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Podcast Ep. 25: Real Talk About (Our) Marriage With Jenny Walters, LMFT

In this episode

What is there to say about our amazing friend and licensed marriage and family therapist Jenny Walters? We've had her on the podcast in episode two. We also published an AMA with her, and now we have her back to talk about maybe one of the hardest topics of all marriage or life partnerships, whatever you want to call that relationship where you're committed to another person for the long haul. 

We get deep and vulnerable in this episode. Jenny shares some really intense and amazingly healing stuff about her own marriage, and Audra and I do the same, and we basically just lay it all out there. We talk about a saying that goes something like if you don't face your deep childhood emotional wounds, then your marriage will force you to. And there's another saying we discuss our wounds happen in relationships, but we are also healed in relationships. 

If you're ready to dig deep with us and get real about the pain and frustration of marriage, but also the joyful connection that comes from doing the hard work, then buckle up. This episode is for you.

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About our guest

Jenny Walters is a licensed marriage family therapist who specializes in working with Highly Sensitive People, who make up about 20% of the population. She is a graduate of the Pacifica Graduate Institute and is the founder and director of Highland Park Holistic Psychotherapy in Los Angeles, California.


Show notes

Transcript 

Justin: Jenny, this is going to be a relationship themed interview with you, we've had you on a couple of times and we love you. But so do the listeners. Yours is one of, I think, or might be the all time highest downloaded podcast.

Jenny: Are you kidding?

Audra: No. I know everybody loves Jenny.

Jenny: That's kind. Before you said Interview, I thought you were going to say intervention and I was like, ok.

Justin: Fair enough. Fair enough. 

Audra: It’s been a day.

Jenny: We've brought you here Jenny, to talk about the way you do relationships.

Justin: So this is relationship themed. We're going to focus on relationships today. We have a bunch of stuff cooking for relationships in The Family Thrive. We have workshops, cooking, we have a bunch of content. And so we need to have just a full discussion on relationships. Let's start off if we can, with the word marriage, it seems to trigger Audra.

Audra: And does that trigger you, that it triggers me?

Justin: Yeah. And I'm triggered because she's triggered. So marriage, I have written it into a lot of Family Thrive stuff because let's be honest, most like, I'm sure, you know, a very high percentage of the members and readers and listeners who are in long term relationships and have children are married.

Audra: Or, are opposed to marriage. And they have like a dad to the children who they co-parent with and then they're in a relationship with somebody else who's a partner. Like, I don't know. I know I just haven’t— 

Justin: I know that partnership is more inclusive. I get that. But Jenny, is there anything? I mean. Can you? 

Audra: He likes the alliteration.

Justin: Can you give us some guidance here? How do you feel about the word marriage?

Jenny: You know, it's interesting because for kids, as I'm married to a woman and my marriage was not seen as a marriage for the first year by the government, and then we went and had another one. 

We have so many anniversaries. You guys, we have like the Big Gay Wedding, then we have the legal wedding and then we have, you know, when we started dating. And then anyway. So I get it, I get how it is kind of a loaded word for different people and different experiences. Also, I don't know if you guys read the stats, but last week, I think it was in the New York Times. This next generation, the marriage rates are going down. People are not getting legally married.  Did you read that or?

Audra: I didn't read that, but I'd love to see that and I can imagine a number of reasons why.

Jenny: Right. But people are still forming families, you know, but just not getting married. That said, as a therapist, you know, you sit with all kinds of people, and I've certainly had lots of people say, you know, yeah, you know, marriage is just a piece of paper, and that has not been my experience. 

I felt a real transformation when Tina and I got married. I mean, it felt like the wedding was so powerful in terms of community and commitment in front of our loved ones and their commitment to us in terms of supporting us in this marriage. And I mean, something definitely changed inside of both of us after that ceremony. And that was without the legal status, right? 

But that moment changed something in each of us. So marriage took on a new, it meant something in a different way than dating and even living together did. And it was just my personal experience. You guys got married. How long were you together before you got married?

Justin: Well, we were friends for probably five years.

Audra: Not five, five years? We've been married for, it'll be 20 years in March.

Jenny: Oh my god.

Audra: I know, right. 

Jenny: I didn’t know you were in the friend zone that long.

Justin: Well, we met early in ‘97.

Audra: Late ‘96.

Justin: Yes, and then we were friends for years. Three years, probably. And then I think it was 200-ish where we became romantically.

Audra: So we've been together for 23 years.

Jenny: Is that all?

Justin: But we got married in 2002, right? So we are so we're coming up on 20 years. It definitely was a big deal for me, you know, but just I remember thinking, how like the shift? There was a shift when I said “my wife” like that. I was, you know, that was a big shift.

Audra: Did you feel that, Jenny? 

Jenny: Oh yeah. I mean, I felt a lot of pride, and I also felt, I think over the years, I don't even say it. I don't even hesitate. But, you know, in the beginning, you never know how people are going to receive a same-sex. I mean, that's changing, thank God. But so I would kind of sometimes I would say my partner or my spouse and I would sort of code switch, you know, I would kind of like, hide it. And I don't do that anymore at all. 

So it was, there are many layers to it. I mean, I didn't feel any shame about it. It was more just fear of just, you know, sometimes you're dealing with customer service and you just don't. And they always say, “Oh, has your husband duh duh duh?” And then you say, and I’m married, and sometimes I'll just let it go, you know, just like, I don't need to explain this, but that's another topic. But that was a big moment to switch into that kind of language. I mean, language matters, you know?

Justin: Well, right. 

Audra: That's why we want to talk about it, because this does matter. It's like how we're kind of going to be referring to kind of like a major part of a program, you know?

Justin: And I don't have a problem using partnership, and we and we use it, and it's fine. I do. I guess I just don't want the word marriage to go away. I don't know, will it be canceled? Like will the word marriage be canceled?

Jenny: Well, I hope not. I mean, if you want your alliteration, though, Justin, you could call it like the partnership pie chart or something.

Audra: I like it! Put in a pie shape would look more delicious, too.

Justin: Well, it well, it won't work as a pie. It really is a matrix, and we're going to talk about this in a little bit. But now that we're talking, I think I do want to bring up one of the matrices. And so for the listeners, obviously, this is a podcast. You cannot see the matrix, but we are going to link to it in the show notes. If we put this up on YouTube, we'll have it prominently displayed on YouTube. 

But I'll describe the matrix and this matrix is going to come up in workshops and seminars and things that we do. And there are actually two of them and we need two because they don't work without one another. But the first matrix is, so on what we'd call the Y-axis, the line going up and down. 

We have Authenticity at the top and then at the bottom we have False or Lost Identity. And so you can chart where you are in your marriage for yourself, like in your marriage. How true to your essence can you be? Are you your full, authentic self? And is your marriage or partnership allow you to be just fully you? And so you can chart yourself up and down? And then on the X-axis that goes horizontally across on one end is Uncommitted that you are in a marriage that you're like. You know, I mean, we'll see how long it lasts, or we'll do it for as long as it feels ok. And then on the other end, you have Fully Committed and this is you know what I'm with you through. I like, it's not even a question. I am here and I'm not going anywhere.

Audra: Can I ask a question. I’m asking a question… It's about the false/lost identity part of it. And you mentioned in your marriage. I just as we're...on LinkedIn, it was like linked on LinkedIn, a Psychology Today article about survivors of childhood trauma and like common responses. And that's something that Jenny will be able to totally chime in on. And one of them is a false or lost identity, a persona that they develop because they're not safe or have not felt safe and full authenticity. So is this just false/lost identity in relationships here in relation to your relationship in your marriage? Or is it like in for you?

Justin: Well, when I put this together, this was through a bunch of reading that I was doing and talking with some relationship coaches. And so the idea here is, is that an ideal relationship, like when you're really in the zone with your marriage or your partnership, you are able to be 100% yourself in the relationship like you. You can show up with your full, authentic self. You don't need to hide anything, you don't need to say, well, my partner doesn't like this part of me, and so I need to hide this part or I need to play this part down. Like, you know, ideally, you show up with your full, authentic self. And that is like when a relationship is clicking on all cylinders. Does that make sense?

Audra: Yeah, no. I get the authenticity part. It was just like, it's the false/lost identity part where it, I was thinking, like, potentially, you know this, this is for somebody who is maybe in the space of pursuing healing. And is it the false identity in relation to you and our in our partnership? Or is this in relation to their are struggling with a false/lost identity in general like their lives?

Justin: I think I understand.

Jenny: What's interesting about this matrix is that relationship issues might fall on one or both of these acts. What's the plural axis? And so what I can say is. Is that as a person whose attachment stuff came out as being pretty people pleaser, very, one of the words that I'm really in love with is this idea of echoism, which I think we talked a little bit in past podcasts about. But where Narcissus is at one end of a spectrum Echo in the Greek myth is at the other. So he has all the self and she has no self, right? She just repeats thoughts. 

So for those of us whose trauma kind of expresses itself in those ways as being accommodators, people-pleasers, Echo is in order to stay safe in trauma language that it's called the fan response. So I can see that my, the work that I'm doing personally and in my marriage is around bringing, bringing my authentic self, knowing that it's safe to do that. I love that and I've learned how to do it in my life. I would say my marriage has been the most challenging and rewarding place of that work.

So in many ways, I absolutely totally be myself. I mean, obviously, with my wife, I mean completely. And when we are in conflict, it is usually because I have stepped out of my authentic self around something that was just too big and too scary to ask for or express or share, you know, whereas, you know, in friendships and things like that, I've gotten much, much better at it. It's not as scary. It's not as threatening to the attachment, but the marriage is like the final frontier. 

So, you know, it's growing me in huge ways to confront that, you know, with my wife.

Justin: Oh, I love that, Jenny. And that brings to mind a quote that I wanted to talk about, but that we are wounded in relationships, but we heal through relationships as well. And what I'm hearing is that in this life partnership marriage that you're in, it has forced you to heal in some areas where you wouldn't have otherwise healed because you would have been able to avoid those wounds. Right?

Jenny: And yeah, and that's not to say that I didn't try to avoid it in my marriage, right? But because my commitment was over on the fully committed, it got to the point where I just didn't have a choice. And I would say that my wife would probably say regarding her issues that it's the same thing because she's she and I have both always been on the. That just hasn't been our issue. Commitment just hasn't been our particular place of struggle. So we're over here on this fully committed, which has then at a certain point demanded that we do the healing on the other axis because we didn't want to break up.

Justin: Did it demand that you do the workaround authenticity because otherwise, you would have been in a relationship that lost all of its energy? Or did other conflicts come up?

Jenny: Yeah, I would say that when I get too fearful to bring my authentic self and really talk especially about hard conversations, you know, I start to disconnect, which is another trauma response, which is I tend to kind of withdraw. Disconnect and just back. And when I noticed that happening because I am fully committed, something in me says, uh oh, this isn't how I want to be. This isn't how I want to be in relationship with her. So then I feel called to, you know, turn toward the hardest stuff and the scariest. 

I mean, like, it's nobody wants to, you know, it's like, really. I mean, I remember once early, early on, we were going to go to a therapist because we had just, I can't even remember what it was. We had one conflict. We just kind of kept circling and circling and was like, Oh my God. And this was like over a decade ago. 

So I was not where I am now in this work. And I remember getting up in the middle of the night in a panic and laying on the bathroom floor, just terrified of going into this session and saying what I needed to say. I was terrified. But I did it, you know, and turns out everyone lived. You know, it's like, it's never as bad as you think it's going to be this.

Justin: Yeah, so this is, I wanted to bring up the first matrix to talk about commitment, but now we're talking about authenticity. But this brings us to the second matrix that I'll describe so we can kind of go back and forth. So on the Y-axis, the one going up and down for the second matrix we have. Are you in a relationship with lots of connection where you, you know, there's just lots of conversation and physical intimacy and relational intimacy and just lots of opportunities for connection? Or is it lots of disconnection? Just, you know, the arguments or just, you know, withdrawal? And so that's that. 

So you can chart where you are on the vertical Y-axis and then on the horizontal X-axis, we have skills for repair. Do you and your partner have skills for repair because disconnection is inevitable? I mean, there's no relationship that I'm aware of that, you know, is just absolutely full of connection 100% of the time. And so the question is, do you have skills for repair? No skills for repair on one end. Lots of skills for repair on the other. And so you can chart where you are on this matrix as well. And it sounds like there was this pressure of disconnection because of the authenticity piece was driving you to gather onboard these scales for repair.

Jenny: Yeah, because it was intersecting with disrupting my level of commitment. Because the truth is, disconnection actually feels good when you're in a trance, when you're in a trauma state or when you're in a high conflict and you're going into that like real primitive part of your brain of fight and flight. For me, disconnection is a relief. And so I can't say that disconnection frightened me. What frightened me was that if the disconnection were to continue, it was going to, you know, I mean, if I were just looking down the road, you know, this isn't sustainable. To be in that disconnected state and be fully committed is just those aren't going to work. 

So, I mean, not to get too intellectual about it, but do you know what I mean? Like, I don't know about you. But in terms of skills, I mean, Tina is so good about reaching for me in a conflict like we all have our conflict and then she's so good about coming toward me and saying, Let's slow this down. Let's take a breath because of the way I grew up, the way I coped. It's really hard for me to be the one to do that, and I'm so glad that there's one of us in the relationship that can because as soon as she does, I soften. But I have a really hard time being that person. I really want to just go hide under the bed. I mean, I just, that's my safe place. That was my safe place as a kid. And so, you know, and also growing that personal awareness of this, then you can you don't have to reenact it with your partner. 

So to answer your question, Audra, like, it's both right?

Audra: Right, right, right, right. It reminds me of another quote that I was telling Justin about. And that is, if you don't face your childhood traumas, your relationship will.

Jenny: Oh, yeah, 100%. And they'll just start reenacting it.

Audra:  Yep. Yeah, that's what's coming up for me, for sure. And I identify so much with what you're saying. I think as a child of divorced parents and then all of the things that also brought me into people-pleasing and the placating and trying to make the environment around me stable. When we get into it, I have...

Justin: There’s another part that is not people-pleasing, that is resentful of the people-pleasing part.

Audra: Yeah, but I'm not talking about that right now. I'm talking about the fact that I will, for me it's the part that just wants to go away and be on my own. There is a part that's just like, screw this, I'm good on my own. I'm out. I don't, why I don't even yeah.

Jenny: That's and I think what Justin's, you know, piping in with is the split, is the split, which is it feel, when we are not in our embodied authentic self when we're not in our prefrontal cortex and we're back in the trauma brain, it feels like the choices I either have to be a people pleaser to be in relationship or, and I don't get to have a self, or I can have a self, but I have to be all alone.

Justin: Oh my god, yes. How does that land for you, Audra?

Audra: Totally.

Jenny: Yeah. And the people pleaser gets pushed far enough. I mean, yes, we are very we can be very resentful, angry people. We can be very nice. But there, because we can, we have a hard time setting boundaries and things that get swallowed. And once we, I don't know about you, Audra, but once I hit a certain place, I'm out. I'm just like and scene. It's really hard for me to walk into a relational place.

Audra: Oh, yes, yes, and for some folks in some relationships like I'm just out. Like, there's no there's no coming back, it's broken at that point.

Jenny: Right, which is where the personal work helps because I know that this predates Tina. I mean this has nothing to do with her in many ways and of course, everything to do with her because we're with each other and we're, you know, but now that she knows this about me, she can, if she chooses, she can come toward it with some compassion. And there are things about her that you know that I can, that drive me nuts, but I can also come out with compassion. You know, we can find our way back to each other.

Justin: So, Jenny, you described one particular pattern. All right. So. And this is…

Jenny: I know it well.

Justin: We could. We could. Yeah, we could call this an attachment style or a trauma pattern. How should we talk about this pattern? 

Jenny: You want to put it in another matrix, don't you, Justin?

Audra: She can read you like a book.

Jenny: No, I mean, I think we can think of it through a lot of lenses. I mean, if you think of it through attachment, you could think of it as avoidant, anxious. So I tend to be more avoidant. Once I start to get kind of activated or scared or angry, I tend to back away. I'm the one who's going to say, I'm out of here, I'm leaving. You know, I've found a healthier way of doing that now is to say time out, you know, usually avoiding people get together with anxious attachment style. Which is exactly to your point, which is...

Justin: I'm pointing at myself. 

Jenny: He's pointing big arrows at himself. So to your point earlier, Justin, of like we pick partners to heal our, you know, this is what the anxious and the avoidant want to do is heal. So the avoidant wants to learn to not be so avoidant and get to actually land in relationship. And the anxious one needs to learn to tolerate a little bit of frustration and let there be some space and still know that they're loved and we get to be close and connected. So that's like how we could heal. But when we're unconscious about it, the avoidant just keeps being more avoidant, which just makes the anxious one more anxious. And then that just makes the avoidant one more avoidant, you know. 

