Do you ever feel like there’s a barrier between what you know about how to have a good relationship, and what you actually do? How do you take what we know about the science of relationships, combine it with the wisdom of our hearts and our quest for deeper meaning, and integrate it into something practical? Today we’re going to get practical, integrated, and Integral with a return visit from Keith Witt, whose new book Loving Completely: A Five Star Practice for Creating Great Relationships was just released. Keith Witt has conducted more than 55,000 (!!) therapy sessions, and is also often featured on Jeff Salzman’s The Daily Evolver podcast. He is truly gifted at taking the “big picture” and making it useful for a daily lives. Loving Completely is a manual for how to not only set a higher standard for what’s possible in your relationship, but you also get simple steps that get you there.
Also, please check out our first two episodes with Keith Witt – Episode 80: Bring Your Shadow into the Light and Episode 13: Resolve Conflict and Create Intimacy through Attunement.
As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!
Along with our amazing listener supporters (you know who you are – thank you!), this week’s episode has two great sponsors, each with a special offer for you.
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Check out Keith Witt’s website
Read Keith Witt’s new book: Loving Completely: A Five Star Practice for Creating Great Relationships
Check out Keith Witt’s other books as well!
FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide – perfect help for handling conflict…
Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner’s Needs) in Relationship (ALSO FREE)
Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of: The Railsplitters – Check them Out
Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. We’re trying to change culture with this show and I am so appreciative as always of your being here with me to evolve what is actually possible for us in terms of our relationships, and we know more about how to relate with other people than we’ve ever known before. We know more about the science. We know more about our spirit and how that factors in. We know more about the power of mindfulness. We know more about how our hearts interact with other hearts. It’s all taking shape in a way that’s very unique, and what we are trying to do here is to not only talk about it, but make it so practical for you so that you can put this stuff into use in your relationship. And so you can talk to other people and say, “Hey, like you’re having a hard time, you know, check out this episode on Relationship Alive where you will get your problem solved or see a light at the end of this dark tunnel,” that, let’s face it, sometimes we’re in a dark tunnel in our relationship, it’s part of what happens.
Neil Sattin: So, I’m overjoyed today to have a returning guest, someone who has been on the show twice, and he’s here today to talk about and celebrate really the release of his latest book called Loving Completely. I’m talking about Dr. Keith Witt, who you may know through his appearances on The Daily Evolver or you may have heard him here on Relationship Alive. He was here in Episode 80 where we were talking about shadow and he was also here way back in Episode 13 talking about Attunement and how important that is. So he is back on the show. And we will have a detailed transcript of this episode. If you want to get that, just visit neilsattin.com/completely as in Loving Completely or you can as always text the word Passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions and we’ll send you a link where you can download this transcript, and all our other transcripts and show guides.
Neil Sattin: So today, we’re going to talk about what it means to love completely, and how that’s maybe different than your standard kind of relationship and why it actually helps you deepen and deepen what’s possible for you in partnership. I think that’s all I have to say for the moment. Keith Witt, it is such a treat as always to have you back here on Relationship Alive.
Keith Witt: Great to be with you, Neil.
Neil Sattin: So, let’s just start there. Loving completely. Now, I know that some of the book is based on a course that you did in the integral world called Loving Completely. Why loving completely? What was the inspiration for you for that title versus just like, How to Have a Kickass Relationship?
Keith Witt: That’s not a bad title. [chuckle] I’ve been doing therapy and writing and teaching for 44 years and I have studied dozens of brilliant people. And most people, most researchers, their understanding comes from how they came to establish mastery in their areas of psychotherapy or of understanding. Esther Perel, for instance, worked a lot with couples where people were unfaithful, and so she is oriented according to how sexuality ebbs and flows and manifests and affects relationships in her work. Stan Tatkin came from attachment theory and interpersonal neurobiology and his system is heavily oriented in that direction. John Gottman is a pure social scientist. I mean, the way that he found his wife was he went on 50 dates in 60 days and she was the outlier whom he married. He did it like a science experiment. And so his approach is social science. He uses social science to find what works and doesn’t work and so on.
Keith Witt: So, everybody comes from their orientation and they’re all right. But in Integral Psychology, we say that everybody gets to be right, but nobody gets to be right all the time. And so, most of us who work with couples and individuals have found that people are wildly unique, and people have different languages and understandings that help them love better. And so I was interested in an orienting system, where you could start with basic principles and practices and they could lead you in the direction that you were most open to in terms of helping you grow and transform in your ability to be intimate with the different parts of yourself and be effectively intimate with other people and especially with your chosen partner in a long-term lover relationship.
Keith Witt: And so that motivated me. That was a challenge. How do you get oriented in that fashion? And so out of that came the Loving Completely Course and then out of that course came, I wanted to expand the ideas and present a deeper dive into a lot of the constructs and so I wrote the Loving Completely book, which is gonna come out soon, and that’s what oriented me in terms of and inspired me in terms of writing this book.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, I like that picture of completeness, not only in terms of what it inspires me to think about and how I conduct my relationship, the process of my relationship, but also the willingness to look across the spectrum of what’s available to help you that you don’t have to be confined just because so and so says that their thing works 85% of the time. If it doesn’t work for you, you’re not screwed like there are other options for you that might be effective for you. And so there’s that completeness of like, “Oh, the whole world is available for me to actually help me get this. Get this right.”
Keith Witt: Yes, and we live in an age where there’s a cornucopia of great knowledge available to us and especially around intimacy and around relationships. And so let me explain. I’m gonna talk mostly about a committed intimate relationship like a marriage, a long-term love affair, and so on, though these principles apply to lots of relationships, parental relationships, sibling relationship, friend relationships, and so on. But a relationship of marriage is basically a friendship, a love affair, a capacity to notice and repair injuries and ruptures, and a mutual commitment to each other’s evolution. If those four components are attended to on a daily basis, couples tend to do well. If one of those lapses in some fashion, suffering occurs and suffering in relationship tends to spiral into separation. And this is one of the reasons why half the marriages end in divorce.
