Have you ever wished that you and your partner could communicate better with one another and avoid conflict? Communication can feel very complex – but today we’re going to show you some very specific and practical exercises you can do with your partner that will improve your communication, mindset, and relationship satisfaction. This week, our guest is Jonathan Robinson, the author of many books including More Love Less Conflict: A Communication Playbook for Couples. Jonathan Robinson has worked with many couples and has been featured on TV and media – most notably he was on Oprah several times! By the end of this episode, you’ll have some new, practical ways to approach communication that will have an immediate impact on your experience in a relationship.
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Also, announcing that tickets are on sale for Relationship Alive…LIVE! featuring Terry Real. We’ll have a musical guest (Katie Matzell trio), and you’ll also have the chance to ask YOUR questions. The show will be on June 6, 2019, at One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine. Limited seats available. Click here to buy your tickets now!
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Visit Jonathan’s website to learn more about his work.
Pick up your copy of Jonathan Robinson’s book, More Love Less Conflict: A Communication Playbook for Couples.
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Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner’s Needs) in Your Relationship (ALSO FREE)
Visit http://www.neilsattin.com/morelove to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Jonathan Robinson.
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Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. Today we’re going to get really practical and we’re going to get really practical about communication. But not only are we going to get practical about communication, we’re also going to get practical about communication in a way that will bring you closer to your partner. And we’re also going to address this from the perspective of things that you can do with your partner, structured exercises that will definitely take you to a new level of understanding and intimacy and vulnerability. And on top of that, we’re going to get some tips about how to do things on your own, kinda renegade style, so that if your partner isn’t necessarily signing up for communication exercises 101, you can still make huge progress in your relationship and your connection. And in order to have today’s conversation, we have with us yet another esteemed guest. His name is Jonathan Robinson and he’s the author of the book More Love Less Conflict: A Communication Playbook for Couples, among many other books. Jonathan has worked with many couples, has worked with Fortune 500 companies, and has been featured on TV and media.
Neil Sattin: Notably, he was on Oprah several times. And as you’ll see his words are practical, applicable to your life. And they make a lot of sense, but they’re not necessarily the kind of thing that you would automatically think to do. They’re the kinds of things that once you hear them, you’ll be like, “Oh yeah, of course, that’s the way I should have been doing this all along.” So I’m excited to have Jonathan here with us today. We are going to dive in momentarily, but before we do, just a reminder that if you want to download a detailed transcript of today’s episode, you can visit NeilSattin.com/morelove. That’s the word more and the word love kinda squished together. And along with the transcript, Jonathan Robinson has also generously offered to combine with that his 50 desires. It’s a list of things that are these universal desires that can, as you’ll see, help you really get more in touch with what it is you’re after anyway in your relationship and in any given moment. So that is also free for you when you download the transcript. And again, that’s at NeilSattin.com/morelove.
Neil Sattin: Or you can simply text the word Passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions which will lead you to a page where you can download the transcript, the bonus desires, worksheet, and a lot of other goodies as well from our other episodes. I think that’s it for now. Jonathan Robinson, thank you so much for being here with us today on Relationship Alive.
Jonathan Robinson: Well, thank you, Neil. This will be fun.
Neil Sattin: I sure hope so. Let’s see. How can we make it fun? Let’s just start right in with something super fun. One thing that I really appreciate about your book, as I just mentioned, is how practical it is not only for people who have a partner who’s willing to sit down with them and go through something structured but also the way that you’re always offering these helpful hints that allow someone to just kind of incorporate it into their lives on their own and change the steps of the dance. And I’m wondering, obviously, ideally our partners work with us on the project of our relationships, but I’m wondering what you’ve seen as far as people taking some of these plays in your communication playbook and putting them into practice on their own, and what kinds of results you’ve seen them effect in their relationships.
Jonathan Robinson: Well, in fact, it’s pretty rare to have two partners that both want to work on a relationship. If you have that, usually there’s not that much of a problem. So mostly I get couples who are basically on the verge of divorce where one person is dragged in kicking and screaming. And even in those situations, if you have the right method, the right technologies so to speak, you can still get to a place of love often in like 20 minutes. So I use the analogy, if you’re trying to go from where you are in Portland, Maine to California, well, if you have a plane, you can do it in six hours. If you don’t have a plane, it’s going to take you a couple of years. So some of these tools are really amazing technology that helps us get back to a place of love very quickly.
Neil Sattin: And some of them I noticed, okay, that kind of reminds me of Imago or that reminds me of something I’ve seen in the Gottman’s work. And have some of those things just been trial and error on your part or what’s that process of discovery like for you in coming up with these ways to help people in their communication?
