowledging your contribution is generally so alarming—that I routinely advise listeners to scour their souls for something in what their partner has shared to admit to.”  (p. 224)

Winning Strategy 4:  Empowering Each Other

As was stated in the title of this review, Terry Real’s core principle of relationship empowerment is “How can I help you give me what I want?”  He suggests that this attitude “conveys a number of positive messages: I believe that you care enough about me to want to please me; I believe that you are sophisticated enough about relationships to understand that neither of us will be happy if one of us is unhappy; I trust in your goodness and your competence.  I know you can do this; I am truly and humbly at your disposal.  Tell me what I can do to help and I will; I trust that you understand that I will do the same for you; I want you to succeed.  While there may be many neurotic reasons to want you to fail (self-protectiveness, mistrust, anger), I have no interest in indulging them.  I would rather get what I want and be happy; I will support you in your efforts and treasure the results, appreciating what you give instead of carping about what you do not.”  (pp. 228-229)

Real concludes this chapter saying, “Repair demands that both partners ask: What can we do to work as a team?  How can we face the challenges life throws at us and the challenges we present to each other in a practical way?   Isn’t it in our own best interests to assist each other?  What do you want from me in order to help you feel loved and fulfilled?  How can I help you give me the things I would like to feel loved and fulfilled?  How are we going to make our lives together as rich and trusting, as joy-filled as we can?”  (pp. 231-232)

Chapter Eight:  Cherish What You Have:  Full-Respect Living:  A New Rule For Life

Winning Strategy 5:  Cherishing

Here Real explores the importance of showing appreciation: “Virtually all of the couples I meet, both in my clinical work and in workshops and seminars, are appreciation deficient and learn to become appreciation proficient.  Partners seldom let each other know how much they appreciate the effort or the good qualities they enjoy in each other; they often don’t even let themselves feel how much they treasure the many wonderful aspects of their partners, or the richness of their lives—until, through age, illness, or other life circumstance, they face the possibility of their loss…Failure to take pleasure in the good things in your life dishonors the gifts or accomplishments that deserve appreciation.  It also dishonors your right to be happy.” (p. 238)

Real is interested in the factors that interfere with progress: “most women greet their partner’s progress with some form of disqualification.  It’s too little too late.  Or, it’s not quite right.  He doesn’t really mean it.  Or—my personal favorite—he’s only doing it because she’s told him to…Contrary to what one might expect, progress is a source of both joy and disturbance.  A shift toward increased levels of intimacy in one partner implicitly demands increased levels of vulnerability in the other, vulnerability that may not be comfortable.”  (p. 244)

Real continues: “Your experience of progress in the relationship, of your partner’s actually giving you more of what you want, can be unsettling for two reasons: Your mistrust of the relationship; Your mistrust of all relationships.  In relationships in which dissatisfaction has been long-standing, the complaining partner is usually behind a wall of mistrust.  You may be loath to give up the protections of your wall for fear of being disappointed.  After so many rounds of hope and frustration, you may feel that you’d be an absolute sucker were you to let down your guard once again…You cannot ask your partner to change so fundamentally, and then stand back with your arms folded and not support him in the effort…Your partner will not keep laboring to please you if you give him nothing in return.”  (p. 245)

Real is interested in helping partners to cherish their progress: “Cherishing progress, learning to take yes for an answer, is a fundamental principle in all healing.  It’s your capacity to let the healing work…the single most effective means of eliciting more of something is by cherishing it when it appears.  Set limits whenever you must.  Reward whenever you can…Whenever you want to engender more of something in a system, simply pay a lot of attention to it…Daring to rock the boat is an appropriate strategy to help your partner take you seriously.  But once instances of change begin to occur, you need to amplify his progress.  Continuing to rock the boat once your partner ‘gets it’ is the relationship equivalent of selling past the sale.” (pp. 246-247)

