relationship, love, relationships, marriage, together

Relationships can be very confusing. We are taught reading, science, history & if we are lucky sex ed but not anything about what creates trust, why repair is important or how to communicate especially when we are vulnerable. Learning about connections, how to build them & keep them is sorely missing. This episode will fill that knowledge gap! 

Creating A More Satisfying Relationship

Relationships can be very confusing. We are taught reading, science, history & if we are lucky sex ed but not anything about what creates trust, why repair is important or how to communicate especially when we are vulnerable. Learning about connections, how to build them & keep them is sorely missing.

Watching characters on tv only adds to our bewilderment when all women orgasm from intercourse when the reality is 70% of women do not orgasm from intercourse. This is just one example. All the characters in movies are smart & funny because they have scripts when we don’t.

You all know that I believe that relationships are a lot of work, the ability to stay self-aware & committed to being a better person for your partner is a big challenge, especially when there are so many other priorities tugging at us for our attention. 

Everybody can benefit from learning more about how to make relationships work. There are tangible improvements that you an make, like The Gottman’s emphasis on turning towards each other as crucial & predicting divorce on how often a couple turns away from each other, which was discussed in Episode #103.

According to the American Psychological Association, approximately 40-50% of first marriages end in divorce. The divorce rate for second marriages is even higher, with approximately 60-67% of second marriages ending in divorce. Overall, the rate of divorces in America is falling. Divorces amongst people aged 50+ years are rising. Fewer couples choose to marry than pre-1990. The US divorce rate is the third-highest in the world.

According to a 2013 survey of 191 Certified Divorce Financial Analyst professionals from across North America, the three leading causes of divorce are “basic incompatibility” (43%), “infidelity” (28%), and “money issues” (22%). Marriage requires work to understand the tools we all need to make them last because as Daniel Wilde said, “Choosing a partner is choosing a set of problems.”

Jonah Lehrer is the author of A Book About Love & he sites a 2010 study of twenty-three thousand married couples that found that the similarity of spouses accounted for less than 0.5 percent of spousal satisfaction. In short, what we think we want in a spouse—someone who is just like us and likes all the same things—“ is NOT what we really want. 

I believe opposites do attract but this demands a huge respect for the differences which can erode over time….so there is the work of a relationship, to restore respect especially in years 6-10 when so many relationships struggle with whether or not to stay together. 

This podcast is a labor of love to offer wisdom from many sources to help you learn how to do better in your relationships. Todays guest is just as invested in helping relationships last as I am.

Today’s source of wisdom is Dr. Wyatt, he is a licensed psychologist, has been in private practice in Boulder, CO specializing in marriage counseling since 2004. He is the author of the Total Marriage Refresh marriage book & a fellow podcaster on the Dr. Wyatt Show marriage podcast, and created the Keep the Glow couples app. He’s been married 24 (or 25??) while this August I’ve been married 50 years.

#1.  One study of long-lasting love and marriage found that South Dakota actually has the highest “marriage score” of any state in the country,Iowa was second & Wisconsin was third…So my question is how do you help people become truly dedicated to spending their lives with their partner no matter the challenges. What helps someone become more committed?

Dr. Wyatt: You can talk to people about the importance of a covenant mindset, which is this long-term commitment. But from my experience, the main way you’re going to help someone become more committed is to help them become happier in their relationship because commitment often is a byproduct of how we feel, whether we like it or not. 

& so, I’ve seen couples where one partner is trying to convince the other partner to become more committed—& again, there is some merit to that. However, what I often tell that person is don’t try to convince your partner to become more committed, try to make your partner happier & that will automatically make them more committed to the relationship.

Rhoda: Yeah, that’s great. Yeah. What’s one thing that you think helps people understand happiness? Because it’s such a big word. 

Dr. Wyatt: Yeah. When I define happiness, I think more about their top fillers that they need in their relationship to feel loved & satisfied. Whether it’s quality time or emotional connection or sexual connection or words of affirmation. It’s this combination of maximizing your partner’s fillers of what they desire, while you also reduce & eliminate the drainer behaviors that you do that your partner does not like.

Because if you’re doing an amazing job on the fillers your partner desires, but you’re also doing a lot of drainer behaviors, the drainers are going to wipe out all the fillers. It’s going to be a wash.

& so the goal for all of us to become really good partners is to learn to maximize our partners fillers they desire while we also simultaneously reduce & eliminate the drainers that we do that they don’t like.

Rhoda: Yeah, I really like that “fillers & drainers.” I like the polarity of that, of course. 

Dr. Wyatt: Yeah. 

