Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast, where we answer key questions in relationships, attraction, success, and fulfillment. Now, here's your host, world-renowned therapist and life coach, David Tian.
David: Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast. I'm David Tian, your host. In this episode, I’ll be sharing a one-sentence teaching that, if you internalize, will give you the necessary mindset shift, the right attitude change, the right perspective that is necessary for a long-term relationship to succeed, to grow in passion and connection.
If you don't understand the principles or concepts encapsulated in that one-sentence teaching, or if you're like many couples and you do the opposite of what the one-sentence teaching is advocating, then your relationship is doomed. It won't matter how much money you have or how high your status is, or how good looking you are, or any of the factors that single guys typically think are important when it comes to attracting women. [01:05.3]
It doesn't matter what you have or any of those other things. If you don't have these concepts internalized from this one-sentence teaching, none of those other things will matter to the success of your long-term relationship. If you don't internalize this one-sentence teaching, even if your relationship lasts out of convenience, or because you're staying together for the kids or you're staying together for the money, if you don't internalize the concepts from this one-sentence teaching, your relationship will lack passion and connection. It's just a matter of time.
Okay, enough build-up. What's this one-sentence teaching? The best formulation of it that I’ve found comes from a famous psychotherapist named Terrence Real, who also goes by the name Terry Real, and he puts it in the form of a question, which I think is great, and he puts it like this: “Do you want to be right or do you want to be married?” This is something he says to couples who are locked in a pattern, a particular pattern of parts getting triggered by each other and getting stuck on the cognitive level of who's right or who's in the right. [02:09.6]
If you're not a married couple, you can also put it as “Do you want to be right or do you want to be in a relationship?” This is such a great litmus test question, because if the answer is “I want to be right,” then you're either in a protective part and not in your higher self—hopefully, you understand that terminology from IFS therapy. What that means is that you're triggered, and a part of you that has a job to protect you out of fear has now taken over and is ready to blow things up in the relationship out of fear. I'll go into more detail about what all that means in a little bit. That either means that you have been triggered into a protective part—or you've identified one of those make-or-break values and you shouldn't be in this relationship with that person. For example, you find out that they are a Nazi or something. If that's the case, one of the conclusions you can take away from this is that you're not a very good judge of character currently. [03:03.5]
It's quite fashionable these days for people to uncritically and carelessly throw around the labels of “narcissist” or “psychopath” at exes that they just don't like, and if that's really the case, and often it isn't, because these are just knee-jerk reactions out of resentment and bitterness, but if it is the case, the question really should be, why were you attracted to a psychopath or a narcissist in the first place, and it's not because they were very charming? Because if you were mentally healthy, you wouldn't have been charmed by them. And are you actually any better than them or were you just the victim that lost in this battle of hearts?
Returning to the litmus test question, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be in a relationship?” it's kind of similar structurally to Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, his great question about debating or winning an argument. He says you can never win an argument, because even when you win the argument itself, you lose the person. [04:01.8]
Ironically, it was pick up, the game, that got me to read that book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and it's a classic, I think it's from the 1930s. I learned from that why my academic, nerdy, philosophy-professor, grad-student geek was never endearing in social settings, because I was constantly trying to argue with people for fun, because there are parts of me that enjoy debating for its own sake and there are relatively few people who also enjoy it for its own sake, and almost always you have to prepare them for it. Intellectual argumentation is a really anti-seductive trait. It's the opposite of seduction. It's the opposite of charming.
The logic of that Dale Carnegie point made a lot of sense to me and really hit home back then, almost 20 years ago, when I first read it, that even when you win the intellectual debate, you lose the person. So, what's more important to you, to win the argument or to make a human connection, to make a friend, or to have a good time on the date, or in this case, to stay married or to stay in a relationship? [05:11.4]
Okay, so the Carnegie situation often comes up more in terms of social settings or when you're first meeting people, and it's great advice to people who use intellect and talking as an armor or shield for dealing with their emotions or for getting too close to others, or as a kind of compensating mechanism because of their insecurities. But in the context of a relationship, that question of “Do you want to be right or do you want to be in a relationship?” is often more relevant not when it comes to intellectual debates at the dinner table or something like that. They're more about when you get triggered, and you're defending yourself.