Jonathan Robinson: Well, I use it in my own marriage, but also with my clients. And what I notice is that when people are upset they can’t remember Imago stuff or Gottman stuff necessarily. They’re too complex for most couples. So I tried to make it so that anything I taught in my book could be pretty well done in 20 seconds or less. Now, there’s a few exceptions, but I know when I’m really stressed out or upset, I don’t remember all the theory. What I remember is maybe I can say three words or maybe I can complete a sentence. So I tried to find the best and easiest methods that can be done usually in under 20 seconds. And that’s usually what people actually can do, but the good news is, if they do it, it does lead to a transformation. My wife and I, when we first married we argued a lot, and I was looking for a way that even though we were upset, we could avoid arguments.
Jonathan Robinson: So I came up with a method called the Yellow Light Method, which just involves saying two words and if I can remember to say those two words we avoid arguments. And in the last five years, we’ve only had one argument. And basically, the method is if you’re finding that you’re upset or your partner’s upset either you can say yellow light, and that’s a signal to take two minutes out and take some deep breaths and then restart the conversation. And when you interrupt that momentum of upset, usually you don’t go into an argument. So those are the type of methods I like the most. The ones that are so simple yet work pretty much 100% of the time.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, it’s so important, too, to have something reliable that you can turn to that doesn’t require a lot of thought, because as we’ve talked about here on the show a lot, you’re not even really able to think. That part of your brain that accesses creative problem-solving thinking, it tends to go offline as soon as you start to feel your heart beating a little more quickly and get into that disconnected angry or hurt wanting to escape, angry wanting to fight, whatever it is. When you’re in that mode, having to think it through is probably one of the most challenging things you have to do.
Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, I can’t do it, so I can’t expect other people too. [chuckle] That’s why they pass… These methods have passed the most severe test possible. Do they actually work in my life?
Neil Sattin: Yeah, that’s super important. And I like, too, that you offer examples in the book of things that happen with your wife. It’s kind of a new theme here on the show because I think it’s easy to get the impression that when you know all this stuff about relationships that things are smooth sailing all the time, and it’s never challenging. And people like the Gottmans, they must just never fight. It’s always bliss. It’s always cherishing. And so lately, I’ve been asking my guests to name some of their own challenges just to make it real. And so I like that you offer that in your book, as well. These are challenges we’ve experienced and how I’ve used this particular exercise or how my wife and I have used it to help ourselves in these moments.
Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, that’s been a way to keep it on us, because we all face challenges in relationships. It’s just a matter of whether you have ways of getting around those challenges or if you resort to the time tested tried-and-true method that most couples work or use, which is blame. And as you know, Neil, blame never works. Never once have I blamed my wife for my annoyance or blamed her and telling her what she does wrong where she then came back and said, “Oh yeah, now I see where you’re talking about. I’m going to have to change that.” I bat zero for 500 on that one. So that got me looking for other ways to do it.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, and it’s funny how ineffective so many of our innate strategies are, and yet without a new repertoire that’s just what you do over and over again. Even though if you were to step back and look at the evidence, “Did this work? Did anything change? Do I feel more connected?” Any of that, the answer would probably be no for most of those things people just do. Blame, complain.
Jonathan Robinson: Shame.
Neil Sattin: Shame. Yeah, exactly. Criticize. Yeah, all those kinds of things.
Jonathan Robinson: Well, most of us, most couples don’t even have 15 minutes of communication education in their life. And I think of a marriage or communication is something that we’re doing all the time. We should have a lot of practice at it. If you even had 15 minutes on how to fly a plane, you would have a chance of not crashing, but if you don’t have those 15 minutes and you have to take over a plane in mid-flight, you’re probably going to crash. And that’s an experience a lot of couples have is that they just don’t have any other methods they’ve been taught other than blame, shame, complain. And therefore, that’s what the habit they fall back into when things get tense.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, well, fortunately, we don’t just have 15 minutes now. We have a good 45 minutes where we can help you who are listening come up the curve a little bit more. We’re going to give you some cool exercises and things to try. And then, I’m just thinking about the study that… I just had John and Julie Gottman on the show and they were talking about this study where there were these married couples, I think they had children, both worked and they figured out that basically, these people had 15 minutes of communication time period, over the course of a week. That that was it. And of course, that time was more or less about the bills and logistics. And so if we can save that for you so that that 15 minutes can be something truly special and hopefully you have more than 15 minutes with your partner or with the people closest to you, then I’ll feel like we did a good job here today, Jonathan.
Jonathan Robinson: That sounds good.
Neil Sattin: Awesome. So where’s a good place to start? I know that I mentioned the universal desires when I first was talking about what we’re going to talk about today, and maybe that would be a good place for us to just kinda drop in. But I’m open to your influence here about where do you like to start people out on this journey?
Jonathan Robinson: Well, you mentioned the Gottmans and they’ve done some great work. And one of the things I liked about them is they said that probably the best predictor of how happy couples are is the amount of appreciations they give to each other or the ratio of appreciations to criticism. So a very simple method, and I like simple, is that I have couples complete this sentence, “Something I noticed today about you that I appreciate is… ” and you just complete that sentence. I have couples do that once a day and people are often hesitant like, “Oh, that’s too simple or too mechanical,” but it really does make a huge difference. And I’m a typical guy, so I actually have my iPhone remind me to do this every day, otherwise, I forget. And it’s amazing how that can really help bond couples. Or if I did it with you, Neil. Something I noticed about you that I appreciate is that you’re very clear in your communication. We had to do some scheduling stuff, but you were always very clear and helpful and before the show, during the show, it just makes it much easier to be a guest when I know where you’re at and what you’re thinking.
