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We're going to talk today about conflict in relationships.  I'm going to take up questions from the group and I also want to talk a lot about principles of good communication. And, perhaps not surprisingly, I'm going to be very focused on you and your ability to handle yourself in conflict because that's all you have control over anyway. Then I want to take some time and relate it to behavior in the group. We have new moderators that are going to be helping to oversee the many conversations that are going on in the group and help shape the culture to be one that is more respectful, one that is more self-defining, and less reactive. It's easy for the worst in us to emerge in these kinds of conversations because they are very close to the bone. They are charged conversations and often have charged meanings. And so the opportunity for your worst behavior to emerge is high. And so I'm just going to be making some parallels between communication in conflict in our marriage and with people that really matter to us. And then also expectations in terms of how you handle yourself around tough topics in the group. 


So, let me read the question that I'm going to address. This person writes, "My husband and I have always struggled to resolve conflict in our marriage. Lots of hostility and verbal and emotional abuse from both sides. We both have perpetuated terrible dynamics and patterns that I'm currently working to change. Recently, I hit rock bottom and I've researched so much about how to resolve conflict better. And I'm currently in therapy. I'm working on breaking some of the patterns, but it is rough. My husband will continue to use horrible techniques such as gaslighting, name-calling, and empty threats during arguments. Luckily, he never fulfills those threats and he never does anything about them, but they're hurtful nonetheless. I haven't been a pillar of goodness either. I've definitely done my fair share of abuse and have hurt him a lot too. I do my best to stay calm and use the 'When you do X I feel Y statements.' I do my best to bring it back on topic if he starts to kitchen sink it. Although, as you can imagine, I'm not perfect. It's very complicated as we agree on the important and big things in life. And when we have major hurdles like finances or house buying or something, we're completely on the same page. I love him very much. He doesn't cut me off from friends or family, and our finances are separate, so he doesn't try to control me in any way. He's aware of the name-calling and yelling and does apologize when he knows he's done something wrong. And I've seen changes, which is why I'm still in this. I don't feel physically unsafe or anything. We just really suck at the small disagreements, and I'm just feeling very, very discouraged. How do you stay in it and continue to break unhealthy patterns and dynamics even when your partner isn't at the same pace you are?" 


Really good question, and I really respect what this person's doing in her question as she is acknowledging, "I am not just a victim of my husband's poor behavior. I have been in it with him. I have done many of these same things. And yet it's also true that the conflict is wearing and taxing, and it's really, really hard to break the pattern." I appreciate that she is confronting her own role. And yet it's also very hard because a lot of times when you're in these patterns, they're so familiar and they're really easy to just get hooked in with the way that your spouse is doing it. Both because you know how to react to that and because in partnerships we're often getting each other where we're weak.  It's a good strategy if you don't want to deal with yourself to go after the weak part of your spouse, and it's an easy and even intuitive thing to do. 


A lot of times people come in and they say they have a communication problem, and in reality, couples aren't struggling with communication. They have this idea that if we would just say things better, we would understand each other better. But the people that are often complaining about communication challenges are often expert communicators. They can communicate an idea very effectively online, in writing, to their coworkers, and so on. So they're not struggling to get their ideas across. What they're struggling with is dealing with what they see about their spouse and what is true about them. And so we will often resort to communication patterns that have a different goal in mind than being understood. The goal is to prevail. The goal is to dominate the situation. When people say, "I get out of control with my anger," in my view the anger is a strategy. It's often a very familiar strategy. It's a strategy that they learned watching their parents, for example. It's a strategy that's worked in the marriage. If you get nasty and mean and intimidating, you'll often get your way. Right? This is what I talk about in the strengthening your relationship course when I talk about losing strategies. A losing strategy is the unbridled self-expression that is often designed to get other people to accommodate you. And so anger isn't about, "I just lost control." It's more about trying to control something through your anger. Another version of this is using victimhood to get people to accommodate you. "I can't believe you said that. I'm so hurt. How could you say that when you know that's an insecurity of mine?" And you get other people to accommodate you and gravitate to you, even if they're doing it resentfully, which usually people are when they're getting manipulated through anger or neediness, but you still can have this sense of winning. 


Someone wrote, "It's so ironic how wanting to win is so often a losing strategy."