I know that much of my audience for this podcast is male—after all, it's called “Masculine Psychology”—and I know the frustration that comes when you're having an argument with a woman, because you can't resort to physical means of settling the debate as you might with a guy friend or a brother. [06:12.0]
Jordan Peterson has pointed this out, when it comes to arguments between men and women versus men and men, that between men and men, there's this subtle undercurrent or this understanding that if you go over the line and make it too personal that it could go into fighting, like physical fighting. But when it comes to a debate between a man and a woman, you can't, as a man, go there, and so women, generally, are able to be more aggressive and attack you in ways where your only defense is with your words.
But most men are not used to that, and so they then fly into a rage or they just completely shut down and go numb and withdraw, because that's not a very masculine way of handling a disagreement, because you don't know where to channel that energy or you haven't had a lot of practice doing that. [07:00.6]
Then there's energy in you going into holding back physically, whereas, for the woman, generally, there isn't a whole lot of energy to hold back physically and she's used to a more feminine way of attacking, which is just with words that bite, the sort of Mean Girls dynamic or strategy of taking out somebody else, using words, insinuation, gossip, verbal means of attack.
Now, what I’ve just articulated is stereotypically true of men and women or masculine and feminine, but it's not always the case and it could go just as easily both ways. The woman could be dragging her man into the couple’s counseling. a couple’s therapy session, in order to get the therapist to take her side to change the man, and vice versa. It could be the man taking the woman into the therapy session to have the therapist declare that he is in the right. [07:53.1]
Just like with the Carnegie question, where it's much lower stakes because you're often coming up in the context of just meeting people, where even if you win the argument, you lose the person, even if you turn out to be right, so what? You've already damaged the relationship. You've already proven that you have placed yourself and your being right above the relationship and above your partner's feelings.
Now, again, speaking to those intellectual types or those self-righteous types, or both of those together, there are very few occasions in which this really matters that you are right, and I'm going to address that issue again towards the end. But, first, let's look at the dynamic that gets a couple to the point where a therapist would ask a question like that, a wise therapist, looking for an in to break their destructive pattern.
What is this destructive pattern? It begins when one partner is triggered, but maybe just minorly so at the beginning and is sort of frustrated or impatient and blurt something out, and then the other partner hears it in a way that's triggers something greater than just the argument at hand and gets emotional about it, takes it personally, and then fires back. [09:13.7]
Now you get into a back and forth of escalating triggering where they are in a battle of who is more right here, and what this is is a self-righteous indignation. Not just righteous indignation, but self-righteous indignation. Again, you might actually be feeling righteous indignation where you're defending “the” objective good. Whatever that is, right? Capital-G “Good.” And there are very few instances of that in real life, and if it is the case, then you’ve messed up way before that by being such a poor judge of character to be in this relationship. You've chosen to be in this relationship now and you can just take as a kind of hypothesis, that this indignation you're feeling it's self-righteous. [09:59.6]
It probably would be good to give an example here and I’ll take an example from a client I’ve worked with recently named George. George comes back from a very demanding work day that really drained him and he came home late because of how draining that particular day was. He was working with very volatile economic situations and it was kind of an emergency, and he didn't even have the time to text that he was going to be late until he was getting in his car.
By the time he gets home, his wife who works from home part time and then takes care of very young children full time is overwhelmed, and she screams at them and she really rips into him for not even telling her she was going to be late, and she accuses him of being out for drinks with his crony friends at the happy hour bar, because, apparently, he didn't put that in the text of why he was coming home late. She says she's barely survived the day with these kids who are tearing the house apart. [10:55.2]
Then, of course, he, because he's defending himself now, is feeling self-righteous indignation and punches back at her verbally or strikes back and self-righteously explains he was not having drinks at happy hour with his buddies, but was overwhelmed with these work emergencies that came up and these market conditions and blah, blah, blah. Then she sees that as him not appreciating her hard work and what she contributes to the partnership, and she punches back and then the whole thing escalates, and they fight in front of the kids and this is this awful thing. Then they come to the therapy session.