Jonathan Robinson: So I’m already thinking that thought, but when we say our appreciations, it helps to more bond, whether it be a couple or friendship. And that’s something that’s so easy to do that most people are missing out on because they don’t make it a habit.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, and when I think about for a lot of us that can equal love or feeling loved is it gets conflated with appreciation, and so it’s like you don’t really feel like you’re being loved by your partner if you’re not getting that kind of acknowledgment from them about how you shine in their eyes.
Jonathan Robinson: Exactly, it’s probably the quickest way for couples to feel emotionally connected.
Neil Sattin: And I really like the sentence stem approach, “Something I noticed about you today that I appreciate is,” I think that’s good because it gives us a way to focus our attention rather than being lost in the sea of all the possible appreciations. It’s like pull something out of today, out of this moment. because I can imagine even just sitting down with my wife, Chloe, and what it feels like to have her attention. Even that in the moment would be something I would really appreciate, I’d probably want to reflect that right back to her just like how good it feels to experience her listening to me.
Jonathan Robinson: I like the method of sentence stems because they’re so simple and yet can be so effective. I’ll put out a couple more of the ones I really like. One is, “Something I’ve been hesitant to talk to you about lately is… ” That helps bring in the difficult things that we sometimes avoid. Or how about this one? If you’re in a disagreement and you’re both trying to blame each other to use this sentence stem, “A way I see that I contributed to this upset is… ” You say that and it immediately changes the energy of the conversation because now you’re taking some responsibility which then leads to your partner doing that. So there’s a lot of sentence stems in the More Love Less Conflict book that work really powerfully and immediately. And they only take 20 seconds to complete.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and that one you just named for diffusing conflict, I experienced that just the other day where Chloe and I, we had an argument about something. Oh, I remember exactly what it was. Sometimes our lives get a little busy and I think I’ve even mentioned on the show before that there can be dishes in the sink. And we each could be responsible for doing more dishes, I think. Our dog sometimes does more dishes than we do. And so there were no dishes, I was in a rush, I was making a meal. And we have a stack of special dishes that we’re really not supposed to use. But rather than use a dish… I actually, come to think of it, I had just washed a bunch of dishes, but they were still wet and I didn’t want to dry the dish with a towel, so I just reached for the special dish from the pile of special dishes. And Chloe got really angry at me. “Don’t use one of those dishes. You just washed all of those dishes. I’ve asked you not to use those dishes.” So innocent enough, I’m reaching for the dishes, and it would have been so easy for me to just get really angry and in fact, I did get angry. I was like, “Don’t tell me what to do.”
Neil Sattin: It was really a glorious moment for us of conflict. And we each stepped away for a minute or two, because we had been under a lot of stress that day, a lot of pressure. And then I came back, and I said something like, “I’m really sorry that I just yelled,” or “I just yelled at you just then. I see that I went to use one of those dishes, and I know you’ve asked me not to use them a lot. And even though I feel like it’s my right [chuckle] to take them, I recognize that you asked me not to, and I did anyway, and I can see how that must have felt like I was slighting you or not really paying attention to what you’ve asked me to do in the past.”
Neil Sattin: And I will say that it didn’t sound exactly like that when I said it to her. But it was along those lines. And it was really hard and painful for me to say that, because like you mention in your book, my ego just wanted to be right and wanted to make her wrong for having spoken up about it or tried to control me or whatever it was, that was her part in the dance. But I did have my part in the dance, and through owning it, right afterward Chloe said, “Yeah, I really… The way that I said that I’m really sorry, I know that must have… You must felt like I was really coming down on you or talking down to you,” or something like that is what she said. And that was it, argument over, [chuckle] and we went back to just being connected and loving, and it was a really quick transformation. It’s amazing because that gap from Maine to California that you were talking about earlier, that can feel like it’s going to take two years, and it really can be as quick as making a shift like that.
Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, yeah. And one of the things I like about the sentence stems is that it can be hard to figure it out the right thing to say on your own, but if you have the first part of the sentence memorized like, “I see the way that I contributed to this upset is… ” then it becomes relatively easy and easier on your ego to just say that sentence and then the shift happens. So I always try to take these big ideas like taking responsibility or being more appreciative and turn them into a method or a technology that’s so simple that even me at my worst can do it. And it seems like that’s really what people need because we often know the theory, we often know what we’re supposed to do, but when the rubber hits the road, we don’t have that keyword to say that is really going to turn it in a new direction.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, are there other magical sentence stems that come to mind?
