I interviewed the New York Times best selling authors, Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt last week. It seemed timely enough given that Valentine’s Day was around the corner.
You may have heard of Harville and Helen — they wrote Getting the Love You Want in 1988. They continue to teach their real life and professional learnings in workshops across the country. I set up an interview when I was contacted to interview them about their “free” workshop…(see link below).
I was curious about the advice they could give to us at mid-life both for ourselves and for our children. We had a fantastic hour-long Skype visit.
Harville and Helen each had 2 kids from their first marriage when they met and speak openly about their struggles to blend their families and their own relationship.
One of the biggest take-aways they discovered and teach is about creating an environment for safe conversations.
“Our brains are basically paranoid – when we meet new situations we are more suspicious — this is evolutionary from when we lived in the jungle.
“You never think the person walking toward you on a dark street is a lovely person – you are usually nervous
“With your partner – you don’t usually assign positive thoughts immediately – but if you don’t “ACT” on it – you can usually change your thought and so when you feel yourself being “reactive” — you can, with some training and discipline, start to move to curiosity.
“The key actions you must take to have a safe conversation are:
- talking without criticizing
- listening without judgment
- connecting beyond your differences.”
Harville and Helen work toward dealing with “reactive” behavior in couples and teach techniques to achieve this.
“So what’s the most important feature of a great marriage?” I asked them.
“Spontaneous Play… If you don’t have it you can grow into it but you can’t do it if you don’t feel safe with one another. When you partner walks into a room you both want to feel, ‘Wow, I’m so glad you are in this room.’”
“What advice would you give to your children of marrying age?” I asked.
After I re-read their answers it looked to me like all of these answers apply to all couples at any point in a relationship.
- Does your relationship make your heart flutter? Are you romantically attracted? The reason he asks this question is because there is way more than practical compatibility. If you don’t have the unconscious connection –it will just be a friendship – like buddies. But you won’t grow in qualitative ways at deep levels because you have to have an unconscious connection to get to those levels.
- When you give your partner feedback about your feelings (without judgement) – do they take it or do they become defensive. If they become defensive you may want to pass that person up – because that means they don’t take feedback and inevitably you can’t grow without feedback. Couples are inherently different which is wonderful and that’s all part of the discovery, the two have a different mind. You need to co-create and engage in the process. Conflict and resolution is great – but if there is no ability for feedback that usually leads to divorce.
- Therapy: They would recommend kids go to a relationship workshop before marriage to learn skills. They also recommend therapy at any point in a relationship to get back on track.
- If you are from different backgrounds, can you talk about the difference without polarizing each other?
- Assess: Are you negative toward each other or are you kind?
- Zero-negativity pledge. Are you willing to take this pledge? Never say anything that will put the other down. If you blow it and are unkind and negative…then you must learn how to have a safe conversation with a “curious” mind and listen in a way that mirrors back what the person said so you really ARE listening. (they call this mirroring).
- Humor: Anxiety and humor cannot co-exist in the brain.
“What suggestions do you have for couples who are in a long term marriage to spice up their sex lives?” I asked.
Helen and Harville took turns enthusiastically responding with some fun ideas:
- Sex Tapes: Watch the movie (1979) Watch Pagnini – You will thank us.
- Have the candles in the bedroom lit.
- Mechanical issues: work around it. A healthy marriage is an IQ Test …figure it out.
- Get naked – rub each other with baby oil and wrestle
- Wine and Candlelight and tell each other 10 things you like about each other and use your imagination.
- Feed each other.
- Watch some funny comedy together.
Click here If you want to learn more about Harville and Helen’s workshops (On Feb 11, they are hosting a free live relationship workshop working with 300 couples “live” in Dallas Texas and you can either register go or live-stream it.)
This is not a paid or sponsored post (I just wanted to interview them).