Following is the full transcript of marriage & family therapist Liza Shaw’s TEDx Talk: Marriage 2.0 – A System Update for Lifelong Relationships @ TEDxHickory conference.
Listen to the MP3 audio while reading the transcript: Marriage 2.0 – a system update for lifelong relationships by Liza Shaw @ TEDxHickory
Liza Shaw – Marriage & Family Therapist
My name is Liza Shaw. I’m a marriage and family therapist and I have been working in the passion of my life for the last 15-20 years. I’d say the last 10 years what I’ve been doing is discovering my expertise. And it surprised me when I discovered it, because what I like to do probably most people when I tell them they kind of go, ooh that sounds like it’d be hard and messy.
What I do is what I specialize in is working with people who are on the edge of breakdown, and in particular, couples, families on the edge of breakdown. And what I love about that of course is not the breakdown, but it’s what comes after of course which is the breakthrough, and it is what I get up every day to do.
I literally am one of those people who are lucky to wake up every morning and go — I can’t wait to get to work. So I just am super blessed and I’m excited to share this passion with you guys today.
I want to start — it’s called Marriage 2.0 — but I want to make an acknowledgement that anyone in a lifelong committed relationship will be able to relate to the ideas here today.
And I also want to start with an acknowledgement. So just think about people you know in your life who are in a lifelong committed relationship and maybe you’re in one, or maybe you want to be in one. Just think about them. Who do you know how many people can you count that you know are in an amazing, thriving, awesome, passionate, excited to wake up every morning relationship? How many role models do we have in our culture of people who’ve been together for a long period of time and are still totally into it? It gets kind of small, right?
So we don’t have a lot of that around. We have a whole lot more of the drama and the upsets and the breakdowns; don’t we? It’s what we see a lot of. Of course, it’s what sells in the media and it becomes what we think is normal.
I’ve come up with my own kind of simple idea for why and I’m not sure if this is really why or not. It’s just my theory.
The old model of marriage has been around for a really long time, okay. It’s been around for several thousands of years. People lived a whole lot shorter when marriage was first invented. And lifelong marriage was created, I would say then, as about a 10 to 30-year proposition at the most.
Essentially if someone was married at age 15 and lived to be about 35 years old, then this lifelong relationship would only be about 20 years long. Well, the idea is that the platform if you will of marriage and what it’s made up of and how it’s evolved over time I would say works for about between 10 and 30 years. This is what I see in my practice.
My clients come in. I ask them, you know, when they come in and I’ve already found out that they’re here to work on their relationship which is breaking down, and they’re not sure if they’re going to be able to make it and they want to work on it. I find that overwhelmingly people have been together from between like 10 and 30 years.
Now there’s the outliers but this is just in general what I’ve discovered. And I believe this is really not a problem. I’m not saying like this is wrong. I’m saying it’s a design flaw. It’s that — as a species we’ve developed and we’ve evolved physically but socially we’re a little bit behind.
And so it’s time for us to upgrade, you know like until we have people-less cars we actually do have to teach people how to drive but we don’t do that much real over teaching about how to have relationships really be awesome and really really thrive. And then we don’t see it either around us.
So we’re all it’s like a crapshoot, it really feels quite dangerous. Sometimes people don’t want to get married or don’t want to make lifetime commitments because of this.
So at the point of breakdown, what occurs is of course couples make some choices they can stay married but give up on that fulfilment and the joy and all the things that they committed to when they made that commitment. They can divorce and remarry of course and those same ideas could be what drives the next relationship which will eventually break down. They can divorce and they can give up on relationships altogether. Or they can upgrade their relationship.
Today what I’m going to do is deconstruct the ideas of marriage. I’m going to deconstruct and sort of look at the platform that we kind of take for granted and often don’t even realize it’s sort of like the background of relationships. And I’m going to offer some new ideas in their place and these ideas have worked with literally probably at this point hundreds of couples.
So let’s look at our first old idea: people who love each other shouldn’t hurt each other. Right, sound pretty clear. Anybody here like to be hurt? You don’t have to actually; admit that. But we don’t generally want to be hurt, right, especially by the people who love us the most and the people we love the most. And yet and you hear that ironic saying people say, oh, the people you know it’s so crazy that I hurt the people I’m closest to. It’s not crazy actually. Actually it makes perfect sense.
So if we operate on an assumption that hurt is bad for marriage that it’s bad, it means something bad about the relationship, then your relationship will only be able to last as long as you can withstand pain and disappointment, right?