Jonathan Robinson: Well, there’s 30 of them in the book. [chuckle] I’ll spread ’em out through this interview. One thing that I like as a sentence stem is just saying, “Right now, I’m feeling… ” Whatever you’re feeling, and then, “Right now I’m wanting… ” whatever you’re wanting, because saying what you’re feeling and wanting is really key information for your partner. And normally, we’re very indirect, we’re very not good at saying that in a way that our partner gets. So during the day, if I’m spending time with my wife, I’ll think that sentence stem “Right now, I’m feeling like I want to be more connected with you. I guess I’m wanting a hug right now.” And that helps point me in the right direction.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, and I think it’s important, you talk about this in the book, in the chapter where you’re covering that sentence stem in particular, how important it is to identify what you’re actually feeling versus, “I’m feeling like you’re being an idiot right now,” [chuckle] which is what people sometimes tend to do, which is to take an I feel statement and attach a judgment on the end of it, as opposed to just owning what they’re actually feeling in that moment.
Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, that’s why I have, in the book, a page of just feelings. Here are 30 feelings. You’re probably feeling one of these, you’re not feeling… Even if you’re thinking I’m feeling like they’re an idiot, what you’re probably feeling is I’m feeling annoyed or I’m feeling frustrated. And to some extent, that’s a learning process because a lot of couples don’t have that practice where they say, well, this really isn’t a feeling. What am I feeling? So having a list in front of you can actually be very helpful that way.
Neil Sattin: Right, yeah, won’t that be great when… I think you talk about this in terms of languages and communication, but to be able to Google how am I feeling right now? And get an [chuckle] Oh, turns out that I’m feeling annoyed right now. That makes sense, actually. Thanks, Google. Yeah, and then the second part of that stem, I’m feeling this, and what I’d really like is… And I think I’m not getting it quite right, but that last part of really being able to identify what it is you would like and what the desire might be underneath that seems so important for people to get clear on.
Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, there’s really two things that people want. They want… And usually, it looks like I want them to give me a certain action like maybe a hug or I want them to do the dishes. But underneath that, we think that if they did those things, we would get a certain desire fulfilled. Like if they gave me a hug I’d feel more connected, or if they did the dishes I’d feel more respected or something like that. So knowing what the ultimate aim is the ultimate desire or need you’re trying to fulfill can be very helpful because they might do the dishes in a way that is throwing the dishes around and being upset while they’re doing it, and the dishes get done, but you don’t feel more respected at the end of it.
Neil Sattin: Right, right, and how useful is it for you to be clear about that with your partner so that the underlying motivations are the realm that you’re dealing in, not trying in this roundabout way to get your needs or desires met.
Jonathan Robinson: And in fact, most partners are much more open to satisfying our underlying desires than they are to satisfying our other requests. If you said, “Well, I want you to do the dishes,” they might have some resistance, but if you said, “What I’m really wanting is I’m wanting to feel more respected and more connected to you.” That tends to be more vulnerable, and vulnerability is a real key to intimacy. If you look at the word intimacy, the instructions are there, into me see. So when we reveal what we’re really wanting on an emotional level, that tends to open up our partners’ hearts and makes them more connected and more open to doing what we want.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and then does it make sense to you to follow up with once your partner’s offered vulnerability like that to ask, “What could I do that would help you feel seen and respected.”
Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Neil Sattin: And then they’ll say, “You could do the dishes.”
Jonathan Robinson: Actually, probably just asking what can I do to help you feel more respected would help them to feel more respected.
Neil Sattin: True.
Jonathan Robinson: But the dishes might be another way as well.
Neil Sattin: It might be, but what occurs to me is that it’s more likely that if the dishes were kind of a surrogate for that feeling seen and respected that now that the true desire is out in the open, that on further reflection someone might be like, “Well, the dishes would be nice, but what would really help me feel seen and respected would be if I could talk to you about my day and have you just listen with your undivided attention.”
Jonathan Robinson: Right, you’re getting to a place where you’re much more effective in satisfying your partner’s real needs. And that’s something that’s really critical, because a lot of times partners don’t even know what their partner’s real needs are, and even if they do know what they are, which is unusual, they may be very ineffective in satisfying them. Take the issue of sex, which is a good example. A lot of couples don’t ever directly say what they most enjoy in bed, so they find that they put up with their partner doing things which is not really what really does it for them. So here’s a good sentence stem: Three things I really love that you do in bed are… And three things that I really don’t care for much are… Just completing that sentence can improve your love life 50% in five minutes.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and I’m curious for you when someone hears three things I love are blank, that’s going to feel really good. Three things that I don’t particularly care for, it seems like it would be really easy for the person receiving that to, if nothing else, just kind of feel bad about it, but maybe even to go into a shame spiral, or it could be really bad. So what do you recommend people do to help create a safe container for offering more negative feedback?
Jonathan Robinson: I have a lot of suggestions for that in the More Love, Less Conflict book. One example is always end on a positive note, either something you appreciate or something that you like. But sometimes what’s necessary is just a time out, like if you’re going to give some kind of feedback that’s negative that the other person can’t respond for, say, 12 hours, because a lot of times we have an immediate reaction and then after five minutes we realize, well, that’s actually useful feedback, or it’s no big deal. So creating that safe container can be either ending with something positive or creating a time period where neither person can react to it.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and during that time period, what do you suggest people do to take care of themselves if they need that?