Rhoda: I believe most fights are really power struggles hidden in fighting about small things. It seems so easy to have the same fights over & over again with your partner. So help us learn more about how we get stuck in a negative reactionary conflict cycle with each other. 

Dr. Wyatt: Yeah, I mean, there’s two ways we could go with that. The one would be the power side of things, where a lot of decisions when you’re married to someone is about who’s going to have the final say, who is going to call the final shot here on this topic. & often, marriages are made up of one partner who’s a little more dominant & one who’s a little more passive. So you get into this vicious cycle before long of one person having too much power, the other partner having too little power. & then that creates power & balance & resentment. 

The person who has the more dominant personality can start resenting their partner for not being more vocal on what they want. & then the more passive partner can become resentful because they feel voice less & that their opinion doesn’t matter as much.

So when that’s the line & if that’s the issue, then it’s often teaching couples how to share power, how to recognize we’re having a power battle, how to recognize we’re not sharing power. & even putting that into words can go a long way to teach couples to be able to say, I don’t feel like we’re sharing power right now. I don’t feel like I have an equal voice right now. 

Even that can help put to words what’s going on & highlight the awareness, bring out the dynamic. & then it’s a matter of teaching the skills of, okay, if we are at an impasse, how are we going to meet in the middle? How do we compromise? It’s really an art & it starts with respect of the different positions because you don’t want to view a sharing power topic with the goal of, I’m going to try to talk you out of your position.

You’re not being a salesman or a saleswoman. You’re really respecting your partner’s position. & then that frees you up to use your mental energy to think about how can we meet in the middle, how can we compromise, how can we strike a win-win that’s going to be some of what you want & some of what I want?

Rhoda: Yes. & I think a lot of couples come in & talk about having communication problems & really, I think it’s ultimately about power struggles. So I really like that idea of identifying it & helping them see that. That’s great. How can my audience improve at sharing power with their partner beyond what you just suggested? 

Dr. Wyatt: So I teach a tool called Bounce the Ball. & so the analogy with this is sports. So if you think about soccer or basketball, nobody likes a ballhog. & the ballhog is the person who dribbles all down the court, & then they shoot. & even coaches don’t like ballhogs because that’s why they have rules where you have to pass a certain amount of times before you can shoot. In marriage, a ballhog is the person who doesn’t share power, & they tell you what they think should happen & they’re not open to discussing it. That’s a ball hog. 

& so the skill I teach is called Bounce the Ball. & what you do is if you find yourself at an impasse with your partner on a decision, you say, “Hey, can we bounce the ball on this?” & what that means is, it doesn’t matter who begins, but Partner A will say, this is my opinion on the decision, & here’s my value underneath the position. Here’s why I’m landing at this place, on this position, on this topic. & then they bounce the ball by saying the phrase: what do you think? Because then that turns it into a conversation that invites your partner into this dialogue so we can share power on this topic.

Then partner B does the same. They share their opinion on this topic, the value they have underneath that opinion, then they bounce the ball back & say, what do you think? Now, before I go forward, the reason it’s so important to share the value underneath is because that provides a lot more data to your partner who’s going to start thinking about a win-win & a compromise.

It’s much different to hear just the face value of what your partner thinks compared to when you hear what’s underneath that for them, what’s fueling that opinion? What’s driving that position for them. When you have all that data, now your mind can become very creative with thinking of solutions that’s going to honor their values & yours. 

So back to the tool. Once you both have shared your initial positions & your values under that position, now things start to change. Now Partner A has the ball again, & they have to make a few adjustments from their original position toward their partner’s position without leaving their own position, because this is about striking a win-win. It’s not about giving in. 

So then they make a few adjustments toward their partner’s position, & they suggest this new idea, & then they say the phrase, what do you think? & then Partner B has to do the same. They have to come toward their partner’s position by a few degrees off of their original position, & then they say their new idea, & then they say, what do you think? & they bounce the ball back. & if both partners are teachable & buy into this value of shared power, if you keep doing that process long enough, you will strike a win-win. 

Rhoda: I like that. So I’m sure you’re aware of the 2006 study by Keith Oatley that determined people can improve their empathy by reading literary fiction—I love to read—because they are stories of the human experience. How else can someone improve upon their own empathy with a partner? 

Dr. Wyatt: So there’s an exercise I encourage my couples that I work with to do, & I call it the Empathy Variable exercise. & what it is, is it’s a list of questions that you interview your partner about, & then they’re going to interview you, & then you want to take notes & write down their responses. 

So, some of the questions in that exercise include what were the most hurtful things for you you experienced growing up? What were your top values in your family growing up? What are some of your top values now as an adult? What are some of your top insecurities now as an adult? What are your top stressors? What are your top goals for the future? What are your top needs in our marriage? 