Keith Witt: And so that’s a great picture of a good relationship, but how do we do that? How do we establish that? And just like any area of mastery, what you do is you pick a goal, you get ignited. I wanna have great relationships. You find data and information and master coaching in the world, and then you break it up into chunks and you do focus practice on those chunks and with a growth mindset of effort and progress is what matters. We’re not trying to get anywhere, we’re just trying to have effort and progress. You gradually can establish mastery in this area of loving, loving another person, helping another person love you and… Go on.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. And so a couple of things are coming up for me right now. One is, we’re talking here, we’re on a show where we are focused about, we’re coming from a growth mindset. And I can’t tell you how many times I read something or I have this conversation with you or someone like you and I have that light bulb moment of like, “Oh right, this is how I’ve been seeing it, and I could be open to a different perspective here and that actually might serve me a lot better.” So let’s just start with maybe the hardest question which a lot of people who listen to the show are gonna be asking which is like, “Alright, you said growth mindset. And now, I just know that this ain’t happening because my partner, like that’s the problem, they don’t have a growth mindset, and they’re fixed and they’re shut down. And I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m trying.” I know, in the 65,000 or more sessions you’ve done with people, you’ve come up against this with couples and I’m curious to know how you help inspire both people in a moment like this.
Keith Witt: A human super power is our ability to receive caring influence. That is a super power. And it’s more difficult than it sounds. Receiving caring influence means that you allow yourself to change how you think and what you do in response to someone else trying to help. Now, when people get threatened, when people feel insecure, when they feel unsafe, their nervous systems get more rigid. Your slower thinking frontal cortex gets inhibited and your faster thinking brainstem takes charge. And one of the ways to take charge is it resists receiving influence. And so if you have a partner that is resisting receiving influence, it probably means that in a particular level they feel unsafe.
Keith Witt: And so when someone comes in or a couple comes in, part of my job is to help that first person feel safe. And generally the way that I help people feel safe is through compassionate understanding. I know that at the core of everyone, there is a little interface between them and spirit. Patricia Albere in the evolutionary collective calls that the origin point, in the traditions she called that out man’s soul, that kind of thing. That’s how I identify people. And so, my job is to connect with that spot in them and then help them feel understood by me. And as we go into that understanding, we find a place where they feel threatened, where they resist influence. And the place where you resist influence and you feel threatened is also the place where you’re yearning for something, you’re yearning for love, you’re yearning for security, you’re yearning for passion, you’re yearning to be known deeply.
Keith Witt: And as I help someone feel safe and as I help them understand their yearning, we can begin to open up a little bit to how those yearnings can be met in their relationship. They can be met by their partner, and I can help their partner help this other person feel safe. By the very act of coming to a therapist, people have gone to an environment where they’ve acknowledged, “We can’t help each other feel safe enough to change, we need somebody else to provide a little bit more safety.” And so that’s a central part of what therapists do. Now, does that work all the time? Nothing works all the time. Does it work a lot? Yeah, it does. And if your partner seems impenetrable, then what you wanna do is you wanna say, “Well, look, let’s get some help. Let’s find somebody that you trust and let’s get them to help us love each other better. Let’s get them to help us be more connected.”
Keith Witt: And you take a stand for that. And if your partner can’t do it, you go get help and then that person helps you encourage your partner to get help. And so that’s how it goes. Usually that ends up with both people getting into therapy, but not always. And frankly, it’s just a bad sign. If somebody is having problems and refuses therapy, that predicts marital dissolution pretty reliably in a lot of cases, and that’s just the way it works. If you take a rigid position, particularly in the 21st century with your partner, and refuse to work on things that are disturbing to them, that will separate you and those separations get worse, they don’t get better. So those are the ruptures and repairs that are so important. They need to be repaired. And they’re repaired when we’re making that condition better, when we’re working at loving each other better.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. And this, I think, is so important because it’s tempting, especially as you read a lot of, let’s just say, self-help books about relationship which you might be doing if there are some issues going on or you might be doing even if you’re like, “I just wanna know how to do this better,” and kudos to you if that’s what you’re doing. Keith’s book is great for that. It can be tempting to think like, “Okay, well, I’m gonna go into this with my partner like a therapist would. Like now I’m armed with all this new knowledge and I’m gonna bring it into my relationship.”
Neil Sattin: And to some level, I think that is helpful, but what I’m hearing from you that I think is so key for people to get is that the real gem that happens in a good therapy, in a good therapeutic setting, is creating that safety and being seen without judgment, being seen with compassion, and from that everything else can grow. I would think that it’s rare that someone comes in, and you’re not just instructing them, right? I mean I sure don’t. In my coaching practice, we’re not saying, “You’re doing this wrong, you’re doing relationship wrong, so let me just tell you how to do it right, and then you’re all set, you’re then free to go.”
Keith Witt: Yeah. Well, that would be great [chuckle] if it worked. You know, when I wrote a book on Integral Psychotherapy called Waking Up and in that I said what an integral psychotherapist does is relate, teach, inspire, confront, interpret, and direct and relating is first. If someone is open to learning a new perspective, they’re open to receiving influence, in other words they get influenced to change what they think and do. A lot of therapy is just getting 80% of therapy is getting to the point where someone feels safe enough to be willing to do that. And, yes, we don’t do that with our partners. I have two kids, they’re grown 33 and 30, and wife, and I don’t give them any input unless they ask specifically for it. And the reason why I’ve done that is because I realized as our family was developing that I didn’t have a contract with them, like I did with my clients, and that actually interfered with our relationship if I offered input that wasn’t requested or welcomed.
Keith Witt: And so I’m way more conservative when it comes to my opinions or my observations with my own family. Why? Because I’m not there primarily to enlighten them or to help them, I’m there to support the intersubjectivity of our relationships. I’m there to support our love for each other. And supporting our love for each other means having this relationship on a psychological spiritual level, we’re experiencing ourselves as having equal power, equal credibility, equal say in the important aspects of our life around money, sex, parenting, time, that kind of stuff. And then all that stuff needs to be negotiated in a dialectic. And the dialectic is two people looking for deeper truth, respecting each other, open to each other, as influence, and acknowledging their individual rights. And that’s called a growth hierarchy.