So this would be like not teaching someone how to drive on ice. Just saying to them, hey here’s how to drive, talk to that. Now ice is bad, so don’t drive on it. Well okay, we can try to avoid it, but what happens when we’re on it, right? We don’t have any preparation.
The new model says: hurt is inevitable. In fact, the new model says that the closer we are to someone, the more clearly they’re going to hurt us because they’re more important to us than others. So think about like, um, you’re in traffic and some guy flips you the bird, right? Now for the most part you’re going to be annoyed or you might get a flash of adrenaline and give it back to him for a second.
But 20 minutes later you’re probably not going to be thinking about that guy. I hope you’re not. That guy’s not that important to you. But if you’re in the middle of an argument with your spouse or your significant other, and who you love, desperately love this person, and they flip you the bird, you get a little more irritated. Look, you know, you really might get really angry and it hurts. It hurts a lot more.
So culturally what this new model idea of assuming hurt is inevitable will do is it also gives you the opportunity as a culture; it gives all of us an opportunity to actually value the opportunity in being hurt and actually prepare for being hurt, assuming it’s going to happen, so why don’t we actually prepare, why don’t actually our schools could actually prepare children for dealing with being hurt. And not just tell them to be quiet or don’t be a tattle-tale, send them to the principal’s office if they went and hurt somebody.
Take a look at another old idea: a happy marriage requires COMPROMISE. Right? I can’t really see anybody out there but I have a feeling some of you are nodding. Has your father told you this, your stepdad, your mom on your wedding night maybe? Well guess what, how many of you guys have felt great when you walked away from a compromise? How many of you have been like man, that was so awesome, that neither of us got what we really wanted; that was great. Yeah.
Compromise is not going to make a thriving experience for either person, or anyone involved. Compromise does not feel empowering at all. And I’m saying stop trying to compromise, right?
Has anybody ever told you that before don’t compromise? Well maybe you know, don’t sell out. In a marriage, I am telling you that it’s bad for your marriage to compromise, because the best that you can get when you’re compromising is turn-taking. Okay, you keep score. I gave in today; tomorrow’s my turn. And then you wait for it.
And then when you don’t get it, you’re pissed off. And when you’re mad, what does your spouse get from you? Resentment. And is my resentment a gift to my spouse? Of course not.
My husband and I are doing our best and it’s an imperfect art to raise the kids, our children in the art of not compromising by something that this new idea is based on. Creating solutions together with our partner never ever feels like a compromise.
Okay, so what I mean by that is, example, my children want to watch TV. They want to each watch two different shows. The rule is agreement, not disagreement. Okay, so if they want to watch TV, the rule is find what you both want to watch. It’s going to take a little bit longer because nine times out of 10 what each of you first wanted to watch was not the thing you’re going to end up watching. But don’t here compromise in this.
There is one thing both of you will actually feel really good about if you will look for it. So you guys get what I’m saying. This is not about saying oh fine, we’ll do it your way this time. That’s the old model.
Speaking of the old model: my partner and I will fulfill all of each other’s needs and make each other happy. Literally every day in my practice this one comes up. Every single day.
Of course, what this means is it’s the experience of needing the other person to fulfill you, right? Now I’ve just got a question for you. Why would I put the power of fulfillment somewhere outside of me? Why would I actually do that? We’ve all been raised pretty much to think this way but it’s a little bit insane actually.
I actually want my satisfaction of my fulfilment to be under my control if I have the choice, right? So in win-win which is kind of the new model paradigm — it’s a win-win situation we’re going to be looking for — we would actually be interested in contributing to the other person.
Contribution — this is, I would say, one of the most challenging ideas that — it kind of turns clients heads inside-out when I start to talk about it with them at first. I want you guys to hang with me on it a little bit, okay, because some client – most of the people who walk in my office unhappy say to me… but I give all the time; I’m always giving and giving and giving and I never get and when’s it going to be a me-time, when am I going to be able to get something? I used to say this too, guys. I’m not like immune to any of this. There’s just the old model and the new model.
If they can exist like instantaneously, I can be in the space of the old model and then I could be in the space of the new model. So the old model says: I gave before, I gave before; it’s my turn, right? Turn taking. It comes out of resentment. Who am I concerned about? Somebody say it. Me and that’s fundamentally self-centered, selfish, right and I got some news for you guys.