Then relaying this particular fight, they were both focused on who was in the right, who had the more legitimate argument with a more legitimate grievance, and as long as you're in that kind of headspace, it's over. Just a matter of time. In the session, we do a U-turn in IFS therapy, which is where you break this pattern. You'll pattern interrupt, and then, one by one, you get them to identify what parts they're blended with and then to ask those parts to step back, and then to make more room for Self to appear. This is what's called a U-turn, where instead of going in the direction you were going, you turn back and focus on yourself now, not the other person. [12:10.0]
So, it's really important in looking at that example, which is something that occurs in every marriage, every relationship. If it hasn't occurred to you in your relationship yet, you haven't gone far enough into it or you just don't care enough, or you haven't taken on enough challenges in life and, eventually, life will come and get you for it.
So, if you want to succeed in a long-term relationship, you’d better prepare for situations where you each have a legitimate perspective or viewpoint and you each have reasons for being angry and frustrated at the other person, and this is an impasse. There will be no point to an adjudication of who's right or wrong, because that's not the point of being in a relationship. You can be declared the winner. Ding-ding-ding, you win the prize of the debate. But in so doing, you have lost your partner, and, obviously, then, the relationship. [13:01.3]
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The first thing to point out, in order to do that U-turn in the first place, you've got to understand boundaries, and to understand that boundaries, healthy boundaries, are two-sided. One side is facing you. One side is the partner. And they're like containers, you have a boundary that contains your partner and one that contains you. [14:15.2]
Let's look at the one that contains the other person first. What that says is what she's going through or what he's going through, the other person, is his or her own shit. Okay, so you can draw that line there, that imaginary boundary psychologically, and on the other side of that boundary is your shit and you're responsible for your shit. By shit we mean your thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
Another way to put it, Mark Manson has put it very clearly and he's drawing from Cloud and Townsend. Healthy boundaries are where you take full responsibility for your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and you do not take responsibility for the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of the other person, the other adult.
When George comes home and his wife is freaking out because she's had a really bad day with the kids or a very hectic day, whatever she's feeling, that's what she's feeling. What she's feeling does not have to make him feel a certain way, and unfortunately, in the greater culture, we hear boundary violations supported all the time and it's toxic. [15:17.3]
Of course, it's led to a lot of the toxic extremes, which may not actually be extreme anymore, maybe mainstream on the left and maybe on the right, but definitely on the left, where it's saying that “Other people are responsible for how I feel, and, therefore, I can assert that they take care of my feelings because I am unable to,” and this is what psychologists call infantilizing you. We treat you like an infant. You can take care of your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and that's why I specified that it's another adult. You're not going to take responsibility for another adult’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. That's a healthy boundary.
But if that other person is your child who you have a responsibility to, in most ethical theories, and who is dependent on you—we call them dependents, not just financially, but also in terms of psychology, and not just food and shelter—so then treating somebody as if you have to take responsibility for their thoughts, feelings and behaviors, is turning them into infants, infantilizing them. That might be good parenting, but it is unhealthy in a relationship between two adults. [16:22.3]
I helped George to see, after explaining or reviewing what boundaries are, healthy boundaries, that whatever his wife is going through is what she's going through and she can be allowed to go through that, because it's a free world and she can feel however she feels. So, he can draw the line in his mind and not let that affect him while she feels what she feels.
Now, she's going to blurt out all kinds of other things that I point out to him, “These are just words. You're a big, strong, tough guy. How much do these words hurt you physically? Where in your body? Do you have any stab wounds or anything?” Obviously, no, right? But, oh, it's just words, and you can't handle these. [17:02.1]
Then, of course, his protective parts are going to come out again so we're clear on which parts are getting triggered so that we can work with them, and in fact, we then did work with them, because then he started getting self-righteous again. “But she can't get away with saying that. She can’t …”
It turns out that, in their previous arguments, if George just turns around and leaves the arguments without saying anything, because he's barely containing his own anger, right, and then it feels like to her that he's walking out on her, because in her childhood, her dad did walk out on the family and that retriggers that old wound, and those parts in her come flaring out.