Absolutely. Because in any partnership trying to prevail, which we do when we have difficulty regulating our sense of self, you might get the thing you want, but you will undermine friendship, trust, partnership, collaboration, and peace in the marriage. So that impulse to prevail is often working right against another goal that we often have but that gets put second, which is the goal of peace or the goal of friendship or the goal of collaboration. And so communication problems are not problems with the articulation of an idea, as people often think. Communication problems are really problems of self-regulation and trying to manage your legitimacy by dominating. By prevailing in the interaction we're trying to get our reality to dominate. We want that validation.  We want other people to make us feel okay about ourselves. That's why most of us get married. You lock in somebody who's now promised God that they're going to love you no matter how immature you are. And then when they don't do that, you now have a right to critique them and act like a victim when their humanity shows up. 


You can't be awake in the world and be in honest relationships and always get reinforcement. So the more we need that reinforcement, the weaker we are and the less likely we are to get it. And so to live well in the world is to tolerate when people don't reinforce you and don't reinforce what your experiences or your conception is.  We often want to use the language of "I'm looking for safety" and "I want other people to be nice to me when I say what I think and feel," and of course, we need to respect each other. We need to be decent to each other. But I think what's more important than the idea of other people providing safety for me is for me to be strong enough and self-respecting enough that I can tolerate that others won't see things the same way, that others can be mean, that others can be not respectful, and still handle who I am and behave in a way that I believe is respect-worthy and decent. The locus of control needs to be inside of yourself to live life well. And what we do in our immaturity is we will turn it over to others and look for others to provide us with our sense of well-being. And especially the more the person matters to you, the more you do this and the more the topic is important to you or is linked to your sense of safety, the more likely you are to get reactive and try to control others around you. So if you demand protection and reinforcement, you'll always be weak and reactive because that locus of control would always be outside of you. 


The author of the question is really clear that they actually love each other and that on the things that they agree on they actually do really quite well. They can make what might be, for some people, really challenging decisions around finances, around purchasing a house, for example. So she's saying there's a lot of good things and a lot of places where they share objectives and share a similar point of view, and then they do great. And this is true for so many couples that the things they agree on is where life is peaceful and good enough. What happens when you don't agree or when you see the world differently than you, you start wondering if you married the right person. It's in that challenging spot that couples will often bring out their darkest selves because it's where they can't get reinforcement, and often this is around things that really matter. And so in this couple, when they don't agree with each other, then they go after each other and they try to take the other down. They use disparagement, name-calling, and personal attacks to keep their own sense of self together to get what they want, which is to get life to yield to them. And this is very normal human behavior, but behavior that will always undermine our relationships. So again, anger and victimhood are often losing strategies, not honest responses. It can be a way to get other people to yield to you. And you might get accommodation, but you'll never feel at peace in the relationship and you also don't feel at peace with yourself. This is really, really important because you can't make other people love you. You can't make other people respect you, but you can operate in a way that you have self-respect, that you have a deeper self-reference, that you are more able to self-regulate and therefore handle better and more constructively people seeing the world differently than you.  


It takes courage because if your spouse is saying something mean they've given you all the license your regressive mind needs to go right after them and say mean things back and to say, "How dare you?" and to make this about who is going to dominate rather than staying on topic and bringing a decent, honest self into that conversation, even if your spouse does not. That takes a lot of courage, and what it really takes is loyalty to your highest self. Not a loyalty to managing the other so you feel okay. That's what our instinct is, but it keeps us trapped. We create the prison that we operate in. The goal is to fight with yourself, not with your spouse. 


Sara wrote, "It's a power struggle." 


That's right, Sarah. It's a power struggle and you never win at a power struggle. You just don't because you keep that locus of control outside of you. And then you've always gotta fight with your spouse to feel okay about you. And it's a power struggle between a vertical relationship. Am I going to dominate or are you going to dominate?  Who's superior now, who's superior now? And when you're constantly in that power struggle, there is no safety. There is no peace and your self-respect is hinging on your weak partner. And so the only way to be in a horizontal relationship, I talk about this in the Strengthening Your Relationship course, the only way to be in a same-as position is by being at peace with yourself. You don't have to prevail anymore to manage who you are. That's how you unhook from other people and start to build both more self-respect and more trustworthiness. And you're much easier, in fact, to be with because being with you doesn't mean you're in a struggle around who's the superior one. A lot of people live their lives constantly in vertical relationships. Most people do. Am I below this person, am I above this person?  And they're constantly trying to establish a sense of self by not being under people, or at least depending on people if they are under people, but that's outside of them. And the more we bring it into ourselves in an honest, integrity-based way, the freer we are. 