Real continues his discussion of cherishing: “We don’t take pleasure in one another and we don’t give pleasure to one another nearly as much as we could because, as a culture, we simply don’t much value it…Cherishing, pleasure, and joy are what make a relationship worth fighting for these days.  The sense of being cherished, and of being able to cherish—this is the very core of positive intimacy.  It’s what gives us the strength to withstand troubled times; it’s what gives us the motivation to stretch and grow.”  (p. 248)

Real adds, “As central as this issue is, we often don’t take the time or effort to cherish one another.  We don’t stop for a moment and let ourselves have the pleasure of enjoying deeply the wonderful things that keep us bound to one another.  In large measure we don’t cherish simply because we’re given the message in all sorts of ways that our desire to either receive or bestow the nurture of cherishing is somehow frivolous, sappy, or unnecessary.”  (p. 248)

Real believes that “Women generally understand that positive feedback, compliments, and attention are like the water that keeps a plant growing.  Most women understand that cherishing is not merely something to feel, but something to do.  One of the casualties of personal empowerment has been a decreased desire on women’s part to give their men many of the small, thoughtful rewards that now seem to belong to quieter and simpler times…For most men, unless they’re courting, cherishing has always meant something you have in your heart rather than something you do.”  (p. 249)

Real continues in this vein: “When you lose sight of cherishing, the cost to you, as an individual, is the madness of not being able to relish what you’ve worked so hard to attain…I believe that the constructive power of cherishing is so great that it equals all of the preceding strategies combined.  All of the other strategies focus on eliciting new behaviors that you want, but cherishing has the power to amplify those new behaviors once they appear…There are two great reinforcements that encourage your partner’s positive efforts: Acknowledge and cherish his efforts; demonstrate, through your actions, an increased desire to be pleasing in return.” (pp. 249-250)

Real is frank about the obstacles to intimacy in our culture: “If you’re like most of the couples I know, nurturing your own relationship comes about dead last when it comes to allocating your time.  After work, the kids, family and friends, a dash of hurried self-care at the gym or a yoga class, what you mostly are by the end of the day is beat…There are 168 hours in a week.  How many of those do you give directly, specifically, and purposefully to your relationship?  I’m thinking of long walks on the beach holding hands, cell phones off, kids ensconced elsewhere, your work concerns merely a door that you closed once you got home, plenty of time for talk and for sensuality.”  (p. 251)

Real summarizes: “We live in a society in which intimacy is idealized in principle and devalued in fact.  The demands of work, family, friends, community, and self-care are dizzying in today’s world.  More than ever before, we seem hell-bent on improving our lot in life, which is fine so long as we stay rooted in what is most dear—which is one another.”  (p. 251)

Real is realistic about the obstacles to sensual intimacy: “Having children eviscerates romance…In most of the families I have encountered, during the child-raising years—which is quite a stretch by any account—the couple’s relationship is, candidly, largely sacrificed.  The unacknowledged truth that everyone knows and few name aloud is that for many, many couples, having children just rips the guts out of romance.  And by romance, I don’t just mean sex, as important as that is.  I mean all of the many ways couples cherish their connection, all the ways you treated each other when you first fell in love.”  (pp. 252-253)

Real raises the following question: “What’s wrong with being a sexual parent?”  He writes, “Why is parenthood at odds with romance?  I must confess that as an American raised in a country with Puritan roots, the very phrase sexual parent gives me the creeps.  And while Americans may be unusually uncomfortable with it, the tension between one’s sexuality and one’s parenting is by no means strictly confined to the United States, or even to the West…But we Westerners, with roots in the Germanic and British traditions, do seem to have a particularly hard time allowing healthy sexuality or even robust sensuality to be a normal part of family life.”  (p. 253)

Real addresses our child-centered culture: “We have never been so intent, as a culture, on giving our children every advantage that we can.  So now both parents feel overwhelmed.   Between school, camps, sports, tutoring, lessons, playdateson and on, we worry over, work for, and put more effort and energy into our kids than any generation before…the cost to our relationships is inarguable.  We have only so much to give; there are only so many hours in the day.  We can all remember, fondly and longingly, if perhaps dimly, the ways we used to nurture each other.  But for most of us, between the twin tasks of doing well for our families out there is the work world and doing well for our children back here at home, an enormous amount of the nurture we used to give each other goes elsewhere…You cannot sustain the intimacy you enjoyed in the early stage of your relationship unless you are willing to cherish each other in some of the ways that you did at that time.  You will not feel like lovers unless you are willing to behave like lovers.”  (p. 255)