So, now he feels trapped. He feels like he can't just leave, but he can't just stay there and continue to take it, because it reminds him of those childhood wounds from his mother who was ultra-critical, a very critical mother, and that was part of the reason he became an achiever, because the way to get his mother off his back was to do well in school and so forth, but it was not like he enjoyed that dynamic. [18:01.2]
He didn't like getting dressed down verbally and criticized and just having to stand there and take it, so now that he's a big, strong adult, he thought he could put that behind him, and yet, here he is, he's recreated that dynamic that he is not dealt with fully. This is called unfinished business in psychotherapy, and it's coming back, because he hasn't resolved it yet. These are his unresolved core issues that are being reflected in his most intimate other, in his wife, and of course, vice versa for her.
She is attracted to this big strapping man, because she wants to get it back because Dad left, and if she can find a man who is big and strong like Dad was and this time have him not leave, then she will be able to resolve that unfinished business that she's got. But in order for that to happen, she has to push for that. She's testing unconsciously. She has parts that are saying to herself, because they're too scared of falling in love this deeply, if she pushes hard enough, then he will leave just like Dad did and it will reinforce the belief that she's not worthy of it. [19:06.8]
So, this is their dynamic of protective parts triggering each other, and their view is that the other person is making them feel this way. The first thing to teach them or remind them in this case is that it is not the other person who is making them feel anything. It is themselves allowing themselves to feel this way, making interpretations of what the other person's behavior means about themselves, because the first step to getting out of this toxic pattern is to take responsibility for yourself.
The good news is once you realize that you have full one hundred percent responsibility for your own thoughts, feelings and beliefs, then you can control this outcome for yourself. This is helping George and his wife see that they might each be right, and in your own mind, you might see that you are right. But so what? Do you want to be right or do you want to be in a relationship? [20:05.0]
If you want to be in a relationship, you have these parts that are getting triggered now here, so what you can do is verbalize that you're taking a timeout, and what that means is you're coming back. You just need some time to cool down and you will be back. It's important to say that you will be back and then come back, because most people have parts that are afraid of abandonment, and that might be the obvious because they were abandoned by their parents or caregivers, or they were not seen, heard, understood or listened to and that felt like a kind of abandonment and this is a very common fear. So, just putting a limit on time or even physical location where you can take that timeout. Maybe if you walk out of the house completely, it might trigger her too much, so how about you take a timeout in the bathroom or some other room in the house?
The timeout is really for you to unblend, right, so that you can be with the parts that are getting triggered, and hopefully, you will do that work where you can get to know them, build that trusting relationship with them, unburden the exiles that the protective parts are protecting, and so forth. [21:08.5]
Yet, they'll still get triggered, because when these situations are really raw and intense, you will retrigger those associations, and that's okay. You just need to now go to them, as I’m speaking to your true self, your higher self, and you need that time to do that. It could be five minutes, 20 minutes, whatever it is for you, and you might not want to put a cap on the time precisely because it's hard to predict how long it might take.
But it's important to take that timeout, what in IFS, we call unblend. You can disidentify. You separate from that part and be with the part and hear what it needs, and so forth, and then give it what it needs, which is connection, compassion, understanding, care, and so forth. Then a lot of just reminders that this is not then. This is not the same time as back then. You're not trapped by your mother, for example. Right now, open your eyes, take a look, it's just your wife. [22:02.6]
And knowing what your wife is going through, so helping George here, seeing what she was going through as a young child, having the father walk out in the family, and so forth. He can remind his parts and remind himself to see through all of her incendiary words and into the young, frightened, overwhelmed part of her and parts of her that are trying to handle the situation that is kind of chaotic.
