How do you get in touch with what you’re feeling in the moment? How do you take that a step further, and tune into your partner? And how do you take that state, and turn it into deep intimacy, connection, and…well…hot sex? And can you keep that dance alive with your partner even if you have children competing for your time and attention?
Today, our guest is Dr. Keith Witt, Integral Psychologist, and author of several amazing books, including The Attuned Family: How to be a Great Parent To Your Kids, and a Great Lover to Your Spouse. His popular online course, Loving Completely, just came out at the beginning of 2015, and he often appears with Jeff Saltzman on the Daily Evolver show. In today’s wide-ranging conversation, we get into the practical details of how to practice what Keith calls “attunement” – and how it can help you resolve conflict, deepen your connection to yourself and your partner, and, if you have kids, be a better parent. Keith distills his vast wisdom from years of practice – he’s conducted over 55,000 therapy sessions with his clients – and he is on the cutting edge of how to take a relationship to new levels of growth, connection, and passion – especially when you’re past the honeymoon stage with your partner. We also talk about infidelity – why it’s a bad idea, and how to repair when it’s occurred. So – we’re going to cover a lot of ground, and this episode is a little bit longer than most of our episodes – but stick with it as it’s value-packed the whole way through.
Keith discusses the following principles from his book and his experience as a psychologist:
- The relationship between partners changes after the birth of the first child. This is the premise of The Attuned Family. Couples who learn to reorganize their lives and their relationship to factor in the new circumstances and transition from the honeymoon stage will be better parents and better lovers.
- Keith discusses the stages of relationships based on evolutionary drivers:
- Lust-when you see someone and “want” them sexually
- Romantic Infatuation-a temporary stage that lasts 6-18 months
- Intimate Bonding-a more permanent pattern – and this is where most people either get stuck or break down. The goal of course is to move beyond this stage and thrive in deeper intimacy and connection with each other.
- Treat your relationship as if it needs the same kind of attention that your kids (if you have them) also need. Obviously it’s great to devote time to being a good parent to your children, and Keith’s book offers great techniques for how to do just that. The problem with modern parenting is that we often become dedicated to parenting to the negligence of our relationship.
- One of the foundations of integral psychology is the States of Consciousness, which include the emotions and impulses that we go through during each day. There are two categories: prosocial states, which we perceive as safe, using social skills and mature intelligence, and defensive states, which we perceive as unsafe. Characteristics of defensive states are amplified/numbed emotions, destructive impulses, distorted perspectives, diminished capacities for empathy and self-reflection. Basically, the brain is preparing us for “Fight or Flight.” Most people aren’t even aware of their defensive states, but these will accelerate conflict in relationships and will be toxic to couples.
- Defensive states will cause couples to withdraw, shut down, and avoid each other. Catching the defensive state and regulating it to a state of social engagement is one of the most profound skills we can master as humans. By doing this, we cultivate the ability to attune to ourselves and to our partner.
- So what is Attunement, and what does it mean in relationships? Keith gives the following steps to Attunement that must be carried out – with acceptance and caring intent:
- Be aware of the breath going in and out of your body.
- Be aware of the sensations in your body.
- Be aware of your emotions.
- Be aware of your thoughts.
- Be aware of judgments about yourself and others.
- Be aware of what you really want.
- To attune yourself to others, imagine the other person—what they are feeling, sensing, thinking, judging, and wanting. Many, if not most, of the issues couples have are perpetual issues that are never resolved. You definitely won’t solve them if you spend your time arguing about content. The proper process is to get attuned first, and then the content often takes care of itself.
- How do you shift strong “negative” emotions into being accepting and caring? There are two general approaches to the experience of emotion in yourself and others, which are to be either dismissing or coaching. In the dismissing attitude, those emotions are a burden, and you would ignore them, deny their validity, or strive to change them. In coaching, you develop an attitude of welcoming emotion and looking at them as an impetus to grow, make changes if necessary, and allow the emotion to shift on its own (as it naturally will). Can you become emotionally coaching as a partner and a parent. Studies show that children with parents with coaching attitudes towards emotion will be better-adjusted and happier in life. Be aware of the strong emotion and let it lead you to deeper intimacy.