Keith Witt: It’s a power hierarchy but it doesn’t look like a power hierarchy because when people are going back and forth in that environment, you’re not noticing how one person has a little more credibility, a little more power than the other person does because there’s a flow back and forth in the integral cosmology, that’s called the second tier. That’s a particular kind of relating. Now, when people get threatened, they go into dominator hierarchies. You stop receiving influence and you’re trying to bully the other person or convince the other person or submit even to the other person. That dominator hierarchy can get something done, but it contaminates a relationship. And an awful lot of work, whether therapist know it or not, when they’re working with couples is noticing that shift in the dominator hierarchies, and then interrupting it and encouraging couples to go back into growth hierarchies where they’re looking for deeper truth, more open to influence, being respectful, allowing each other individual rights.
Keith Witt: And just that, just paying attention. And that can transform your whole relational universe. Particularly, you can transform a universe relating to other people because once you start noticing those things you see growth hierarchies and dominator hierarchies everywhere. And if you have a moral sense of standing for growth hierarchies, that means that whenever you’re around you wanna generate them. And if there’s a dominator hierarchy happening, you wanna start working to shift that into a growth hierarchy. Nowhere is that more important than in your end of the relationship.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and this is something that comes up a lot actually in our Facebook group and just because we’re here. I’m curious of your perspective on this. A lot of my listeners have actually been married and gotten divorced, and now they’re working on their next big love, let’s say. And so, of course, that introduces all kinds of other dynamics with former partners, their new partners, and that’s a situation that’s ripe for power struggles and dominator hierarchies to emerge. So, I’m curious like if you’re a growth-oriented person and you’re just getting hammered by a dominator, what’s a good pathway through to navigate through that, that you might offer someone?
Keith Witt: Well, first of all, that is the… Particularly for educated people in this country, generally they go through at least two major intimate relationships, sometimes more. I was a hippie back in the ’60s and ’70s, so I had a three-year relationship where we didn’t get married but essentially it was the first marriage. So that’s very common. And when there’s children and in-laws, you are bringing other people in and other responsibilities. Stan Tatkin says, calls it The Rule of Thirds. And he makes a point that I agree with. Yes, there’s a lot of added complexity that comes when people have a second or third serious relationship, but that is simplified if you recognize the primacy of the intimate bond. The primacy, there’s a reason that they call it a primary relationship, and that primary relationship is we wanna maintain this container in integrity, we wanna have this container be as clean and as pure and as beautiful as possible, and that means our friendship, our love affair, our capacity to heal injuries, and our commitment to mutual evolution comes first. And then everything else gets organized around that.
Keith Witt: What that does is it gets you oriented in terms of other demands, say there’s an ex-spouse that is aggressive, this happens sometimes. Or punitive, people get angry after a separation, and often separations are expensive, and they’re difficult, and people are more egocentric and distressed cells will come out and then they don’t have much contact with each other, which makes it easier to objectify each other and see each other in negative black and white terms. Well, that’s not good for anybody. It’s particularly not good for children. Children of the divorce who have parents who are acrimonious with each other do worse. They have more symptoms and they have more problems. And so you don’t wanna encourage that. You wanna discourage that. How do you do that?
Keith Witt: Well, there’s two of general ways of dealing with other people. There’s what you and I are doing now, which is relating. Relating is we’re just telling our truth, we’re respecting each other, we got individual rights, and we’re both open to caring influence. You tell me something that’s a better idea than something I got. I’ll change my idea and change how I think in what I do. That’s relating and relating is a superior way of being. But say, somebody can’t relate. Well, then you handle them. And how do you handle them? You handle them so that they can’t successfully dominate in a dominator hierarchy and you make it easier for them to relate. For instance, you set boundaries. So this happens all the time, when one ex-spouse wants special privileges and comes to feel entitled to it because the other person just tries to say yes rather than thinks in a larger sense about what’s gonna make this a more coherent relationship.
Keith Witt: So then what you do is you start setting boundaries around whatever the dissolution agreement was. You don’t say yes unnecessarily. And if someone is acting in a disrespectful fashion, you disengage. You set a boundary. Okay. So over time, this influences the other person to be more respectful. It’s very much like parenting a child. And it’s similar because when people are in defensive states, basically they’ve regressed to child ego states. And so you don’t have to be… You can be respectful, but you need to be firm. I’m respectful of my four-year-old who doesn’t wanna get in the car and go to the dentist, but I am firm. You’re gonna have to get in the car and go to the dentist and that’s all there’s to it. So, respectfully, get in the car, we’re going to the dentist.
Neil Sattin: You spoke in Loving Completely. And I wanna dive more into the meat of the matter here momentarily. You spoke about your commitment to more and more interacting with the world from a place of loving kindness and compassion.
Keith Witt: Yes.
Neil Sattin: And even then, you mentioned that there are some relationships and connections that you’ve had to let go of.
Keith Witt: Yes.
Neil Sattin: And I’m curious for you, what does that barometer like in terms of you knowing like, “Okay, I guess I’ve done all I can do here,” versus like, “You know what? I’m gonna keep trying. I have faith in this particular container that it will ultimately yield to the power of a growth mindset and relating.
Keith Witt: Well, first of all, it of course depends on the nature of the relationship. You know, loving-kindness is a practice. And we can all do it now because it’s a wonderful practice to get yourself into a place where you are available to engage in a mature and healthy activity, and here’s how you do it. You imagine some other person. So I’m imagining you right now and then I am reaching out from my heart, to your heart, and in my mind, I’m saying to myself from my heart to your heart, “May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you have an easeful life.” And as I do that, I am changing my state. Now, if I do that with… If you’re my lover and I do that when we are in conflict, my defensive state, because I’m in, we are in conflict, all communication is complimentary, we’re probably both in defensive states that are self-amplifying which is by defensive states we are so dangerous as couples. What I’m doing is I am now shifting into another state of consciousness where instead of allowing my nervous system to relate to you as an unsafe person, that I am objectifying to a certain extent.