And then what I did back in the day is I would pick people who were either anxious or avoidant, and then I would play the other part because I was so good at it being a people pleaser. But the same amount of space remained between us. So if I was anxious and you were avoiding or if they were anxious and I was avoidant, but we never got to, you know, connect and be together.

Justin: So what's coming up for me is I am thinking about a listener who is saying, “Oh my God, you just described a pattern that keeps coming up for me and my partner. What are some first steps, now I guess we can say go to couples therapy? But before that, I mean, are there some first steps that couples can start to make?”

Jenny: I know this isn't possible for everyone, but I would. I would. I would vote for individual therapy before couples in a lot of instances, because when you do your own work, and it's not as threatening, you know, to have it pointed out. Also, can I just plug real quickly like premarital counseling or going early on when you guys don't really have a lot of conflict is so, when there's so much loving and liking and warmth between you is such a great. Most couples wait until they're 10 years into resentment and just anger and hurt. And it's harder to undo that. It's not impossible, but it's just when we can kind of create a foundation of learning about each other, what activates us, how to communicate it just makes it a lot easier. 

So that's my little, it's my little plug. But what I think you can start doing is turning with curiosity toward yourself. And I say this in that lesson that we're preparing right now, which is and I get how hard this is to do. I don't want to. This is not easy. 

Call your friends and bitch about your partner. Get it off you. You know, vent, blame, blame, blame. Fine. But at a certain point, the only thing you really have any agency over is yourself. And so at a certain point, it's much more effective to turn toward yourself and get curious about what is going on here. What got activated and get it into like a feeling place. Not a they did that. And then but like, what is actually getting hurt? How am I hurt?

Justin: So Jenny, I just heard this amazing quote the other day from this Internal Family Systems relationship therapist. She said, “If the feeling’s intense, it's your own.” Like if you're if you have a moderate amount of anger or whatever, and you can just state what the problem is, and, you know, then you know that that's a whole separate thing, but if you're triggered and you're really pissed off, it's your own. That was kind of a revelation. That is a sign. Like, if you're really, really pissed off, that's a sign that there is some internal work that has to be done. 

Jenny: Yeah. I would say that's true. I just want to put a caveat out for people, folks out there that are. I just have a soft spot for the super people pleaser folks out there who tend to self-blame really, really quickly and take on all the responsibility of their relationship, especially the ones that are in the place in their life, where they're in relationship with a lot of people who are narcissistically wounded. 

And so you can be feeling an intensity and it actually not always me. Now that's not to say that you don't have a you are a part of it, and there's a reason why you keep picking people who treat you this way. So I believe what she's saying is true. And I mean, this just goes without saying when there is verbal abuse, emotional abuse, gaslighting, things like that. Just.

Justin: Right, Yes. Yes.

Jenny: Obviously.  

Justin: You're feeling triggered because you've just been hit in the face.

Jenny: It's just not that obvious is the problem is that there can be mutilation, but that's another episode. But yes, I would agree that in most relationships and partnerships, that yes, exactly that. If it's the if, if it's a lot of intensity for you. And even if it's there's always some part of yours. I mean, it's whether it's 100% or 75%, there's something we need to be doing there.

Audra: Yeah, that's something that I'm really identifying with as you're sharing that and I'm thinking back. And Justin and I agreed that we'd, you know, be open and very real in this podcast together as we normally are. 

But I remember prior to Justin's journey into doing his inner work, and I can visually remember it. I remember getting into these arguments that we haven't gone into since being pushed to not only yelling, but like crying and feeling like I'm so not heard, and part of it was that even it was kind of a gaslighting. I mean, it was sort of like, I know you don't feel that way. No, that's not how this is. No, that's not what's. No, I'm not listening. I'm not listening. I am putting up a wall. I don't, I'm not even going to acknowledge you. You know, like, kind of like that. That is that I remember like escalating, escalating my voice and myself because I felt like I was knocking on a brick wall. 

But it was even more than that because it was like the insinuation was I was just the one that was 100% wrong. So I think that this is something that is striking me that I mean, I that level of activation was definitely part mine, right? Like, definitely it has to do with some of my parts, but definitely part yours too. So how do we help since there is this nuance like to think of like the mindful, there's got to be a mindful way of digging into that where maybe the what is, what we're talking about is like identifying between a trigger and what's not trigger anger. You know what I mean? Maybe, maybe it's something simple like that.

Justin: Well, so an example she used that help to illustrate that she said. Like, if I were to call, if she was talking with the host of the show, she said if I were to call you selfish, you would get a little upset because you have a part in you because we all do, that is that what's to take and a part that feels ashamed about this part that says oh we have internal stuff around being selfish. 

But if I were to call you a communist, like that word has lost. It's like, maybe if I called you a communist 50 years ago, it would have triggered a thing. But like, you would just be like, What are you talking about? No, I'm not. So she used that to literally say, like, if I insist that you're a communist, you would just, you know, calmly explain, like, I no, I'm not a communist and you don't have, you know, I don't know why you would say this, but you wouldn't be triggered. But if I insist that you're selfish, then you then you get triggered because you have a part in you that has been accused of being selfish in the past. A part that's ashamed about, you know, so now we're getting into all these internal things that are going on in there. And so that helped me understand what she meant by if it's intense, it's yours. If it's, you know, if you have a moderate amount of discomfort, just go, Yeah, if you're like, No, I'm not a communist, then it's not yours, you can just, you know.

Jenny: Yeah, I think maybe we're getting hung up is this idea of it being entirely yours. I mean. Like if there's a hook to it, I mean, you know, and we're going to pick a partner who is going to be able to, you know, activate like trigger and activate those parts of ourselves. I mean, we're just, that heat that we feel goes both ways, right. The passion. And then, you know, I mean, there's an intensity there and I think, yes, 100%, you always are bringing your own trauma, your own past, your own hurts and wounds, your own stories. And we're probably going to pick a partner that we, you know, we do a dance with. 

I think where it gets tricky is, when is it ok to say, Hey, when you do this, I feel this, right. I mean, like that there are times where it is ok to be, that you are triggered, it is yours, and there's a behavior that you need to be looked at or addressed.

I don't know, is that kind of what you were meaning, Audra?

Audra: Yeah, Jenny, that's exactly it. And I think that you're hitting on something and you said this when you said you recommend that people do individual therapy first and looking at what The Family Thrive is interested. The work that we're really interested in mental, anima,l and emotional health for parents is focusing on yourself first, like what you have agency over, you know? 

And so when I look at this matrix event or the matrices, if you will, is that the, yes. All right, then what I'm seeing in that is how can I relate in this? And what can I take from this? Not what can we? You know, this is about my work to do. And so I really want to bring the focus and the lens back to to that like I'm in this situation and conflict with my partner. What can I do? Not like, what can we do? I think the chances are going to be really slim that the two of us are going to be taking this workshop together or do it. You're reading this thing together. You know, it's going to come down to, I look back on that me prior to, you know, it was a few, a number of years ago, and I think I can look back at that me and I see so much opportunity to be with her in support. But I just didn't have the skills. Getting back to your matrix and skills, I just didn't know I didn't have any idea.

 And I think what's happening now between the work that you do, Jenny, I think a lot of the mental health influencers on social media are doing a great job. I think what we're doing in The Family Thrive is fantastic. We're starting to raise awareness about the fact that we can that kind of digging deeper, doing this inner work, the process of recognition, you know, developing the skills and beginning to heal. These are things that we can do. 

And I think before this, I used to think like, you know, you're, I don't know how to put it, but there were so many notes within. It was, I have a problem. I don't have a problem. You know what I mean? It was kind of like, I feel like I didn't get, really didn't get the nuances. Says we're either doing this well or not doing as well. It wasn't nuanced.

Jenny: Yeah. It makes me think too about in terms of the intensity. And if it's intense, it's mind. You know, the personal work allows you to dial down that intensity and so that it starts to feel more like being called a communist than being called selfish. You know, and then we can talk about it and we can still not like it when you call me selfish and that doesn't feel good, but I also don't feel like I'm being annihilated in that moment and then I can. 

I had a professor in school who was our, he was our couples therapist professor, and he was like, “Yeah, I just decided for a few months I was going to live by the addage: I shall not draw my sword in this marriage.” He just was like, I'm just. And he's like, I could feel myself reaching for it, but I just decided not to draw it. And I thought that was a great image of just kind of, trying to come out of that defensive place. But if you don't do the inner work, you just don't know what it is you're even defending. You don't even understand it.

Justin: Oh, Jenny, that resonates because when I started to do this work. You know, now, almost two years ago, one of the things that came up was like I was finding I like, I wasn't aware that I was being triggered by this whole internal series of like narratives and judgments that I had. I just thought that they were just, you know, the way things should be. 

And I just reacted to a little feeling inside of like Audra, you know, I do. Why are you doing X, Y, and Z when you should be doing A, B, and C? And it was just like the way things were. And then when I started to do this work and it was like, oh, where we were before I say anything, I can now see that I'm like, slightly triggered. 

And now I can start to do, to step back and be like, I actually don't need to say anything right now. And in fact, my desire to say something is mine. It has nothing to do with her. And then I was able to start to see like, oh my god, I have all these unexamined judgments and criticisms that have nothing to do with her, like they're not hers, they're that they are mine. And that was a process.

Audra: It was revolutionary, though.

Justin: But it was revolutionary. Yeah.

Jenny: And in the biz we call that withdrawing the projection. Like we had a story about Audra and you were projecting it onto her and then her actions are just reinforcing it unbeknownst to her. And then, and this goes both ways. This is the thing. Nobody's side of the street is clean here like everyone has shit and it's but, it's also everyone's job to tend to their own dirty diaper. You know, if we're going to stick with that metaphor. Like to clean it up, you know, and people are so resistant to it.

Justin: One of the really great things about I resonate so much with this idea of like the first step is go into individual therapy, like, do this work for yourself? Because one thing that happens, I've come across this idea of relational polarity. So the idea that in a relationship, a polarity can emerge where one side starts to feel like if they don't fight like hell, the other side is going to completely overtake them. And so then the other side feels the same way like, well, shit, man, if I don't fight like hell, the others are going to. And then it just gets more intense over time, and it's and then it becomes this relational polarity. 

Audra: And so it'll be a thing like as a parent, for example, this will manifest in like bedtime, and this is something that Justin or screen time, right? It's a really interesting process because Justin will, is on the more stringent side. There'll be a parent who's more stringent, a parent who's a little bit less. He has a story about me that I have. I would have a frat house if it were up to me. 

Justin: The kids may never go to bed like they like.

Audra: We're just going to be, you know, I don't know, like doing lines of pixie sticks and, you know, like watching who knows what. And then I have a story about him of like, these children will never live a life. You know. They are going to be living this military style, you know, sort of thing. And so without even really realizing it, we kind of reinforce that as he is like you know bedtime should be... and I'm like, Well, you know, I, you know, I think that they could go an extra another half hour. And in his mind, he's thinking she's like, What do you mean? It's another three hours and I'm, you know, and I'm thinking. 

Justin: Or this is how it's going to be every single night. Like so yeah. That's a great example. That's a great example. What I was going to add, though, just to Jenny's point about doing the individual work, is that the way to break a relational polarity or one way to break it is for one side to unilaterally disarm. And what your and then just trust that in this relationship, you're not going to overt like you're not going to destroy me, you're not going to overtake. And if and so I love that idea of like, I'm just not going to draw my sword no matter what. And then the relational polarity just like starts to fizzle.

Audra: And what happens. What I've experienced to happen here, too, is as you put down the sword, you don't try the sword. I start to feel safe as well. To like, take off the armor, you know, and we start to like just sort of like disembattle ourselves, and then it's progressed to the point where I feel safe saying like, listen, if we're going to set a rule, I'd love to have a family meeting about it. 

Like we can talk about it, but let's talk about it at dinner. Let's make agreements with everybody. Everyone's on the same page. I don't like being caught off guard with new rules that I was not a part of making or, you know, I don't know, like. And so he's agreed to that. And I feel like we've gotten to a really good place of like, let's talk about it, vent about it, but then let's go make a rule together with the kids. You know make this a family thing and we're in a totally different zone because of that.

Jenny: Yeah. I mean, that's it. It's like when couples come in for therapy and they're both like, It's your fault, it's your fault, it's your fault, it's your fault. It's like, it just will go nowhere. I mean, someone has to be the one to say. Harville Hendrix. You know him? He does a lot of Imago couples work if you're familiar, and his whole thing is like, give your partner what they want, which sounds easy, but when you are withholding it because you think what they want is bad, wrong or a threat to you. 

But man, watch a person melt when you just give them and it. But it requires trust. And I think that's where the individual work comes in is like when you do your own individual, when you come into understanding of your own emotional reality and all of the parts inside and the ways that they're hurting in the ways that they're scared and trying to stay safe.

 Once you turn with curiosity, they start to settle down, they start to feel safe inside of you. Then you can feel safe with your partner laying your sword down. But if you're not safe with yourself, how are you going to be safe with someone outside of you? You know, I just feel like it's it. You've got to do that. You've got to get to know you. You know, if you want your partner to know you. Mic drop. I'm just, yeah.

Audra: Yeah. No, I mean, I think this is really, really powerful. And it does make me think that it starts with us, right, and starts within me. Starts with me, and the cool thing is, is that when you do that work like we can't have the expectation that our partner will do the work to or change to, right. But by starting on this, like everything that we've said, I have personally experienced a shift where it's made much more safe for everybody to then engage in it. And you'd be surprised at like how the temperature can just like, come down. And I feel like we have a safe environment now to discuss a good amount of things. And that's really powerful. It's really it's a really big change.

Justin: You've now piqued my curiosity.

Audra: Whenever you try to talk with me about budgeting. You know, for sure. Like now, I know I get like, we definitely have very different childhood backgrounds around money and things like that. And so that's still, I think, a terrain where it's not that it's unsafe. It's just it does, like Jenny said at the beginning, for certain things can feel really big, you know, it feels. Yeah, I know I can be easily triggered in that and you know that we can be get and easily get into polarity. So I do think that you and I like try to do our best and communicate when we have to about it. But like.

Jenny: You know what's great about what you're, the way you're speaking about it is you're allowing for there to be a difference between you that you can be different. And that's the work of differentiation, which to me is what a lot of marriage is about and partnership is about is that you can be you and I can be me and we can be different, but we can still be close and connected. 

And I think a lot of people, when they're in conflict are like, no, no, no, we need to see it exactly the same way. We need to do it this one way, and it's very frustrating. I don't know about. I think there's grieving in marriage when we start to really realize that no one human can be our fantasy and that they are, you know, they bring their humanity to it and that there, I think there's so much we're fed about the fantasy of what marriage is or what it should be or how it should look. And I mean, I find the reality of it much better, I think, than that fantasy in the sense that it's much more real and deep.

Justin: It allows room for growing and in like. I mean, it's part of that authenticity. I mean, the idea of just this melded couple. I mean, that's also it strikes me that like this romantic fantasy is also very childish in the sense that it's really a longing for, you know, returning to the embrace of the mother.

Jenny: It's a longing for it's a fantasy for something that doesn't exist, which is perfect attunement and a lot of times we have to mourn that. And this is the work of personal therapy as we have to grieve that loss with our own parents, right? Which is that longing in that fantasy for perfect it to meant that we will never get because no human can be perfectly attuned to another human at all times. 

Now, some do it better than others, right? I mean, some parents really with it entirely and others get pretty close, but it's natural and human to long for that. But where we get into trouble, I think, is when we don't realize that it's a longing and it's not really a reality and that we've got to accept something good enough or close enough, you know?

Justin: Well, Jenny, can I reveal something? I have a judgment around this. Like I have a judgment that that longing is a sign that some personal that the road of personal development has not been traveled far enough for that person. For me, there is this exciting, you know, transition in like midlife adulthood of like discovering what does it really mean to have an authentic self and to express this like this, you know and like this requires leaving behind some idea of, you know, I'm going to be cocooned in a, you know, in a kind of all-embracing relationship. Like, no, I want my relationships to be adult ones where we give and take and we and we come together and we leave. And yeah, so I think this is a kind of personal developmental stage.

Jenny: Would it feel better if I framed it as there is a part inside that longs for that kind of perfect attunement?

Justin: In fact, I totally agree with that. Yes, yes. No, yeah, I am in 100% alignment with that, that I absolutely have parts that are still children that, you know, if they think that if they can only perform well enough that their mom is going to love them, you know?