Those are huge questions. & to slow down & really think through, how would I respond to those questions, & then you sit down with your partner & you take turns asking each other those questions, & then you write down the responses. That process, you’ll learn a lot about your partner, & you probably have to do it every so often to stay updated because a lot of those things may change, not necessarily the history things, but definitely the current state of affairs, what they’re feeling & future goals, things like that will evolve.

But if you do that exercise & then if you really want to get an A plus, review your partner’s responses to that exercise before you have your—I call it a “Head Heart Check,” your time to talk with your partner about your days, stressors things day to day to stay updated. Because if you’re talking to your partner or listening to them vent about their day while you’re mindful of all those things who make them who they are, then it’s almost like a math problem where you’ll hear them talk about something that’s upsetting them. & in your mind, you’ll be thinking, “Oh, I bet that connects to that wound they had growing up.” Or “oh, that’s one of their top stressors. No wonder that’s making them upset.” Or “oh, that’s one of their goals from their future they’ve talked about & it’s probably getting blocked.”

So, it will give you a different mindset for listening to your partner vent about their day. & then when that occurs, you can start providing empathy with sincerity, even if you personally don’t relate or you personally don’t agree, because in that moment, you’re literally starting to see the situation from their vantage point.

& then you can say comments like, “Oh, that makes sense,” or “no wonder you feel like that.” You can say those comments with genuineness because you’re trying to see that situation from their life experience.

Rhoda: I really like that. You’re fatten up the context & you’re thinking about them in a bigger picture. 

Dr. Wyatt: That’s right.

Rhoda: & I think that’s really, really helpful. So that was really good, thank you. Please share two ways a couple can cultivate emotional intimacy.

Dr. Wyatt: Yeah. So, the tool I teach on this is called the Head Heart Check. & there’s a couple of steps to it. First of all, why even do it, right? Why even cultivate emotional intimacy? The reason is because at least one partner, that’s probably their top need, is emotional intimacy. & they’re probably married to someone whose top need is sexual intimacy. & often before sexual intimacy is going to occur, emotional intimacy needs to be in place first. So emotional intimacy is a learning curve for a lot of people if it’s not your natural need. & this is a way to do it in a real simple step by step way so that it can become something that you & your partner do on a regular basis. 

So the first step is getting in touch with yourself. & it takes just maybe a few moments, a few minutes to stop & think, what was I feeling today & why? The big four to consider is mad, sad, glad, or fear. & then to think about why was I feeling those things? Maybe I felt one of those, maybe two of those, maybe all four of those today. & then what were the possible reasons?

Most people who don’t have emotional intimacy as their need, they can tell you what they did throughout the day, but they’ll struggle telling you what they felt while they did those things. But emotional intimacy is not just becoming a good listener; it’s also sharing from our own life. That’s why both partners need to take a few moments before the Head Heart Check to just get in touch with themselves. What was I feeling today & why was I feeling it?

Now, it doesn’t mean you have to share everything, because if you’re not used to sharing, it may be uncomfortable. & so the analogy I use is a garage door. So, in the beginning, maybe just start with raising that garage door about a foot. & that’s how much you share just to get comfortable, see if it feels safe, see how your partner responds. & then if things go well over time, you can gradually raise that garage door & share more.

So, the question you ask each other during the Head Heart Check. Is what’s been on your head & heart. It’s all you ask, it’s very simple what’s been on your head & heart. So, what you share is what you were just reflecting on. So, you may have had some anger & so you share all the possible reasons why. Maybe you had some fear & anxiety, so you share all the possible reasons why. & the way to share feelings that I encourage is to think of it like a paper where the feeling is the title at the top of the paper & then the words underneath the title are all the possible reasons why.

So that format of sharing keeps it more organized so it’s not darting all over the place, which can make it harder as the listener to respond to & track. & so, the feeling is the title & then the words underneath that are the possible reasons why.

So, there’s two ground rules when you are listening to this & when you’re participating in the Head Heart Check. The one ground rule is you can’t say anything negative about your partner during the Head Heart Check, because if you do, your partner is going to avoid it. They’re going to think, well, that’s time for me to criticize. I don’t want to do that stupid Head Heart Check. & so it has to be about anything beyond your marriage unless it’s something positive.

So, the Head Heart Check is where you share about your work, you share about your health, you share about your friends, you share about your hobbies. Everything that’s unrelated to your marriage is what you talk about during that Head Heart Check to keep it safe.

The second ground rule is when you’re listening to your partner vent, you’re not allowed to give any advice unless they ask you for advice. So, unless you hear them say, what do you think I should do? Or if you’re in my shoes, how would you respond? Unless you hear that, the only thing you can say in response is empathy. & this is where the Empathy Variable exercise comes in that we just talked about.