Being self-centered and selfish feels horrible. It actually feels really bad. And when I am contributing out of my true and authentic love for my spouse, it feels freaking amazing; it feels awesome. When I’m selfless, when I’m contributing, what I really am contributing… I’m not talking about you know the doing for so that I get something because that’s not a gift.
Remember we said resentment is not a gift, right? So authentically sharing something with somebody especially in times when I am not really wanting to but there’s a willingness to — there’s a desire — I actually feel so lit up when I do something for my spouse that I didn’t really want to do but I got the pleasure in the moment of doing it. There is absolutely nothing left I need in that moment.
So if any of you are out there kind of going what is she talking about, that I want to say that’s very exciting for you, because you’ve got an opportunity you’d never even knew existed actually. There’s like a new path opening right now for you to experience true and authentic happiness.
If any of you into this room or watching the video have any sort of unfulfillment what I challenge you to do is be selfless in your relationship. And I don’t mean selfless like put yourself down. See if I don’t need to have my needs fulfilled by my spouse, then I come to the relationship contributing something. I actually have something to contribute, not just need. Need is not a gift and plus all my needs are met.
I mean, one of the other speakers was talking and saying about you know like if you just get present right now you realize all your needs are met. That’s pretty awesome.
Here’s another one: never go to bed angry. Anybody — raise your hand if you’ve had somebody tell you this, right? It’s really important for marriage. Don’t go to bed angry. Yeah, don’t raise your hand if you’ve given that advice. Just kind of keep that one to yourself, okay .I’m just teasing. I’ve probably given that advice too. And it’s okay if you even believe it still today.
I just want you to consider something else. [Just go to bed.] I don’t just and I’m not trying to be smart. I mean you might find that that could be fun if you’re angry because some people like that. But I’m actually –
What I’m really talking about is the lizard you have in your brain. Did you guys know that you had a lizard in your brain? It’s kind of a vernacular in the therapy world that we refer to our brain as the lizard brain. Well there’s a part of our brain that’s lizard brain. It’s towards the back by the spinal cord. It’s called the amygdala. It’s real small about the size of the top of my thumb, and that thing controls fight-or-flight response.
And have you guys ever had that experience where you like had a massive argument and then two, three days later, you have absolutely no idea what it was about? You’re like talking to your friend, you’re like man, God we had a huge blow-up. Really, what was it about? I can’t really — I don’t — I don’t know. I don’t really remember, right? That’s because the lizard brain was engaged.
So the lizard brain gives you two options. You can run away or you can fight to win, right? Or run away because you don’t want to lose. Those are the only two options. When you are trying to solve a problem, when you are upset, you already have lost, okay, because you are either going to fight with this person you’re saying you want a relationship with and you want it to be awesome and thriving, or you’re going to run away from it. You’re going to withdraw.
There are those in here who have one or the other as they’re kind of dominant thing. The people in here who are the withdrawers are going to — right now you’re probably hearing from the old model, you’re hearing oh good, I get to go to bed and I don’t have to deal with the problem. Yes I get to withdraw. That’s not what I’m saying.
What I’m actually saying is that when your limbic system is engaged, it is no gift to your spouse, your partner, you’re not contributing anything but your anger or your upset.
What are you contributing? That’s the question in your relationships. So go to bed. Calm down.
See, the back of the brain and the front of the brain cannot be engaged at the same time. Front of the brain is where all the creativity comes from, all the ability to problem solve. That math guy that we saw in the video that guy’s frontal prefrontal cortex is lighting up all over the place. That’s where thinking out of the box comes from. That’s where solving our problems comes from.
Okay. We’re going to step this up. It takes two to make a marriage work. No, it doesn’t. And I’ll tell you why. Because it takes two to change is a cool theory but what it really is, if we really get honest is it takes you to change. You the other person; you, not me, because I need my needs met by you and you’re not doing it.
So the infinity symbols actually imagine yourself on one side, your partner is on the other, their behavior contributes in your mind to what you think you’re doing. That helps the situation actually makes it worse.
What I suggest to you is it takes one — one and you’re it — you like the person sitting in your seat right now listening to me, you’re the one and the only one that needs to do anything to stand for an amazing relationship.
I want to tell you real quickly that the reason I love this so much is because ten years ago my marriage almost failed and I ended up in a therapist’s office who was able to help my husband and me have the most awesome absolutely fulfilling life-changing experience for our kids and for ourselves. And I want that for you too.
So I wish you the best of amazing thriving relationships and thank you so much for having me today.
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