Jenny: Sure. Yeah, same, it's like I've done a lot, a lot, a lot of work around my relationship with my mom and accepted her for where she's at and who she is and changed some things. And we have a much different relationship than we did growing up, right? And I and you know, she's in her 90s and I know one day she will pass and I'm kind of preparing myself for that. And I know that there is a part that deeply, deeply wishes we had a different kind of relationship.

I just, and I know that part will always want that and long for it and dream of it. Is it the loudest part? No. Does it drive the bus? No. Does it pop up at times when I'm feeling particularly vulnerable? Yes. When something happens between she and I? Yeah, you know, like, but I feel that part is welcome and I and especially with like the mother and the father, too. But...

Justin: I hear, you know, and I was perhaps too strong or misspoke. It's really this unexamined desire for this, for this kind of cocooned embrace. That is definitely childhood parts want that. But I think in, you know, midlife personal development, there is this like expression of an authentic self that would be stifled by that.

Jenny: Yeah, yeah. I hear what you're saying.

Audra: You've had like the opposite of a midlife crisis, like the one kind that they would get in the 80s, 90s and like dad goes and gets a Corvette, you know, and like that kind of midlife crisis, you've had the opposite. A very different version of that, where instead of being a crisis of like trying to go back to youth, you have, you know, wanted to fast forward into a sage, you know, adulthood like, you know, it's.

Justin: I want to be an 80-year-old. Wise.

Jenny: Well, you've responded to it differently, you know, which is, yeah, instead of trying to grasp some bygone moments, you know, you've turned inward, which is, imagine the world we would live in if when people hit their midlife, they heeded that call. I mean, that would be a game changer.

Audra: It would absolutely change the world for the better.

Justin: That's what we want to do with The Family Thrive. 

Audra: That's exactly what we want to do.

Justin: Provide a space. 

Audra: An environment for that.

Jenny: I think it's good to just normalize like your marriage, my marriage. Like, Yeah, we fight sometimes. Yeah, there's conflict. Yeah, we went through this patch and it was intense and rough. And yeah, we went to therapy. And yeah, you know, it's like just to remove the stigma around that. 

So many people think like, I think having conflict is hush and we don't talk about it or going to therapy means, you know, you're on the brink of divorce or, you know. 

Justin: Jenny, my parents never argued in front of me. Never once I had. I have no. I have no. I don't even know what that's like. I have no idea. They've never not even like a cross look.

Audra: Well, that's an interesting thing that you bring up, too, because mine did not either. It was that much of a practice of doing it behind closed doors, and you and I have had like a really long-standing difference around it, like I felt like argue in front of the kids. As long as we're not calling names are getting activated or triggered or dirty like, you know, in it, but argue and show a resolution like. We should show what the process is like.

Audra: Can we think of, together, some takeaways from this? For The Family Thrive, we are supporting parents’ mental and emotional health and then all of the things that are in support of that, right, it's a holistic approach to this. We do believe that it starts within us individually and that we want to be a platform that supports the individual in their work. 

And maybe that's why the marriage matrix thing wasn't working for me too, because it's like I'm seeing this through the lens of the mom or even the dad. But it's mostly going to be the mom who is like, not only exhausted in her relationships, you know, at home with her kids, but she's not feeling connected. She's triggered. She's wondering why this is going on with her partner. 

And it's like, where can I start? Where can I start digging into this? We want to be a supportive environment for that. So can we list off? We said a number of things on the podcast, but just to be like really kind of concise a couple, just a couple of places and start, before individual therapy too.

Justin: Well, maybe each of us just say something that like, we're taking away from this.

Audra: I think that's a great idea. Does that sound like a good idea to you, Jenny? 

Jenny: Yeah. If you guys go first.

Audra: Yeah, go ahead, Justin.

Justin: Oh, all right.

Audra: You're always ready.

Justin: And one thing that I personally am taking away is I'm glad that I got the opportunity to reflect on the doing this work over the past two years and the shift that that's had in our relationship. And so what's coming up for me is just a renewed commitment to doing this work because it's not done. It's not, you know, it's not perfect. And so just a renewed commitment to being aware, being mindful of the triggers for me and then looking inward and not putting that out onto you.

Audra: Thank you. Thank you. What about for you, Jenny?

Jenny: I was going to go last Audra, but ok, first of all, I just want to say, guys, you're always so generous and kind in your compliments and the feeling is totally mutual. I just think you guys are amazing humans, and I'm so honored to get to have these conversations, whether they're being recorded or not.

 They're just so, I just I mean, I just love you guys and I love this. I love this stuff. I think what I'm taking away is, I kind of like part of it is like, oh, I wish Tina were here. You know, I'd love to hear her perspective in terms of, you know what a pain in the ass I've been at times, but no, but how we've come together and kind of grown together. I'm also really struck by your matrix in the sense of what is holding us in partnership. 

Is this something around authentic self, commitment, skills? I just think that's a really interesting way of looking at it. And for me personally, I'm like, Oh yeah, I've always been fully committed. That is like the one, you know, thing I can say has just been unwavering for me. And now I'm sort of seeing the way that's tied in with my authentic self and my, you know, the way we repair and things like that. 

So it's just I find that really helpful, Justin. So just kudos for your matrix, and I hope other people find it helpful, too. Yeah, I don't think that was a little abstract, but I just love talking about this. And if I can, if I can demystify people turning toward their emotions and their scary feelings and their anger. If I can just demystify that for any one person and say it is not as bad and scary as you think it's going to be, and it will truly set you free. It will completely set you free.

Justin: I heard the analogy of it's like lancing a boil.

Audra: Oof, oh god. Justin.

Justin: It's like, oh, that sharp thing is going to hurt, but it's like, no, no, no, you got to do it. So then clean it out and you're going to feel awesome.

Jenny: So let's leave with that image Audra?

 Thank you, Justin, yeah, I'm thinking like Dr. Pimple Popper or whatever. I think the kids like to watch on TikTok or something.

Jenny: When that commercial comes on, I have to like, leave the room. 

Audra: What is coming up for me, in conclusion, here is some, a conversation that I had with Jenny actually in MaxLove Project about shadow work and. It so, it was really powerful to me, and I think that we spend so much of our lives like we've got the shadows, like we're surviving where, you know, often coming through childhood into young adulthood and then her parents coming into early parenthood is really, really traumatic. 

And some, for some like actual like, there's physical medical trauma and things like that, but it's a traumatic experience. And so I think we accumulate almost an army of shadows. And I mean, there's a lot, there's a lot there that by the time we get to this place of the midlife opportunity, if you will.

Jenny: I love that reframe.

Audra: We have, we have a lot of folks around the table with us. And, you know, it's something I think that was a really powerful realization for me. But what but I wanted to share about the shadow work is instead of seeing that as like kind of like a darkness we carry with us or whatever. For me, our conversation about that Jenny was so powerful because that we are as we go through these difficult things, childhood traumas on and we accumulate the we survive, we persist. And so we accumulate this. We have the shadow that we kind of, yeah, kind of stuff away, right? That's a survival mechanism, and it's something that I have significant gratitude around. 

So I want, I guess, what I want to share is a movement out of shame around that. Like, we all have so much junk in the trunk, you know, or whatever there. We carry a lot with us. We have a lot of baggage. Everybody does and it's a beautiful thing. It's a survival mechanism like, we need it. We need to have room for that somewhere to pack that away. And when we talked about it in MaxLove Connect, it was like, yeah, it's kind of like high circulating blood glucose or something like, we have fat cells that take that in to protect us from the really, really devastating effects of, you know, of blood glucose just circulating in the blood, right? It's a protective mechanism, you know, like we can name many biological protective mechanisms like that. 

This is a protective mechanism for our heart and sometimes even soul in our, you know, our inner world and like, totally appreciate that. But we do get to the point where, like the quote that I mention, like if you, if you don't face this stuff, then your relationships, well, whether it's your partnership or your kids or in the workplace. 

My goodness, Jenny, we have so much to bring to the world around that and how you show up at work like this stuff is showing up and it is like there's there's like who you think you are and then there's like all of the shadow folks, you know, popping up and again, we're grateful, but it comes to be the time that that's our work to do and the word that you use liberation is the first word that comes up to me. On the other side of that work is freedom. And how beautiful is it, I see a picture of like Bora Bora, you know, I, you know, kind of like walking down this beach and that is like on the other side of me doing the work to be able to be my authentic self.

Jenny: Right. And just if I can add one little cherry on top, it's not freedom from ever feeling bad. It's not freedom from conflict in our marriage. It's freedom from the shame around that. And it's a freedom to allow everything to be here and us to walk through it and get to the other side instead of having to stuff it, fester it, defend it. You know, just move through it, let the waves crash on the beach, you know?

Audra: And is it a freedom from the weight? From the burden, from the bigness of of these things, from that, from the unsafe things, from that, like, you know, all of that stuff, right? Like, yeah.

Jenny: From the all or nothing. You know, that's from that, from the all or nothing, from the binary of like, it's bad or it's good. You're bad or you're good. I'm bad or good. Our marriage is bad or good. I mean, the binary is on its way out. Thank God in so many ways. But this place where there are no bad emotions there, just some that are harder to experience than others, you know? And so any way we can...

Justin: I love that. No bad emotions. Some are harder to experience than others. I love that. That's beautiful. I think that is a perfect way to put a bow on this conversation, which is really just a comma, a pause because we are going to do this again, Jenny.

Jenny: Yay, I can't wait.

Justin: Oh, my friend. Thank you so much. You are just a joy. You are. It's an honor to know you. And thank you so much for coming back.

Audra: Thank you for sharing your brilliance with us, all of your Jennyisms, ways of making sense. 

Jenny: Oh my goodness. Thank you, guys. It's always an honor. Love you both.

Audra: Love you too.

Podcast Ep. 25: Real Talk About (Our) Marriage With Jenny Walters, LMFT

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Podcast Ep. 25: Real Talk About (Our) Marriage With Jenny Walters, LMFT

Strap in, we're diving deep into this episode! We're joined again by Jenny Walters, LMFT to discuss marriage, partnership, and how past traumas can affect our current relationships.

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90 minutes

In this episode

What is there to say about our amazing friend and licensed marriage and family therapist Jenny Walters? We've had her on the podcast in episode two. We also published an AMA with her, and now we have her back to talk about maybe one of the hardest topics of all marriage or life partnerships, whatever you want to call that relationship where you're committed to another person for the long haul. 

We get deep and vulnerable in this episode. Jenny shares some really intense and amazingly healing stuff about her own marriage, and Audra and I do the same, and we basically just lay it all out there. We talk about a saying that goes something like if you don't face your deep childhood emotional wounds, then your marriage will force you to. And there's another saying we discuss our wounds happen in relationships, but we are also healed in relationships. 

If you're ready to dig deep with us and get real about the pain and frustration of marriage, but also the joyful connection that comes from doing the hard work, then buckle up. This episode is for you.

Listen here

About our guest

Jenny Walters is a licensed marriage family therapist who specializes in working with Highly Sensitive People, who make up about 20% of the population. She is a graduate of the Pacifica Graduate Institute and is the founder and director of Highland Park Holistic Psychotherapy in Los Angeles, California.


Show notes

In this episode

What is there to say about our amazing friend and licensed marriage and family therapist Jenny Walters? We've had her on the podcast in episode two. We also published an AMA with her, and now we have her back to talk about maybe one of the hardest topics of all marriage or life partnerships, whatever you want to call that relationship where you're committed to another person for the long haul. 

We get deep and vulnerable in this episode. Jenny shares some really intense and amazingly healing stuff about her own marriage, and Audra and I do the same, and we basically just lay it all out there. We talk about a saying that goes something like if you don't face your deep childhood emotional wounds, then your marriage will force you to. And there's another saying we discuss our wounds happen in relationships, but we are also healed in relationships. 

If you're ready to dig deep with us and get real about the pain and frustration of marriage, but also the joyful connection that comes from doing the hard work, then buckle up. This episode is for you.

Listen here

About our guest

Jenny Walters is a licensed marriage family therapist who specializes in working with Highly Sensitive People, who make up about 20% of the population. She is a graduate of the Pacifica Graduate Institute and is the founder and director of Highland Park Holistic Psychotherapy in Los Angeles, California.


Show notes

In this episode

What is there to say about our amazing friend and licensed marriage and family therapist Jenny Walters? We've had her on the podcast in episode two. We also published an AMA with her, and now we have her back to talk about maybe one of the hardest topics of all marriage or life partnerships, whatever you want to call that relationship where you're committed to another person for the long haul. 

We get deep and vulnerable in this episode. Jenny shares some really intense and amazingly healing stuff about her own marriage, and Audra and I do the same, and we basically just lay it all out there. We talk about a saying that goes something like if you don't face your deep childhood emotional wounds, then your marriage will force you to. And there's another saying we discuss our wounds happen in relationships, but we are also healed in relationships. 

If you're ready to dig deep with us and get real about the pain and frustration of marriage, but also the joyful connection that comes from doing the hard work, then buckle up. This episode is for you.

Listen here

About our guest

Jenny Walters is a licensed marriage family therapist who specializes in working with Highly Sensitive People, who make up about 20% of the population. She is a graduate of the Pacifica Graduate Institute and is the founder and director of Highland Park Holistic Psychotherapy in Los Angeles, California.


Show notes

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Transcript 

Justin: Jenny, this is going to be a relationship themed interview with you, we've had you on a couple of times and we love you. But so do the listeners. Yours is one of, I think, or might be the all time highest downloaded podcast.

Jenny: Are you kidding?

Audra: No. I know everybody loves Jenny.

Jenny: That's kind. Before you said Interview, I thought you were going to say intervention and I was like, ok.

Justin: Fair enough. Fair enough. 

Audra: It’s been a day.

Jenny: We've brought you here Jenny, to talk about the way you do relationships.

Justin: So this is relationship themed. We're going to focus on relationships today. We have a bunch of stuff cooking for relationships in The Family Thrive. We have workshops, cooking, we have a bunch of content. And so we need to have just a full discussion on relationships. Let's start off if we can, with the word marriage, it seems to trigger Audra.

Audra: And does that trigger you, that it triggers me?

Justin: Yeah. And I'm triggered because she's triggered. So marriage, I have written it into a lot of Family Thrive stuff because let's be honest, most like, I'm sure, you know, a very high percentage of the members and readers and listeners who are in long term relationships and have children are married.

Audra: Or, are opposed to marriage. And they have like a dad to the children who they co-parent with and then they're in a relationship with somebody else who's a partner. Like, I don't know. I know I just haven’t— 

Justin: I know that partnership is more inclusive. I get that. But Jenny, is there anything? I mean. Can you? 

Audra: He likes the alliteration.

Justin: Can you give us some guidance here? How do you feel about the word marriage?

Jenny: You know, it's interesting because for kids, as I'm married to a woman and my marriage was not seen as a marriage for the first year by the government, and then we went and had another one. 

We have so many anniversaries. You guys, we have like the Big Gay Wedding, then we have the legal wedding and then we have, you know, when we started dating. And then anyway. So I get it, I get how it is kind of a loaded word for different people and different experiences. Also, I don't know if you guys read the stats, but last week, I think it was in the New York Times. This next generation, the marriage rates are going down. People are not getting legally married.  Did you read that or?

Audra: I didn't read that, but I'd love to see that and I can imagine a number of reasons why.

Jenny: Right. But people are still forming families, you know, but just not getting married. That said, as a therapist, you know, you sit with all kinds of people, and I've certainly had lots of people say, you know, yeah, you know, marriage is just a piece of paper, and that has not been my experience. 

I felt a real transformation when Tina and I got married. I mean, it felt like the wedding was so powerful in terms of community and commitment in front of our loved ones and their commitment to us in terms of supporting us in this marriage. And I mean, something definitely changed inside of both of us after that ceremony. And that was without the legal status, right? 

But that moment changed something in each of us. So marriage took on a new, it meant something in a different way than dating and even living together did. And it was just my personal experience. You guys got married. How long were you together before you got married?

Justin: Well, we were friends for probably five years.

Audra: Not five, five years? We've been married for, it'll be 20 years in March.

Jenny: Oh my god.

Audra: I know, right. 

Jenny: I didn’t know you were in the friend zone that long.

Justin: Well, we met early in ‘97.

Audra: Late ‘96.

Justin: Yes, and then we were friends for years. Three years, probably. And then I think it was 200-ish where we became romantically.

Audra: So we've been together for 23 years.

Jenny: Is that all?

Justin: But we got married in 2002, right? So we are so we're coming up on 20 years. It definitely was a big deal for me, you know, but just I remember thinking, how like the shift? There was a shift when I said “my wife” like that. I was, you know, that was a big shift.

Audra: Did you feel that, Jenny? 