So, the best empathy statements to master is “that makes sense?” Or “I can see how you feel X because of Y,” or “no wonder you feel X,” whatever the emotional word is. Providing empathy followed by silence is one of the most profound ways to help someone feel understood & like they’re not alone.

& if you’re a fixer, the thing I say to a lot of people who are fixers—I’m a fixer, I’ve had to learn to not fix because my wife is the one who has a high need for emotional intimacy. I’ve had to learn how to share what I feel because it’s been a skill I’ve had to learn in my own marriage.

But the thing I tell fixers is, you can’t turn off the fixer mode. However, you have to change the target of what you’re trying to fix. & so when your partner is venting, instead of trying to fix the presenting problem, think about fixing them feeling alone in that problem. & the best way to fix that is through empathy. 

Kl. I don’t know if you ever saw the movie White Men Can’t Jump. It’s a wonderful movie. It really is. Ron Shelton is a terrific writer & director, but Rosie Perez is in bed with Woody Harrelson, & she says, “I’m thirsty.” & Woody starts to get out of bed to go & she says, “Where are you going?” & he says, “I’m going to get you a glass of water.” & she goes, “why can’t you just be with me in my thirstiness?” I love that. & so I do think men more often are interested in fixing & doing or joking you out of it, trying to solve it in some way. 

Dr. Wyatt: Yes.

Rhoda: & so I talked to them about witnessing, that being a witness can be really enough.

Dr. Wyatt: That’s right.

Rhoda: & sometimes that’s hard to understand. 

Dr. Wyatt: It is. Yeah. Be a witness. Unless they say, go, get out of bed & give me a drink, just sit there & listen to how they’re thirsty. 

Rhoda: I believe love is being willing to do the work of being a better partner. Relationships grow us into being a better version of ourselves. What do you think love is? 

Dr. Wyatt: I think love can be a multitude of different things, but I think at the core of it is this commitment to this relationship to continually grow both you & your partner, because it is about growth.

& marriage is the ultimate refinement tool where you’re going to be getting feedback from your partner if you stay with this person for any length of time. & you have a choice, you can either reject that feedback, or you can look for that kernel of truth in the feedback & grow from that.

But, yeah, I think love is a choice to work at this relationship that’s not going to always be pretty, it’s not going to always be pleasant, but it’s a continual choice to come back & to keep working at it. & as long as both partners are willing to keep working at it, love is always possible. & having a good marriage is always possible. 

Rhoda: Yeah, I agree. You have a blog post on sexy games for couples. Could you share one? & any other advice for those stuck in sexless marriages? I just read that 39% of American couples don’t have sex, & I think that’s incredibly sad. & sexless is ten times or less a year, according to Barry McCarthy.

Yeah. When it comes to sexless marriages, I have a pyramid that I encourage couples to consider called The Wedding Cake Model. & the first rung on that pyramid to have better sex is resolving your resentments. It’s hard to have sex with someone you resent. 

& so often, couples start at the wrong spot if they want to have a better sexual relationship. They start with sex techniques & sex toys & sex games, & that’s not the place to begin. The place to begin, in my opinion, is you have to first build the relationship so it has a foundation for sex to even make sense. & the first place to begin for that is resolving your resentments. So, you have to first heal those resentments.

The second prong or tier going up in the pyramid is building the friendship. & so this is where you want to start increasing affection with your partner. Start having your Head Heart Check for emotional intimacy, start having some dates throughout the week so you can cultivate some fun. You want to feel this friendship with your partner. It’s hard to have sex with someone you’re not friends with. & so that becomes the second tier on that pyramid. 

The third tier on that pyramid is sensual time. & this may or may not turn sexual. So, this could include a central massage or cuddling together, or a bath together, or a shower together. & so a lot of couples don’t have any sensual time together to just get acclimated to one another in that realm.

& a lot of low libido partners need that time to slowly build arousal. & so sensual activity at that point becomes a recommended activity to practice with your partner, just to get comfortable with each other on a more intimate level.

& then the top tier is sexual. So that often can happen at the end of sensual time if both partners are open to it. But I encourage couples when they get up to that sexual tier, which is the top tier of that pyramid, to remember voice & choice, where often if you’re married for a while, it can feel like the only options are intercourse or nothing.

& if you’re low libido, often you’re going to choose nothing because you just may not be up for intercourse. Pleasure goes down for the majority of females who are lower libido. Even if you’re not low libido, majority of females, pleasure goes down after intercourse because there’s not enough clitoral stimulation.

You can finish the entire episode by hitting the teal triangle on the player above. To learn more about Dr.Wyatt visit his website at

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