Real describes the rewards of being fully present to our partners: “What I’m calling romantic or lover’s energy comes from the experience of facing each other, attending to your partner and to the relationship itself.  It is the exciting, warming, and erotic experience of being available to each other in the present.  This is always what the ‘other woman’ or ‘other man’ offers in an affair—interest and attention.  This is what wooed you when you first fell in love.  And this the experience that dries up when we fail to nurture the relationship.  Here is a description of five tactics for cultivating lover’s energy in your long-term relationship: 1) Reclaim romantic space; 2) Tell the truth; 3) Cultivate sharing; 4) Cherish your partner; and 5) Become partners-in-health.”  (p. 256)

Regarding reclaiming romantic space, Real writes, “In order to be romantic, you have to push back the demands of everyday life enough to create a space to be romantic in.  You need time, a place, and energy.  The simplest way to clear that space is by going away…Your children will manage to live without you for a short interval, and you need the time to reconnect with each other…Taking off and physically leaving is a macro-level tactic.  Smaller, micro-level tactics focus on reclaiming space in your everyday lives…I can’t tell you how many couples I tell to schedule sex…Or, if that feels too pressured, then schedule ‘sensual time’ together, which may or may not become sexual.  Couples regularly schedule date nights every week or couple of weeks, time that’s just for the two of you.”  (pp. 256-257)

Regarding telling the truth, Real says, “(When) repair doesn’t happen, issues don’t get dealt with; resentment builds up while sharing gets thinner and thinner.”  He quotes one young couple who say, “’But it isn’t that there’s nothing to talk about.  It’s that there’s too much to talk about but we don’t know how to handle it.’”  Real writes, “As Erin and her boyfriend back away from ‘hot issues,’ they back away from other form of sharing as well.  And the stimulation and nourishment that keeps a relationship alive and juicy begins drying up…a central belief in relationship empowerment is that not telling the truth shuts passion down.  Full-respect living means that you can afford to remain fully open to each other.”  (pp. 257-258)

Regarding cultivating sharing, Real writes, “Sharing—intellectually, emotionally, physically, sexually, and spiritually—is what intimacy is; it is the stuff of intimacy itself. Sharing occurs in so many aspects of our lives together: sharing a physical activity, such as hiking or tennis, or the love of a place, like the mountains or the ocean; sharing a project or a cause, or church, or an important value; sharing books, friends, and ideas.”  (p. 258)

Regarding cherishing your partner, Real says, “In order to feel like a lover, you have to act like a lover.  Cherishing our partner is what we do as lovers and start not doing in long-term relationships.  We say that we get busy, but what we really get is lazy…Make an effort to treat your partner graciously.  I’d like you to try to be at least a little more like you were when you wooed each other—in other words, on good behavior.  Smile.  Show your partner you’re happy to see him.  Offer your partner the same warmth you’d offer a valued colleague or friend.” (pp. 258-259)

Here Real shares a vignette of his son Alexander: “Little Alexander, who must not have been more than four or five at the time, resolutely came up with the same piece of advice for every occasion, each time offering it with utmost seriousness after a great deal of thought, as if he’d never suggested it before.  His unvarying prescription?  ‘You should tell these people that they need to be nice to each other.’  It took me several years to appreciate that in most instances, Alexander was right on the money.  Use Alexander’s rule:  When in doubt, be nicer to your partner.  Treat him with warmth, or at least common courtesy.”  (p. 259)

At the beginning of every couple’s therapy session, I ask each partner to take turns telling the partner about what you have appreciated since our last session.  Real writes in a similar vein: “As you communicate to your partner, I’d like you to become aware of the proportion of positive to negative feedback you’re giving him…Appreciate each other at least once a day.  At the end of the day, tell your partner three things you appreciate, either about something current or something longstanding…Appreciate little things; they don’t have to be earthshaking.  Write notes telling your partner something positive about him or his behavior that matters to you.  Leave a message or an email.  Every single partner who enters therapy with me feels underappreciated.”  (p. 260)