Jenny: Oh yeah. I mean, I felt a lot of pride, and I also felt, I think over the years, I don't even say it. I don't even hesitate. But, you know, in the beginning, you never know how people are going to receive a same-sex. I mean, that's changing, thank God. But so I would kind of sometimes I would say my partner or my spouse and I would sort of code switch, you know, I would kind of like, hide it. And I don't do that anymore at all. 

So it was, there are many layers to it. I mean, I didn't feel any shame about it. It was more just fear of just, you know, sometimes you're dealing with customer service and you just don't. And they always say, “Oh, has your husband duh duh duh?” And then you say, and I’m married, and sometimes I'll just let it go, you know, just like, I don't need to explain this, but that's another topic. But that was a big moment to switch into that kind of language. I mean, language matters, you know?

Justin: Well, right. 

Audra: That's why we want to talk about it, because this does matter. It's like how we're kind of going to be referring to kind of like a major part of a program, you know?

Justin: And I don't have a problem using partnership, and we and we use it, and it's fine. I do. I guess I just don't want the word marriage to go away. I don't know, will it be canceled? Like will the word marriage be canceled?

Jenny: Well, I hope not. I mean, if you want your alliteration, though, Justin, you could call it like the partnership pie chart or something.

Audra: I like it! Put in a pie shape would look more delicious, too.

Justin: Well, it well, it won't work as a pie. It really is a matrix, and we're going to talk about this in a little bit. But now that we're talking, I think I do want to bring up one of the matrices. And so for the listeners, obviously, this is a podcast. You cannot see the matrix, but we are going to link to it in the show notes. If we put this up on YouTube, we'll have it prominently displayed on YouTube. 

But I'll describe the matrix and this matrix is going to come up in workshops and seminars and things that we do. And there are actually two of them and we need two because they don't work without one another. But the first matrix is, so on what we'd call the Y-axis, the line going up and down. 

We have Authenticity at the top and then at the bottom we have False or Lost Identity. And so you can chart where you are in your marriage for yourself, like in your marriage. How true to your essence can you be? Are you your full, authentic self? And is your marriage or partnership allow you to be just fully you? And so you can chart yourself up and down? And then on the X-axis that goes horizontally across on one end is Uncommitted that you are in a marriage that you're like. You know, I mean, we'll see how long it lasts, or we'll do it for as long as it feels ok. And then on the other end, you have Fully Committed and this is you know what I'm with you through. I like, it's not even a question. I am here and I'm not going anywhere.

Audra: Can I ask a question. I’m asking a question… It's about the false/lost identity part of it. And you mentioned in your marriage. I just as we're...on LinkedIn, it was like linked on LinkedIn, a Psychology Today article about survivors of childhood trauma and like common responses. And that's something that Jenny will be able to totally chime in on. And one of them is a false or lost identity, a persona that they develop because they're not safe or have not felt safe and full authenticity. So is this just false/lost identity in relationships here in relation to your relationship in your marriage? Or is it like in for you?

Justin: Well, when I put this together, this was through a bunch of reading that I was doing and talking with some relationship coaches. And so the idea here is, is that an ideal relationship, like when you're really in the zone with your marriage or your partnership, you are able to be 100% yourself in the relationship like you. You can show up with your full, authentic self. You don't need to hide anything, you don't need to say, well, my partner doesn't like this part of me, and so I need to hide this part or I need to play this part down. Like, you know, ideally, you show up with your full, authentic self. And that is like when a relationship is clicking on all cylinders. Does that make sense?

Audra: Yeah, no. I get the authenticity part. It was just like, it's the false/lost identity part where it, I was thinking, like, potentially, you know this, this is for somebody who is maybe in the space of pursuing healing. And is it the false identity in relation to you and our in our partnership? Or is this in relation to their are struggling with a false/lost identity in general like their lives?

Justin: I think I understand.

Jenny: What's interesting about this matrix is that relationship issues might fall on one or both of these acts. What's the plural axis? And so what I can say is. Is that as a person whose attachment stuff came out as being pretty people pleaser, very, one of the words that I'm really in love with is this idea of echoism, which I think we talked a little bit in past podcasts about. But where Narcissus is at one end of a spectrum Echo in the Greek myth is at the other. So he has all the self and she has no self, right? She just repeats thoughts. 

So for those of us whose trauma kind of expresses itself in those ways as being accommodators, people-pleasers, Echo is in order to stay safe in trauma language that it's called the fan response. So I can see that my, the work that I'm doing personally and in my marriage is around bringing, bringing my authentic self, knowing that it's safe to do that. I love that and I've learned how to do it in my life. I would say my marriage has been the most challenging and rewarding place of that work.

So in many ways, I absolutely totally be myself. I mean, obviously, with my wife, I mean completely. And when we are in conflict, it is usually because I have stepped out of my authentic self around something that was just too big and too scary to ask for or express or share, you know, whereas, you know, in friendships and things like that, I've gotten much, much better at it. It's not as scary. It's not as threatening to the attachment, but the marriage is like the final frontier. 

So, you know, it's growing me in huge ways to confront that, you know, with my wife.

Justin: Oh, I love that, Jenny. And that brings to mind a quote that I wanted to talk about, but that we are wounded in relationships, but we heal through relationships as well. And what I'm hearing is that in this life partnership marriage that you're in, it has forced you to heal in some areas where you wouldn't have otherwise healed because you would have been able to avoid those wounds. Right?

Jenny: And yeah, and that's not to say that I didn't try to avoid it in my marriage, right? But because my commitment was over on the fully committed, it got to the point where I just didn't have a choice. And I would say that my wife would probably say regarding her issues that it's the same thing because she's she and I have both always been on the. That just hasn't been our issue. Commitment just hasn't been our particular place of struggle. So we're over here on this fully committed, which has then at a certain point demanded that we do the healing on the other axis because we didn't want to break up.

Justin: Did it demand that you do the workaround authenticity because otherwise, you would have been in a relationship that lost all of its energy? Or did other conflicts come up?

Jenny: Yeah, I would say that when I get too fearful to bring my authentic self and really talk especially about hard conversations, you know, I start to disconnect, which is another trauma response, which is I tend to kind of withdraw. Disconnect and just back. And when I noticed that happening because I am fully committed, something in me says, uh oh, this isn't how I want to be. This isn't how I want to be in relationship with her. So then I feel called to, you know, turn toward the hardest stuff and the scariest. 

I mean, like, it's nobody wants to, you know, it's like, really. I mean, I remember once early, early on, we were going to go to a therapist because we had just, I can't even remember what it was. We had one conflict. We just kind of kept circling and circling and was like, Oh my God. And this was like over a decade ago. 

So I was not where I am now in this work. And I remember getting up in the middle of the night in a panic and laying on the bathroom floor, just terrified of going into this session and saying what I needed to say. I was terrified. But I did it, you know, and turns out everyone lived. You know, it's like, it's never as bad as you think it's going to be this.

Justin: Yeah, so this is, I wanted to bring up the first matrix to talk about commitment, but now we're talking about authenticity. But this brings us to the second matrix that I'll describe so we can kind of go back and forth. So on the Y-axis, the one going up and down for the second matrix we have. Are you in a relationship with lots of connection where you, you know, there's just lots of conversation and physical intimacy and relational intimacy and just lots of opportunities for connection? Or is it lots of disconnection? Just, you know, the arguments or just, you know, withdrawal? And so that's that. 

So you can chart where you are on the vertical Y-axis and then on the horizontal X-axis, we have skills for repair. Do you and your partner have skills for repair because disconnection is inevitable? I mean, there's no relationship that I'm aware of that, you know, is just absolutely full of connection 100% of the time. And so the question is, do you have skills for repair? No skills for repair on one end. Lots of skills for repair on the other. And so you can chart where you are on this matrix as well. And it sounds like there was this pressure of disconnection because of the authenticity piece was driving you to gather onboard these scales for repair.

Jenny: Yeah, because it was intersecting with disrupting my level of commitment. Because the truth is, disconnection actually feels good when you're in a trance, when you're in a trauma state or when you're in a high conflict and you're going into that like real primitive part of your brain of fight and flight. For me, disconnection is a relief. And so I can't say that disconnection frightened me. What frightened me was that if the disconnection were to continue, it was going to, you know, I mean, if I were just looking down the road, you know, this isn't sustainable. To be in that disconnected state and be fully committed is just those aren't going to work. 

So, I mean, not to get too intellectual about it, but do you know what I mean? Like, I don't know about you. But in terms of skills, I mean, Tina is so good about reaching for me in a conflict like we all have our conflict and then she's so good about coming toward me and saying, Let's slow this down. Let's take a breath because of the way I grew up, the way I coped. It's really hard for me to be the one to do that, and I'm so glad that there's one of us in the relationship that can because as soon as she does, I soften. But I have a really hard time being that person. I really want to just go hide under the bed. I mean, I just, that's my safe place. That was my safe place as a kid. And so, you know, and also growing that personal awareness of this, then you can you don't have to reenact it with your partner. 

So to answer your question, Audra, like, it's both right?

Audra: Right, right, right, right. It reminds me of another quote that I was telling Justin about. And that is, if you don't face your childhood traumas, your relationship will.

Jenny: Oh, yeah, 100%. And they'll just start reenacting it.

Audra:  Yep. Yeah, that's what's coming up for me, for sure. And I identify so much with what you're saying. I think as a child of divorced parents and then all of the things that also brought me into people-pleasing and the placating and trying to make the environment around me stable. When we get into it, I have...

Justin: There’s another part that is not people-pleasing, that is resentful of the people-pleasing part.

Audra: Yeah, but I'm not talking about that right now. I'm talking about the fact that I will, for me it's the part that just wants to go away and be on my own. There is a part that's just like, screw this, I'm good on my own. I'm out. I don't, why I don't even yeah.

Jenny: That's and I think what Justin's, you know, piping in with is the split, is the split, which is it feel, when we are not in our embodied authentic self when we're not in our prefrontal cortex and we're back in the trauma brain, it feels like the choices I either have to be a people pleaser to be in relationship or, and I don't get to have a self, or I can have a self, but I have to be all alone.

Justin: Oh my god, yes. How does that land for you, Audra?

Audra: Totally.

Jenny: Yeah. And the people pleaser gets pushed far enough. I mean, yes, we are very we can be very resentful, angry people. We can be very nice. But there, because we can, we have a hard time setting boundaries and things that get swallowed. And once we, I don't know about you, Audra, but once I hit a certain place, I'm out. I'm just like and scene. It's really hard for me to walk into a relational place.

Audra: Oh, yes, yes, and for some folks in some relationships like I'm just out. Like, there's no there's no coming back, it's broken at that point.

Jenny: Right, which is where the personal work helps because I know that this predates Tina. I mean this has nothing to do with her in many ways and of course, everything to do with her because we're with each other and we're, you know, but now that she knows this about me, she can, if she chooses, she can come toward it with some compassion. And there are things about her that you know that I can, that drive me nuts, but I can also come out with compassion. You know, we can find our way back to each other.

Justin: So, Jenny, you described one particular pattern. All right. So. And this is…

Jenny: I know it well.

Justin: We could. We could. Yeah, we could call this an attachment style or a trauma pattern. How should we talk about this pattern? 

Jenny: You want to put it in another matrix, don't you, Justin?

Audra: She can read you like a book.

Jenny: No, I mean, I think we can think of it through a lot of lenses. I mean, if you think of it through attachment, you could think of it as avoidant, anxious. So I tend to be more avoidant. Once I start to get kind of activated or scared or angry, I tend to back away. I'm the one who's going to say, I'm out of here, I'm leaving. You know, I've found a healthier way of doing that now is to say time out, you know, usually avoiding people get together with anxious attachment style. Which is exactly to your point, which is...

Justin: I'm pointing at myself. 

Jenny: He's pointing big arrows at himself. So to your point earlier, Justin, of like we pick partners to heal our, you know, this is what the anxious and the avoidant want to do is heal. So the avoidant wants to learn to not be so avoidant and get to actually land in relationship. And the anxious one needs to learn to tolerate a little bit of frustration and let there be some space and still know that they're loved and we get to be close and connected. So that's like how we could heal. But when we're unconscious about it, the avoidant just keeps being more avoidant, which just makes the anxious one more anxious. And then that just makes the avoidant one more avoidant, you know. 

And then what I did back in the day is I would pick people who were either anxious or avoidant, and then I would play the other part because I was so good at it being a people pleaser. But the same amount of space remained between us. So if I was anxious and you were avoiding or if they were anxious and I was avoidant, but we never got to, you know, connect and be together.

Justin: So what's coming up for me is I am thinking about a listener who is saying, “Oh my God, you just described a pattern that keeps coming up for me and my partner. What are some first steps, now I guess we can say go to couples therapy? But before that, I mean, are there some first steps that couples can start to make?”

Jenny: I know this isn't possible for everyone, but I would. I would. I would vote for individual therapy before couples in a lot of instances, because when you do your own work, and it's not as threatening, you know, to have it pointed out. Also, can I just plug real quickly like premarital counseling or going early on when you guys don't really have a lot of conflict is so, when there's so much loving and liking and warmth between you is such a great. Most couples wait until they're 10 years into resentment and just anger and hurt. And it's harder to undo that. It's not impossible, but it's just when we can kind of create a foundation of learning about each other, what activates us, how to communicate it just makes it a lot easier. 

So that's my little, it's my little plug. But what I think you can start doing is turning with curiosity toward yourself. And I say this in that lesson that we're preparing right now, which is and I get how hard this is to do. I don't want to. This is not easy. 

Call your friends and bitch about your partner. Get it off you. You know, vent, blame, blame, blame. Fine. But at a certain point, the only thing you really have any agency over is yourself. And so at a certain point, it's much more effective to turn toward yourself and get curious about what is going on here. What got activated and get it into like a feeling place. Not a they did that. And then but like, what is actually getting hurt? How am I hurt?

Justin: So Jenny, I just heard this amazing quote the other day from this Internal Family Systems relationship therapist. She said, “If the feeling’s intense, it's your own.” Like if you're if you have a moderate amount of anger or whatever, and you can just state what the problem is, and, you know, then you know that that's a whole separate thing, but if you're triggered and you're really pissed off, it's your own. That was kind of a revelation. That is a sign. Like, if you're really, really pissed off, that's a sign that there is some internal work that has to be done. 

Jenny: Yeah. I would say that's true. I just want to put a caveat out for people, folks out there that are. I just have a soft spot for the super people pleaser folks out there who tend to self-blame really, really quickly and take on all the responsibility of their relationship, especially the ones that are in the place in their life, where they're in relationship with a lot of people who are narcissistically wounded. 

And so you can be feeling an intensity and it actually not always me. Now that's not to say that you don't have a you are a part of it, and there's a reason why you keep picking people who treat you this way. So I believe what she's saying is true. And I mean, this just goes without saying when there is verbal abuse, emotional abuse, gaslighting, things like that. Just.

Justin: Right, Yes. Yes.

Jenny: Obviously.  

Justin: You're feeling triggered because you've just been hit in the face.

Jenny: It's just not that obvious is the problem is that there can be mutilation, but that's another episode. But yes, I would agree that in most relationships and partnerships, that yes, exactly that. If it's the if, if it's a lot of intensity for you. And even if it's there's always some part of yours. I mean, it's whether it's 100% or 75%, there's something we need to be doing there.

Audra: Yeah, that's something that I'm really identifying with as you're sharing that and I'm thinking back. And Justin and I agreed that we'd, you know, be open and very real in this podcast together as we normally are. 

But I remember prior to Justin's journey into doing his inner work, and I can visually remember it. I remember getting into these arguments that we haven't gone into since being pushed to not only yelling, but like crying and feeling like I'm so not heard, and part of it was that even it was kind of a gaslighting. I mean, it was sort of like, I know you don't feel that way. No, that's not how this is. No, that's not what's. No, I'm not listening. I'm not listening. I am putting up a wall. I don't, I'm not even going to acknowledge you. You know, like, kind of like that. That is that I remember like escalating, escalating my voice and myself because I felt like I was knocking on a brick wall. 

But it was even more than that because it was like the insinuation was I was just the one that was 100% wrong. So I think that this is something that is striking me that I mean, I that level of activation was definitely part mine, right? Like, definitely it has to do with some of my parts, but definitely part yours too. So how do we help since there is this nuance like to think of like the mindful, there's got to be a mindful way of digging into that where maybe the what is, what we're talking about is like identifying between a trigger and what's not trigger anger. You know what I mean? Maybe, maybe it's something simple like that.

Justin: Well, so an example she used that help to illustrate that she said. Like, if I were to call, if she was talking with the host of the show, she said if I were to call you selfish, you would get a little upset because you have a part in you because we all do, that is that what's to take and a part that feels ashamed about this part that says oh we have internal stuff around being selfish. 