You can take that timeout, unblend and return to your partner with more of your Self now coming to the situation, and now you can have the right tone of voice and the right mindset, the right attitude, the right feelings to go along with the right words, which are something like explaining very briefly that you did not go out for happy-hour drinks, but that you had to stay behind in the office because this market crashed and that market crashed as briefly as you can, and then move into “How can I help you now?” [23:00.0]
It's not the words themselves that are important, just like with almost all kinds of communication. Whether someone responds to you favorably has much more to do with your body language, your tone of voice, your eye contact or your facial expression than it does with what you actually say, the content of your words. That’s as true in attraction as it isn't relationships.
That question of “Do you want to be right or do you want to be in a relationship?” is a question you ask yourself in your own mind, because then if you choose the relationship, it will lead to a change of perspective that is necessary for a loving relationship. And I get how difficult it is, because in the moment when you're getting attacked, you want to prove that you are in the right.
What you're really doing is trying to get the therapist to side with you so that your partner will stop doing the thing that you think mistakenly is making you feel a certain way, rather than recognizing that it is your interpretation of what she is saying that is causing you to feel this way, and that because it is your interpretation of what she is saying that it's causing you to feel this way, you can change that interpretation and recognize that this is about her. What she is going through is her shit and it does not need to make you feel like shit. [24:17.4]
From that place of healthy boundaries, ironically, is where you can actually help her come out of that shitty place. The next time that happens, similar situation, she blows up at George when George comes back from work kind of late, George takes a quick timeout then comes back from more of his higher self and empathizes with her, says something like, “I can see that this has been a really hard day for you. How can I help you right now?” According to her, that changed everything for her in the moment, and then they were able to work together, and then later she apologized for jumping to conclusions and lashing out at him. [24:56.4]
All of this needing to be right as a defensive mechanism will become obvious once you have entered that calm state of your higher self, and you will naturally attain that clarity. To those who insist that it's more important to be right, even after this whole discussion about your protective parts, recognize that there are very few things. I brought up the example of maybe just find out if she's a Nazi and racist and killing Jews in this example here. Of course, your biggest self-discovery coming out of that is why didn't you spot that earlier? Why were you attracted to that in the first place?
But, anyway, yes, maybe there are a few make-or-break issues. You’ve got to get clear on that right away and start testing for that, and I’ve brought up in other podcast episodes, how to do that. You should do that on the first date, the first time you meet, so you don't waste time and you don't waste effort. But much more likely, what's happened is a protective part of you has gotten triggered and you've now devolved into a kind of self-righteous indignation. [25:57.7]
Now, what I want to point out to you is how important epistemic humility is. How many things have you discovered that you've been wrong about that you thought you were convinced you were right about in the past? If you can't think of any, that means you haven't learned very much or you haven't grown very much in life? Or how many times if you look back and realize there were more than one, there are at least two legitimate views on an issue, like a kind of Rashomon where the same incident can be seen legitimately from different perspectives and you may yet be blind to another equally legitimate perspective.
Have the epistemic humility, intellectual parts, to admit that maybe you might be wrong and you might be missing something. And either way, do you want to be right or do you want to be in a relationship? Then to those tough guys who get offended so easily, how tough are you? You're such a coward that these words that a woman says hurt you so badly, it's worse than a guy punching you. If you were really that tough, you could take these words. Sticks and stones, right? [27:02.1]
Okay, speaking to those intellectual and warrior parts, which I absolutely love, do you want to be right or do you want to be in a relationship? If you get stuck in that cycle of trying to prove that you're right, your relationship will be doomed.
But if you can choose the relationship, even in those most triggering times in an argument where you could hunker down and get into a war of attrition and escalation of self-righteous indignation, and you can separate from that and recognize and choose that you'd rather be in a relationship, then everything can change and now you can begin to grow much faster—and, by the way, this is required for a long-term relationship to be successful, in the sense of actually continuing to be and growing in love, connection and passion, and not just staying together out of convenience. [27:53.7]
If this helped you in any way, please share it with anyone else that you think would benefit from it. Let me know what you thought of this episode. I would love to hear your feedback, and thank you so much for listening to this podcast episode and I look forward to welcoming you to the next episode. Until then, David Tian, signing out.
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