Jonathan Robinson: I actually do make several suggestions, and I have a list from watching funny YouTube videos to calling a friend to going to the gym. But I find that if couples are feeling connected and they feel respected and appreciated, and they’re doing all those other things when you get a little bit of “negative feedback,” it doesn’t overwhelm them. What happens normally is that people aren’t getting any positive stuff, so when they get another piece of negative feedback it can overwhelm them, and then you get into problems. So as long as you have love in your emotional bank account, so to speak, a little bit of feedback that tells you how you can do something better usually is not that big of a deal.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, so important to probably to put your focus on some of the things we were talking about a moment ago, like offering the appreciations, and all the ways that you really do appreciate or resonate with your partner the things that you love about them, or the things that you see in them, so that when it comes time to offer something a little bit more discerning, let’s say, [chuckle] it can soften the blow a little bit.
Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, and there’s other ways, too, for example, sometimes I have couples give what could be called negative feedback in a written form, while ending with a positive thing, and it can be easier to just read it and take some time on your own rather than have that person right there, which might be more triggering. So there’s a lot of different ways to create a safe container, and people’s job is to find what works for them because different things can work for different couples.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, I’m thinking, too, you offer an anecdote in the book More Love, Less Conflict during the exercise about withholding and couples being able to give a voice to the things that they’ve been holding back from each other. And that’s something that could be really edgy or scary depending on what’s being withheld, but even there you talk about wanting people to end on a positive note, something maybe really good or a deep desire that they’ve been withholding. And you mention this one couple that talks about how in trouble their marriage is, and how one is feeling hopeless, and the other has been flirting with someone at the office, and these are coming out in the withholdings, but then they end with these statements about really wanting to feel connected with each other and how much it feels like that shifts the dynamic for them, even though they have also offered some incredibly vulnerable and hard truths to each other.
Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, you know, one moment of vulnerability or appreciation seems to be able to overshadow even years of negativity. Now, I’ve had couples who come into my office, they’ve been arguing and screaming each other for decades. And sometimes I’ll have them do a couple of positive things, like saying what they appreciate or being vulnerable through certain sentence stems, and 10 minutes later they’re holding hands and loving. And I find that is like a miracle because they’ve had years of negativity and yet their hearts really want to have that connection, they just haven’t had the simple, reliable way of doing that. But once they do have that way, the bonding can happen very, very quickly, and I think that’s a real testament to the human heart and spirit.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, the light it shines is much brighter than the darkness we can find ourselves in at times. And just to be clear for you listening, the withholding sentence stem, I just happened to have it in front of me right here: There’s something I’ve been withholding, would you like to hear it? So again, important that your partner actually know that they’re about to receive something. And then this is one of those cases where you mentioned, Jonathan, that it’s helpful to create a container that says we’re not even… We’re not going to talk about this for 24 hours, and what is being offered is held sacred in some way, which is a great spin on it because I think so often when something is revealed that’s been withheld, it can, just in and of itself, no matter what the content is, feel like a betrayal of some sort.
Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, yeah. And that’s probably the edgiest exercise in the book, and it’s not something that one starts with, you kind of build to that, because if you’re going to deal with difficult stuff, it’s good to have some love in your emotional bank account because those types of things are like a withdrawal, and you don’t want to withdraw into bankruptcy, so I encourage people to have some connection, and when you have to deal with the hard stuff, then you’ll be able to weather that storm, because you already have a bunch of connection banked, so to speak.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, and that, for some reason, is making me think of two other things that you mentioned in the book, one being the higher self-exercise. And I think I like that because we so often want to be able to give advice to our partners, or fix their problems, or tell them how they should be that will make our lives easier, and the higher self is a bridge into that in a way that’s actually really connecting.
Jonathan Robinson: That’s a fun game.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, could you talk about how that one’s done?
Jonathan Robinson: Well, you do want to sometimes give your partner advice, and sometimes they see you, they know you better than you know you sometimes. So something my wife and I might do is I’ll say, “Do you want to play the higher self-game,” and she’ll say, “Okay,” and we take turns kind of being each other’s guru, so I might say, “Well, I’m married to this woman who gets self-righteous really quickly. Dear guru what would you suggest I do when she gets really reactive and self-righteous quickly?”
Jonathan Robinson: And then she has to answer as like a relationship guru. Well, it sounds like you might want to try this, this, and this, and it’s kind of fun because rather than going back and forth and trying to prove that we’re right, or you should do this, it’s kind of like a game and it sets it up in a fun way where I can hear what she has to say. And a lot of times her advice to me about her has been right on because she knows what I’m doing that might make it better for her. And it’s just kind of a fun way of being with each other where you can temporarily go into the role of advice-giver or a teacher without all the normal ramifications of that.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and you mentioned an important aspect of that often being that the advice giver, guru, person sit with their eyes closed or blindfolded.