But if I were to call you a communist, like that word has lost. It's like, maybe if I called you a communist 50 years ago, it would have triggered a thing. But like, you would just be like, What are you talking about? No, I'm not. So she used that to literally say, like, if I insist that you're a communist, you would just, you know, calmly explain, like, I no, I'm not a communist and you don't have, you know, I don't know why you would say this, but you wouldn't be triggered. But if I insist that you're selfish, then you then you get triggered because you have a part in you that has been accused of being selfish in the past. A part that's ashamed about, you know, so now we're getting into all these internal things that are going on in there. And so that helped me understand what she meant by if it's intense, it's yours. If it's, you know, if you have a moderate amount of discomfort, just go, Yeah, if you're like, No, I'm not a communist, then it's not yours, you can just, you know.

Jenny: Yeah, I think maybe we're getting hung up is this idea of it being entirely yours. I mean. Like if there's a hook to it, I mean, you know, and we're going to pick a partner who is going to be able to, you know, activate like trigger and activate those parts of ourselves. I mean, we're just, that heat that we feel goes both ways, right. The passion. And then, you know, I mean, there's an intensity there and I think, yes, 100%, you always are bringing your own trauma, your own past, your own hurts and wounds, your own stories. And we're probably going to pick a partner that we, you know, we do a dance with. 

I think where it gets tricky is, when is it ok to say, Hey, when you do this, I feel this, right. I mean, like that there are times where it is ok to be, that you are triggered, it is yours, and there's a behavior that you need to be looked at or addressed.

I don't know, is that kind of what you were meaning, Audra?

Audra: Yeah, Jenny, that's exactly it. And I think that you're hitting on something and you said this when you said you recommend that people do individual therapy first and looking at what The Family Thrive is interested. The work that we're really interested in mental, anima,l and emotional health for parents is focusing on yourself first, like what you have agency over, you know? 

And so when I look at this matrix event or the matrices, if you will, is that the, yes. All right, then what I'm seeing in that is how can I relate in this? And what can I take from this? Not what can we? You know, this is about my work to do. And so I really want to bring the focus and the lens back to to that like I'm in this situation and conflict with my partner. What can I do? Not like, what can we do? I think the chances are going to be really slim that the two of us are going to be taking this workshop together or do it. You're reading this thing together. You know, it's going to come down to, I look back on that me prior to, you know, it was a few, a number of years ago, and I think I can look back at that me and I see so much opportunity to be with her in support. But I just didn't have the skills. Getting back to your matrix and skills, I just didn't know I didn't have any idea.

 And I think what's happening now between the work that you do, Jenny, I think a lot of the mental health influencers on social media are doing a great job. I think what we're doing in The Family Thrive is fantastic. We're starting to raise awareness about the fact that we can that kind of digging deeper, doing this inner work, the process of recognition, you know, developing the skills and beginning to heal. These are things that we can do. 

And I think before this, I used to think like, you know, you're, I don't know how to put it, but there were so many notes within. It was, I have a problem. I don't have a problem. You know what I mean? It was kind of like, I feel like I didn't get, really didn't get the nuances. Says we're either doing this well or not doing as well. It wasn't nuanced.

Jenny: Yeah. It makes me think too about in terms of the intensity. And if it's intense, it's mind. You know, the personal work allows you to dial down that intensity and so that it starts to feel more like being called a communist than being called selfish. You know, and then we can talk about it and we can still not like it when you call me selfish and that doesn't feel good, but I also don't feel like I'm being annihilated in that moment and then I can. 

I had a professor in school who was our, he was our couples therapist professor, and he was like, “Yeah, I just decided for a few months I was going to live by the addage: I shall not draw my sword in this marriage.” He just was like, I'm just. And he's like, I could feel myself reaching for it, but I just decided not to draw it. And I thought that was a great image of just kind of, trying to come out of that defensive place. But if you don't do the inner work, you just don't know what it is you're even defending. You don't even understand it.

Justin: Oh, Jenny, that resonates because when I started to do this work. You know, now, almost two years ago, one of the things that came up was like I was finding I like, I wasn't aware that I was being triggered by this whole internal series of like narratives and judgments that I had. I just thought that they were just, you know, the way things should be. 

And I just reacted to a little feeling inside of like Audra, you know, I do. Why are you doing X, Y, and Z when you should be doing A, B, and C? And it was just like the way things were. And then when I started to do this work and it was like, oh, where we were before I say anything, I can now see that I'm like, slightly triggered. 

And now I can start to do, to step back and be like, I actually don't need to say anything right now. And in fact, my desire to say something is mine. It has nothing to do with her. And then I was able to start to see like, oh my god, I have all these unexamined judgments and criticisms that have nothing to do with her, like they're not hers, they're that they are mine. And that was a process.

Audra: It was revolutionary, though.

Justin: But it was revolutionary. Yeah.

Jenny: And in the biz we call that withdrawing the projection. Like we had a story about Audra and you were projecting it onto her and then her actions are just reinforcing it unbeknownst to her. And then, and this goes both ways. This is the thing. Nobody's side of the street is clean here like everyone has shit and it's but, it's also everyone's job to tend to their own dirty diaper. You know, if we're going to stick with that metaphor. Like to clean it up, you know, and people are so resistant to it.

Justin: One of the really great things about I resonate so much with this idea of like the first step is go into individual therapy, like, do this work for yourself? Because one thing that happens, I've come across this idea of relational polarity. So the idea that in a relationship, a polarity can emerge where one side starts to feel like if they don't fight like hell, the other side is going to completely overtake them. And so then the other side feels the same way like, well, shit, man, if I don't fight like hell, the others are going to. And then it just gets more intense over time, and it's and then it becomes this relational polarity. 

Audra: And so it'll be a thing like as a parent, for example, this will manifest in like bedtime, and this is something that Justin or screen time, right? It's a really interesting process because Justin will, is on the more stringent side. There'll be a parent who's more stringent, a parent who's a little bit less. He has a story about me that I have. I would have a frat house if it were up to me. 

Justin: The kids may never go to bed like they like.

Audra: We're just going to be, you know, I don't know, like doing lines of pixie sticks and, you know, like watching who knows what. And then I have a story about him of like, these children will never live a life. You know. They are going to be living this military style, you know, sort of thing. And so without even really realizing it, we kind of reinforce that as he is like you know bedtime should be... and I'm like, Well, you know, I, you know, I think that they could go an extra another half hour. And in his mind, he's thinking she's like, What do you mean? It's another three hours and I'm, you know, and I'm thinking. 

Justin: Or this is how it's going to be every single night. Like so yeah. That's a great example. That's a great example. What I was going to add, though, just to Jenny's point about doing the individual work, is that the way to break a relational polarity or one way to break it is for one side to unilaterally disarm. And what your and then just trust that in this relationship, you're not going to overt like you're not going to destroy me, you're not going to overtake. And if and so I love that idea of like, I'm just not going to draw my sword no matter what. And then the relational polarity just like starts to fizzle.

Audra: And what happens. What I've experienced to happen here, too, is as you put down the sword, you don't try the sword. I start to feel safe as well. To like, take off the armor, you know, and we start to like just sort of like disembattle ourselves, and then it's progressed to the point where I feel safe saying like, listen, if we're going to set a rule, I'd love to have a family meeting about it. 

Like we can talk about it, but let's talk about it at dinner. Let's make agreements with everybody. Everyone's on the same page. I don't like being caught off guard with new rules that I was not a part of making or, you know, I don't know, like. And so he's agreed to that. And I feel like we've gotten to a really good place of like, let's talk about it, vent about it, but then let's go make a rule together with the kids. You know make this a family thing and we're in a totally different zone because of that.

Jenny: Yeah. I mean, that's it. It's like when couples come in for therapy and they're both like, It's your fault, it's your fault, it's your fault, it's your fault. It's like, it just will go nowhere. I mean, someone has to be the one to say. Harville Hendrix. You know him? He does a lot of Imago couples work if you're familiar, and his whole thing is like, give your partner what they want, which sounds easy, but when you are withholding it because you think what they want is bad, wrong or a threat to you. 

But man, watch a person melt when you just give them and it. But it requires trust. And I think that's where the individual work comes in is like when you do your own individual, when you come into understanding of your own emotional reality and all of the parts inside and the ways that they're hurting in the ways that they're scared and trying to stay safe.

 Once you turn with curiosity, they start to settle down, they start to feel safe inside of you. Then you can feel safe with your partner laying your sword down. But if you're not safe with yourself, how are you going to be safe with someone outside of you? You know, I just feel like it's it. You've got to do that. You've got to get to know you. You know, if you want your partner to know you. Mic drop. I'm just, yeah.

Audra: Yeah. No, I mean, I think this is really, really powerful. And it does make me think that it starts with us, right, and starts within me. Starts with me, and the cool thing is, is that when you do that work like we can't have the expectation that our partner will do the work to or change to, right. But by starting on this, like everything that we've said, I have personally experienced a shift where it's made much more safe for everybody to then engage in it. And you'd be surprised at like how the temperature can just like, come down. And I feel like we have a safe environment now to discuss a good amount of things. And that's really powerful. It's really it's a really big change.

Justin: You've now piqued my curiosity.

Audra: Whenever you try to talk with me about budgeting. You know, for sure. Like now, I know I get like, we definitely have very different childhood backgrounds around money and things like that. And so that's still, I think, a terrain where it's not that it's unsafe. It's just it does, like Jenny said at the beginning, for certain things can feel really big, you know, it feels. Yeah, I know I can be easily triggered in that and you know that we can be get and easily get into polarity. So I do think that you and I like try to do our best and communicate when we have to about it. But like.

Jenny: You know what's great about what you're, the way you're speaking about it is you're allowing for there to be a difference between you that you can be different. And that's the work of differentiation, which to me is what a lot of marriage is about and partnership is about is that you can be you and I can be me and we can be different, but we can still be close and connected. 

And I think a lot of people, when they're in conflict are like, no, no, no, we need to see it exactly the same way. We need to do it this one way, and it's very frustrating. I don't know about. I think there's grieving in marriage when we start to really realize that no one human can be our fantasy and that they are, you know, they bring their humanity to it and that there, I think there's so much we're fed about the fantasy of what marriage is or what it should be or how it should look. And I mean, I find the reality of it much better, I think, than that fantasy in the sense that it's much more real and deep.

Justin: It allows room for growing and in like. I mean, it's part of that authenticity. I mean, the idea of just this melded couple. I mean, that's also it strikes me that like this romantic fantasy is also very childish in the sense that it's really a longing for, you know, returning to the embrace of the mother.

Jenny: It's a longing for it's a fantasy for something that doesn't exist, which is perfect attunement and a lot of times we have to mourn that. And this is the work of personal therapy as we have to grieve that loss with our own parents, right? Which is that longing in that fantasy for perfect it to meant that we will never get because no human can be perfectly attuned to another human at all times. 

Now, some do it better than others, right? I mean, some parents really with it entirely and others get pretty close, but it's natural and human to long for that. But where we get into trouble, I think, is when we don't realize that it's a longing and it's not really a reality and that we've got to accept something good enough or close enough, you know?

Justin: Well, Jenny, can I reveal something? I have a judgment around this. Like I have a judgment that that longing is a sign that some personal that the road of personal development has not been traveled far enough for that person. For me, there is this exciting, you know, transition in like midlife adulthood of like discovering what does it really mean to have an authentic self and to express this like this, you know and like this requires leaving behind some idea of, you know, I'm going to be cocooned in a, you know, in a kind of all-embracing relationship. Like, no, I want my relationships to be adult ones where we give and take and we and we come together and we leave. And yeah, so I think this is a kind of personal developmental stage.

Jenny: Would it feel better if I framed it as there is a part inside that longs for that kind of perfect attunement?

Justin: In fact, I totally agree with that. Yes, yes. No, yeah, I am in 100% alignment with that, that I absolutely have parts that are still children that, you know, if they think that if they can only perform well enough that their mom is going to love them, you know?

Jenny: Sure. Yeah, same, it's like I've done a lot, a lot, a lot of work around my relationship with my mom and accepted her for where she's at and who she is and changed some things. And we have a much different relationship than we did growing up, right? And I and you know, she's in her 90s and I know one day she will pass and I'm kind of preparing myself for that. And I know that there is a part that deeply, deeply wishes we had a different kind of relationship.

I just, and I know that part will always want that and long for it and dream of it. Is it the loudest part? No. Does it drive the bus? No. Does it pop up at times when I'm feeling particularly vulnerable? Yes. When something happens between she and I? Yeah, you know, like, but I feel that part is welcome and I and especially with like the mother and the father, too. But...

Justin: I hear, you know, and I was perhaps too strong or misspoke. It's really this unexamined desire for this, for this kind of cocooned embrace. That is definitely childhood parts want that. But I think in, you know, midlife personal development, there is this like expression of an authentic self that would be stifled by that.

Jenny: Yeah, yeah. I hear what you're saying.

Audra: You've had like the opposite of a midlife crisis, like the one kind that they would get in the 80s, 90s and like dad goes and gets a Corvette, you know, and like that kind of midlife crisis, you've had the opposite. A very different version of that, where instead of being a crisis of like trying to go back to youth, you have, you know, wanted to fast forward into a sage, you know, adulthood like, you know, it's.

Justin: I want to be an 80-year-old. Wise.

Jenny: Well, you've responded to it differently, you know, which is, yeah, instead of trying to grasp some bygone moments, you know, you've turned inward, which is, imagine the world we would live in if when people hit their midlife, they heeded that call. I mean, that would be a game changer.

Audra: It would absolutely change the world for the better.

Justin: That's what we want to do with The Family Thrive. 

Audra: That's exactly what we want to do.

Justin: Provide a space. 

Audra: An environment for that.

Jenny: I think it's good to just normalize like your marriage, my marriage. Like, Yeah, we fight sometimes. Yeah, there's conflict. Yeah, we went through this patch and it was intense and rough. And yeah, we went to therapy. And yeah, you know, it's like just to remove the stigma around that. 

So many people think like, I think having conflict is hush and we don't talk about it or going to therapy means, you know, you're on the brink of divorce or, you know. 

Justin: Jenny, my parents never argued in front of me. Never once I had. I have no. I have no. I don't even know what that's like. I have no idea. They've never not even like a cross look.

Audra: Well, that's an interesting thing that you bring up, too, because mine did not either. It was that much of a practice of doing it behind closed doors, and you and I have had like a really long-standing difference around it, like I felt like argue in front of the kids. As long as we're not calling names are getting activated or triggered or dirty like, you know, in it, but argue and show a resolution like. We should show what the process is like.

Audra: Can we think of, together, some takeaways from this? For The Family Thrive, we are supporting parents’ mental and emotional health and then all of the things that are in support of that, right, it's a holistic approach to this. We do believe that it starts within us individually and that we want to be a platform that supports the individual in their work. 

And maybe that's why the marriage matrix thing wasn't working for me too, because it's like I'm seeing this through the lens of the mom or even the dad. But it's mostly going to be the mom who is like, not only exhausted in her relationships, you know, at home with her kids, but she's not feeling connected. She's triggered. She's wondering why this is going on with her partner. 

And it's like, where can I start? Where can I start digging into this? We want to be a supportive environment for that. So can we list off? We said a number of things on the podcast, but just to be like really kind of concise a couple, just a couple of places and start, before individual therapy too.

Justin: Well, maybe each of us just say something that like, we're taking away from this.

Audra: I think that's a great idea. Does that sound like a good idea to you, Jenny? 

Jenny: Yeah. If you guys go first.

Audra: Yeah, go ahead, Justin.

Justin: Oh, all right.

Audra: You're always ready.

Justin: And one thing that I personally am taking away is I'm glad that I got the opportunity to reflect on the doing this work over the past two years and the shift that that's had in our relationship. And so what's coming up for me is just a renewed commitment to doing this work because it's not done. It's not, you know, it's not perfect. And so just a renewed commitment to being aware, being mindful of the triggers for me and then looking inward and not putting that out onto you.

Audra: Thank you. Thank you. What about for you, Jenny?

Jenny: I was going to go last Audra, but ok, first of all, I just want to say, guys, you're always so generous and kind in your compliments and the feeling is totally mutual. I just think you guys are amazing humans, and I'm so honored to get to have these conversations, whether they're being recorded or not.

 They're just so, I just I mean, I just love you guys and I love this. I love this stuff. I think what I'm taking away is, I kind of like part of it is like, oh, I wish Tina were here. You know, I'd love to hear her perspective in terms of, you know what a pain in the ass I've been at times, but no, but how we've come together and kind of grown together. I'm also really struck by your matrix in the sense of what is holding us in partnership. 

Is this something around authentic self, commitment, skills? I just think that's a really interesting way of looking at it. And for me personally, I'm like, Oh yeah, I've always been fully committed. That is like the one, you know, thing I can say has just been unwavering for me. And now I'm sort of seeing the way that's tied in with my authentic self and my, you know, the way we repair and things like that. 