Real elaborates: “While it is important to tell your partner the difficult truths about your experience of him, it is no less important to share the pleasurable ones.”  Here Real quotes Mahatma Ghandi: “We must be the change we wish for in the world.”  Real adds, “The discipline of cherishing your partner calls to mind this profound spiritual truth.  In terms of your relationship, the pragmatic action plan stemming from Gandhi’s principle is this:  If you want to evoke more of something in your relationship, give it.  If you want to be cherished more, be more cherishing.  If you want more laughter, joke around.  If you want more respect, be more respectful.”  (p. 261)

Real introduces what he calls “Guerrilla cherishing.”  He writes, “It means finding particularly effective acts of cherishing that have a big impact while not demanding a great deal of time.”  He then gives examples of what he calls “smart generosity”: “Give your partner something you know she’d like.  Don’t just buy a CD; buy the new CD of an artist you remember her being interested in.  And don’t choose the easy gift that you always get.  Instead, try listening for something she mentions wanting.”  (pp. 261-262)

Here Real admonishes men: “Like it or not, most women, particularly those of my generation, feel like their partners will do things for them only when given instructions.  Chances are that your partner will love it if you show initiative about something, such as setting up an evening or a weekend together.  You work out the babysitting and other logistics.  Give her the present of feeling taken care of…Break out of the rut.  Break routine.  Arrange to go skydiving or skinny-dipping.  Think like you did when you first met.  Be adventurous.  Help out.  ‘Women make passes at men who wash glasses.  Or, said differently, Get off the couch.”

Real encourages couples to look for opportunities to stoke desire: “Be more romantic at the micro-level.  For men:  Tell her how great she looks, or rub her neck, or just hold her without sexual pressure.  For women:..One of the things that many women stop doing when they transition from being lovers to being long-term partners is demonstrating erotic interest.  For men, usually the most arousing thing you can do is to be aroused.  Men get turned on by your being turned on…You needn’t go to the extreme, but you will get incredible mileage by keeping a little erotic energy in play throughout your day or evening together.  It may take some effort, but extremely small gestures now and then on a regular basis will simply win him.  Remember teasing?  Ask yourself, when did you stop teasing?  How nice it was to play around with the power of your desirability,  It’s one of the great gifts women have…Take a few seconds to breathe in your mate’s ear, or kiss him passionately; touch him erotically, or say something wild.  That should help get the juices flowing…once you have reasonably healthy boundaries, act like a lover.  It should cost you no more than a few minutes a day.”  (pp. 262-263)

Regarding becoming partners-in-health, Real advises: “What I mean when I speak of being partners-in-health is that both of you share a commitment to relational practice…No one is perfect and no couple is perfect.  I care less about how bad things get when you ‘lose it’ than I care about the strength of your practice in making such instances less frequent, less severe, and faster to recover from…Neither of you blames the other for ‘making’ you distressed, and neither of you tries to ‘get’ the other to think or behave as you’d wish.”  (pp. 263-264)

Real elaborates, “Becoming partners-in-health means that you share the process of learning about and mastering a challenging discipline.  At its most spiritual, it is like sharing a church, or a meditation practice.  Politically, it’s sharing a common cause…On a less lofty plane, being partners-in-health is like sharing a hobby, or learning a new sport or art form together.  You go to lectures or workshops together, listen to tapes, turn each other on to a new book or author.  It’s fun.”  (pp. 264-265)

Real next asks the question: “How do you know when to get professional help?”  He writes, “You need to seek professional help when you’ve tried very hard on your end of the seesaw—you’ve used your skills, rocked the boat, been clear about what you want, been willing to reward and appreciate—and nothing has worked all that well…You need to seek professional help when you can’t do what you need to do on your own.”  (p. 267)

