How do you bring the full YOU to your relationship? How do you keep things fresh, and vibrant? How do you breathe that life into the places where you experience conflict with your partner, to unravel the knot that might keep you in an old, unhealthy pattern? And how do you steer your relationship towards your dreams of what might truly be possible – even if it feels like you’ve gotten off track? In today’s episode, we’re going to cover all of that and more in a conversation with Hedy Schleifer, creator of Encounter-centered Couples Therapy. It’s one of my longer episodes – rich with content and ways for you to create positive, dynamic energy in your relationship.
My goal is for this episode to transform you, so that you’ll no longer be able to experience the landscape of your relationship in the same way. What’s so exciting to me about Hedy Schleifer’s work is that it integrates much of what we’ve been talking about here on the Relationship Alive podcast.
Alive in connection: The goal of Encountered-centered couples therapy is about learning to be fully alive in relationship. An ever increasing body of research shows that we humans are wired and born to be joyfully relaxed, and alive in connection with others.
The Four Levels of Learning:
Level 0: Level 0 learning is when you hear something, however you do not retain it. Even if you are interested, when someone asks what you learned you realize you don’t really know. This learning is superficial and ephemeral.
Level 1- Level 1 learning is when you find a concept/idea/skill really interesting, however because you have no way of integrating the new learning which you get home it is lost.
Level 2- Level 2 learning is when we get excited about a new concept/idea/skill and then when we take it home it makes a difference. We integrate this new learning into our life and experiences changes as a result.
Level 3- Level 3 learning is the goal. This is learning that is transformational. In level 3 learning there is a before and an after as the learning has fundamentally shifted you. You are changed by it. From this new learning you experience and see the world in a very different way.
100% engagement right here and now. Level 3 transformation can only occur when everyone involved is willing to be fully involved in the right here and right now. True integration is only possible with full participation.
Wake up to your full aliveness! It is possible, despite all of the ruptures and wounds a relationship may have collected over time, to repair. Humans are capable of an intensive and magical connection with each other- a way of being with each other’s essence that is pure and raw. This essence to essence encounter is made possible when partners wake up to their full sense of aliveness. With assistance one can begin to re-see their partner for who they really are- that amazing, delightful, creative person. Sometimes our survival instincts make us lose touch with this sense of passion, authenticity, and vitality in ourselves and in our partner due to the way we cope through isolation and withdrawing. When the conditions of safety are achieved, connection can be made and the revelation of more and more dimensions of our beingness becomes available!
Meditation in connection: Culturally, and personally, we have lost the ability to just sit and be with each other. Can you find moments with your partner to just breathe, and sit, and be together? It may not be comfortable at first, but can you invite your partner to sit in a meditative silence and just look at you, and vice versa? Sit with each other, and be willing to be in the rich silence of two souls together. Honoring that space between- the separateness and the unity of yourselves in partnership. Despite the awkwardness or potential discomfort of this experience, this is a wonderful skill to practice that will lead to increased a sense of connection and a deepening of your intimacy.
Know what lives in your heart: What is your wildest dream for your relationship? What lives in your heart? What is it you really long for? What would a connected, Intimate, soulful, deep, and alive relationship look like? What is your deepest aspiration that you would like to put on the horizon today? Not as a goal, but as a dream. Once you have allowed your heart to speak, you can begin to make decisions about what directions to take to fully realize your deepest longings. Allow this process time- it take a while to reach deep inside and find these aspirations. This is an exercise that can be done whether you are in partnership currently or not. As a single person answering these questions is a wonderful and powerful way to connect with it is you are hoping to find and be in the next relationship you choose. The more clear you are with your desires the more honed your ability to recognize what is good for you will be.
Grief is an inevitability. When you go to the horizon and you look at how life should be/could be/would be, inevitably you are holding the tension between how it is, and how it could be. Be gentle with yourself as you hold onto the tension of this liminal space. Be willing to be with and live with the emotions that reveal themselves when you are in awareness of how your love life is or is not right now. The grief that occurs as a result of this tension is natural, and inevitable. This is authentic vulnerability and is an essential part of moving out of stuckness and stagnancy and towards a new, vibrant, and rich reality. Know that ambiguity and uncertainty can feel dangerous to our nervous systems, and so make sure to be aware of signs that you are being overwhelmed by your survival brain. Have ways to ground and regulate yourself, reminding yourself that being in this space between is necessary, and temporary.
Shift your language from abundance to deficit! One quick and generative change you can make right now in your relationship and in your life is to shift your language. Notice how you state issues- do you focus on the deficit? Such as “I really don’t want to have bad sex anymore”, and can you choose to state it in the affirmative by saying something more like “I am dreaming of having passionate and juicy sex”. By choosing words of abundance, you open more possibilities for connection, creativity, and choice.