So it's just I find that really helpful, Justin. So just kudos for your matrix, and I hope other people find it helpful, too. Yeah, I don't think that was a little abstract, but I just love talking about this. And if I can, if I can demystify people turning toward their emotions and their scary feelings and their anger. If I can just demystify that for any one person and say it is not as bad and scary as you think it's going to be, and it will truly set you free. It will completely set you free.

Justin: I heard the analogy of it's like lancing a boil.

Audra: Oof, oh god. Justin.

Justin: It's like, oh, that sharp thing is going to hurt, but it's like, no, no, no, you got to do it. So then clean it out and you're going to feel awesome.

Jenny: So let's leave with that image Audra?

 Thank you, Justin, yeah, I'm thinking like Dr. Pimple Popper or whatever. I think the kids like to watch on TikTok or something.

Jenny: When that commercial comes on, I have to like, leave the room. 

Audra: What is coming up for me, in conclusion, here is some, a conversation that I had with Jenny actually in MaxLove Project about shadow work and. It so, it was really powerful to me, and I think that we spend so much of our lives like we've got the shadows, like we're surviving where, you know, often coming through childhood into young adulthood and then her parents coming into early parenthood is really, really traumatic. 

And some, for some like actual like, there's physical medical trauma and things like that, but it's a traumatic experience. And so I think we accumulate almost an army of shadows. And I mean, there's a lot, there's a lot there that by the time we get to this place of the midlife opportunity, if you will.

Jenny: I love that reframe.

Audra: We have, we have a lot of folks around the table with us. And, you know, it's something I think that was a really powerful realization for me. But what but I wanted to share about the shadow work is instead of seeing that as like kind of like a darkness we carry with us or whatever. For me, our conversation about that Jenny was so powerful because that we are as we go through these difficult things, childhood traumas on and we accumulate the we survive, we persist. And so we accumulate this. We have the shadow that we kind of, yeah, kind of stuff away, right? That's a survival mechanism, and it's something that I have significant gratitude around. 

So I want, I guess, what I want to share is a movement out of shame around that. Like, we all have so much junk in the trunk, you know, or whatever there. We carry a lot with us. We have a lot of baggage. Everybody does and it's a beautiful thing. It's a survival mechanism like, we need it. We need to have room for that somewhere to pack that away. And when we talked about it in MaxLove Connect, it was like, yeah, it's kind of like high circulating blood glucose or something like, we have fat cells that take that in to protect us from the really, really devastating effects of, you know, of blood glucose just circulating in the blood, right? It's a protective mechanism, you know, like we can name many biological protective mechanisms like that. 

This is a protective mechanism for our heart and sometimes even soul in our, you know, our inner world and like, totally appreciate that. But we do get to the point where, like the quote that I mention, like if you, if you don't face this stuff, then your relationships, well, whether it's your partnership or your kids or in the workplace. 

My goodness, Jenny, we have so much to bring to the world around that and how you show up at work like this stuff is showing up and it is like there's there's like who you think you are and then there's like all of the shadow folks, you know, popping up and again, we're grateful, but it comes to be the time that that's our work to do and the word that you use liberation is the first word that comes up to me. On the other side of that work is freedom. And how beautiful is it, I see a picture of like Bora Bora, you know, I, you know, kind of like walking down this beach and that is like on the other side of me doing the work to be able to be my authentic self.

Jenny: Right. And just if I can add one little cherry on top, it's not freedom from ever feeling bad. It's not freedom from conflict in our marriage. It's freedom from the shame around that. And it's a freedom to allow everything to be here and us to walk through it and get to the other side instead of having to stuff it, fester it, defend it. You know, just move through it, let the waves crash on the beach, you know?

Audra: And is it a freedom from the weight? From the burden, from the bigness of of these things, from that, from the unsafe things, from that, like, you know, all of that stuff, right? Like, yeah.

Jenny: From the all or nothing. You know, that's from that, from the all or nothing, from the binary of like, it's bad or it's good. You're bad or you're good. I'm bad or good. Our marriage is bad or good. I mean, the binary is on its way out. Thank God in so many ways. But this place where there are no bad emotions there, just some that are harder to experience than others, you know? And so any way we can...

Justin: I love that. No bad emotions. Some are harder to experience than others. I love that. That's beautiful. I think that is a perfect way to put a bow on this conversation, which is really just a comma, a pause because we are going to do this again, Jenny.

Jenny: Yay, I can't wait.

Justin: Oh, my friend. Thank you so much. You are just a joy. You are. It's an honor to know you. And thank you so much for coming back.

Audra: Thank you for sharing your brilliance with us, all of your Jennyisms, ways of making sense. 

Jenny: Oh my goodness. Thank you, guys. It's always an honor. Love you both.

Audra: Love you too.

Transcript 

Justin: Jenny, this is going to be a relationship themed interview with you, we've had you on a couple of times and we love you. But so do the listeners. Yours is one of, I think, or might be the all time highest downloaded podcast.

Jenny: Are you kidding?

Audra: No. I know everybody loves Jenny.

Jenny: That's kind. Before you said Interview, I thought you were going to say intervention and I was like, ok.

Justin: Fair enough. Fair enough. 

Audra: It’s been a day.

Jenny: We've brought you here Jenny, to talk about the way you do relationships.

Justin: So this is relationship themed. We're going to focus on relationships today. We have a bunch of stuff cooking for relationships in The Family Thrive. We have workshops, cooking, we have a bunch of content. And so we need to have just a full discussion on relationships. Let's start off if we can, with the word marriage, it seems to trigger Audra.

Audra: And does that trigger you, that it triggers me?

Justin: Yeah. And I'm triggered because she's triggered. So marriage, I have written it into a lot of Family Thrive stuff because let's be honest, most like, I'm sure, you know, a very high percentage of the members and readers and listeners who are in long term relationships and have children are married.

Audra: Or, are opposed to marriage. And they have like a dad to the children who they co-parent with and then they're in a relationship with somebody else who's a partner. Like, I don't know. I know I just haven’t— 

Justin: I know that partnership is more inclusive. I get that. But Jenny, is there anything? I mean. Can you? 

Audra: He likes the alliteration.

Justin: Can you give us some guidance here? How do you feel about the word marriage?

Jenny: You know, it's interesting because for kids, as I'm married to a woman and my marriage was not seen as a marriage for the first year by the government, and then we went and had another one. 

We have so many anniversaries. You guys, we have like the Big Gay Wedding, then we have the legal wedding and then we have, you know, when we started dating. And then anyway. So I get it, I get how it is kind of a loaded word for different people and different experiences. Also, I don't know if you guys read the stats, but last week, I think it was in the New York Times. This next generation, the marriage rates are going down. People are not getting legally married.  Did you read that or?

Audra: I didn't read that, but I'd love to see that and I can imagine a number of reasons why.

Jenny: Right. But people are still forming families, you know, but just not getting married. That said, as a therapist, you know, you sit with all kinds of people, and I've certainly had lots of people say, you know, yeah, you know, marriage is just a piece of paper, and that has not been my experience. 

I felt a real transformation when Tina and I got married. I mean, it felt like the wedding was so powerful in terms of community and commitment in front of our loved ones and their commitment to us in terms of supporting us in this marriage. And I mean, something definitely changed inside of both of us after that ceremony. And that was without the legal status, right? 

But that moment changed something in each of us. So marriage took on a new, it meant something in a different way than dating and even living together did. And it was just my personal experience. You guys got married. How long were you together before you got married?

Justin: Well, we were friends for probably five years.

Audra: Not five, five years? We've been married for, it'll be 20 years in March.

Jenny: Oh my god.

Audra: I know, right. 

Jenny: I didn’t know you were in the friend zone that long.

Justin: Well, we met early in ‘97.

Audra: Late ‘96.

Justin: Yes, and then we were friends for years. Three years, probably. And then I think it was 200-ish where we became romantically.

Audra: So we've been together for 23 years.

Jenny: Is that all?

Justin: But we got married in 2002, right? So we are so we're coming up on 20 years. It definitely was a big deal for me, you know, but just I remember thinking, how like the shift? There was a shift when I said “my wife” like that. I was, you know, that was a big shift.

Audra: Did you feel that, Jenny? 

Jenny: Oh yeah. I mean, I felt a lot of pride, and I also felt, I think over the years, I don't even say it. I don't even hesitate. But, you know, in the beginning, you never know how people are going to receive a same-sex. I mean, that's changing, thank God. But so I would kind of sometimes I would say my partner or my spouse and I would sort of code switch, you know, I would kind of like, hide it. And I don't do that anymore at all. 

So it was, there are many layers to it. I mean, I didn't feel any shame about it. It was more just fear of just, you know, sometimes you're dealing with customer service and you just don't. And they always say, “Oh, has your husband duh duh duh?” And then you say, and I’m married, and sometimes I'll just let it go, you know, just like, I don't need to explain this, but that's another topic. But that was a big moment to switch into that kind of language. I mean, language matters, you know?

Justin: Well, right. 

Audra: That's why we want to talk about it, because this does matter. It's like how we're kind of going to be referring to kind of like a major part of a program, you know?

Justin: And I don't have a problem using partnership, and we and we use it, and it's fine. I do. I guess I just don't want the word marriage to go away. I don't know, will it be canceled? Like will the word marriage be canceled?

Jenny: Well, I hope not. I mean, if you want your alliteration, though, Justin, you could call it like the partnership pie chart or something.

Audra: I like it! Put in a pie shape would look more delicious, too.

Justin: Well, it well, it won't work as a pie. It really is a matrix, and we're going to talk about this in a little bit. But now that we're talking, I think I do want to bring up one of the matrices. And so for the listeners, obviously, this is a podcast. You cannot see the matrix, but we are going to link to it in the show notes. If we put this up on YouTube, we'll have it prominently displayed on YouTube. 

But I'll describe the matrix and this matrix is going to come up in workshops and seminars and things that we do. And there are actually two of them and we need two because they don't work without one another. But the first matrix is, so on what we'd call the Y-axis, the line going up and down. 

We have Authenticity at the top and then at the bottom we have False or Lost Identity. And so you can chart where you are in your marriage for yourself, like in your marriage. How true to your essence can you be? Are you your full, authentic self? And is your marriage or partnership allow you to be just fully you? And so you can chart yourself up and down? And then on the X-axis that goes horizontally across on one end is Uncommitted that you are in a marriage that you're like. You know, I mean, we'll see how long it lasts, or we'll do it for as long as it feels ok. And then on the other end, you have Fully Committed and this is you know what I'm with you through. I like, it's not even a question. I am here and I'm not going anywhere.

Audra: Can I ask a question. I’m asking a question… It's about the false/lost identity part of it. And you mentioned in your marriage. I just as we're...on LinkedIn, it was like linked on LinkedIn, a Psychology Today article about survivors of childhood trauma and like common responses. And that's something that Jenny will be able to totally chime in on. And one of them is a false or lost identity, a persona that they develop because they're not safe or have not felt safe and full authenticity. So is this just false/lost identity in relationships here in relation to your relationship in your marriage? Or is it like in for you?

Justin: Well, when I put this together, this was through a bunch of reading that I was doing and talking with some relationship coaches. And so the idea here is, is that an ideal relationship, like when you're really in the zone with your marriage or your partnership, you are able to be 100% yourself in the relationship like you. You can show up with your full, authentic self. You don't need to hide anything, you don't need to say, well, my partner doesn't like this part of me, and so I need to hide this part or I need to play this part down. Like, you know, ideally, you show up with your full, authentic self. And that is like when a relationship is clicking on all cylinders. Does that make sense?

Audra: Yeah, no. I get the authenticity part. It was just like, it's the false/lost identity part where it, I was thinking, like, potentially, you know this, this is for somebody who is maybe in the space of pursuing healing. And is it the false identity in relation to you and our in our partnership? Or is this in relation to their are struggling with a false/lost identity in general like their lives?

Justin: I think I understand.

Jenny: What's interesting about this matrix is that relationship issues might fall on one or both of these acts. What's the plural axis? And so what I can say is. Is that as a person whose attachment stuff came out as being pretty people pleaser, very, one of the words that I'm really in love with is this idea of echoism, which I think we talked a little bit in past podcasts about. But where Narcissus is at one end of a spectrum Echo in the Greek myth is at the other. So he has all the self and she has no self, right? She just repeats thoughts. 

So for those of us whose trauma kind of expresses itself in those ways as being accommodators, people-pleasers, Echo is in order to stay safe in trauma language that it's called the fan response. So I can see that my, the work that I'm doing personally and in my marriage is around bringing, bringing my authentic self, knowing that it's safe to do that. I love that and I've learned how to do it in my life. I would say my marriage has been the most challenging and rewarding place of that work.

So in many ways, I absolutely totally be myself. I mean, obviously, with my wife, I mean completely. And when we are in conflict, it is usually because I have stepped out of my authentic self around something that was just too big and too scary to ask for or express or share, you know, whereas, you know, in friendships and things like that, I've gotten much, much better at it. It's not as scary. It's not as threatening to the attachment, but the marriage is like the final frontier. 

So, you know, it's growing me in huge ways to confront that, you know, with my wife.

Justin: Oh, I love that, Jenny. And that brings to mind a quote that I wanted to talk about, but that we are wounded in relationships, but we heal through relationships as well. And what I'm hearing is that in this life partnership marriage that you're in, it has forced you to heal in some areas where you wouldn't have otherwise healed because you would have been able to avoid those wounds. Right?

Jenny: And yeah, and that's not to say that I didn't try to avoid it in my marriage, right? But because my commitment was over on the fully committed, it got to the point where I just didn't have a choice. And I would say that my wife would probably say regarding her issues that it's the same thing because she's she and I have both always been on the. That just hasn't been our issue. Commitment just hasn't been our particular place of struggle. So we're over here on this fully committed, which has then at a certain point demanded that we do the healing on the other axis because we didn't want to break up.

Justin: Did it demand that you do the workaround authenticity because otherwise, you would have been in a relationship that lost all of its energy? Or did other conflicts come up?

Jenny: Yeah, I would say that when I get too fearful to bring my authentic self and really talk especially about hard conversations, you know, I start to disconnect, which is another trauma response, which is I tend to kind of withdraw. Disconnect and just back. And when I noticed that happening because I am fully committed, something in me says, uh oh, this isn't how I want to be. This isn't how I want to be in relationship with her. So then I feel called to, you know, turn toward the hardest stuff and the scariest. 

I mean, like, it's nobody wants to, you know, it's like, really. I mean, I remember once early, early on, we were going to go to a therapist because we had just, I can't even remember what it was. We had one conflict. We just kind of kept circling and circling and was like, Oh my God. And this was like over a decade ago. 

So I was not where I am now in this work. And I remember getting up in the middle of the night in a panic and laying on the bathroom floor, just terrified of going into this session and saying what I needed to say. I was terrified. But I did it, you know, and turns out everyone lived. You know, it's like, it's never as bad as you think it's going to be this.

Justin: Yeah, so this is, I wanted to bring up the first matrix to talk about commitment, but now we're talking about authenticity. But this brings us to the second matrix that I'll describe so we can kind of go back and forth. So on the Y-axis, the one going up and down for the second matrix we have. Are you in a relationship with lots of connection where you, you know, there's just lots of conversation and physical intimacy and relational intimacy and just lots of opportunities for connection? Or is it lots of disconnection? Just, you know, the arguments or just, you know, withdrawal? And so that's that. 

So you can chart where you are on the vertical Y-axis and then on the horizontal X-axis, we have skills for repair. Do you and your partner have skills for repair because disconnection is inevitable? I mean, there's no relationship that I'm aware of that, you know, is just absolutely full of connection 100% of the time. And so the question is, do you have skills for repair? No skills for repair on one end. Lots of skills for repair on the other. And so you can chart where you are on this matrix as well. And it sounds like there was this pressure of disconnection because of the authenticity piece was driving you to gather onboard these scales for repair.

Jenny: Yeah, because it was intersecting with disrupting my level of commitment. Because the truth is, disconnection actually feels good when you're in a trance, when you're in a trauma state or when you're in a high conflict and you're going into that like real primitive part of your brain of fight and flight. For me, disconnection is a relief. And so I can't say that disconnection frightened me. What frightened me was that if the disconnection were to continue, it was going to, you know, I mean, if I were just looking down the road, you know, this isn't sustainable. To be in that disconnected state and be fully committed is just those aren't going to work. 