A group member says, "I spent years trying to convince my now ex-husband that there were better ways to approach disagreements. The meanness certainly took a toll. After great JFF advice, I stopped trying to convince." 


Yeah, exactly. It's not about, "I'm going to change you." I work with a lot of people who spend their lives trying to get their spouse to be invested in the marriage, get their spouse to try to learn the skills of better communication or being nicer or whatever it is. And they're complicit in the idea that their sense of self and their hopes reside in that other person. And then the other person cannot try because they're hooked around this over-functioning/under-functioning dynamic. And the more you take on who you're going to be and what you're going to deal with and what you're going to choose, the more you develop self-respect and capacity for intimacy. But also keep the onus on the other person for their own behavior. 


So here are some basic rules, and I talk about them much more in-depth and give a lot more examples in the Strengthening Your Relationship course, but let me just give you a taste of them. So the first is, and this is really hard because when you're in that angry, self-righteous state you think, "I finally get what's really going down here." Your regressed mind is telling you that you are a victim of your spouse's stupid ideas and that you see things as they really are when in fact you don't because your limbic brain is running the show. Your limbic brain is excellent for fending off the threat of a bear that's about to eat you, or a car that's about to hit you. It's pre-verbal. It is instinctive, reflexive, and it's faster than your prefrontal cortex in processing threats and reacting to threats. So we can all be grateful for our limbic brains in keeping us safe and alive. The problem occurs when the limbic brain hijacks the prefrontal when you're trying to have a nuanced conversation about how you manage family resources or how you respond to a child who's struggling. This is not a good time for the limbic brain to come in and act like your spouse is the bear who's about to eat you for lunch because you are compromised in your thinking and you think you've got it all worked out and that you have a right to be aggressive. So don't speak or try to have difficult conversations when you're reactive and upset. And even you or your spouse could say, "I'm going to go calm down because I know everything that I'm going to do next will be impaired and mean. And so I'm going to go until I've settled down enough that I can actually come and talk decently and constructively." And if the goal is just to get out of the conversation and you're using the idea of calming down, of course, that's not adaptive to just not deal with conflict. A lot of people will never deal with things and say that that's strong. And it's not, because to be under reactive to life's problems is as problematic as being over-reactive to life's problems. But to think, "I want to have my full brain on board before I deal with one of the most nuanced or challenging troubles that we as a couple have." That's good judgment. 


And so you want to think about, "What are the things that calm me down?" For a lot of people, movement is one of them. I think it's tied to getting out of a threatening situation. The more that you are in movement, the more your limbic brain will settle down. So going on a walk and thinking, or prayer, meditation, those can be things that help people settle down. So think about, "What is it that I need to do?" You want to seek wisdom and there are ways to do that. When you're regressed, you're in an impaired view of yourself and your spouse. And so you want to be in a wiser position and I think there are two ways to move into a wiser position. 


First of all, calming down. It's hard to get wise if you're already in this angry, reactive place. One thing that calms me down is self-confrontation. Asking myself, "What is my role in this problem? What am I pretending not to know about my own role in these circumstances?" We're wired to see other people's limitations and to track other people's minds better than our own mind, so we can be really deluded about our own mind and be tracking our spouse's mind rather well.  The problem is that you then think it's all your spouse's problem and they think it's all your problem. And then you fight each other as if the way to resolve this is going to get the other person to agree and say, "You're right, it is my problem. I am the problem."  So it doesn't work that way. You have to look at, "How am I complicit in or a part of my spouse's behavior?" And that's a hard question because your mind wants to take you away from it. It's also easy to not see it. But the thing is, the only thing you actually have control over is, "What am I doing that this is a repeating pattern? What's my half of this dance? How do I make it easy for my spouse to do the dysfunctional thing he or she is doing? Why can they get away with that with me? What is it about me that this is something that has a sense to it in their world?" Now that's, of course, not the idea that I'm responsible for my spouse's behavior, but I'm part of the ecology of this recurring dynamic. And so, "What am I doing in it? And what do I need to address in myself around it?" 