Real addresses the situation of having an unaccountable partner: “If you do not take on the issue of your partner’s unaccountability, the odds are that what you see is what you’re going to get.  There may be better periods and worse, but you should probably assume that there will be no substantial change…But if either the downside is pretty bad and/or the upside isn’t really all that great, ask yourself if you’re ready to risk rocking the boat.  If so, just know that you’re most likely going to have a serious fight on your hands, and you may lose the relationship if he refuses to become more accountable.  Personally, I’d find it hard to think of spending my life with an unaccountable partner.”  (p. 268)

Next Real addresses the most profound question for troubled couples: “What’s best for your children?”  He writes, “We are living in very conservative times, and a lot of emphasis has been put on preserving families at all cost.  That’s simply unreasonable.  Yes, children are damaged by divorce.  There’s no question about that.  The real question is, how damaged are they by staying in miserable homes?…As bad as divorce is, a child would be better off without the exposure to yelling and fighting and a blatantly disturbed environment.  Few people argue that point.  So now the question rachets down to this: How damaged do children get in homes with a miserable marriage that is more contained?  Many would argue that children are better off in such environments than with divorced parents.  As a family therapist, I must say that I’m skeptical…It’s not at all clear to me that the so-called contained or hidden misery in nonexplosive marriages is really as hidden as we might like to think.”  (pp. 268-269)

Real continues, “Even if you were to convince me that children in such homes were less damaged in general, I will nevertheless guarantee you that they will sustain considerable damage when it comes to having healthy relationships of their own in the future.  Almost every troubled relationship I have ever worked with was a replay of some aspect of the troubled relationship each partner grew up with…Even if it were proven somehow that children are more damaged through divorce than through remaining in homes with unhappy marriages, it is not at all clear to me that the moral imperative is for adults to sacrifice living healthy lives for the sake of their children.  I have helped unhappy couples break up; I also have helped them stay together precisely for the sake of the children.”  (pp. 269-270)

Real concludes, “In extreme circumstances, the choice seems clear.  In less blatant situations I mistrust anyone, frankly, who claims to be able to tell you what’s best for your children, or for either of you for that matter.  You must decide.  Think long and hard; talk it out with those you trust, and listen to what you feel.  In the end, most of the people I’ve encountered over the years who have been through this decision rarely speak about what they should have done, one way or the other.  They speak about what they felt they had to do.”  (p. 270)

Next Real asks, “When should you pull the plug?”  He writes, “It serves no one’s interests to preserve endlessly toxic interactions.  Addicts and abusive partners can be helped, and the first step should always be an ultimatum:  Get treatment or else!  But if someone simply refuses, or if he won’t allow his treatment to be effective, I don’t think there’s much choice.  I firmly believe that any two partners who love each other and who are willing to do the work can transform even a terrible relationship into a good one, and even into a great one over time.  Once both partners are at the table in good faith, anything can be worked out.  The one thing that cannot be worked out, however, is getting both partners to the table.  They have to take their places themselves.  That doesn’t mean that pressure can’t be exerted.  On the contrary, it absolutely should, and depending on how bad things are, as much pressure as is reasonably possible.”  (pp. 270-271)

Real continues, “In cases of addiction or of severe verbal abuse, I have often helped families and friends do an ‘intervention’ with a plan for a rehab program in someone’s back pocket, and with sometimes quite severe consequences should the addict or abuser refuse…I always tell the people I work with that our goal is not preserving the relationship.  No therapist can promise that.  My goal is to do all I can to increase your capacity for intimacy…If the worst happens and you must leave the relationship, the work you have done is far from meaningless.”  (p. 271)

Real begins the next section by saying, “No one learns to be relational by himself…No matter how smart you are, the best way to keep your relationship practice growing and strong is with other people, by letting yourself be inspired, encouraged, and informed by their journeys…An important part of sustaining your practice is letting in help.  When I’m upset or confused, I’m blessed with a number of people I can call who will support me and who will also be very frank about what they can see.  We all need that.  Ideally, we can turn to a few trusted individuals and also a group setting or two.  Feed your practice.  Men’s groups, women’s groups, church groups, twelve-step programs, seminars, lectures, retreats—if you can’t find what you want, then create it.  But you need company.  And company that will support your relationship empowerment, not just personal empowerment.  People who will ‘support’ you with ‘I wouldn’t put up with that?  What a jerk?’ are a dime a dozen.  I want you to find—or create—a community of individuals who are comfortable saying, ‘Now, let’s take a look at your part in this.’”  (pp. 271-272)