Keith Witt: Now, I’m relating to you as someone I care about and that shifts my state. Now, as I do that, if we’re around each other and you can see into my eyes, or hear my voice, your state begins to shift out of defensive state into a state of healthy response to the present moment. And so loving-kindness meditation is a wonderful practice to learn how to do when you’re stressed because it shifts your state into an area where you have access to your frontal lobes, you have access to your deep wisdom and you’re regulating your defensive states into your more mature and more powerful states of conscious awareness and compassionate understanding.
Keith Witt: And I encourage everybody who’s listening to do it at this moment. Imagine somebody, you can imagine me if you want, I’d take all the loving-kindness that the… [chuckle] people could give, your heart to that person’s heart. And in your mind, say, “May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you have an easeful life.” And see how it feels. Interestingly, when people did this meditation, they had anti-inflammatory genes activated in their bodies and antiviral genes activated in their bodies that this meditation made their immune systems more robust, by shifting the myelinazation patterns of their genetic expression. That’s how powerful this is.
Neil Sattin: Well, well, and… Yeah, I’m just struck by that like we talk about our anger being inflamed and how interesting that anti-inflammatory actions take place when we go into a place of loving-kindness like that.
Keith Witt: It’s amazing.
Neil Sattin: And I’m thinking too about my own experience with Chloe and we’re doing really well together. Not that we haven’t had our challenges and despite doing really, really well together when something happens and one of us goes to that defensive state and we both end up there even… I guess what I’m saying is, even in the best of relationships, and you talk about this with Becky as well, it can be such a challenge, such an effort to even utter within, oh, you know, much less saying it out loud to your partner, if you happen to be in their presence. But within like, “May you be safe, may you be loved.” I think if you’re thinking back to a time when you had an argument with your partner, you’ll get what I’m talking about that, it’s like the last thing you wanna do.
Keith Witt: That’s right.
Neil Sattin: And yet it has so much power if you can somehow do it.
Keith Witt: Yeah. What helps me with this is understanding that those defensive states that you enter when you’re mad at each other, those were evolutionary milestones for the human species. And most of our brain is designed to relate with other people and there’s a lot of good evidence that one of the reasons that brain size expanded about two million, three million years ago is because the level of complexity in human groups went up, and we needed to have more brain power to be able to relate with each other. And in those primitive tribes, there were social organizations just like there are in primate groups and that meant when there was a problem that couldn’t be resolved cooperatively people went into dominance displays because the dominance hierarchies are what maintained the social fabric.
Keith Witt: And what they would do, they were programmed to do genetically is to raise their emotional intensity to intimidate the other person into taking an inferior place or the dominance hierarchy or to have you submit in a way that would happen before physical violence could take place, which would maintain the integrity of the social structure and protect people from hurting each other because evolutionarily speaking, the biggest threat to humans, for the last couple of million years, have been other humans.
Keith Witt: Now, what modern consciousness is brought to bear is way more powerful ways of dealing with conflict, way more sophisticated ways. And so when those defensive states are activated if I know that if I can engage in collaborative, two men in problem solving with this person, what that does is it opens up a possibility for this moment to enhance our personal evolution, this moment to make our love deeper, to support our friendship and our love affair. If I know that, if I can just have the faintest memory of that, then I can start working at soothing myself and soothing you and inviting you into that process to create that container of that dialectic. That container of mutual respect and individual rights and looking for a deeper truth and receiving influence. And when we do that a hundred times or a thousand times and discover how well it works, how it creates these miracles of consciousness, then what we’ve done is we’ve taken those primitive impulses and we’ve included and transcended them in the more sophisticated influences.
Keith Witt: And you know in our last talk, I talked about how what we’re actually doing is growing our shadow selves. We’re growing our unconscious. Our unconscious becomes more complex and it regulates outside of our awareness so that it gets easier and easier to reach for these better states. Now, every once in a while, we get triggered usually from a trauma memory and bam, here comes the defensive state, it happens in 60 milliseconds. We have amplified our numb emotions, distorted perspective, destructive impulses, and diminish capacities for empathy and self-reflection like that. But if you can learn to self-observe that, what you end up doing is instead of trusting all that stuff, trusting that distorted perspective, trusting those destructive impulses, going along with that lack of self-reflection and empathy and say, “No, no, I’m actually in a disadvantage state now I need to reach for something that is more powerful,” like compassionate understanding that provides the impetus interiorly to do that for yourself. And then when you are doing that for yourself, you’re non-verbally and verbally encouraging your partner to do the same.
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Keith Witt: And this…
Neil Sattin: May I offer just a quick example of that?
Keith Witt: Sure.
Neil Sattin: So just the other night, I was with Chloe and we were talking about something, she was going to cover for me for something, and she made a comment like, “This is actually the last thing I wanna do, it sounds horrible to me, but I’m gonna do it but it sounds horrible.” And I immediately went into like, she’s being negative about this thing and I don’t even want you to do it anyway, if it’s gonna be horrible for you. So we started spiraling down this place and it was kinda late at night, so we weren’t in our… There’s not a lot of will power left at the…
Keith Witt: That’s right. Oh no.
Neil Sattin: At the end of the day to actually steer yourself back. But fortunately I’d been reading your book and so I turned to her and I said, “Help me, help me help you, what I’m hearing you say that this is horrible. And it sounds like hell and I don’t know what you need from me right now, what I can see is that I’m just going into this place where I am polarizing or where I somehow wanna change you or change your experience, but I clearly that’s not working ’cause you’re just getting more and more angry at me, and I’m getting more angry at you. Like what do you need?” And you know, to prove your point, Keith and this was just so hilarious to me in the moment, she looked at me and her eyes were big and wide, and she just said, “I need your compassion. I need you to understand that, yes, of course, I’m gonna do this for you, I love you, and it’s not… It wouldn’t be my first choice to do this thing and I just need you to hear me and to acknowledge me and to be compassionate.”
Neil Sattin: So that was the first thing that was like, “Oh okay, right.” And so, of course, I’m thinking like I know this and of course I know this, like I’ve… ’cause we’ve done this a million times, but here we were in this space of conflict. And so then I started thinking, like, “Well, I know that the key right now is to be compassionate and I’ve even done it before, but right now, I can’t for some reason, I really can’t.” And so I asked myself like, “Why, why can’t I be compassionate right now?” And I had this huge realization about my own earlier experiences with being confronted with, I had an idea about something and just to keep it somewhat vague like let’s say a family member would have shit on my idea or say like, “No Like that. We’re not gonna do that.”
Neil Sattin: And so for me, I had to develop a pretty strong defense to that kind of what I perceived as negative energy, or a negative attack, and so my choice was never to meet that with compassion. I didn’t… No one instructed me on how to do that as a kid, so I was just like kind of shoring myself up and figuring like, “Okay, how do I turn a negative into a positive, how do I… ” It’s like I had Martin Seligman in my back pocket like…
Keith Witt: There you go.
Neil Sattin: And which was good for me, in some level, but in this situation with Chloe, there was no like saying, “Hey, let’s turn those lemons into lemonade.” Like that wasn’t what she needed in that moment. And as soon as I realized that and I shared that with her, “Oh wow, I’m realizing that you need compassion, and I can’t do it and it’s because I just have this defense against being… Like I’ve never learned how to be compassionate, what I’ve learned how to do is to try to look on the bright side or try to make things not as bad. And for us, it was this huge moment of understanding that just softened everything and next thing you knew, we were singing to each other and making peace with each other instead of making war.
Keith Witt: Well, I just love that story. You know what? When a couple comes in with the story like that, there’s part of me that goes, “Mm-hmm. My work here is done.” [laughter] You notice what you did, you went into vulnerability as power which you can do with her because she is a sophisticated enough partner to see that and to be moved by it and then you went into the real issue. The real issue is us, our container. And to go there, I have to go essentially into my trauma history to find out why I had this reaction, that’s more rigid than I’m used to. It’s more amplified than I’m used to. And yes, that it always comes from previous learning, often it comes from a family of origin. And when you understand that the problem right now was a solution, it’s often a brilliant solution 40 years ago, but now it’s not adequate because I’m in a relationship where I can actually go into deeper love from this place, which was not available then, I’d rather go into deeper love.
Keith Witt: And that’s what you guys did and you were focusing on the real issue, which is we need to… There is a rupture in our container, in our intersubjective container, we need to heal that. And we know that we’ve healed it when we feel that sense of loving connection. When you’re repairing, yes, you wanna validate the other person and, yes, the other person wants to feel understood. And you wanna feel understood. And you wanna take a little bit of action to solve the problem. Those are all important parts of repair. Yeah, you wanna accept that that’s not gonna solve the whole problem but it will solve a piece of it but at the very end of it, there needs to be loving connection. If you don’t have that loving connection, you haven’t repaired it yet. And you only know that when you both feel it at the same time and everybody who has done that, which is almost all of us, knows what that feels like. And that needs to be the standard. That is always the standard to get back to love.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. There’s this little song. I don’t know who the source of it is but Chloe learned it recently and it’s become our latest practice at the end of conflict. Not that conflict’s happening all the time, but just as a reminder and a recognition of having gotten back to love. And can I sing it? Can I share?
Keith Witt: Oh please, I was gonna ask you to sing it. Sing it.
Neil Sattin: So it goes like this. “I behold you beautiful one. I behold you child of the Earth and sun. Let my love wash over you. Let my love watch over you.” That’s it.
Keith Witt: That’s beautiful.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. So for us that… And actually I find myself when I’m still stewing I can sing that to her in my mind. And that also helps like, “Okay, I’m coming back now.” I can remember that the whole reason we’re here is because we love each other and because our love is ever deepening and we’ve had that experience. So that also helps me come back to the table and get back to love with her.
Keith Witt: When you sing that song inside you, when you’re with her, you’re doing loving-kindness meditation.
Neil Sattin: Yes.
Keith Witt: That’s another form of loving-kindness meditation.
Neil Sattin: Yes, exactly. So, Keith, let’s shift gears just a little bit because I wanna give you a chance to paint the picture. You created a beautiful scaffolding around which Loving Completely is built and you call it The Five Star Practice. And there are these five questions that people can ask themselves about themselves and about their partner to help direct their attention to the elements that create an amazing thriving relationship. And you talk about how it came up in a conversation with your kids around like what to look for in a good partner and how that has become this lens through which you can… These questions have become a lens through which you can look at any relationship and see what’s going well, what’s not, where you might need to adjust your habits. And so could we go through those five star questions?
Keith Witt: Sure.
Neil Sattin: So people get a sense of what we’re talking about.
Keith Witt: Yes. The genesis of this was in a conversation with my two teenage kids in the kitchen, of them asking, How do I choose somebody? And anybody who’s done therapy realizes that at certain points in your life you open up and something comes through, you become a channel. And so those five questions came out. And as a scientist, I’m always a little uncomfortable with stuff like that because, yes, we can see it as an unconscious download, but it always feels like you’re connected to something larger. And the interesting thing about that is that they really haven’t changed that much over the years. It’s been 15 years or so. And they’ve been cross-validated again, and again, and again, and again with neuroscience and social science and so on. And so I’ll tell you the five questions but I’ll tell you the reason for the questions and I’ll tell you the foundation of the questions.
Keith Witt: The foundation is compassionate self and other observation. Loving-kindness meditation does that, attunement, paying attention with acceptance and caring intent to what you’re sensing, feeling, thinking, judging, and wanting. Paying attention with acceptance and caring intent, what your partner might be sensing, feeling, thinking, judging, and wanting. That’s the foundation, compassionate self and other observation. Now, if you can establish that, and however way you do it, if you ask yourself these questions, you’re basically, when you ask yourself a question, you’re opening up to your unconscious.
Keith Witt: So the questions are first, is there erotic polarity between me and this other person? Is there a spark between their feminine and my masculine? Because when we are looking for a partner, or when we were maintaining a relationship, part of that is the love affair. That love affair is a big deal, and that love affair is based on a spark between two poles, between the masculine in one person and the feminine in the other. Now we have energetic polarities between ourselves and everything and everybody. You have an energetic polarity when you look at a sunset, or when you’re telling your daughter good night, I love you. But you have a certain kind of erotic polarity, has a sexual feel, between you as a masculine or feminine person and another person as a masculine and feminine person, and we’re adjusting those all the time.
Keith Witt: And so that’s one question, Is there a spark of erotic polarity between me and this other person? The second question is, Does this person maintain their physical and psychological health? Doesn’t mean they have to be super healthy, it just means they’re responsible for their physical and psychological health, and if there’s a problem they’ll take care of it. Third question is, If I’m in a relationship with this person or if I am and there’s conflict, would they be able and willing to do what it takes to get back to love? We’ve been talking about repair, you and I, and that’s a central skill in intimate relationships. A fourth question is, Would this person show up appropriately for a child or a family member? Appropriately is not co-dependently, appropriately is there’s a lot of things that are appropriate, but will they show up in a healthy fashion for a child or a family member? And the fifth one is, Does this person have something larger than themselves, something sacred that they’re committed to? And do they feel a sense of respect, even admiration, or would they feel that for what’s sacred to me?
Keith Witt: So those are a lot of questions but if you pay attention to those five dimensions about other people, after a while they become like new sense organs and you just notice these things. You’ll pull up to somebody… You’re sitting down next to somebody in a restaurant, you look over and you go, “I bet that person would be a good parent.” Or you see somebody, you go, “Hmm, I feel a spark of erotic polarity with this person.” Or you look at that person, you go, “I don’t think that person maintains their physical health very well.” Or they do. They become things that you notice like people’s clothes and eye color. And if you notice them about other people, it makes it easier to notice them about yourself. And these are not absolute questions. In relationships, we go moment to moment to moment to moment. And so they’re dimensions that keep shifting. I can be engaged in a healthy behavior in one moment, and then all of a sudden I’m reaching for the doughnut and I’m engaging in an unhealthy behavior. And now what am I gonna do about that?
Keith Witt: Am I gonna adjust towards health or am I going to eat the doughnut then eat another doughnut? If I do that as a habit, then I’m not maintaining my physical health, for instance. And in relationships, we’re always kind of adjusting… When I was talking earlier about being in growth power hierarchies, and then adjusting from dominator hierarchies to growth hierarchies, that’s attending on a moment to moment, and these five dimensions are ways of adjusting. Am I showing up appropriately for my son? Am I expressing admiration and respect for what my wife finds deeply meaningful? And if I’m evaluating a partner, does this person do these things? And if the answer to even one of these is no, then there’s gonna be problems. That doesn’t mean you don’t get in a relationship, but what it does mean is you have a conversation about it.
Keith Witt: And if you can ask yourself these questions about yourself and other people, what that does is it opens you up to have these be continua that you can discuss, they make them talkaboutable in relationship. And one of the big problems that couples have is they have one set of agreements on top that they usually hear in their marriage vows, and a whole different set of agreements below the surface that never get discussed until a problem comes up. You know, a great one is, I promise to be faithful for you. That’s a public agreement. And then, the private one, unless I have an opportunity to have great sex with somebody else and I have this conviction that you’ll never find out about it.
Neil Sattin: [chuckle] Right.
Keith Witt: Yeah. Well. If that agreement, if that private agreement is examined by me and discussed with you, I’m less vulnerable to have that happen. Number one predictor of affairs is opportunity and people have an opportunity and they’re not prepared because these things have not been talkaboutable with another person. That’s one of the reasons I have two or three chapters on affairs and what to do about affairs in Loving Completely. Even if you never had an affair or if your partner has never had an affair, it’s useful to understand the dynamics of affairs because those dynamics affect everybody, and if we’re aware of those dynamics, awareness regulates. And so being more woken up and more aware helps prepare us. Now, this is my bias, my bias is I like to understand everything, that’s why I like Integral Studies. Integral Theory is a meta-theory that has a lot of theories inside it.
Keith Witt: And other people don’t particularly like to grow in that fashion. But if there’s one approach that speaks to you around any of these, okay, you can just dive into that approach. But you don’t dive into the approach unless you realize it’s something that needs attention. And asking yourself these questions about yourself and your partner and having them be modes of discourse between you and your partner, if some problem does happen in intersubjectivity, if there is a problem in your friendship, your love affair, your ability to receive influence or support of each other’s personal evolution and collective evolution, it’s more likely to come out and now you have a language to discuss it and to resolve it, and you have a growth mindset to make it better. And you have an orientation, we wanna turn this into deeper love and compassionate understanding of each other. And that’s what creates the great relationships.
Neil Sattin: Right. I love hearing someone saying, “Oh, I just started seeing this person and we decided to start going to therapy together so that we were getting support.” Or, “I just got together… ” Actually I just had this happen with someone who said, “I just started this relationship… ” And they had actually purchased the course that Chloe and I put together called Thriving intimacy.
Keith Witt: Great.
Neil Sattin: For a previous relationship, and they said, “We’re starting off doing the course together.” And I love hearing that because not only are they skill building, but yeah, they’re creating that common dialogue of common vocabulary, a way to talk about things. And I think one of the biggest challenges is especially around those things that are scary like someone for instance saying, “I don’t know if I have what it takes to be faithful.” Wow, what a scary conversation to have with your partner. So any framework that you have that gives you the ability to talk about that and to keep each other safe in that conversation is so powerful and important for helping you strengthen rather than repeatingly shying away from those kinds of topics.
Keith Witt: Yes. And it’s hard to talk about difficult things. You get easily threatened. And those defensive states show up. And if you’re not aware, if you can’t see those defensive states, then you tend to have those downward spirals that you talked about. But if you’re aware of them, and you adjust back into those dialectics, those states of healthy response in the ways we’ve been discussing, then you can sustain the conversations. People, if they have a bad time, will tend to avoid the conversation. There’s one study that showed if a guy initiated sex with his partner and she said no once, there was a certain number of guys that never initiated again. That one negative experience was enough to close down that conversation.
Neil Sattin: Wow.
Keith Witt: That’s really a bad thing in intimacy. You want your intimacy to be marked by more and more things being talkaboutable, not less and less, not fewer and fewer things.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, I love that. Talkaboutable. I think I’m gonna start using that. That…
Keith Witt: There you go.
Neil Sattin: Phrase. Yeah, it’s a good one.
Keith Witt: My gift to you.
Neil Sattin: Thank you, thank you. One last thing, and we could talk about this forever. Obviously, I think every time you’ve been on the show we’ve spoken for quite a while and there’s so much to digest here, and I do encourage you to, if you haven’t heard the first two episodes that Keith and I did together, definitely go check them out. Episode 13, Episode 80. And there’s so much in your book. I’m really excited for it to be out because it encapsulates so much. And as you mentioned, there are a couple of chapters on affairs. As I read through it, I was like holy mackerel. There’s a couple of chapters on just about everything. Which isn’t to say that it’s this long slog of a read, you’re actually a very entertaining and engaging writer, which I really appreciate.
Keith Witt: Thank you.
Neil Sattin: But there’s a lot here for you to get that different growth oriented integrally informed perspective on all these different facets of relationship. What I’m curious about, from your perspective, Keith, is this is something that we’ve been touching on. And we touched on it in the dimension of… And I even had my own confession here. Yeah, I know I’m supposed to get compassionate right now, but I can’t fucking do it. [chuckle] There’s so much that we are learning about how to have better relationships and yet it requires us to change what we habitually do. It requires us to not just hear it and be like, “Yeah, that’s awesome.” And maybe to not even just tell our partner about it, but it requires us to actually shift the way that we behave and to follow through on that over and over again, especially because sometimes the initial shift doesn’t yield the results that we are hoping for.
Neil Sattin: So it’s like, you gotta stick with it. You talk in the book about mastery, and that initial like you learn a lot and then you have this plateau and it takes a lot of effort to get through that plateau to the place where you have another growth spike. So I’m curious, if I’m listening to the show and saying, “Alright, this stuff sounds great, it sounds really great. In fact, it’s amazing.” What do I do to remember it tomorrow so that I actually can put this thing into practice tomorrow?
Keith Witt: First of all, do the loving-kindness meditation a lot. The more irritated I am with somebody, the more of a positive impact on me the loving-kindness meditation has. And so that’s kind of the first place I go when I get pissed off at somebody and I gotta tell you, I’ve been doing it quite a lot the last year and a half in that state. And the other thing is to ask those five questions, ask them all the time, not just with your partner but with everybody. Ask… Notice them in yourself. Am I… How am I doing with these five questions? And just to get information. Just to have… Do it from a perspective of compassionate understanding. I wanna understand, and by asking those questions your unconscious will give you answers. And as that happens, you’re strengthening that perception, that perceptual capacity to notice these things and to be interested in these things and to be able to discuss these things.
Keith Witt: Now, why is this super important? None of us exist independent of everybody else. So we have our history and we have all the cultures that we were in, embedded in our personalities and in our relationships. An American culture has, over the last hundred years, has gradually been waking up. Psychotherapy and psychology has influenced it to some extent. And in the 21st century, more and more psychotherapists are recognizing that psychotherapy is not primarily about identifying psychopathology and treating it like an infection. Psychotherapy is about supporting people’s development, relationally, individually, it’s about supporting people’s personal evolution, supporting people being healthy and happy, and having coherent lives and growing.
Keith Witt: And then along the way, there’s blocks and problems that are natural functions of being human beings. And that those are difficult. The human nervous system, once it establishes a defensive pattern, doesn’t want to give it up. That pattern has to be included and transcended in a more complex pattern and that requires conscious effort on our part. And ideally, these things would be taught from birth onward, but they’re not. So what we do is we start whenever we start and learn things and do our best to implement them. And receiving influence from carrying other people is a super power as I said in the beginning. And particularly from our partner. Now hostile influence is not caring influence. If somebody wants to dominate me, and I’m influenced to submit, that doesn’t do us any good relationally, okay?
Keith Witt: But someone influencing me when I’m being pissed off, inviting me into a growth hierarchy with them, inviting me into mutual understanding, and if I can receive that influence and do it, then we’ve taken our relationship at that moment to a greater level of complexity. Like you and Chloe did in the example that you gave. Okay, we wanna do that, we wanna get better at that throughout our lifetime, and we want to teach our children how to do it. And with our partner, we wanna help our partner do it and generally insist on partners who are willing to grow with us. They don’t have to be as deep as we are in any developmental line, but if they’re willing to grow in any of the significant lines of development, the psychosocial, the sexual, the moral line, and so on, we can continue to get more loving and more complex and human development goes in the direction of more compassion, more deeper understanding, deeper consciousness.
Keith Witt: And with couples, it goes to having a more and more special intersubjectivity. And that intersubjectivity is beautiful and powerful and really the most powerful and delicate relationship that’s ever existed is a modern marriage where people can maintain this container, this friendship and love affair and repair of injuries and support each other’s evolution. It’s the developmental driver. As you begin to do that with someone, you value it, you get a little bit protective of it. It’s easier to not let outside influences screw it up and it’s easier to adjust when you have primitive incursions from your trauma history or from your early learning.
Neil Sattin: I have a question. How do you… Can you give me an example of this is the moment to exercise my power to receive caring influence? And I know I sort of offered one with Chloe, but I’m curious how would that… When does that typically arise for a couple so that they’re like, “Oh this is the perfect time. Caring influence is available for me. Let me receive.” How would I identify that.
Keith Witt: Great example. You’re having a conversation with your partner. I’ve had this happen with Becky many times. She’ll say something. I don’t know. She’ll make a comment about taking care of somebody. She errs on the side of co-dependence occasionally. And I’ll go, “Cheese.” Just like that. Really? You’re gonna take care of that person? Now you can hear the contempt in my voice, right? Now at that point, if I’m looking at her, I see a wave of pain go across her face. And she’ll… These days, she’ll say, “Geez, that was kind of a nasty tone.” Now, 40 years ago, I would have said, “Well, yeah, yeah, well, you’re thinking of doing a really stupid thing. That’s why I used a nasty tone.” Okay, well, I learned from bitter experience that that really wasn’t a very good response to that. That was a stupid response ’cause it just made things worse.
Keith Witt: So what I’ll do is go, “Yeah, she’s right.” And I’ll go, “I’m sorry. I know if I think it’s a bad idea I use the dismissive tone, and I apologize. I am worried that you’re gonna do something that will hurt you, that might not be appropriate to do, and so I got contemptuous, I apologize.” I received influence. I changed what I thought and how I did.
Neil Sattin: Got it.
Keith Witt: Now she, on the other hand, was not caught up in the fact that I used a contemptuous tone 30 seconds earlier. She could have been. She could have said, “Well, you said that. And used that nasty tone. Screw you.” “Well, I’m sorry I used a nasty tone.” “It’s too late.” People will say that, it’s too late. Well, it needs to not be too late. If your partner is doing their best to shift. And so all Becky will do is go, “Thanks, I appreciate it, and I’ll do my best to not be codependent with this person.” She’ll receive influence from me then. Okay? It’s is as simple as that. If you just do it on the level of tones. Is my tone communicating respect and care? If it’s not, I’m sorry. By definition, I’m sorry. It’s not like, “Oh yeah, I’m sorry, unless you deserve it.”
Keith Witt: No, nobody deserves a contemptuous tone. I’m a martial artist. I studied karate and lots of other martial arts for decades. You know, the only time that you do violence to another person is in a street fight, and then you do it respectfully. The other person really could care less whether you’re being respectful when you’re breaking their arm, but you know that you’re doing it respectfully. Every other situation, setting boundaries, we talked about earlier, telling somebody you need to stop doing that ’cause that’s hurting. All of that can be done respectfully. That’s the standard. And once we embrace that standard, which is basically a nonviolent standard, it’s not a passive standard, it’s a nonviolent standard. It organizes us whenever we have a little bit of violence of tone or deed or thought or so on, to say, “Yeah, that was violent, I apologize.” And that… Noticing that in itself, and then making that adjustment changes everything.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, and following on the question before I’m listening and I’m saying, “Okay, I want, I need to remember to do that tomorrow, I need to remember to do that tomorrow.” Like on this core level of recognizing, okay, I have a habit of not doing that and I realize we probably don’t have time right now to go into a whole conversation about how to change habits, but what would be the first step that someone could take to ensure that, okay, I’m not gonna just do tomorrow what I habitually do. I’m gonna maintain my awareness of some other options that exist for me.
Keith Witt: Almost any contemplative practice helps. There’s a real interesting study that was done on psychotherapists. Psychotherapists who did contemplative practice, which is any kind of meditation that focused on compassionate inner awareness, they had higher empathy scores. But when they stopped doing their practice, their empathy scores went down.
Neil Sattin: Wow.
Keith Witt: So having some mindful practice, and those five questions if you’re asking them about yourself is a mindful practice. Paying attention with acceptance and caring intent, what you’re feeling, thinking, judging, wanting, sensing, is a mindfulness practice. Doing that mindfulness practice and being able to recognize when you shift into violence, when you shift into diminishing another person. Or when you’re feeling that sense of attunement where the sky is the limit. You and I are going back and forth in that intersubjectivity that we all love so much, that seekers love so much with other seekers, where we’re looking for deeper truth together and both of us are kind of alert to what’s gonna emerge between us. There’s a palpable difference between those two moods of discourse. Once that becomes visible to you, it becomes way easier to regulate it. And what is visible to you as a couple? Now you’ve changed. That’s a developmental milestone when that’s visible for a couple.
Keith Witt: And they both feel a sense of responsibility to maintain the positive intersubjectivity, and to make adjustments with the negative intersubjectivity. So there’s the answer, attunement, contemplative practice, and noticing the difference between those two states. And recognizing it’s my responsibility to adjust from the negative state to the positive state. Just like you did with Chloe. I have a problem. What’s my responsibility? My responsibility with her now is to lead with my vulnerability. I really don’t know what to do. You’re upset. I’m kind of conflicted. I don’t know what to do. That vulnerable response was the most powerful response you could give in that moment. It invited her to understand and to offer her own vulnerability and out of that you guys came to a greater level of complexity with each other.
Neil Sattin: Perfect, yeah. Well, Keith, thank you so much as always for being here with us to chat about relationships and your experience combined with all the research you’ve done. I really enjoy our ability to enter that highly attuned intersubjective space together and hopefully it’s enjoyable for you listening as well ’cause you can tell. I think we both get kind of excited about it.
Keith Witt: Yeah. It’s really fun. It’s really fun talking with you, Neil.
Neil Sattin: Awesome.
Keith Witt: Just gotta say, this is really… This is really a good time.
Neil Sattin: Good, awesome. Well, then, we know we’ll have another opportunity for sure, in the future. In the meantime, if you are interested in finding out more about Keith’s work, do check out his new book, Coming Out, Loving Completely. He has many other books that are all great that I recommend for sure. Keith, what’s your website? What’s the best way for people to find out more about what’s happening with you?
Keith Witt: Just go on my website, drkeithwitt.com. There’s lots of free lectures and lots of blogs. If you sign up, which is free, you get a free copy of my book, Attuned Family, and I’ll send you free content from some of the classes that I teach, or the lectures that I’ve done. And there’s also lectures for sale and classes for sale on my website. So, yeah, go to my website, check it out.
Neil Sattin: Awesome. And…
Keith Witt: Take something for you.
Neil Sattin: And we will have, as I mentioned at the beginning, a detailed transcript available for you if you visit neilsattin.com/completely, as in Loving Completely or text the word PASSION to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. Keith Witt, such a pleasure to have you back here and thanks so much for all of your wisdom and knowledge today.
Keith Witt: Thank you for having me.