So, I mean, not to get too intellectual about it, but do you know what I mean? Like, I don't know about you. But in terms of skills, I mean, Tina is so good about reaching for me in a conflict like we all have our conflict and then she's so good about coming toward me and saying, Let's slow this down. Let's take a breath because of the way I grew up, the way I coped. It's really hard for me to be the one to do that, and I'm so glad that there's one of us in the relationship that can because as soon as she does, I soften. But I have a really hard time being that person. I really want to just go hide under the bed. I mean, I just, that's my safe place. That was my safe place as a kid. And so, you know, and also growing that personal awareness of this, then you can you don't have to reenact it with your partner. 

So to answer your question, Audra, like, it's both right?

Audra: Right, right, right, right. It reminds me of another quote that I was telling Justin about. And that is, if you don't face your childhood traumas, your relationship will.

Jenny: Oh, yeah, 100%. And they'll just start reenacting it.

Audra:  Yep. Yeah, that's what's coming up for me, for sure. And I identify so much with what you're saying. I think as a child of divorced parents and then all of the things that also brought me into people-pleasing and the placating and trying to make the environment around me stable. When we get into it, I have...

Justin: There’s another part that is not people-pleasing, that is resentful of the people-pleasing part.

Audra: Yeah, but I'm not talking about that right now. I'm talking about the fact that I will, for me it's the part that just wants to go away and be on my own. There is a part that's just like, screw this, I'm good on my own. I'm out. I don't, why I don't even yeah.

Jenny: That's and I think what Justin's, you know, piping in with is the split, is the split, which is it feel, when we are not in our embodied authentic self when we're not in our prefrontal cortex and we're back in the trauma brain, it feels like the choices I either have to be a people pleaser to be in relationship or, and I don't get to have a self, or I can have a self, but I have to be all alone.

Justin: Oh my god, yes. How does that land for you, Audra?

Audra: Totally.

Jenny: Yeah. And the people pleaser gets pushed far enough. I mean, yes, we are very we can be very resentful, angry people. We can be very nice. But there, because we can, we have a hard time setting boundaries and things that get swallowed. And once we, I don't know about you, Audra, but once I hit a certain place, I'm out. I'm just like and scene. It's really hard for me to walk into a relational place.

Audra: Oh, yes, yes, and for some folks in some relationships like I'm just out. Like, there's no there's no coming back, it's broken at that point.

Jenny: Right, which is where the personal work helps because I know that this predates Tina. I mean this has nothing to do with her in many ways and of course, everything to do with her because we're with each other and we're, you know, but now that she knows this about me, she can, if she chooses, she can come toward it with some compassion. And there are things about her that you know that I can, that drive me nuts, but I can also come out with compassion. You know, we can find our way back to each other.

Justin: So, Jenny, you described one particular pattern. All right. So. And this is…

Jenny: I know it well.

Justin: We could. We could. Yeah, we could call this an attachment style or a trauma pattern. How should we talk about this pattern? 

Jenny: You want to put it in another matrix, don't you, Justin?

Audra: She can read you like a book.

Jenny: No, I mean, I think we can think of it through a lot of lenses. I mean, if you think of it through attachment, you could think of it as avoidant, anxious. So I tend to be more avoidant. Once I start to get kind of activated or scared or angry, I tend to back away. I'm the one who's going to say, I'm out of here, I'm leaving. You know, I've found a healthier way of doing that now is to say time out, you know, usually avoiding people get together with anxious attachment style. Which is exactly to your point, which is...

Justin: I'm pointing at myself. 

Jenny: He's pointing big arrows at himself. So to your point earlier, Justin, of like we pick partners to heal our, you know, this is what the anxious and the avoidant want to do is heal. So the avoidant wants to learn to not be so avoidant and get to actually land in relationship. And the anxious one needs to learn to tolerate a little bit of frustration and let there be some space and still know that they're loved and we get to be close and connected. So that's like how we could heal. But when we're unconscious about it, the avoidant just keeps being more avoidant, which just makes the anxious one more anxious. And then that just makes the avoidant one more avoidant, you know. 

And then what I did back in the day is I would pick people who were either anxious or avoidant, and then I would play the other part because I was so good at it being a people pleaser. But the same amount of space remained between us. So if I was anxious and you were avoiding or if they were anxious and I was avoidant, but we never got to, you know, connect and be together.

Justin: So what's coming up for me is I am thinking about a listener who is saying, “Oh my God, you just described a pattern that keeps coming up for me and my partner. What are some first steps, now I guess we can say go to couples therapy? But before that, I mean, are there some first steps that couples can start to make?”

Jenny: I know this isn't possible for everyone, but I would. I would. I would vote for individual therapy before couples in a lot of instances, because when you do your own work, and it's not as threatening, you know, to have it pointed out. Also, can I just plug real quickly like premarital counseling or going early on when you guys don't really have a lot of conflict is so, when there's so much loving and liking and warmth between you is such a great. Most couples wait until they're 10 years into resentment and just anger and hurt. And it's harder to undo that. It's not impossible, but it's just when we can kind of create a foundation of learning about each other, what activates us, how to communicate it just makes it a lot easier. 

So that's my little, it's my little plug. But what I think you can start doing is turning with curiosity toward yourself. And I say this in that lesson that we're preparing right now, which is and I get how hard this is to do. I don't want to. This is not easy. 

Call your friends and bitch about your partner. Get it off you. You know, vent, blame, blame, blame. Fine. But at a certain point, the only thing you really have any agency over is yourself. And so at a certain point, it's much more effective to turn toward yourself and get curious about what is going on here. What got activated and get it into like a feeling place. Not a they did that. And then but like, what is actually getting hurt? How am I hurt?

Justin: So Jenny, I just heard this amazing quote the other day from this Internal Family Systems relationship therapist. She said, “If the feeling’s intense, it's your own.” Like if you're if you have a moderate amount of anger or whatever, and you can just state what the problem is, and, you know, then you know that that's a whole separate thing, but if you're triggered and you're really pissed off, it's your own. That was kind of a revelation. That is a sign. Like, if you're really, really pissed off, that's a sign that there is some internal work that has to be done. 

Jenny: Yeah. I would say that's true. I just want to put a caveat out for people, folks out there that are. I just have a soft spot for the super people pleaser folks out there who tend to self-blame really, really quickly and take on all the responsibility of their relationship, especially the ones that are in the place in their life, where they're in relationship with a lot of people who are narcissistically wounded. 

And so you can be feeling an intensity and it actually not always me. Now that's not to say that you don't have a you are a part of it, and there's a reason why you keep picking people who treat you this way. So I believe what she's saying is true. And I mean, this just goes without saying when there is verbal abuse, emotional abuse, gaslighting, things like that. Just.

Justin: Right, Yes. Yes.

Jenny: Obviously.  

Justin: You're feeling triggered because you've just been hit in the face.

Jenny: It's just not that obvious is the problem is that there can be mutilation, but that's another episode. But yes, I would agree that in most relationships and partnerships, that yes, exactly that. If it's the if, if it's a lot of intensity for you. And even if it's there's always some part of yours. I mean, it's whether it's 100% or 75%, there's something we need to be doing there.

Audra: Yeah, that's something that I'm really identifying with as you're sharing that and I'm thinking back. And Justin and I agreed that we'd, you know, be open and very real in this podcast together as we normally are. 

But I remember prior to Justin's journey into doing his inner work, and I can visually remember it. I remember getting into these arguments that we haven't gone into since being pushed to not only yelling, but like crying and feeling like I'm so not heard, and part of it was that even it was kind of a gaslighting. I mean, it was sort of like, I know you don't feel that way. No, that's not how this is. No, that's not what's. No, I'm not listening. I'm not listening. I am putting up a wall. I don't, I'm not even going to acknowledge you. You know, like, kind of like that. That is that I remember like escalating, escalating my voice and myself because I felt like I was knocking on a brick wall. 

But it was even more than that because it was like the insinuation was I was just the one that was 100% wrong. So I think that this is something that is striking me that I mean, I that level of activation was definitely part mine, right? Like, definitely it has to do with some of my parts, but definitely part yours too. So how do we help since there is this nuance like to think of like the mindful, there's got to be a mindful way of digging into that where maybe the what is, what we're talking about is like identifying between a trigger and what's not trigger anger. You know what I mean? Maybe, maybe it's something simple like that.

Justin: Well, so an example she used that help to illustrate that she said. Like, if I were to call, if she was talking with the host of the show, she said if I were to call you selfish, you would get a little upset because you have a part in you because we all do, that is that what's to take and a part that feels ashamed about this part that says oh we have internal stuff around being selfish. 

But if I were to call you a communist, like that word has lost. It's like, maybe if I called you a communist 50 years ago, it would have triggered a thing. But like, you would just be like, What are you talking about? No, I'm not. So she used that to literally say, like, if I insist that you're a communist, you would just, you know, calmly explain, like, I no, I'm not a communist and you don't have, you know, I don't know why you would say this, but you wouldn't be triggered. But if I insist that you're selfish, then you then you get triggered because you have a part in you that has been accused of being selfish in the past. A part that's ashamed about, you know, so now we're getting into all these internal things that are going on in there. And so that helped me understand what she meant by if it's intense, it's yours. If it's, you know, if you have a moderate amount of discomfort, just go, Yeah, if you're like, No, I'm not a communist, then it's not yours, you can just, you know.

Jenny: Yeah, I think maybe we're getting hung up is this idea of it being entirely yours. I mean. Like if there's a hook to it, I mean, you know, and we're going to pick a partner who is going to be able to, you know, activate like trigger and activate those parts of ourselves. I mean, we're just, that heat that we feel goes both ways, right. The passion. And then, you know, I mean, there's an intensity there and I think, yes, 100%, you always are bringing your own trauma, your own past, your own hurts and wounds, your own stories. And we're probably going to pick a partner that we, you know, we do a dance with. 

I think where it gets tricky is, when is it ok to say, Hey, when you do this, I feel this, right. I mean, like that there are times where it is ok to be, that you are triggered, it is yours, and there's a behavior that you need to be looked at or addressed.

I don't know, is that kind of what you were meaning, Audra?

Audra: Yeah, Jenny, that's exactly it. And I think that you're hitting on something and you said this when you said you recommend that people do individual therapy first and looking at what The Family Thrive is interested. The work that we're really interested in mental, anima,l and emotional health for parents is focusing on yourself first, like what you have agency over, you know? 

And so when I look at this matrix event or the matrices, if you will, is that the, yes. All right, then what I'm seeing in that is how can I relate in this? And what can I take from this? Not what can we? You know, this is about my work to do. And so I really want to bring the focus and the lens back to to that like I'm in this situation and conflict with my partner. What can I do? Not like, what can we do? I think the chances are going to be really slim that the two of us are going to be taking this workshop together or do it. You're reading this thing together. You know, it's going to come down to, I look back on that me prior to, you know, it was a few, a number of years ago, and I think I can look back at that me and I see so much opportunity to be with her in support. But I just didn't have the skills. Getting back to your matrix and skills, I just didn't know I didn't have any idea.

 And I think what's happening now between the work that you do, Jenny, I think a lot of the mental health influencers on social media are doing a great job. I think what we're doing in The Family Thrive is fantastic. We're starting to raise awareness about the fact that we can that kind of digging deeper, doing this inner work, the process of recognition, you know, developing the skills and beginning to heal. These are things that we can do. 

And I think before this, I used to think like, you know, you're, I don't know how to put it, but there were so many notes within. It was, I have a problem. I don't have a problem. You know what I mean? It was kind of like, I feel like I didn't get, really didn't get the nuances. Says we're either doing this well or not doing as well. It wasn't nuanced.

Jenny: Yeah. It makes me think too about in terms of the intensity. And if it's intense, it's mind. You know, the personal work allows you to dial down that intensity and so that it starts to feel more like being called a communist than being called selfish. You know, and then we can talk about it and we can still not like it when you call me selfish and that doesn't feel good, but I also don't feel like I'm being annihilated in that moment and then I can. 

I had a professor in school who was our, he was our couples therapist professor, and he was like, “Yeah, I just decided for a few months I was going to live by the addage: I shall not draw my sword in this marriage.” He just was like, I'm just. And he's like, I could feel myself reaching for it, but I just decided not to draw it. And I thought that was a great image of just kind of, trying to come out of that defensive place. But if you don't do the inner work, you just don't know what it is you're even defending. You don't even understand it.

Justin: Oh, Jenny, that resonates because when I started to do this work. You know, now, almost two years ago, one of the things that came up was like I was finding I like, I wasn't aware that I was being triggered by this whole internal series of like narratives and judgments that I had. I just thought that they were just, you know, the way things should be. 

And I just reacted to a little feeling inside of like Audra, you know, I do. Why are you doing X, Y, and Z when you should be doing A, B, and C? And it was just like the way things were. And then when I started to do this work and it was like, oh, where we were before I say anything, I can now see that I'm like, slightly triggered. 

And now I can start to do, to step back and be like, I actually don't need to say anything right now. And in fact, my desire to say something is mine. It has nothing to do with her. And then I was able to start to see like, oh my god, I have all these unexamined judgments and criticisms that have nothing to do with her, like they're not hers, they're that they are mine. And that was a process.

Audra: It was revolutionary, though.

Justin: But it was revolutionary. Yeah.

Jenny: And in the biz we call that withdrawing the projection. Like we had a story about Audra and you were projecting it onto her and then her actions are just reinforcing it unbeknownst to her. And then, and this goes both ways. This is the thing. Nobody's side of the street is clean here like everyone has shit and it's but, it's also everyone's job to tend to their own dirty diaper. You know, if we're going to stick with that metaphor. Like to clean it up, you know, and people are so resistant to it.

Justin: One of the really great things about I resonate so much with this idea of like the first step is go into individual therapy, like, do this work for yourself? Because one thing that happens, I've come across this idea of relational polarity. So the idea that in a relationship, a polarity can emerge where one side starts to feel like if they don't fight like hell, the other side is going to completely overtake them. And so then the other side feels the same way like, well, shit, man, if I don't fight like hell, the others are going to. And then it just gets more intense over time, and it's and then it becomes this relational polarity. 

Audra: And so it'll be a thing like as a parent, for example, this will manifest in like bedtime, and this is something that Justin or screen time, right? It's a really interesting process because Justin will, is on the more stringent side. There'll be a parent who's more stringent, a parent who's a little bit less. He has a story about me that I have. I would have a frat house if it were up to me. 

Justin: The kids may never go to bed like they like.

Audra: We're just going to be, you know, I don't know, like doing lines of pixie sticks and, you know, like watching who knows what. And then I have a story about him of like, these children will never live a life. You know. They are going to be living this military style, you know, sort of thing. And so without even really realizing it, we kind of reinforce that as he is like you know bedtime should be... and I'm like, Well, you know, I, you know, I think that they could go an extra another half hour. And in his mind, he's thinking she's like, What do you mean? It's another three hours and I'm, you know, and I'm thinking. 

Justin: Or this is how it's going to be every single night. Like so yeah. That's a great example. That's a great example. What I was going to add, though, just to Jenny's point about doing the individual work, is that the way to break a relational polarity or one way to break it is for one side to unilaterally disarm. And what your and then just trust that in this relationship, you're not going to overt like you're not going to destroy me, you're not going to overtake. And if and so I love that idea of like, I'm just not going to draw my sword no matter what. And then the relational polarity just like starts to fizzle.

Audra: And what happens. What I've experienced to happen here, too, is as you put down the sword, you don't try the sword. I start to feel safe as well. To like, take off the armor, you know, and we start to like just sort of like disembattle ourselves, and then it's progressed to the point where I feel safe saying like, listen, if we're going to set a rule, I'd love to have a family meeting about it. 

Like we can talk about it, but let's talk about it at dinner. Let's make agreements with everybody. Everyone's on the same page. I don't like being caught off guard with new rules that I was not a part of making or, you know, I don't know, like. And so he's agreed to that. And I feel like we've gotten to a really good place of like, let's talk about it, vent about it, but then let's go make a rule together with the kids. You know make this a family thing and we're in a totally different zone because of that.

Jenny: Yeah. I mean, that's it. It's like when couples come in for therapy and they're both like, It's your fault, it's your fault, it's your fault, it's your fault. It's like, it just will go nowhere. I mean, someone has to be the one to say. Harville Hendrix. You know him? He does a lot of Imago couples work if you're familiar, and his whole thing is like, give your partner what they want, which sounds easy, but when you are withholding it because you think what they want is bad, wrong or a threat to you. 

But man, watch a person melt when you just give them and it. But it requires trust. And I think that's where the individual work comes in is like when you do your own individual, when you come into understanding of your own emotional reality and all of the parts inside and the ways that they're hurting in the ways that they're scared and trying to stay safe.

 Once you turn with curiosity, they start to settle down, they start to feel safe inside of you. Then you can feel safe with your partner laying your sword down. But if you're not safe with yourself, how are you going to be safe with someone outside of you? You know, I just feel like it's it. You've got to do that. You've got to get to know you. You know, if you want your partner to know you. Mic drop. I'm just, yeah.