Another group member says, "The spouse who always wants to be better than their partner may get a partner who gives up trying to compete, and then no one wins." That's exactly right. 


Someone else writes, "Can you speak to how disconnecting from this dependent position is different from creating distance?" 


Yes, I will definitely do that. That's a good question. When you're hooked into somebody else's psyche, you're going to do one of two things. You're either going to try to control them through dominating and getting them to do what you want or control them through yielding to them, but you're still trying to get control over the dominant one. The big thing is that if you need somebody else's behavior to reinforce you, either "you are here and you protect me from life" or "you yield to me and my amazing ideas." In either case, you're going to be controlling, whether that's covert or overt. The other strategy is, "I'm going to disconnect from you because I can't handle my sense of self when I'm in your presence." So a lot of people that are walled off, as I talk about in the Relationship Course, are in fact overly reactive to other people's minds. That's why they need to be distant. That's why they don't invest themselves in the relationship. That's why they don't show much of who they are. That's why they're low desire. That's why they don't show up sexually because they can't sustain their sense of self while mapping and knowing their spouse's mind and desires. That's also undifferentiated, and it's just as undifferentiated as the enmeshed person who wants to control overtly or covertly. 


So the goal of development is that you can belong to yourself and other people. You can be in the presence of knowing what your spouse's desires are and still be true to yourself. You can know your own mind. You can make a decision. And it might even be to do what your spouse wants, but you don't feel like you've lost yourself because you did what they wanted, you're saying, "I see they want it, and I choose to do what they want. I want them to be happy. I want to do this, but it's being true to myself while I'm with them." Or to be able to say no to something and know that your spouse may be unhappy with you, but you're honoring something you need to honor in yourself genuinely.  And so you can tolerate that they aren't happy with you because you really can see or believe you're doing what is right for you and therefore the relationship. 


So our differentiation and development is linked to our ability to be true to ourselves and others, to belong to our own mind while we're in deep connection with others.That's why being more able to self-regulate means you are more capable of intimacy. You're more tolerant of knowing how your spouse thinks differently than you, that they've experienced the world differently than you, that they think about faith or sex or money differently than you. Because you are willing to understand the world from their point of view without feeling you're going to get lost or that you can't hold the legitimacy of yours. And if their point of view actually changes or shapes your point of view then that's okay. Not because they've now won but because you're willing to take what's true wherever you find it and claim it in your life and in your mind. You want to be disabused of poor ideas if you want to live life well. Because if your ego is running that process, you need to think you're always right or somehow you never get anything wrong because that's not what you're beholden to. You want to live wisely and truthfully, and you trust yourself in that process enough to be open to what others think and feel and believe. Something, by the way, that I want to see more of in the group. 


You want to calm yourself down, meditate, pray, think. Self-conflicting is a big part of calming yourself down. "What am I pretending not to know about my role? Why would someone reasonable say or think what my spouse said or thought?  How does their behavior make sense?"  I mean, you may be aware of the parts that seem crazy, but what's the sense in it? What's their goal? How does it make sense in relationship to you? What role do you play in it? How do I make it easy for my spouse to do what they're doing? And these, very importantly, are the mechanisms that develop a more solid self. You are living more honestly. You're not a house divided. You're getting more aligned within yourself. You're living more truthfully, more honestly. How you become less dependent on other people's approval is by knowing who you are, knowing your own mind, and not running from what's true inside yourself. Those of us who don't know our own minds or the places that we're running from will want to control what other people show us about ourselves and will punish them for showing aspects of ourselves we don't want to deal with yet or ever. And so the more that you honestly confront that, the less you need other people to prop up the idea that you're good because you've dealt more firmly with who you are inside yourself. And that's the passageway into freedom. That's why my favorite scripture is, “the truth sets you free.” The truth punctures reality, punctures your inflated sense of self, sobers you up, then sets you free because you grow out of your dependency on other people's approval. But you also become more able to really be close to someone because you can belong to yourself and be with them deeply and share yourself and your heart and your mind and your sexuality without feeling that you're being obliterated in the process. 


Okay, so that's the first thing. The second thing is to self-define, and I'll talk about this as it relates to the group as well. Your communication when it's intimate is self-defining. It's not designed to prevail or to win or be the smartest guy in the room. It's not about that. It's about showing who you are. Weak people need to control others. Strong people will control themselves. Strong people will let other people know who they are, and how they've come to be who they are because they don't have anything to manipulate or hide. They don't need to manage how they're seen because they are at peace enough with who they are as a flawed and worthy person. So, if communication is not about getting control of others or getting others to reinforce the world as you understand it, then you don't have to be aggressive in your speech. 


One of the ways of tracking how you're in communication is by asking yourself, "Am I using 'I' statements?" You can use this as a tool to manage yourself. If you want to go into defining your spouse or defining someone else, speak in terms of, I think, I feel, I believe, I want, and I'm going to talk about who I am relative to this challenge. So you're defining yourself, but you're not defining reality for others. So you can use this as  "I feel X when Y happens in these circumstances" or,  "I believe X because of Y and Z experiences." But again, you're showing who you are without the agenda of getting other people to reinforce your view, defer to it, or embody it themselves. 


The other principle is that before you speak, think, "Is what I'm about to say going to pull for something constructive or not?” Everybody's intelligence would go up dramatically if we would all do this. Ask yourself, “Is my participation in this conversation of conflict or difference going to pull for the best of my spouse or is going to pull for their indulgence or defensiveness?" If the conversation is going to pull for their defensiveness, their reactivity, their hostility, then a good question to ask yourself is "Why am I saying it?" Meaning, what is the goal here? Because a lot of us are saying, "Oh, I have a goal of a closer relationship and that we work this out." But another goal is operating that you can't see, which is, "I want to win. I want to prove to you that I've always had the right point of view. And if you just get in line and be more like me, we'd be a lot happier." That's a more regressed goal, and it's the one that comes in and hijacks the conversation. And so you have to really think about, "I'm very much a part of this problem. I'm a part of my spouse's bad behavior. Do I have the courage to not be a part of it and actually stay constructive?" If you do, it feels a lot more exposed. It feels a lot less familiar and it's going to feel uncomfortable because you're not in your normal power struggle and turf battle. You're actually showing up in a kinder, more open-hearted, more honest, and stronger way.  Dominance is not strength. Dominance is pretend strength. It is stronger to say, "This thing is hard for me. I don't yet know how to solve it. I do want to solve it. I want to solve it with you. Here's where I feel stuck." That's all self-definition. But it's not about fighting with your spouse. It's you fighting with yourself enough to come and expose something more honest, real, and workable. 


Someone commented, "It was said of the poet Shelley, that he continually sought outside of himself that which he destroyed within himself." 


Exactly. Very profound. 


Another person asked, "How do we know our own mind and not run from it?" 


It's a great question. I think making a commitment to yourself to be as honest as you can with yourself is the kindest and most courageous thing you can do. You're still going to be blind. There are just so many things we often just can't see. They're so cohesive in our mind that we don't see our own liabilities, especially if they were played out in our families of origin; they're so normalized that you don't see them as liabilities. Getting married helps you to see more of what you don't yet see about yourself. What's the feedback I get? What are the things I often am trying to get away from? What is it that my spouse or my child or my friend sees in me that I keep thinking I'm sneaking or getting away from? It's not a perfect process, but it's a very valuable process if you have the courage to think that way and to process information that way. Also, going to a good third party, somebody that's wise enough to look at you. I think the best coaching and therapy happens in marriage because the context of the marriage is very exposing about where each person is operating from and how their mind operates, rather than self-report. Because we go and self-report, we often just offer the best interpretation of ourselves that there is. We do it instinctively. We self-dilute in this way. To be able to really see who you are when you're in the crunch, when you're under pressure from somebody that's significant to you, that shows a lot more about how you operate. And so a smart, wise third party that can have a higher view of what is the actual system that's operating, and can often give both people more clarity about who they really are, who their spouse really is, and what the pattern is that they keep repeating. It frees them up to choose otherwise though it takes a ton of courage to do that. 


The one other thing I want to say is that the biggest thing that motivates me and clients of mine to change is not that I'm being so mean to my spouse. That does matter and if you see that you're hurting people that you love, that's good to recognize and that's self-confronting. But my point is that, at least for me, I find it more motivating that I don't want to be weak. I don't want to be running from myself. I don't want to be making other people reinforce something false in me because that's the behavior of a weak and fractured person. I want to live honestly. I want to be somebody who has that kind of courage. So it's not a fight with the spouse or the child. It's a fight within yourself about how you want to live. And the reason why I think that's better is that if you are afraid that, "Oh, I'm going to concede something, then they win," I think that appeals to the regressive part of us that says, "I don't want to lose." Instead, it's the ability to see that, "I'm not losing, but I'm actually gaining something by living more honestly, more courageously, and not having to pretend something or demand that others pretend something for me." And so I think it fuels this idea within yourself that, "I want to be strong and I want to be self-reliant and able to manage my reality. That will make me better. It will make the people I love better because they don't have to deal with me. And because I'm also able to offer more wisdom and clarity in the way that I live." So I think that's a motivating force in the face of those regressive pulls. 


A group member says, "I love this question. Two things I have found that are helpful are writing about the topic I want to know what I think about, and talking with another safe person about the topic. Both of these, for me, are exploration activities." 


Exactly—journal writing or talking to a wise friend. Help me with what you think I'm missing about myself in this. You can be prayerful about it, "God help me to have the courage to see what I'm afraid to see. Help it to be revealed to me so that I can be more courageous and live better."  And then if you're going to speak to your spouse about something that's been hard and you've gone through this process of self-confrontation, implicate yourself honestly as well.  I'm talking about speaking about, “I this. I that. I feel. I want.” That's an important thing. But if you're going to talk about your dynamic in the marriage or something that your spouse does, that's difficult. You can talk about how it impacts you, but you also want to implicate yourself in the dynamic. So, for example, this person that asked the question might say, "I've made it easy for you to fight back in an angry and attacking way because I know that I have also been provocative. I've also wanted to dominate and push back on you. And we have so many strengths and so much good, and I do love you. And we also come at each other in a way that I know I've been a part of and that I want so much to change for us to thrive and be more at peace." So you are self-defining. You are talking about your spouse's behavior, but you're talking about your part in that cycle so that it's not just accusing and saying, "When are you going to treat me the way I deserve to be treated?" That pulls for more defensiveness and so on. 


So let me just spend a few minutes and just talk about the Facebook group and my hopes and expectations of everybody in it. We are ridiculously big at this point. I think it's around 20,000 members, which is great. I'm very glad for it because I want very much for this to be a group in which there are good resources being offered, places where people can have the freedom to really think through some of these really important issues around their relationships and their sexuality, and how they've been taught to think about both and how they're operating in their most cherished relationships. So I'm grateful for that, and I do want to say that I am impressed in large part with how helpful people can be and the time that people will take to really respond to somebody who's struggling and really offer their experience and their resources and their thoughtfulness around things. I really respect and I'm grateful for people who are doing that for one another. It matters very much to me that this group is a respectful place and that you show respect for topics and people, and it's really important that that culture is really in place here and that we expect it of each other. 


We're talking about really challenging topics with a really wide range of beliefs and experiences. And so it's really easy to get like, "That's the stupidest thing." Or, "You're a terrible person." It's very easy to do that. It's not acceptable to do that. So the skill that it requires to do well in this group, is the same skill it requires to do well in your marriage and in your most important relationships. So I feel absolutely fine about expecting it of you unequivocally. So practice it here. These people matter less, so it should be easier here. If you're going nuts online, it means you're going nuts at home. So it exposes you. You have to stay in your lane at all times. This is important in marriage. This is important in this group. That means do not talk about your spouse connected to your name. You can post anonymously. We strongly encourage you to post anonymously even if it's just about yourself. You have a responsibility to your own privacy. And so you want to be really thoughtful about what you're putting out there, but especially if it's involving a spouse or someone in connection to you. So no matter how hurt you feel by your spouse or how much you may think that they've lost the right to their privacy, you really need to respect other people's privacy here. 


The other thing I mean by staying in your lane is please do not make it your job to get people to believe in the right way.  That's over the line. And even though we all know you do know the right way, it's still over the line to tell people how they've got it wrong and you've got it right. You can't bear testimony of your church-backed position nor can you bear testimony of your woke and enlightened position—those are both bullying positions. That's the problem with it.  You can absolutely and unequivocally define yourself. So you can say what you believe and why you believe it without apology. That's about showing who you are. "This is how I've come to see this. This has been my experience. This is why I think about it in this way." Not only is that not over the line, but that's also absolutely constructive and valuable because the goal is to understand the myriad experiences that have shaped why people think as they do because it expands understanding, it expands compassion and it allows you to think about your own point of view. "Is it too constricted? Is it too limited? Maybe this has made perfect sense for me, but it seems like it's not really been very valuable for this person who's not bullying me that I got it wrong with but they're just talking about how they have experienced this. And maybe my view doesn't really account for enough reality. Maybe I want to think about my view a little differently." But the way you do it is by showing up honestly and humbly. By humble, I don't mean like "I'm a loser," kind of humble. But humble as in, "I can only speak to my experience of this part of the elephant. I can speak to how I've put it together." That's always going to be limited for every single one of us. We're all still in development and sorting out what's true and what's real and we need some humility on that front and not assume that we can tell others how things really are. So it's always okay to be self-defining and self-revealing, but it's not designed to make people see the world as you do. It's not about winning, it's not about prevailing. The goal is to share your honest perspective and experiences. 


So, as an example, it's not OK to say things like, "Sex addiction isn't real." That's to pretend that you know realities and others do not, and you have a right and duty to set everybody straight.  It's superior. It's not respectful. And of course, it's only going to invite a fight. Who writes that without expecting that you're going to be in a toe to toe battle while dragging innocent bystanders in?  It's also not okay to say, "Anyone who views porn is clearly abusing their spouse and is misogynistic."  That is defining reality. That's saying how it is for everyone. You may believe any of these perspectives 100 percent with all your heart. However, you don't get to define reality and define others. So you can define your experience and your honest perspective, but own it only as that. Do you see the difference?  People feel the difference for sure. But seeing that difference in yourself is a big deal. So you might say, "The label of sex addiction has not been helpful for me because a, b, and c." That's perfectly legitimate because you're saying, "In my experience, that's not been helpful and this is why." That's going to expand understanding. You can say, "I do believe in sex addiction because my experience is I couldn't make myself stop viewing. Therefore, that label accounts for my experience in these ways."  Again, it expands understanding of why people might see it differently. Somebody can say, "The science I have read suggests that porn is addictive and makes people get hooked because of some response in their brain. And this fits with my experience in these ways. So it's hard for me when people say it's not real." Perfectly legitimate. You're even citing science or something, but you're not saying it as, "This is the last word." Rather you're saying, "This resonates with me for these reasons."  And here's one that last one, "While I understand that some people may have been hurt by porn, I resonate with people who challenge the usefulness of framing porn viewing as addictive because blah blah blah."  Again, you're pulling it into your experience, your view, this is how you see it. 


I really do care about this because I want people's understanding and perspectives to be challenged in a respectful way and to be expanded so that we're all arriving at something that accounts for more reality, is more valuable, is more moral, and is helping us be better people. And that's the way to do it. It's a way of increasing the intelligence of the group. It's a way of increasing the intelligence in a marriage. That is you define your honest experience with a goal of being known and knowing others. Not prevailing. This is what horizontal relationships are versus vertical ones. So you define you. Use those "I" statements, I think, I believe, I feel, I have a hard time with. Don't use "you" statements. No calling names. No defining other people. No disrespect. And the moderators that have volunteered, and I'm so happy that they're here, are just going to be helping to remind people of these rules, remind them of these expectations. A disrespectful comment will get taken down, and there's sort of a "three strikes you're out policy." So if you're not able to do it, then you won't be able to be a part of the group. But my hope is that people can really do this and remind each other if needed when challenging topics are coming up and it's easy to start going into self-reinforcement. So compassion, kindness, and seeking to understand, then be understood. You could even say, "Help me with why you think about it this way because I've never been able to understand why somebody would see it that way." And it's not accusing. It's genuinely seeking to understand. Then you can say, "OK. I get that. I think the reason I think about it differently is I have tended to focus on this."  Recognizing that people are trying to make sense of the world and that we're all limited is a compassion we owe to ourselves and each other.

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