EXERCISE: As you begin to make changes in your relationship, or are wanting to see things with new eyes, it can be helpful to reflect on the following 4 questions:
- What have I learned?
- What am I relearning?
- What has surprised me?
- What am I intrigued by?
Three Invisible connectors that help create the “dance of life in connection”:
1) Honor the space between: Take some time to reflect and sense the relational space that has been created between you and your partner. Is it clear? Joyful? Fun? Is it tense? Difficult? Conflictual? In crisis? It may be helpful to look for indicators by noticing the reactions of either your children, or your pets as they too are affected by the tone of the space between the two of you. Recognize that your relationship lives in this space between. Tend to it. Honor it. Make it as sacred as possible. The quality of this space is what allows for a sense of encountering to happen- a coming together of two beings in full and rich aliveness and authenticity. By honoring this space between you open new possibilities and opportunities for increased connection, mystery, and even miracles!
2) Create a bridge: A healthy and vibrant relationship is bilingual- in which you speak your language but you also speak and learn the language and culture of your partner. You learn the rhythm and the music of your partner. To do so it is important that you are willing and able to cross the bridge and enter into the world of your partner. There is as much an art to visiting as there is of hosting. As a host you can ask the following questions: How do I invite my partner into my world? How can I be as transparent and authentic as possible so that my partner can see me, and see into me? How can I make them feel welcome in my world and allow them to make discoveries on your own? For the one visiting and crossing the bridge some important questions are: Can I enter this other world without bringing in the past? How can I live in the present with my partner? What do I need to do in order to bring new and fresh eyes to see their world? Am I being open to discovery? For both the host and the visitor there needs to be a willingness to be vulnerable, open, and emphatically curious!
3) Zone of the encounter: By creating an honored space in the relationship, and then crossing the bridge into each other’s worlds, you allow for the encounter to occur. These are the conditions required to create safe and trusting connection, which in turn leads to deepening connection. This positive feedback loop is enhanced by how frequently you enter into this zone of the encounter with each other. This is true due to the fact that the more time you spend in this ‘blessed state’ the more neural pathways will wire around the experience and make it easier and easier for you to access this level of intimacy and connection!
Neighborhoods: Imagine yourself as a big expanding world that is filled with neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods are precious, some rough and tough, and some filled with childhood memories. When you invite your partner to cross the bridge into your world, you can name some of your neighborhoods and decide together which to visit and explore. Please note that it may be helpful to have professional support as the two of you choose to enter into the toughest neighborhoods (such as the neighborhood of abandonment, distrust, etc).
Have a beginner’s mind: When you are invited to cross the bridge into your partner’s world and to visit one of their neighborhoods, be sure that you only accept once you know you are willing to leave your known stories and assumptions behind. This is a big decision as it is the decision to be willing to be changed. Entering their world is a choice to have a beginner’s mind and see with fresh eyes. It is better to acknowledge you are not ready and postpone than to accept without being ready or willing to leave the past behind.
Be curious and show up as a visitor: As you begin to get familiar with the idea of neighborhoods you can use this as a question in your relationship. When your partner seems off, or far away, or hijacked, get curious about where they are on their map. What neighborhood might they be in? And are you willing to show up as a visitor with nothing but curiosity? When your partner comes to your world with this level of openness to learn, your own defenses begin to melt, and reciprocity is possible.
Let your limbic systems talk to each other! The truth is that we can help each other as much as we can trigger each other! The limbic systems of our brains are constantly scanning our surroundings for safety. Allow your limbic systems to speak with each other- and help create cues of safety for each other that allow the alarm system of the brain to quiet down. Strive to become the regulating resources you are for each other! With even more support it is possible to use the safe container of your partnership to unravel survival knots that have been long embedded, and to allow for shifts towards a more present truth.
Allow ‘I don’t know’ to be a corridor to new knowledge: Celebrate those inevitable moments in relationship and conversation where you do not have answers! These moments and impasses are the openings to new truths. When you get to an “I don’t know”, get curious about what this corridor might lead to. Likely, if you follow it with openness, you will discover a deeper truth either about yourself, your partner, or your relationship.
We are all heros! Instead of thinking about healing, think about transformation. When we truly go into the past to see where we have come from what we find is a heroic story, rather than a wounded one. Each one of us is a hero of an archetypical story and it is a story of resilience, of courage, and of boldness. By being willing to discover a hero instead of a wound, we help ourselves transform from a sense of less than to a sense of completeness!
Check out Hedy and her husband’s website for more resources!
Go here if you are Interested in getting trained Encountered-centered Couples Therapy!
Wanting support for you and your partner? Connect with Hedy for a couple’s intensive.
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Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of: