What if you had a way to improve your relationship in just 20 minutes per week? Working on your relationship doesn’t have to be heavy and time-intensive. It does require time and attention – but today we’re going to show you how you can utilize simple strategies in just 20 minutes per week to make marked relationship improvements. This week, our guest is Alicia Muñoz. Alicia is the author of the new book No More Fighting: The Relationship Book for Couples: 20 Minutes a Week to a Stronger Relationship. Her work with couples, extensive training in Imago and AEDP, and research has helped her craft fast and effective strategies to overcome common relationship problems that you can do in just 20 minutes per week. After today’s episode, you’ll have a sense of how to improve the quality of your time with your partner – and worry less about the quantity.
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!
Visit Alicia Muñoz’s website to learn more about her work.
Pick up your copy of Alicia Muñoz’s book, No More Fighting: The Relationship Book for Couples: 20 Minutes a Week to a Stronger Relationship
FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide – perfect help for handling conflict and shifting the codependent patterns in your relationship
Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner’s Needs) in Your Relationship (ALSO FREE)
Visit http://www.neilsattin.com/nomorefighting to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Alicia Muñoz.
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. It’s funny, we kind of fall into relationship a lot of the times. Sometimes it’s when we’re looking for someone and other times it can literally just fall into our lap, the spark of attraction or who knows what circumstance that brings you into connection and partnership with someone. And as we’ve talked about here on the show, often, though not always, in those initial moments things are easy, things seem to connect without too much trouble. You have the kind of sex you want to have, you have the kind of fun you want to have, and it sets you up for a potentially long future together. And then you commit to a long future together, only to find, sometimes not long after, that there’s a little more to be reckoned with in order to actually be fit for long-term connection with another person. And that’s okay, it’s part for the course, it’s just what happens. And of course, what we’re focused on here on Relationship Alive, are the kinds of skills and awarenesses that you need so that no matter what stage you’re in, you have resources available to you. So that you can get past whatever growth challenges you’re meeting in the moment and take your relationship to the next level.
Neil Sattin: And so today I’m really excited to share with you something that feels like a really practical manual of sorts, to help you in your relationship, written by someone who clearly knows what she’s doing, knows her stuff, and also you can just tell by the words in her book that she has, kind of like me, an insatiable curiosity about what makes us tick and how to find lots and lots of resources and pull them together in a way that make them accessible for you. Her name is Alicia Muñoz, and her book, No More Fighting: 20 Minutes A Week To A Stronger Relationship, just came out. And I have to say, like I just mentioned, I’ve really enjoyed this book, both because it is full of practical ideas and wisdom for you as someone in relationship, but also because it covers such a wide range of possibilities. It’s set up really so you can do one thing a week over the course of a year and we’re going to dive into some of the contents, you get a sense of what we’re talking about. But it starts with things that are a little easier and by the end, you might get to things that are a little more challenging, but in a good way. In a way that really helps you thrive in your relationship and push your edges a little bit more.
Neil Sattin: As usual, we are going to have a detailed transcript of this episode. In order to get it you can visit neilsattin.com/nomorefighting, all pushed together as one word. So, neilsattin.com/nomorefighting and just click the download the transcript button. Or, as always, you can text the word Passion, to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. And as a special treat, we are going to also have a book give away. So to one of the lucky people who downloads the transcript in the first week after this show has come out, you will receive a free copy of No More Fighting signed by Alicia Munoz, the author and today’s guest. Alright. I think that’s enough from me. Alicia, thank you so much for joining us today here on Relationship Alive.
Alicia Muñoz: It’s such a pleasure to be here, Neil. Thank you for having me.
Neil Sattin: You are welcome, you’re welcome. And, as I was just saying, I was so impressed by the range of topics that you cover in your book, and I’m wondering if you could talk for a moment about… Just help give us a little context for where No More Fighting… Where that came from in your practice and in your life.
Alicia Muñoz: Sure. Well, I’ve been wanting to write a book for many, many years and there’s never really been enough time, but gradually through various opportunities that have come my way, this one presented itself and I just dove right in. I still didn’t have time, I was still busy, but it really, in a sense, I feel like it almost wrote itself because I had so many… Well, like 13 years of experience working with couples under my belt, and just so much that I wanted to condense and share to help people get these bite-sized doses of support in order to work through challenging issues in their relationships.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. And so 20 minutes a week to a stronger relationship. You’re not saying that all people need to give to their relationship is 20 minutes a week, obviously.
Alicia Muñoz: No.
Neil Sattin: But you’re giving them this 20-minute long infusion that they can bring into the week that can give them a little extra. A little extra boost, a little extra thing to consider, a little extra way to connect.
Alicia Muñoz: Absolutely. And it is a little bit of sort of a carrot that we’re dangling with that 20-minute promise, but if you do the 20 minutes, it can help you exponentially. So if you really invest that 20 minutes of time a week in sitting with your partner and following some of the guidance and some of the container tips that I give at the beginning of the book, then that will potentially help you connect in ways that you just wouldn’t have a chance to connect had you not invest in the time.
Neil Sattin: Right. And 20 minutes to a couple that feels super busy that can feel like a lot. Well, hopefully not too much, because 20 minutes, it’s better than an hour, right? I can find 20 minutes. That’s between flossing and brushing. I think I’ve got 20 minutes in there. But on the other hand, I think it also works out that if you’re able to find that 20 minutes and carve it out in an especially busy life, or in a life where you’re sort of missing your partner, that it’s kind of like when you set a timer for five minutes to work on cleaning your living room and before you know it, 30 minutes have gone by. I think it has that same kind of impact where so many of your exercises will bring people into a kind of connection where they might hear the buzzer go off at 20 minutes and be like, “Well, let’s set that for another 10,” or something like that.
Alicia Muñoz: Yeah, yeah. That definitely can absolutely happen. I think it’s also important though, because with people that I’ve worked with, and well, with my own husband also. Having a time limit and having a container, can really be soothing to partners who have a low tolerance for extended dialogues or extended intimacy. I talk in the book about intimacy tolerance and that we really do all have different tolerance levels for intimacy. And this idea that, well, it’s always good to have a high tolerance for intimacy doesn’t really take into account the reality that it’s neither good nor bad, it’s that we have different tolerance levels for it. And so the 20 minutes is really there to protect both the person who gets flooded from too much, and to give enough of a dose of connection to the person for whom 20 minutes feels like 20 seconds.
Neil Sattin: Right, right. That’s so important how it creates safety in both directions. Yeah. And maybe that’s a good place to dive in because I think so many people, they might find themselves in circumstances like that. And I know as your work, with your Imago training, that you’re no stranger to couples who somehow find themselves in relationship with someone who seems exactly like the wrong partner for them.
Alicia Muñoz: I’m not sure I’ve ever met a different kind of couple, but maybe that’s just part of being a therapist, but people who come in, really have the sense of, “Wow, we’re so different. How are we going to make this work?”
Neil Sattin: Right, right. And there’s this illusion, especially when they find out about your Imago match, that, “Well, why don’t I just ditch this person and find the person who’s not my Imago match?” But of course, it doesn’t really work that way, does it?
Alicia Muñoz: It doesn’t. I think one of the humbling aspects of relationship is, I’m sure you yourself have experience perhaps at times is that we have an unconscious, so it’s not so just…
Neil Sattin: I was like “Yeah, we do actually.”
Alicia Muñoz: We do. That one took me many years to grasp, I really thought I was running the show and in control and could be in control and it was just a matter of being even more in control of everything, but I’ve gradually come to accept and surrender to the reality that I can’t control everything. And that my unconscious makes choices or is drawn to things that I may not consciously be drawn to. And I would say drawn to, and certainly with my husband and previous partners, I think that plays a huge part in our love relationships.
Neil Sattin: Right, right. How many times have you had the conversation with someone where they’re talking about the person that they’ve met that probably isn’t their Imago match, that there’s someone who’s perfect in every way, except they just can’t bring themselves to actually be attracted to them and want to be with them.
Alicia Muñoz: Yes, that is something I think we’ve all heard or maybe even experience, where it’s like, “This is the perfect person and she’s so generous, she’s so kind. He’s so thoughtful, and I’m just not into them.”
Neil Sattin: Right. But let’s also protect our listeners from feeling like it has to be at the other extreme too. I think what we’re advocating for is that blissful gray zone, somewhere in the middle where you are attracted in that unconscious cosmic sort of you could never have made it a happen way, but on the flip side, there are relationships that are so problematic or fraught with turmoil and abuse or lack of safety that they shouldn’t be followed through or you don’t necessarily need to stick with those people.
Alicia Muñoz: Oh absolutely, yeah, that’s definitely… It’s a balance. And like you say, it’s really that gray zone that we have both the conscious factors that draw us to somebody, and then there are these unconscious factors that through an alliance and through awareness, we can gradually work through and certainly learn to be more in collaboration with our partner around those.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, that’s a great word, collaboration. And getting to that place where you’re on the same team with your partner. Do you have any special exercises that come to mind for you, that are about… What’s coming to mind for me is something like when a couple comes in to see you and you can tell that they haven’t yet figured out that the other person isn’t out to get them. Like they’re still operating in that paradigm where it’s like they really don’t feel safe because the other person maybe is actively undermining parts of them or they’ve introduced… You bring up in your book The Four Horsemen that John Gottman talks about. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling. So maybe there are some things that are undermining the safety of their connection. Where’s a place that you like to start with a couple to help them feel that alignment or feel that sense of, “Oh, we actually… We’re going to get a lot further if we collaborate like this with each other.”
Alicia Muñoz: Well, in Imago, and I think in a lot of other frameworks, it’s pretty common to try to begin, even the initial couple session, with gratitude and appreciations. So from the get-go really trying to open the container of connection by helping partners focus on what’s working and focus on what they appreciate. And that can be challenging when there are a lot of frustrations and there’s a lot that’s not working, and there’s kind of a mental cash of negative assumptions about one another. But being able to bring to mind the things that you appreciate is one simple but effective way of resetting people to see each other through this lens of positivity. And so that’s one and I have many others I could share with you if you wanted.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, well, we’ll maybe be able to bring them up spontaneously as we go through today’s conversation.
Alicia Muñoz: Sounds good.
Neil Sattin: Let’s set the groundwork for people though around… You mentioned already creating a space and carving out time. And this 20 minutes a week program that you have in the No More Fighting book, what is the context that’s going to help people make the best use out of those 20 minutes?
Alicia Muñoz: I think that really agreeing on a location in your apartment or your home or wherever you are and beginning to develop associations with that place, whether it’s two chairs that are facing each other in your dining area or you’re sitting on the ground in the living room on cushions, and lighting a candle or some sort of associations that you can develop with the location that help it be pleasurable for both of you. So I think that that’s helpful. And then also the time containers, so agreeing on the 20 minutes and agreeing that you’re both going to take up more or less 10 of those 20 minutes and share it. And then, if there’s a point where you want to renegotiate the… Extending the container, then being accountable to each other for doing that, not kind of blind-sighting each other or just talking over that time limit. So I think it’s really important to be intentional and conscious about the boundaries that you’re setting, whether it’s the location or the amount of time that you’re going to be talking. That’s going to create a sense of safety and, “Okay, this is going to be too much, and this is going to be a positive experience.” It’s really valuable and important to cushion this whole process in pleasure.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. And then you also talk a lot in true Imago fashion about being responsible for who is the one who’s actually speaking in a given moment, who’s the one who’s listening in a given moment. And I’m going to ask you a question that I haven’t even asked Harville and Helen about, which is: Is there a way that you think is the best way to choose who goes first in which role? I always think it’s kind of amusing when I’m… I probably shouldn’t say this, but when I’m working with couples to just say, “Okay, this is what we’re going to do, who’s going to go first?” And you learn something obviously from watching that negotiation process between a couple, and yet there is a part of me that wants to help people out. So if they’re sitting here and wondering like, is there an ideal way to determine who should?
Alicia Muñoz: That’s interesting. I would love to hear what Harville and Helen have to say about that.
Alicia Muñoz: I actually learned somewhere at some point, probably in my Imago training or maybe from my Imago supervisor, or might have heard it in a workshop. But this stuck in my head that at least for the initial session, it can be helpful to… Whoever called and made the appointment. So whoever was the initiator, sort of the motivated one to create the session, that asking them to go first or saying, “Would you like to open?” Or, “Since you were the one who called, I’d love to hear from you first.” That that can decrease the anxiety of the partner who’s the… What we call in Imago, the draggee. There’s always a dragger, I shouldn’t say always, but often there’s a dragger and a draggee. So, the person who was the initiator tends to be the person who feels more comfortable, at least breaking the ice. It’s not always the case, but that’s one way that I do it with the initial session.
Alicia Muñoz: And then I think after that, I’ll often say… And it’s sometimes true, often true that I can’t quite remember who may have started the last time, so I’ll just say, “Whose turn is it?” Or, “Which of you would like to start?” Or, “Did we start first with somebody else?” And that way it gives them a sense to, if there’s a feeling of inequity in terms of who speaks more, who starts first more, it gives them a chance to speak up and claim that space, that space to speak.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense too, just like there’s safety in creating a time boundary, there’s safety in knowing that, “Well, if I’m not the one to start today, I’ll be the one to start next week.” And knowing that that’s going to be true. And before we go any further maybe we could talk for a moment too, about two little nuances, one being a good way to listen and the second being the sender, the speaker responsibility, in terms of being the one who’s communicating.
Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. Is that a question in terms of the good way to listen? [chuckle]
Neil Sattin: Yeah. I think it would just be helpful for people who are new to this conversation and haven’t heard the episodes that we’ve done with Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt to talk about Imago. We don’t have to give them the whole structure, but just that sense of like, “Okay, this is how I know that I’m being a good listener. And these are like the little things to look out for and this is how I know I’m being a good speaker and things to look out for.”
Alicia Muñoz: Absolutely. Well, with the listening it’s helpful to do the first step of the Imago dialogue, which is reflective listening and that’s when you just take in the words, your partner’s words, and reflect back, paraphrase back in your own words. But also using your partners words, what you hear them say. So, that’s a good way to ground yourself in active listening, it’s really focusing on the words and then paraphrasing the words back. And then just keeping in mind a neutral body posture, as neutral as you can voice, neutral to warm. And yeah, it sounds easy, but it can be quite challenging. So those are some tips for that.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. And as the listener, if you find yourself starting to think about how you’re going to respond to the person, then you’ve probably stopped being a great listener. And what about when you… Do you have any particular things you like if you as a listener notice, “Oh, I am starting to get a little judgmental or I feel my defensiveness coming up.” Or, “I want to refute the things that my partner is saying.” What are some ways, just that within myself or maybe I introduce it into the conversation, that I could bring myself back online into active, empathic, non-judgmental listening?
Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. It always helps to agree on these things with your partner before hand, like these signals and just let them know, “This is what I’m going to do when I feel myself starting to go into my own judgments, my own agenda.” To gently raise your hand or come up with another signal where you’re letting your partner know, I need you to pause while I reflect back what I heard you say. So actually having a hand signal or some other visual signals can be helpful. It’s also good to have your own ways of self-soothing, and that could be anything from just taking a very deep breath, exhaling, closing your eyes for a moment, or wiggling your toes around in your shoes or just bringing mindfulness to your body for a second or two. And those can all be good reminders to just get centered and refocused.
Neil Sattin: Right, right. And just as a reminder, as Alicia said, you’re going to do your best within the 20 minute confines of this time that you’ve allotted to take turns. So you’ll be listening for 10 minutes and then you’ll have your 10 at the end, but hopefully you’re going to stick to the script in terms of… It’s not like, “Well, that was horrible and now I’m going to blast you for 10 minutes.” But you’ll have a chance to also give your perspective and be heard. I think that actually makes me think of another good aspect which is, if you remember that your goal as the listener is to help the person who’s speaking feel understood and feel like you really got them, like you really heard them, then there’s a natural reciprocity that happens. That you can even ask for, because if you’ve done a really thorough job understanding your partner and they agree that you got them, then you can follow up by being like, “Well, now I’d appreciate it if you would really hear me, hear my perspective about this thing.” And it gives you a chance to make the conversation also about that reciprocity.
Alicia Muñoz: Yes, yes. I love that word. That’s a beautiful word Neil, and I think that’s the foundation, incrementally as you are generous with your presence and with your listening and with sitting on or just back-burnering your own stuff. It’s something that really opens your partner’s generosity and opens their heart and makes them much more willing to also hear you when it’s your turn. So, it really will build the more that you… Well, it doesn’t always happen, but ideally the more that you can stretch out of your agenda or your comfort zone, the more your partner can also do that as well, as they see you modeling that.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. I like that word generosity as well that you use, that you’re in the position of modeling what you hope to receive from your partner. It’s one of the hardest things, especially if you get to a place where you’re feeling like, “I don’t want to be the one who always has to give or at least not right now.” [chuckle] “I just want them to get me for a change.” Next time you should be the one to speak first then, that’s all I’m going to say.
Neil Sattin: And speaking of speaking, let’s just talk for a moment too about the responsibility of being the one who’s communicating. And this could be about a full range of things, your needs, your experience, your past, your present, what you hope for. But what are some ways to communicate that are the most likely to be generative and get you to some place new with your partner?
Alicia Muñoz: I think that really getting clear on your intention before you speak is one of the biggest things that I would suggest people try. I have to do this for myself all the time. It’s really important to be honest with yourself about why you want to say what you’re going to say. And if you’re in these 20-minute containers with your partner, taking a second or two or five seconds to take a deep breath and remember that you’re in this process because you presumably love your partner and want to expand and grow as a couple, then that’s really going to put a little bit of a buffer. It’s going to help you resist the pull to get maybe couch a criticism in a seemingly neutral statement or it’s going to help you to really say what you want to say in a way that’s not blaming or judgmental.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. Let’s talk about that for a moment, because Imago has that process of the behavior chains request. Because I could already feel like the sticking point in me even though I know the answer to this, but it’s like, “But wait a minute, what if?” Like, “The reason that we’re here is because I’ve got some complaints about my partner.” [chuckle] “If I didn’t have anything to complain about, we wouldn’t be here, all would be good.” I want to be able to deliver these complaints in a way that it’s actually going to create some change.
Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. So the intention is the starting point and then actually operationalizing that requires accountability, which means that you can say something to your partner when you arrive 10 minutes late at our romantic dinner date I feel angry, I feel frustrated. And the story that I make up is that your work is more important than our relationship. And then, I protect myself by ignoring you and spending the whole dinner scrolling through Facebook and texting friends. It’s like, I didn’t say anything blaming right then, but I did get my frustration out. So it’s kind of breaking it down in a way that you’re identifying the trigger, when you do X, or I feel such and such a way when this happens between us, but then taking ownership for the different parts, the different components. So trigger, emotion, mental interpretation, my coping mechanism, and that’s really a way to just get clarity around what’s going on for you internally versus just saying, “You’re so inconsiderate. I’m never going to arrange a date night like this ever again.”
Neil Sattin: Yeah. So let’s just go into that break down for a moment because I think that was really helpful. So where you listed out the trigger and etcetera, etcetera. Can we identify what each of those things are? It sounds to me like a way for someone to really take responsibility for how they’re feeling in the moment, and get at the crux of what their intention might even be when they’re trying to communicate with their partner about something that’s coming at them crosswise.
Alicia Muñoz: Right, yeah. And this takes practice, so I don’t want to give your listeners the idea that, “Oh, this is just going to easily come out of your mouth this way.” It does take some inquiry and self-reflection and using your relationship as a kind of zone to experiment and learn about yourself. But each of those points, often we feel our feelings and we’re so busy and maybe we’re not aware of what triggered it, and how did I interpret that trigger and then what feelings came from my interpretation. And then, how did I then sort of defensively respond to my own feelings? So, we’re not aware of all that. Often we just, we’re going through life and we’re just like, “Oh my God, he pissed me off, she pissed me off, this is upsetting me. That person is rude or… ” So, it’s really, with our partners, it’s important to think about all those different domains and slow down enough to be able to consider what your experience was based on even just one moment between you.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. And I like that, how it opens someone up to that process of figuring out how their own story about what happened is what contributes to how they’re responding to their partner, which also seems so important in those moments. So, I’m wondering now, this is making me think of… You have so many amazing little chapters in your book because it covers a whole year’s worth of work. And I’m going to read through some of the larger headings just so our listeners can get a sense of what I’m talking about. It starts with things like self-care and communication, and getting your partner’s world and intimacy issues. Now, I’m just giving you section heading, so each of these has two or three chapters within it that give you a vignette of a couple that’s going through this particular issue. And by the way, I just want to say as a side note, your vignettes were really fun and instructive to read. And that is not always the case. I read so many of these books and often I just get lost in the vignettes or I’m like, “Why did you even have to tell me that?” But the way that you laid this out, it just makes sense.
Neil Sattin: So you read the vignette and you’re like, “Oh, okay. I totally get what Alicia Muñoz is talking about.” And then there’s some sort of meta level, like this is the exercise that we’re doing and then there’s the actual exercise with a little example. So it goes from those categories that I was talking about into, now I’m skipping a few pages, attachment issues, power and control, ruptures in your relationship, repair, money, parenting. I particularly liked the little chapter on blended families, which we have in our household. All the way down, and in the intro I said, “Yeah, it gets a little challenging at the end.” So, at the end you cover relationship records, like addictions and dishonesty and wanting other people outside of the relationship and different takes on monogamy, so it really runs the gamut. What you were just making me think of though was the way that we take responsibility for ourselves and that also gets wrapped up in projection, which is one of those things where until you like… It’s like when you notice that you have feelings and then suddenly you realize you’re feeling all over the place like, “Oh, my God, I thought I was just like this rational automaton or whatever and going through life and it turns out I’m feeling all over.”
Neil Sattin: And then that might get enhanced once you figure out, “Oh, and actually I’m getting triggered all over the place.” Once you know how to recognize signs of sympathetic arousal in your body, fight or flight, you’re like, “Oh, okay, I get it. This is happening all over the time.” So for me, projection was another one of those things, where I was like, “Wow” At first it was, “I guess I’m projecting all over other people all the time.” I had to really think about that a lot. And then experiencing other people’s projection all the time. So let’s dive in there for a moment, if you don’t mind.
Alicia Muñoz: Sure.
Neil Sattin: And what wants to come out, I think from my perspective, is I would love to hear your take on how do you get a sense of what’s real and what’s projection? And if you know what your partner is saying to you, is just so obviously them projecting their stuff onto you, how do you respond in a way that’s going to actually be helpful in that moment?
Alicia Muñoz: That’s a great question. How do you know? Let me just start with, how do you know. Was it how do you know when you’re projecting or how do you know when your partner is projecting onto you?
Neil Sattin: Yeah, let’s just pick one, because I think that either direction will be instructive.
Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. Well, our partners are really the perfect people to help us understand our own projections. I think it’s one of the benefits of being in a relationship is that they are going to feel as projecting onto them and they’re not going to like it, and they’re going to have a response to it. I’ll give an example from my marriage if that’s okay. [chuckle]
Neil Sattin: Yeah, great.
Alicia Muñoz: So initially, when my husband and I were dating, I was never angry, I was always spiritual and I always felt very loving towards people, and I just… Anger was beneath me. So, I remember that at one point… But my husband was very angry, my then boyfriend was very angry, and I was always complaining about how angry he was and if you could just be less angry. And this made him angry.
Alicia Muñoz: So I remember a moment when he calmly said to me, “You know what? I think you’re the one who’s angry.” And when he said that I felt this almost like flood gate of rage just… I felt it in my body and it was this visceral sense of almost wanting to throw up, it was just so foreign, first of all to be called out and then to actually feel it in my body, and it just kind of turned my world upside down a bit, that moment. We had these moments where… And I think what made the difference is that I’d done enough work and we had built enough safety, and we were in couples counseling at the time, to be able to at least consider the possibility that he was right, that I had this anger inside me that I was projecting out on to him.
Alicia Muñoz: And then being able to consider that, gradually helped me to make more and more room to experience my own anger and to take more ownership and more responsibility for it. And then, of course, to begin looking at why I have such trouble feeling anger, owning anger. So it’s a process, but I think being able to consider… Notice when something makes you very defensive and that’s usually a sign that there’s some piece of it inside you that you can take ownership of. It doesn’t mean that your partner might not always or might not also… You might not be a little bit right about your partner, but to be able to kinda look at, “Oh, when I point my index finger at my partner, there are these three fingers pointing back at me, and how am I this thing that I’m blaming or accusing them of being.”
Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, that feels like… Not that I do this, but now that we’ve had this conversation, I’m going to make a practice of this, which is, any time I think that my wife Chloe is doing something, I will ask myself, “How do I do the very thing that I’m sensitive about with her right now.” And that becomes, I think you’re right, an access point to just deeper truths about ourselves and to bring those parts of us online in a different way.
Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. That’s really brilliant. I think that’s really a great tip and it reminds me a little bit of Byron and Katie’s work, where you identify the thing you believe and then you turn it around, you flip it around to its opposite and consider that. So my husband is so angry, so the turnaround would be I am so angry. So it’s that ability to look at the belief and then as you just said, you would do with your wife to be able to flip it around and consider how this lives inside of you.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. Now, do you mind sharing in taking that on, and you can say I pass on this question if you want, because maybe your husband will listen and he’ll be like, “That’s not how it happened.” But I’m curious, what did you discover about his anger in going through that process, because I’m guessing that he was angry at least at some things, right?
Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. Oh, yeah, yeah. Well, it was true that he had a lot of anger and a lot of frustration and exhibited anger in a much more visible way. And of course, there’s the whole gender part of this, where men are generally socialized to be more expressive of their anger, but not of their softness and their vulnerability and their tenderness, and whereas with women it’s often reverse. What we discovered was that as I own more of my anger, he didn’t have to be so angry and he didn’t have to carry as much of that in our relationship. But he also gradually… And takes time and took time, but gradually he could be more vulnerable and could be more tender and the softer, more typically feminine parts of him could come out and live and be a part of our dynamic. So things got more fluid, there was less rigidity around our roles and our emotions and how we express them.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. We did have Harriet Lerner on to talk about the dance of anger, so I encourage our listeners to check that out. It’s one of our earlier episodes, if you get a chance. And I think you’re bringing up such a valuable point, which is that there is room for a healthy expression of anger for both people in a relationship. And the anger is so often sourced from something else, like a hurt or a fear or something that’s being aggravated and being willing to be vulnerable can often get you to the exact same place. But in a way that actually brings you together with your partner.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, actually I’m curious about that, because I know you’ve done a lot of work with AEDP, and we had Diana Fosha on and in fact, I’m going to be speaking with David Mars in a couple of weeks, to talk about AEDP for couples, which I’m super excited about. But I’m curious from your learned perspective about this, what is the AEDP take on anger? Because I know it’s listed out as a core emotion, right? What’s the nuance there between anger as a core emotion and anger as sort of a secondary piece that comes after you’ve been hurt?
Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. Well, I’m not sure I can speak to it even close to the way Diana Fosha would or David Mars would, but my understanding is that it can be either a defense, hiding, sort of an underlying emotion like sadness or helplessness or fear, but it can also be an enlivening resource, feeling anger can be part of this core affect that we need to experience. And another emotion like sadness could be the cover for it or the outer coating of it that we use to avoid feeling the anger. I think it has a lot to do with how it’s used, whether it’s used defensively or not.
Neil Sattin: Got it, got it. So you might look at your anger and try to diagnose it a little bit more. Am I trying to motivate change with this anger? Am I trying to protect myself with this anger? Am I trying to find a sense of power when I’m feeling powerless?
Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. I think that’s one way to try to work with it is to… I think also to really see how it works in your relationship, so is it… And how it feels in your body. When you’re accessing anger that is more of a core emotion, and I’m not talking about acting out on the anger, but when I say accessing I mean more like you are able to feel it in your body, you’re able to let it kind of run through you. It’s something that will be like a release or it will open up new possibilities, it will help shift your sense of yourself as somebody with agency in the world. I think that that’s really an important piece of it, is to look at how is how does this feel in my body and is this something that’s helping me connect to myself and also connect more authentically to people in my life.
Neil Sattin: Right. Because just hearing you say that I think back to that conversation with your husband, who is your boyfriend, I guess, at the time, that on some level there was probably a certain place that you weren’t accessing in your connection with him. So having that moment of truth around your own anger enabled you to access something that you could then feed to your connection. Like here’s more of me.
Alicia Muñoz: Yeah, right. So it’s about the authenticity and being able to access more parts of yourself, more authentically. Often we get locked into a limited range of our experience of our own selves, because so much of ourselves have been labelled or gone underground through conditioning or family conditioning or social conditioning. So I think one of the imperatives or one of the goals of our life force is just how do we feel more of ourselves within our body, how do we experience what it means to be fully alive, and anger is a part of being fully alive, and it can be part of what gives us access to our life force.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. And we were chatting a little bit about that before I hit record, and now I’m super intrigued to hear more about your view on how we access more of that life force and bring it into our own lives, bring it into our connection with some… And you were talking about it earlier, now we’re talking about it in the context of anger. Earlier we were talking about it in the context of pleasure, which is maybe a happier place to be talking about life force.
Alicia Muñoz: Yeah, yeah. It’s so funny, I was just like, “Oh my God, I wrote this book, No More Fighting, and here I am talking to him and I’m like, “Yeah, access your anger.”
Alicia Muñoz: I think it helps to have examples because all this stuff can get very heady.
Neil Sattin: Great.
Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. So what was the question again?
Neil Sattin: Give me some examples of ways that we can bring more of our life force online with our partners, but maybe it’s first within ourselves.
Alicia Muñoz: Yeah. Yeah. I think that it’s easy to get caught up in adulting. And I think one of the dangers of adulting is that we start to gradually live for others and for roles and for tasks and accomplishments and sort of serving. And I think that our life force is… There’s no reason for it, it just is, it’s what children often have, they just have this joy and bouncing around and using, playing and creating and making noise and being original in the things that they do and being creative in the thing they do. As adult, I think it’s very easy to lose touch with that. So, pleasure for me is one of the big ways that we can access our life force. And pleasure is that sense of like, I’m in the flow, I am laughing, I’m alive, I’m connected, I’m enjoying nature, I’m reading poetry, I’m savoring this food, I’m in the moment, just being this channel for joy and aliveness and presence. And I think that finding the things is not necessarily easy to do, but finding little things that make you feel that way is really the foundation of self-care.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. So that makes me go in two different directions. One being, I know for myself, I have a sense and it’s even connected in some ways to childhood, because I have vivid memories of the things that delighted me. And in fact we even had Julie Henderson on the show, she has this whole body of work around embodying well-being. And so much of what she talks about are these simple exercises that literally are things that kids do, but spelled out for the adults who are so busy adulting that they’ve forgotten how to blow bubbles with their lips or how to do crazy stretches or talk in gibberish or whatever it is. It’s really fun work. I’m wondering for you… So there are these glimmer of like, “Oh yeah, I remember these things when I was a kid that used to light me up.” And maybe that’s a place to start for some people. I know I talk to some adults who are so overwhelmed with adulting, I like that word, I don’t like the word overwhelmed, but adulting is kind of amusing to me. That they really can be in that, like, “I don’t even know what brings me pleasure anymore.”
Neil Sattin: Or I think of an extreme example of someone who’s been through some trauma, where they are shut off to their pleasure because they have to get through a whole, say wall of shame in order to get to the pleasure. So Alicia, crack open the door for us. If I were stumbling in the darkness, I’m so disconnected from my pleasure and maybe the only way I feel alive has been through fighting in my relationship, how do I get more at something that’s more blissful and more sustainable?
Alicia Muñoz: That’s a great question. And trauma is so pervasive and there’s so many different forms and ways that we experience trauma, and I think becoming an adult often is almost a form of of micro traumas in itself. I think that having a witness or witnesses, whether that’s a coach or a therapist or even this podcast, it’s a way of developing this community and bringing mindfulness and awareness to another way of being. So I think that if there is that, if there’s a lot of fighting and there’s trauma and you can’t even access pleasure, it’s important to find a connection or multiple connections, where you can safely be held as you process your grief, as you show up in the truth of your numbness, your regret, your sense of loss, your sense of feeling lost. I think that finding… It’s very important, the connection piece is really important, the connection in the community. So being able to know yourself well enough and invest in yourself to create the community through resources like your podcast here Neil or books or a group, and also having coaches, therapists, if you have resources to do that or a group that you create locally. It’s really important to be held through the difficulties that get in the way of being able to feel joy and to be witness in wherever you are.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. So I’m hearing you name things that might be those initial obstacles to getting to your joy, is that there could be some painful things that you’re avoiding or have numbed yourself to. And as far as I understand, you don’t get to just selectively be like, “I’m never going to feel sad or I’m never going to feel grief, I’m just going to feel happy.” Like it doesn’t…
Alicia Muñoz: Right, no. That’s bypassing. Yeah.
Neil Sattin: Right, right. And you probably meet people like that, where they are happy, but there’s something that feels… It doesn’t feel very grounded in who they are. I’m thinking of times where I’ve been in experiences where there has been someone who’s been like, “Oh, I’m so happy right now. Aren’t we having such a good time?” Where I’m just like, “Are you having a good time or are you just talking about how we’re having a good time?”
Neil Sattin: And I love your listing of different options, different ways for people to get connected with support and identifying that connection is so much at the heart of a lot of the healing that needs to take place. It doesn’t happen when you’re isolated. And that, of course, can be why some relationships are so painful, because we feel isolated in them, even though we’re with someone and yet we feel isolated. And that’s another reason why your book is so powerful because it gives people just 20 minutes around a particular thing that brings them into connection with their partner around something, so that definitely is contributing to the healing conversation. Another thing that popped into mind too is, and it sounded like you had something to say there, but is the ability to just choose an accountability partner. Like just someone where you’re like, you show up once a week and you agree like, “Okay, this is what I’m going to do over the coming week to honor my joy or my grief or whatever it is.” And then you show up the following week and get to be accountable to this other person, helps you at least stay in conversation about and in process around those things.
Alicia Muñoz: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, it helps. It helps you to really have that human connection, somebody to bounce your thoughts off of, and to really have that attachment relationship, that can be so lacking in a lot of our histories, is just that kind of sense of even the secure attachment. So you’re really kind of getting as an adult, you have the opportunity to get these doses of secure attachment. You can’t do that in isolation, so it’s really important to create those opportunities for yourself. I was going to mention that Amir Levine’s book and Rachel Heller, their book Attached, that I really love one of the quotes in the book about this myth of independence. There’s so much pathology, or there’s often, we kind of talk about, “Oh, you don’t want to be codependent.” And I love the way that Amir Levine and Rachel Heller write about it, that when two people form an intimate bond, they actually regulate each other psychologically and emotionally, and that we are dependent, we are interdependent. And so, even if you’re not in a relationship, it’s very valuable to have those friendships or those bonds with other people where you can experience love and secure attachment.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. And so just hearing you say that, I’m thinking that might look like finding the friends that you feel safe with to say like, “Hey, could we just get together and attune to each other?” And literally calling attention to that, that that’s what you’re doing. Like, “Can we just be together and meet each other’s gaze and breathe together and then maybe we’ll each share something about what’s going on in our lives? I could see that being really powerful and super vulnerable for some people, so.
Alicia Muñoz: Yeah, yeah. Well, we do it a lot anyway. So whether we call it out or not, I think it’s being aware of yourself that when you call up your friend or you meet them for coffee and you’re discharging frustration or you’re excited about an accomplishment or you’re feeling vulnerable about a new connection you’ve made and you’re just talking and you’re sharing and you’re a friend. This person, even if you’re not romantically involved with them, is listening and taking you in, that that is a healing moment and those healing moments are supportive of you. So I think it’s good to just kind of see where that’s happening and acknowledge it.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. And let’s circle back around to the pleasure. I think that I don’t want to lose that thread, because I’m curious, from your perspective, let’s say, okay, I hung out with my friend Jerry the other day, I vented all my grief and I’m ready, I’m ready for some pleasure, but I’m still feeling a little alienated from me and what makes me tick and what feels good and how to grow that in my life. What would be a next step for me?
Alicia Muñoz: That’s a great question. This is a little bit of self-disclosure, but I engaged in this program called Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts, for a little while. And her, Virginia Thomas Howard writes a lot about pleasure, and she writes about it more in the context of women claiming and reclaiming their own pleasure. A lot of it really… Pleasure is so shamed in our culture and many cultures, and productivity is celebrated, and her sort of hypothesis, her theory is that women are literally built for pleasure. We have more nerves, more availability for pleasure than men. And so, to shut down, to be shut down to pleasure is really to be shut down to our aliveness as women. And then of course, the more shut down we are to that, the less we can take other people around us higher. I kind of see it through that framework, but I think it’s also relevant to men, especially when you think about the fact that we all contain the masculine and the feminine within ourselves, no matter what gender we were born as.
Alicia Muñoz: So I think that in your case, or what was the case of the hypothetical person, it would be about really connecting to your body, and not necessarily in a sexual or erotic way, although that could be a part of it. But to really connect to your senses and whether it’s music or whether it’s something visual or whether it’s breathing or smelling, it’s this idea that making time to enjoy life through your senses is an act of pleasure and it is kind of a revolutionary act because it’s not anything you’re going to get promoted for at work or people are going to slap you on the back for, or people are going to envy you for. It’s sort of really approaching pleasure as a whole new paradigm.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. I got a little lost in what you were saying because I was just like, “Yeah, my senses.” And I was taking a moment to just enjoy like what does this world smell that I’m in right now? And I was just touching my hands with… One hand with my other hand and just feeling what that felt like. And noticing how much actually is available just in the moment to me, while we sit here on Skype together, and I’m not violating the boundaries of my monogamous commitment to my wife, by sitting here and just breathing the air and touching my own hand. Yeah, I’m reminded of when Betty Martin was on the show, this was back this past summer, I think. Are you familiar with her work at all? She talks about the wheel of consent?
Alicia Muñoz: No, but I will go back and listen to that.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, you might want to check that out. And one thing that she talks about is this exercise where you literally just hold a rock in your hand, and just touch the rock and wake up your hands, your fingers, to the gift of sensation. And I’m not really doing the exercise justice by describing it here, but it just reminded me of that. And you’re also reminded me that I wanted to have… What’s her name? Mama Gena?
Alicia Muñoz: Mama Gena. [chuckle]
Neil Sattin: Yeah. I wanted to have her on the show, so I gotta reach out to her for sure. Great. Well, and you’re also reminding me of one of the exercises that you talk about in your book that made me really chuckle, in a good way, which was the love catch.
Neil Sattin: It reminded me a little bit of the positive flooding that Harville and Helen talk about, but can you describe how that game works?
Alicia Muñoz: Sure. Maybe I’ll tell you about the origins of it first and that’ll explain a little bit. So I have a nine-year-old and we have ruptures, of course, around things like bedtime and homework and food and all kinds of other fun stuff. But one of the things that I discovered would help us work through a rupture was more physical. Sometimes we can do a little bit of talking, but we would go outside and just throw a football or kick a soccer ball and then my husband would join in. And so, we kind of brought this into the living room, because it’s too cold to go out or it’s snowing, we can’t always do it outside. And then, gradually, my husband and I would occasionally do it where we would just try to add motion and movement to whatever we were doing, if we needed to process something or if we just needed to get a jolt of energy or connection, we would just pick something up and throw it.
Alicia Muñoz: Throw it, throw it! Hopefully you’re not too angry and not throwing it at each other’s heads, but just throwing a ball or an orange or maybe not a shoe, but a pillow and then speaking words. Saying, “I celebrate this or I love this about you.” Like the flooding in Imago. It really changes your body chemistry, so that it’s not just an intellectual exercise, but you’re getting into that pleasure that we were just talking about. You’re getting into doing something that moves your body and helps the connection, not just be this intellectual exercise, it helps to be fun.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. And I could see that just there’s something about the mechanics of tossing something back and forth that is going to invite you into that playful space in your brain.
Alicia Muñoz: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. So just in case people didn’t totally get it, what is the love catch exercise?
Alicia Muñoz: So the love catch exercise is finding something that is throw-able and throwing it at your partner, towards your partner, maybe not at your partner, and saying, “I celebrate our life together. I celebrate the amazing dinner we just had. I celebrate your gorgeous smile.” And every time you say something, you’re kind of tossing this orange or ball or pillow at your partner, towards your partner, and they’re catching it and then tossing it back. So it’s a way of reconnecting to that playful, young kid energy that we all have inside us.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. I’m hearing the kid energy, the playfulness, the pleasure, the appreciations that we spoke about way at the beginning of our conversation, and also developing that resonance with your partner to help you feel connected.
Alicia Muñoz: Yeah.
Neil Sattin: Well Alicia Muñoz, thank you so much for being with us today. We kinda covered the gamut and I hope that’s okay, I asked you some challenging questions, but I felt a little bit of licensed to do that because your book covers some many different areas. And I was like, “There’s no way, I can’t just single… Just dive into one thing here.” But I hope that everyone listening got a flavor for how you operate and the gifts that you offer and your ability to synthesize so many different things. And I mean this sincerely, that as you read through No More Fighting, you’ll see, “Oh, there’s Dick Schwartz in Internal Family Systems, and there’s Harville Hendrix in Imago, and there’s Emily Nagoski talking about erotic energy and the brakes and the accelerator. And it’s all in there and I love that. And so for you, if you’re enjoying Relationship Alive and you’re looking for a book that makes a lot of the wisdom on here practical in bite-sized chunks, then I definitely suggest you check out No More Fighting: 20 Minutes a Week To a Stronger Relationship.
Neil Sattin: Tammy Nelson wrote the foreword to the book, she was also here on the show not too long ago. And yeah, it’s so valuable and I appreciate the way that you’re able to take all these things and make them accessible and actionable for people. As a reminder, if you want to download a transcript, just visit neilsattin.com/nomorefighting, where we will also have a link to Alicia’s website, which I believe is aliciamunoz.com. Correct?
Alicia Muñoz: That’s correct.
Neil Sattin: And a link, of course, to the book. And if you’re one of the people who downloads the transcript in the first week, then you will have a chance at getting a signed copy of No More Fighting. And Alicia, you’re also on Instagram, you were talking about how you’re diving into that as a way of helping connect to people and also giving them, again, really kind of bite-sized morsels to help them in their relationship.
Alicia Muñoz: Yes, yes. I am on there, my handle is Alicia Munoz Couples, and I post there almost every day, and I’ve actually started to post one minute quick tip videos. So I really encourage people to check that out.
Neil Sattin: Cool, I will definitely check that out.
Alicia Muñoz: Awesome.
Neil Sattin: And we should link up there. I’m Relationship Alive Official on Instagram. Someone poached Relationship Alive and put up my logo and everything.
Alicia Muñoz: Oh no.
Neil Sattin: I know, it’s horrible. Some interloper. But anyway, Alicia it’s been just such a pleasure to have you here with us today and thank you so much for your contribution.
Alicia Muñoz: Thank you so much for having me, it’s been a pleasure to be here with you today.