Jonathan Robinson: Yes, because that changes the normal mechanical way that you might be with each other. When you close your eyes and you’re trying to give advice, it tends to help you to go deeper within and it also shuts you off from whether your partner is reacting to your advice. You get to really tune into, “What do I have to say to this question?” And that way it can be more pure and more truthful rather than a mechanical reaction to maybe how you think they’re going to take it.
Neil Sattin: Got it.
Jonathan Robinson: I must say, Neil, I think you know this book better than I do at this point. I’m very depressed.
Neil Sattin: Well, it’s fresh in my mind, so that’s helpful, but don’t worry, there will be no test. Nothing more than what we’re already doing, I guess.
Jonathan Robinson: Okay.
Neil Sattin: It seems important to clarify, too, that if you’re not doing that one as a structured exercise, one thing I noticed was that the simple practice isn’t an offer to give your partner advice, it’s asking them for advice. Can I get your best advice about something? So if you were going to sort of surreptitiously engage their higher self that’s how you come at it when you’re doing it more renegade style?
Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, and people love that question, “Gee, honey, can I get your best advice about this?” And that’s usually that asking for help in that vulnerable way usually leads to a lot more intimacy.
Neil Sattin: When it comes to knowing your partner better, we touched on this earlier when we were talking about the desires and wondering whether or not we actually know what our partner’s deepest desires are and that’s something I appreciate about that list of 50, I’m sure there are more than that, right? But 50 is a pretty good start and it helps you I think access the nuances of how these desires are slightly different than each other And I think it’s also important, I loved your exercise on the perfect partner, and how we can share information with each other in a safe way about what we wish we were experiencing from the other person as a way to help them. It’s like I’m helping you help me.
Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, it’s kind of like painting a picture. Sometimes the best way to learn is through an example, and somebody can tell you what Yosemite looks like but one picture of Yosemite and the game’s over. You don’t need to say anything more. And the same thing with what we want. So, writing out what my perfect partner would do, or what my perfect partner would say helps me to get example of what my wife is really wanting because I always thought that she wanted me to fix her problems and then she wrote out, “Well, my perfect partner would say this, this and this,” and she never mentioned fixing her problems, she really wanted somebody who was incredibly empathetic. And when I really understood that she’s not wanting my advice, she’s wanting my empathy, my understanding, it helped me to change how I was with her, and now she has said, “Wow, you’re really good at being my perfect partner now.” And of course, that leads to more love.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, I did an episode a while ago on writing the user manual for you for your partner. This is kind of my guide to me and how that can be such a sweet offering to your partner. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on how to do that in a way that doesn’t come across as a criticism.
Jonathan Robinson: Well, one sentence stem that can be a very simple way of doing it is to say something like three things that tend to trigger me are, so you’re talking about you rather than your partner or three things that almost always lead me to feel more loving are… Because a lot of times we’ll say that that person really pushes our buttons. Well, it’s good to tell your partner what your buttons are. So that they know to avoid them, but we not only have upset buttons, we have love buttons. If my wife gives me a shoulder massage, I love her. A Gorilla could give me a shoulder massage, I’d love that gorilla that’s just how I’m wired. Whereas, if I speak to my wife in a certain tone of voice, that she finds very loving, that is her love button. So just knowing what really triggers your partner towards upset or towards love in a very simple way is very valuable information. A lot of couples really don’t know that information.
Neil Sattin: That just feels like how helpful would that be in general if we just knew that about each other. I’ve heard Dan Sullivan, who has, he leads this company called Strategic Coach, he talks about that in the context of the work environment and giving the people who work with you like, “This is the recipe. If you want to piss me off, these are the things you can do,” and basically listing all the kind of triggers that he has and if nothing else, once you know what triggers your partner, you gotta think twice before doing it or after you do it, maybe you’ll think again like “Oh, I just did that thing that I know triggers them.”
Jonathan Robinson: Right, right. One thing that people often ask me about attitudes towards their partner, and if you can have an attitude of gratitude in your heart for your partner, I find that that makes love flow much more easily.
Neil Sattin: Oh my goddess, I love that anecdote that you talked… Did you actually go to India for that, is that story true that happened?
Jonathan Robinson: That story is true. I went to see another guru as well while I was there but… So the story is that this friend comes back from India and he says his guru gave him a magical mantra to help him to feel more grateful for both his life and his wife. And I’m always interested in very simple methods. So I said, “Well, what’s the mantra?” He said, “Well, you’ll have to go to India to get it.” and I go “damn but India is a hard place to get to, it’s 18,000 miles away” but I make a trip, because I wanted to visit this guru and another guru. So I get there and I have to wait in line five hours to talk to the guru for a minute, but I do that, I’m kinda pissed off because I didn’t get this mantra from my friend. I told the guru I wanted this magical mantra for feeling more grateful towards my wife and such, and he says, in an Indian accent, “Ah, yes, my mantra is the most powerful mantra on earth.” He leans into my ear to whisper it to me and he says, “Whenever possible, repeat the following words. The mantra I give you are the words thank you.” While I look at him, I think he’s joking with me and then, but he’s not smiling, so I go, “Thank you, that’s it? I traveled 18,000 miles to get ‘thank you’, that’s it?” So he looks at me, he says, “No, no, no, ‘that’s it’ is the mantra you have been using and that makes you feel like you never have enough, my mantra is ‘thank you,’ not ‘that’s it,’ ‘that’s it’ will take you nowhere.”