Real describes the fruits of doing this work: “As your relationship practice grows stronger, as you learn to bring yourself into center more quickly, have healthier boundaries, trade passive immaturity for proactive maturity, your baseline begins to shift.  You start spending more and more time feeling untroubled…over time, you start feeling more and more clear about how to deal with (life’s) challenges.  Over time, almost without noticing it, you realize that whole periods have gone by—hours, days, weeks, even months—without feeling knocked off kilter.  Your relationships start feeling less complicated and difficult.  You become more forgiving of yourself and consequently less defensive.  You begin to experience what in the past would have felt dark, gnarled, and confusing as clear and straightforward.  Sure, tough issues will come, but you start to have faith that you’ll be smart about them and they’ll work out.  Yes, you’ll screw up sometimes, but these mistakes no longer tip you so easily into thinking that there’s something fundamentally wrong.”  (pp. 275-276)

The book’s next section is entitled “Cherishing abundance.”  Real asks, “What do I mean by abundance?…Intimacy is our natural state, or birthright.  When you’re centered, with nothing to apologize for or hide because you are trying your best, you live with integrity…As your relationship practice grows stronger, you will become more and more aware of the abundance inside and around you.”  (p. 277)

Real shares about his own journey: “As a young adult I was plagued with writer’s blocks, self-defeating behaviors, oscillations between feeling gifted and cursed, grand and worthless.  I began what turned out to be years of healing work; I became a therapist myself.  I was doing all right, but I felt I had more in me to give and no idea how to bring it out into the world.  But I was healthy enough to ask for help.  Over the years several wise and wonderful people have mentored me, and every one of them gave me his or her version of the same advice.  Call it grace, call it power, intuition, inspiration, the sweet spot, or the flow state—call it anything you like.  But whatever it is that flows through you in that wonderful state, don’t call it yours.  Don’t take credit for it.  Don’t act as if you own it.  And don’t shrink away from it, either, from its scale or its power.”  (p. 277)

Real elaborates on his approach to abundance: “The way to step into the full abundance of  your own power, your unique gifts and talents, is by neither owning nor disowning them, but by doing your work and cooperating.  Inspiration will never serve you.  You serve it.  Realizing fully the talents, the gifts, that lie at the core of who you are at your best, allowing yourself to be as big as you are, means cherishing the abundance inside you.  In order to flourish, stay out of its way and do whatever you need to do to become a worthy vessel.  As you grow healthier and more skilled, your relationship to your own unique form of abundance may be the last, the most difficult, of your relationships to straighten out.”  (p. 278)

Real adds, “The metaphor that works best or me is art.  You do your work on your end.  You put in hour after hour of practicing your instrument.  You repeat the same drills hundreds of times.  And then, on a good night, in the middle of a concert somewhere, inspiration appears.  You no longer play well; you play brilliantly.  Should you be proud?  Hell yes.  Proud of your part in the collaboration, proud of the skill you’ve earned, and even proud of the gift that spoke through your fingers.  And you must be grateful.  The most important way to cherish your own talents and gifts is simply to use them.”  (p. 278)

Real concludes his book: “Wherever you are, in whatever form you choose, you must give back to the world.  You must use your gifts—including whatever you get from relationship practice—to contribute to something beyond yourself:  a cause, a child, a neighborhood.  This isn’t out of altruism or enlightened self-interest.  You won’t grow if you don’t have the daring to let go and give what you’ve got to the world.  Do it now.  Do it badly.  But get going…As you get less tangled up in old struggles, old miseries, opportunities will naturally present themselves to you, opportunities to stand up for something, be of help to someone, or bring something beautiful into the world.  Take them.”  (p. 279)