You might think talking was easy. We’ve all been doing it since we were children. But most of us talk in ways that do not inspire safety and trust. When couples aren’t able to communicate effectively their relationships begin to deteriorate. That’s when marriages often fail. I’ve been a marriage and family therapist for more than 40 years. My wife, Carlin, and I have been married for 39 years.
The first question Carlin asked me when we met, which seemed a little strange at the time, was this: “Are you in a men’s group?”
After a long pause to see if she was serious, I answered, “Yes, I am. “Why do you ask?”
“I’ve been married twice before,” she told me. “I’ve found that men who get support from other caring men are a lot more fun to be around than those who are lone wolves.”
“I’m impressed to meet a woman who really understands the value of men’s groups,” I told her. “I’ve also been married twice before and I had very few male friends. My needs for love and affection were often quite demanding. If my wife didn’t respond in the way I hoped, I would often become irritable and angry. I’ve been in a men’s group for a year now and I’m learning things about love, life, and communicating that I do believe make me a better man.”
We often shared books in the men’s group that we thought would help us be better men. One of the books, The Seasons of a Man’s Life by Daniel J. Levinson offered a radical new theory of adult development and showed how every grown man must pass through a series of specific age-linked phases which underlie his personal crises, govern his emotional states and attitudes, and shapes his behavior.
Another, equally inspiring, book was Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix. The book was recommended by Oprah Winfrey, one of my heroes and by a colleague, Pat Love, who later wrote the book, Hot Monogamy and How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It (with Steven Stosny). Hendrix impressed me with his simple exercises, his understanding of childhood wounds and how they influence our lives, his focus on eliminating as much negativity as possible from a relationship, and his focus on building safety and trust.
I’ve followed Hendix’s work over the years, along with his partnership with his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt. For me they are two of the world’s leading experts on a desire we all have, getting the love you want. They have written 10 books with more than 4 million copies sold, including my two favorites, Making Marriage Simple: 10 Relationship Saving Truths and The Space Between: The Point of Connection.
Until recently I had never met them in person, but recently had the opportunity to connect with them at The Couples Conference, 2018, sponsored by The Milton H. Erickson Foundation. It was there I learned about their latest creation, Relationships First. They’ve taken the best of what we now know about the science of love and relationships beyond the offices of therapists treating couple’s problems and into communities where everyone can learn the vital skills of improving love and life.
This is a revolutionary event. Many psychotherapists do wonderful work with individuals, couples, and families. But meanwhile the society is becoming more stressed and depressed, particularly men. And those individuals, couples, and families whose lives we improve return to communities that are unhealthy and dysfunctional. The improvement is not likely to last under those circumstances.
James Hillman–controversial renegade Jungian psychologist, the man Robert Bly has called “the most lively and original psychologist we’ve had in America since William James”–joins with Michael Ventura–cutting-edge columnist for the L.A. Weekly–to shatter many of our current beliefs about our lives, the psyche, and society. In their best-selling book, We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and The World’s Getting Worse, they recognize that societal change can not take place in the therapist’s office alone. We need more.
That’s exactly what Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt have done in creating Relationships First. They might have started small and tried their ideas out in a small community. But they think big and decided to take their program to Dallas where it has proven to be successful. Their idea is simple, yet powerful. They are working with schools, churches, police departments and other community organizations to help people learn how to connect through their differences.
Using a simple three-step process called “Safe Conversations,” they teach people how to become more present in all of their relationships. Safe Conversations is spreading across Dallas with products and workshops for adults, kids, teens and with special programs for Classrooms, First Responders and Veterans.
Can improving communication really change the life of a community? The short answer is yes it can. Learning to address difference–whether they are differences between members of a couple, parents and children, Democrats and Republicans, men and women—can change everything for the better.
I know my own life improved when I focused on changing the patterns in my relationship and learned to communicate more lovingly and compassionately with my wife, Carlin. I believe it has made me a better father, better therapist, more effective community activist, and a better man.
Here are some statistics gathered by RelationshipFirst.org:
- 50% of those without a strong relationship network are more likely to die prematurely.
- 100% of people in negative relationships have greater risk of cardiac death.
- 60% of those with depression attribute relationship problems as the main cause.
- 60% drop in workplace productivity follows from a breakdown in marriage.
- 40% of children living in a home without a father live below the poverty line.
I found other negative impacts of family breakdown in the research I did for my book, My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Wound. When fathers are distant, absent, rejecting, or dysfunctional we grow up with wounds that impact our lives for years. But these adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can be healed through improved relationships.
Harville and Helen and their team at RelationshipsFirst have concluded, “The breakdown of relationships leads to the breakdown of the family which leads to the breakdown of our economy which leads to the breakdown of our culture.”
If these ideas move you as they do me, learn more and join the movement. It’s simple. It’s fun. It’s effective. You can learn more about Harville and Helen’s work here: https://harvilleandhelen.com/. We look forward to your comments and questions.
For more visit; MenAlive
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