- What if you are attuned but your partner is not? What can you do? A great place to start is to focus on eye contact. It’s harder to hurt someone while maintaining eye contact. You can also ask a therapist or coach to help if you both can’t find your way back to love and intimacy.
- You’ve probably heard that humans are programmed to NOT be monogamous. How does that play into relationships today? In Keith’s view, a relationship of deepening trust requires monogamy. The way to experience deeper and deeper intimacy is to create a more and more safe container for your relationship with your partner. This intimacy goes beyond biology and represents an evolution in terms of our psychological and spiritual capacity.
- In Keith’s book, Integral Mindfulness, he gives an overview of a full life of development and engagement. The idea of Integral Mindfulness is that any given moment gives understanding of yourself and environment as we are attuned with each other. What are our states and development levels? In relationships, we have to adjust many, many times before we achieve a background hum of being safe and connected with my partner. Keith uses the illustration of taking a dance class, being clumsy in the beginning, but learning to master the steps after much practice. This principle applies to physical, emotional, social, relational, sexual, and psychological development. All forms of relationship are like dancing. When it goes bad, we often blame our partner, but taking responsibility for our part and practicing the skills over time will change the outcome.
- How is the idea of attunement related to the definition of intimacy? The more attuned that you can be, the more that you can play with the masculine and feminine polarity in order to create sparks. As soon as you are attuned to your partner, you create an opening to sense the pleasure that being attuned creates. And tuning into that pleasure leads to the deeper sparks of polarity, play, and a sensual connection. As we discussed in our episode with John Gottman, it’s so important for each partner to also be able to say “no” – and for the partner who hears “no” to welcome that and not take it personally, to actually make it TOTALLY FINE to say “no”. Couples who are fully in their “no” get to “yes” more often, because they have created a truly safe container in their relationship.
- What about trauma? 10% of men and 20% of women have sexual trauma, and we all have issues to deal with as we proceed through adult development. Trauma can severely impact our capacity to bond sexually with our partner. However, it’s important for you to also take responsibility for healing from your trauma. Never say, “I can’t love you or deal with you in this way because of my trauma, so get used to it.” We have to want the best for each other, including in our sexuality, regardless of past trauma.
- What about attuning to each other in conflict and recognizing polarity? One way to navigate conflict is to respond from an opposite pole to your partner. If your partner is masculine, respond in a feminine way, or vice versa. When a partner is doing WELL, take a moment to recognize and appreciate that! See if you can find pleasure in those moments, as they are truly the “golden moments.”
- How do you repair and rebuild trust after it has been broken? Keith says that 70% of cheating incidents recover and work to rebuild, but a small portion of cheating incidents are “exit” affairs out of the relationship. The cheating spouse needs to find the determining factor, which is usually opportunity. What was the difference? What was missing with your partner? Anyone who has a secret affair has to make their family, children, and friends disappear and give in to intensely egotistical narcissism during the moments of the affair. So you need to repair from that state, come back into alignment with your partner, and work on your vision for the relationship that you WANT to create together. And heal the part within yourself that led to the affair and allowed
- How do you clean up the mess of a secret affair? First, become honest and stop the affair! Ask the questions that need to be asked, and reestablish the lover relationship with your spouse. For the innocent partner, they have to deal with the profound unfairness of it all, which sometimes turns into trauma work. Anchor yourself in “What do I want?” You have to find a way through the trauma and identify your partner as a trustable person when they have betrayed your trust. For the person who had an affair: commit to your development as a person. Discover your vulnerabilities. Remember that “never doing that again” is only the start of recovery. For both partners: Get back to growing a sense of intimacy with each other. Remember, “Love always involves suffering. Hurt will happen.” However, what’s amazing is the capacity for you to get beyond the hurt to even deeper levels of integrity, commitment, and intimacy – if you’re willing to do the work.
The Attuned Family: How to Be a Great Parent to on Amazon
Integral Mindfulness: Clueless to Dialed in – How Mindfulness Makes Everything Better on Amazon
http://www.neilsattin.com/witt is the direct link to this episode. Visit to download the show guide, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the show guide. If you download the guide within the first week of this episode’s airing, you are automatically qualified for a chance to win a copy of “The Dance of Anger”!
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