Jonathan Robinson: So I’m totally pissed off at this point. And so I look at him, I kind of sneered him, I say, “Well then, thank you.” And then he sneers at me, he says, “Thank you is not the mantra, you must say it from your heart many times a day, so when you wake up and you see your wife, say thank you from your heart and when you eat breakfast together, and you’re enjoying talking, say Thank you from your heart, and when you see your child, say thank you from your heart and soon you will be filled with gratitude.” Well, because I traveled so far, I actually did this and I found that to my amazement, it actually worked just taking a second, connecting with my heart and thinking and feeling thank you. My wife literally knows the days that I’m doing that without me saying anything. She says, “Your energy changes and I just feel so much more connected to you.” Gratitude is like a secret back door that allows love in. And it’s one more method that just seems to work that once you have that technology, it’s almost like a superpower.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, I have a good friend who was going through a really stressful time in his life and came through it and when I was speaking to him about it, I asked, “What did you rely on when you were going through all that stress?” And the number one thing he said was, “I developed a gratitude practice and every morning when I woke up, I just spend five minutes basically in silent prayer thinking about all the things that I’m grateful for in my life, and that in and of itself pretty much turned things around for me.” So it’s so powerful.
Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, and the other thing I like which I think is so underrated is the power of good questions. On my website, I have what’s called the 12 questions of instant intimacy that people can download for free. And if you ask the right question even if you’re with a partner who doesn’t want to do any communication, doesn’t want to do any counseling, if you ask the right question, it opens up a magical door to intimacy. And I found that these 12 questions pretty much work with everyone. They work with your lover, your child, your co-worker, they’re like secret weapons, so to speak, in the battle to have more love and less conflict. So I really like asking good questions, like an example might be, “What’s been the highlight of your week or what gives you your greatest sense of joy in your life right now?” More people like talking about that, it makes them feel good. Or you ask, “What’s one of the most amazing things you’ve ever experienced in your life? And people love these questions, but we don’t ask them. And in this day and age, there’s a lot of business, there’s a lot of superficiality, but people really want deep connection and these types of questions help to open the door to depth and intimacy very, very quickly.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, I like one of the ones that you offer and you also have a separate exercise, that’s kind of similar to this question, but it’s what’s something that you really want me to know about you?
Jonathan Robinson: Yeah. Because if you can get people to feel they understand each other that is a real key. I never had couples come into my office and say, “Jonathan, we really understand each other quite well, that’s why we want a divorce.”
Jonathan Robinson: But I do get the opposite, “We don’t know, he doesn’t understand me, I don’t understand her,” that can lead to trouble. [chuckle]
Neil Sattin: Well, in case you didn’t get it when Jonathan just mentioned it, the full list of the 12 questions that lead to deeper intimacy is available on his website for this work, and that website is morelovelessconflict.com. And if you go to that site, right on the front page there, you’ll be able to download the 12 questions for deeper intimacy and we’ll have a link to that as well as anything else that feels relevant especially a link to Jonathan’s book on Amazon, on the show notes page for this episode, so you can visit, again, Neilsattin.com/morelove, all squished together as one word. To see the show notes, download a transcript, you’ll also get, as a bonus for downloading the transcript, the 50 universal desires worksheet, and then on top of that, we’ll point you in the right direction to access more of Jonathan Robinson’s work, which is I just love it, it’s so imminently practical and useful, really usable. So I hope that you’re able to practice some of the sentence stems that you’ve heard today and then put them to use in your life.
Neil Sattin: So Jonathan before we go, I’m wondering, I’m trying to think now through because there are so many… And we’ve covered so many in this conversation together, and there are so many more in your book. So it really is, I feel like someone could get the book and kind of open to any page and be like, “Oh yeah, I’m going to try that tonight.” It has that kind of flavor to it. So I’m wondering if you can talk about the process of when you actually do want something to change in your relationship, what have you found as a good way to help couples navigate? Like well, this really, this isn’t okay the way it is right now, and I really want this one particular thing to shift if we could make that happen.
Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, that’s a really big area. And of course, I talked about that a lot in the book. I think if you have the right ingredients then you can make it happen, if you don’t, blame never works. You don’t shame people into changing but if couples really are feeling close to each other and they make a request for something very specific, and then say, “How can I support you or what can I do to change something that bothers you, so we both are working on something that will benefit the relationship.” That has a much better chance of success than the blame, complain, shame, method of changing which basically never works. So having good communication, saying something very precise, very specific, being willing to change something about yourself at the same time that your partner wants, that can be a really good method for couples actually making the difficult effort it requires to change something about yourself.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, and I love that, too, because in there, I feel like there’s also an acknowledgment of how often we actually do know what would be meaningful for our partners, we may not know exactly what their deepest desires are, and that’s why I think those conversations are helpful, but just like you could say, and you mentioned this in the book, if you ask someone, “Would you know how to piss off your partner?” They could do it, they could probably list 10 ways to do that. If you get right down deep into what you know about your partner, you probably also know something that would really light them up or make them feel super special, or loved, and I think it’s great to offer those kinds of things. I mean, why not, right? If you can make someone’s day, why wouldn’t you?
Jonathan Robinson: Yeah, yeah, and the other thing is, I think a lot of partners have to be focused on what feeds their soul, what feeds their sense of peace because when you feel peaceful and loving on your own, you probably make a better partner. I do a podcast called Awareness Explorers in which I interview spiritual teachers and I mentioned before like Dalai Lama, Adyashanti. Yeah, various people. And I’m always asking them, “What are your suggestions for going back to a place of peace?” Because I think the two most important things in life are peace and love and there’s other ways to get them. You could have world peace, but what’s the chance of that going to happen? That’s not going to happen. So, how can you find inner peace? Now, with love, if you’re lucky, you find a partner and you learn how to communicate that leads to a lot more love in your life, but there’s also an inner way to love, loving yourself, having a connection with a higher power. But our mission in life should we decide to accept it is to find different paths to greater peace and love because when we’re in touch with those things, we’re at our best and we make a better partner, and we’re better and more effective in the world, as well.
Neil Sattin: Totally agree, totally agree. Although I’m struck by your cynicism about world peace, I think it’s possible, maybe sometime in…
Jonathan Robinson: Okay, maybe.
Neil Sattin: Our children’s lifetimes, our children’s children. I’m holding out the hope for that. One thing that I’m wondering before we go is whether… So many couples… This is so ironic, I think they come into… They’re in that moment of struggle and often really not knowing if they should stay in the relationship that they’re in, especially when they’re in the midst of big conflict. And then it can get confusing, right? Because if you have some technology that actually helps you get along and connect, well then it can feel like, “Well, do I want to leave this person or don’t I?” And I’m wondering if you have… And I recognize this could be a whole another hour’s conversation so I’m not entirely being fair to you and just asking for your quick take on this, but is there a place that you go that helps a couple be resourceful or maybe an individual who’s contemplating that? Should I stay or should I go question, that makes that practical for them like a sense of like, well, even if you can get along, maybe if this is happening, you’re not right together, or maybe this is the kind of thing you don’t want to tolerate. Yeah, how do people make that call for themselves?
Jonathan Robinson: Actually, I think that’s really simple. What I find is when couples fully communicate honestly and vulnerably, one of two things will happen, they will either very quickly get back to a place of deep love and connection in which case, of course, they want to stay together or if they’re very honest and communicating without blame and letting out all the things that they’ve been withholding, they may get to a place where they realize they want totally different things, and then they would naturally want to separate because we’re not going after the same things in life anymore. But the key is really good communication. It will create the clarity that often is not there when couples are not so honest or so clear and vulnerable in their communication.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. And I think it’s important to qualify that, just because you want two completely different things or 10 completely different things that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doomed, but if you’re communicating clearly about it, then you get the opportunity to discover if you can navigate each other’s vastly different desires and that feels good or generative or does it feel like there’s just no way, in which case you’re dealing with a deal-breaker.
Jonathan Robinson: Right, right, and you’re right, that you can want different things and still have a happy marriage. It’s just a matter of whether you’re able to navigate those things in a way that is agreeable to both people.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, it makes total sense. Well, Jonathan, it’s been such a pleasure to talk to you today, and I’m glad we finally made it work with all those scheduling issues that were totally on me. Just so if you’re listening, you’re like, “What’s up with Jonathan and his scheduling?” No, it was me. And so again, I appreciate your patience with that. And it was well worth the wait, so sweet to talk with you. Jonathan’s book, More Love Less Conflict, a communication playbook for couples is available from a bookseller near you or online, and you can visit Jonathan’s website Morelovelessconflict.com or you can check out his podcast that he just mentioned, Awareness Explorers, which is fascinating conversations with pioneers on the edge of consciousness. And Jonathan, is there anything else you’d like to add about ways people can find out about your work? I know you have a totally different body of work that you do, as well, and so, there’s anything you’d like to add right now, this would be a great time.
Jonathan Robinson: Just that people should download those questions at Morelovelessconflict.com and keep exploring stuff. I’m not naturally good at this stuff, which allows me to get good at teaching it, because by finding methods that worked for my wife and I really made a huge difference. I also want to say Neil, you’re a great interviewer, I see why your podcast is so popular. It’s really fun to go into some depth about some of these issues and hopefully help some people.
Neil Sattin: Well, thank you so much for saying that. I appreciate it.
Jonathan Robinson: You deserve it.
Neil Sattin: Okay.
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