Audra: Yeah. No, I mean, I think this is really, really powerful. And it does make me think that it starts with us, right, and starts within me. Starts with me, and the cool thing is, is that when you do that work like we can't have the expectation that our partner will do the work to or change to, right. But by starting on this, like everything that we've said, I have personally experienced a shift where it's made much more safe for everybody to then engage in it. And you'd be surprised at like how the temperature can just like, come down. And I feel like we have a safe environment now to discuss a good amount of things. And that's really powerful. It's really it's a really big change.

Justin: You've now piqued my curiosity.

Audra: Whenever you try to talk with me about budgeting. You know, for sure. Like now, I know I get like, we definitely have very different childhood backgrounds around money and things like that. And so that's still, I think, a terrain where it's not that it's unsafe. It's just it does, like Jenny said at the beginning, for certain things can feel really big, you know, it feels. Yeah, I know I can be easily triggered in that and you know that we can be get and easily get into polarity. So I do think that you and I like try to do our best and communicate when we have to about it. But like.

Jenny: You know what's great about what you're, the way you're speaking about it is you're allowing for there to be a difference between you that you can be different. And that's the work of differentiation, which to me is what a lot of marriage is about and partnership is about is that you can be you and I can be me and we can be different, but we can still be close and connected. 

And I think a lot of people, when they're in conflict are like, no, no, no, we need to see it exactly the same way. We need to do it this one way, and it's very frustrating. I don't know about. I think there's grieving in marriage when we start to really realize that no one human can be our fantasy and that they are, you know, they bring their humanity to it and that there, I think there's so much we're fed about the fantasy of what marriage is or what it should be or how it should look. And I mean, I find the reality of it much better, I think, than that fantasy in the sense that it's much more real and deep.

Justin: It allows room for growing and in like. I mean, it's part of that authenticity. I mean, the idea of just this melded couple. I mean, that's also it strikes me that like this romantic fantasy is also very childish in the sense that it's really a longing for, you know, returning to the embrace of the mother.

Jenny: It's a longing for it's a fantasy for something that doesn't exist, which is perfect attunement and a lot of times we have to mourn that. And this is the work of personal therapy as we have to grieve that loss with our own parents, right? Which is that longing in that fantasy for perfect it to meant that we will never get because no human can be perfectly attuned to another human at all times. 

Now, some do it better than others, right? I mean, some parents really with it entirely and others get pretty close, but it's natural and human to long for that. But where we get into trouble, I think, is when we don't realize that it's a longing and it's not really a reality and that we've got to accept something good enough or close enough, you know?

Justin: Well, Jenny, can I reveal something? I have a judgment around this. Like I have a judgment that that longing is a sign that some personal that the road of personal development has not been traveled far enough for that person. For me, there is this exciting, you know, transition in like midlife adulthood of like discovering what does it really mean to have an authentic self and to express this like this, you know and like this requires leaving behind some idea of, you know, I'm going to be cocooned in a, you know, in a kind of all-embracing relationship. Like, no, I want my relationships to be adult ones where we give and take and we and we come together and we leave. And yeah, so I think this is a kind of personal developmental stage.

Jenny: Would it feel better if I framed it as there is a part inside that longs for that kind of perfect attunement?

Justin: In fact, I totally agree with that. Yes, yes. No, yeah, I am in 100% alignment with that, that I absolutely have parts that are still children that, you know, if they think that if they can only perform well enough that their mom is going to love them, you know?

Jenny: Sure. Yeah, same, it's like I've done a lot, a lot, a lot of work around my relationship with my mom and accepted her for where she's at and who she is and changed some things. And we have a much different relationship than we did growing up, right? And I and you know, she's in her 90s and I know one day she will pass and I'm kind of preparing myself for that. And I know that there is a part that deeply, deeply wishes we had a different kind of relationship.

I just, and I know that part will always want that and long for it and dream of it. Is it the loudest part? No. Does it drive the bus? No. Does it pop up at times when I'm feeling particularly vulnerable? Yes. When something happens between she and I? Yeah, you know, like, but I feel that part is welcome and I and especially with like the mother and the father, too. But...

Justin: I hear, you know, and I was perhaps too strong or misspoke. It's really this unexamined desire for this, for this kind of cocooned embrace. That is definitely childhood parts want that. But I think in, you know, midlife personal development, there is this like expression of an authentic self that would be stifled by that.

Jenny: Yeah, yeah. I hear what you're saying.

Audra: You've had like the opposite of a midlife crisis, like the one kind that they would get in the 80s, 90s and like dad goes and gets a Corvette, you know, and like that kind of midlife crisis, you've had the opposite. A very different version of that, where instead of being a crisis of like trying to go back to youth, you have, you know, wanted to fast forward into a sage, you know, adulthood like, you know, it's.

Justin: I want to be an 80-year-old. Wise.

Jenny: Well, you've responded to it differently, you know, which is, yeah, instead of trying to grasp some bygone moments, you know, you've turned inward, which is, imagine the world we would live in if when people hit their midlife, they heeded that call. I mean, that would be a game changer.

Audra: It would absolutely change the world for the better.

Justin: That's what we want to do with The Family Thrive. 

Audra: That's exactly what we want to do.

Justin: Provide a space. 

Audra: An environment for that.

Jenny: I think it's good to just normalize like your marriage, my marriage. Like, Yeah, we fight sometimes. Yeah, there's conflict. Yeah, we went through this patch and it was intense and rough. And yeah, we went to therapy. And yeah, you know, it's like just to remove the stigma around that. 

So many people think like, I think having conflict is hush and we don't talk about it or going to therapy means, you know, you're on the brink of divorce or, you know. 

Justin: Jenny, my parents never argued in front of me. Never once I had. I have no. I have no. I don't even know what that's like. I have no idea. They've never not even like a cross look.

Audra: Well, that's an interesting thing that you bring up, too, because mine did not either. It was that much of a practice of doing it behind closed doors, and you and I have had like a really long-standing difference around it, like I felt like argue in front of the kids. As long as we're not calling names are getting activated or triggered or dirty like, you know, in it, but argue and show a resolution like. We should show what the process is like.

Audra: Can we think of, together, some takeaways from this? For The Family Thrive, we are supporting parents’ mental and emotional health and then all of the things that are in support of that, right, it's a holistic approach to this. We do believe that it starts within us individually and that we want to be a platform that supports the individual in their work. 

And maybe that's why the marriage matrix thing wasn't working for me too, because it's like I'm seeing this through the lens of the mom or even the dad. But it's mostly going to be the mom who is like, not only exhausted in her relationships, you know, at home with her kids, but she's not feeling connected. She's triggered. She's wondering why this is going on with her partner. 

And it's like, where can I start? Where can I start digging into this? We want to be a supportive environment for that. So can we list off? We said a number of things on the podcast, but just to be like really kind of concise a couple, just a couple of places and start, before individual therapy too.

Justin: Well, maybe each of us just say something that like, we're taking away from this.

Audra: I think that's a great idea. Does that sound like a good idea to you, Jenny? 

Jenny: Yeah. If you guys go first.

Audra: Yeah, go ahead, Justin.

Justin: Oh, all right.

Audra: You're always ready.

Justin: And one thing that I personally am taking away is I'm glad that I got the opportunity to reflect on the doing this work over the past two years and the shift that that's had in our relationship. And so what's coming up for me is just a renewed commitment to doing this work because it's not done. It's not, you know, it's not perfect. And so just a renewed commitment to being aware, being mindful of the triggers for me and then looking inward and not putting that out onto you.

Audra: Thank you. Thank you. What about for you, Jenny?

Jenny: I was going to go last Audra, but ok, first of all, I just want to say, guys, you're always so generous and kind in your compliments and the feeling is totally mutual. I just think you guys are amazing humans, and I'm so honored to get to have these conversations, whether they're being recorded or not.

 They're just so, I just I mean, I just love you guys and I love this. I love this stuff. I think what I'm taking away is, I kind of like part of it is like, oh, I wish Tina were here. You know, I'd love to hear her perspective in terms of, you know what a pain in the ass I've been at times, but no, but how we've come together and kind of grown together. I'm also really struck by your matrix in the sense of what is holding us in partnership. 

Is this something around authentic self, commitment, skills? I just think that's a really interesting way of looking at it. And for me personally, I'm like, Oh yeah, I've always been fully committed. That is like the one, you know, thing I can say has just been unwavering for me. And now I'm sort of seeing the way that's tied in with my authentic self and my, you know, the way we repair and things like that. 

So it's just I find that really helpful, Justin. So just kudos for your matrix, and I hope other people find it helpful, too. Yeah, I don't think that was a little abstract, but I just love talking about this. And if I can, if I can demystify people turning toward their emotions and their scary feelings and their anger. If I can just demystify that for any one person and say it is not as bad and scary as you think it's going to be, and it will truly set you free. It will completely set you free.

Justin: I heard the analogy of it's like lancing a boil.

Audra: Oof, oh god. Justin.

Justin: It's like, oh, that sharp thing is going to hurt, but it's like, no, no, no, you got to do it. So then clean it out and you're going to feel awesome.

Jenny: So let's leave with that image Audra?

 Thank you, Justin, yeah, I'm thinking like Dr. Pimple Popper or whatever. I think the kids like to watch on TikTok or something.

Jenny: When that commercial comes on, I have to like, leave the room. 

Audra: What is coming up for me, in conclusion, here is some, a conversation that I had with Jenny actually in MaxLove Project about shadow work and. It so, it was really powerful to me, and I think that we spend so much of our lives like we've got the shadows, like we're surviving where, you know, often coming through childhood into young adulthood and then her parents coming into early parenthood is really, really traumatic. 

And some, for some like actual like, there's physical medical trauma and things like that, but it's a traumatic experience. And so I think we accumulate almost an army of shadows. And I mean, there's a lot, there's a lot there that by the time we get to this place of the midlife opportunity, if you will.

Jenny: I love that reframe.

Audra: We have, we have a lot of folks around the table with us. And, you know, it's something I think that was a really powerful realization for me. But what but I wanted to share about the shadow work is instead of seeing that as like kind of like a darkness we carry with us or whatever. For me, our conversation about that Jenny was so powerful because that we are as we go through these difficult things, childhood traumas on and we accumulate the we survive, we persist. And so we accumulate this. We have the shadow that we kind of, yeah, kind of stuff away, right? That's a survival mechanism, and it's something that I have significant gratitude around. 

So I want, I guess, what I want to share is a movement out of shame around that. Like, we all have so much junk in the trunk, you know, or whatever there. We carry a lot with us. We have a lot of baggage. Everybody does and it's a beautiful thing. It's a survival mechanism like, we need it. We need to have room for that somewhere to pack that away. And when we talked about it in MaxLove Connect, it was like, yeah, it's kind of like high circulating blood glucose or something like, we have fat cells that take that in to protect us from the really, really devastating effects of, you know, of blood glucose just circulating in the blood, right? It's a protective mechanism, you know, like we can name many biological protective mechanisms like that. 

This is a protective mechanism for our heart and sometimes even soul in our, you know, our inner world and like, totally appreciate that. But we do get to the point where, like the quote that I mention, like if you, if you don't face this stuff, then your relationships, well, whether it's your partnership or your kids or in the workplace. 

My goodness, Jenny, we have so much to bring to the world around that and how you show up at work like this stuff is showing up and it is like there's there's like who you think you are and then there's like all of the shadow folks, you know, popping up and again, we're grateful, but it comes to be the time that that's our work to do and the word that you use liberation is the first word that comes up to me. On the other side of that work is freedom. And how beautiful is it, I see a picture of like Bora Bora, you know, I, you know, kind of like walking down this beach and that is like on the other side of me doing the work to be able to be my authentic self.

Jenny: Right. And just if I can add one little cherry on top, it's not freedom from ever feeling bad. It's not freedom from conflict in our marriage. It's freedom from the shame around that. And it's a freedom to allow everything to be here and us to walk through it and get to the other side instead of having to stuff it, fester it, defend it. You know, just move through it, let the waves crash on the beach, you know?

Audra: And is it a freedom from the weight? From the burden, from the bigness of of these things, from that, from the unsafe things, from that, like, you know, all of that stuff, right? Like, yeah.

Jenny: From the all or nothing. You know, that's from that, from the all or nothing, from the binary of like, it's bad or it's good. You're bad or you're good. I'm bad or good. Our marriage is bad or good. I mean, the binary is on its way out. Thank God in so many ways. But this place where there are no bad emotions there, just some that are harder to experience than others, you know? And so any way we can...

Justin: I love that. No bad emotions. Some are harder to experience than others. I love that. That's beautiful. I think that is a perfect way to put a bow on this conversation, which is really just a comma, a pause because we are going to do this again, Jenny.

Jenny: Yay, I can't wait.

Justin: Oh, my friend. Thank you so much. You are just a joy. You are. It's an honor to know you. And thank you so much for coming back.

Audra: Thank you for sharing your brilliance with us, all of your Jennyisms, ways of making sense. 

Jenny: Oh my goodness. Thank you, guys. It's always an honor. Love you both.

Audra: Love you too.

Transcript 

Justin: Jenny, this is going to be a relationship themed interview with you, we've had you on a couple of times and we love you. But so do the listeners. Yours is one of, I think, or might be the all time highest downloaded podcast.

Jenny: Are you kidding?

Audra: No. I know everybody loves Jenny.

Jenny: That's kind. Before you said Interview, I thought you were going to say intervention and I was like, ok.

Justin: Fair enough. Fair enough. 

Audra: It’s been a day.

Jenny: We've brought you here Jenny, to talk about the way you do relationships.

Justin: So this is relationship themed. We're going to focus on relationships today. We have a bunch of stuff cooking for relationships in The Family Thrive. We have workshops, cooking, we have a bunch of content. And so we need to have just a full discussion on relationships. Let's start off if we can, with the word marriage, it seems to trigger Audra.

Audra: And does that trigger you, that it triggers me?

Justin: Yeah. And I'm triggered because she's triggered. So marriage, I have written it into a lot of Family Thrive stuff because let's be honest, most like, I'm sure, you know, a very high percentage of the members and readers and listeners who are in long term relationships and have children are married.

Audra: Or, are opposed to marriage. And they have like a dad to the children who they co-parent with and then they're in a relationship with somebody else who's a partner. Like, I don't know. I know I just haven’t— 

Justin: I know that partnership is more inclusive. I get that. But Jenny, is there anything? I mean. Can you? 

Audra: He likes the alliteration.

Justin: Can you give us some guidance here? How do you feel about the word marriage?

Jenny: You know, it's interesting because for kids, as I'm married to a woman and my marriage was not seen as a marriage for the first year by the government, and then we went and had another one. 

We have so many anniversaries. You guys, we have like the Big Gay Wedding, then we have the legal wedding and then we have, you know, when we started dating. And then anyway. So I get it, I get how it is kind of a loaded word for different people and different experiences. Also, I don't know if you guys read the stats, but last week, I think it was in the New York Times. This next generation, the marriage rates are going down. People are not getting legally married.  Did you read that or?

Audra: I didn't read that, but I'd love to see that and I can imagine a number of reasons why.

Jenny: Right. But people are still forming families, you know, but just not getting married. That said, as a therapist, you know, you sit with all kinds of people, and I've certainly had lots of people say, you know, yeah, you know, marriage is just a piece of paper, and that has not been my experience. 

I felt a real transformation when Tina and I got married. I mean, it felt like the wedding was so powerful in terms of community and commitment in front of our loved ones and their commitment to us in terms of supporting us in this marriage. And I mean, something definitely changed inside of both of us after that ceremony. And that was without the legal status, right? 

But that moment changed something in each of us. So marriage took on a new, it meant something in a different way than dating and even living together did. And it was just my personal experience. You guys got married. How long were you together before you got married?

Justin: Well, we were friends for probably five years.

Audra: Not five, five years? We've been married for, it'll be 20 years in March.

Jenny: Oh my god.

Audra: I know, right. 

Jenny: I didn’t know you were in the friend zone that long.

Justin: Well, we met early in ‘97.

Audra: Late ‘96.

Justin: Yes, and then we were friends for years. Three years, probably. And then I think it was 200-ish where we became romantically.

Audra: So we've been together for 23 years.

Jenny: Is that all?

Justin: But we got married in 2002, right? So we are so we're coming up on 20 years. It definitely was a big deal for me, you know, but just I remember thinking, how like the shift? There was a shift when I said “my wife” like that. I was, you know, that was a big shift.

Audra: Did you feel that, Jenny? 

Jenny: Oh yeah. I mean, I felt a lot of pride, and I also felt, I think over the years, I don't even say it. I don't even hesitate. But, you know, in the beginning, you never know how people are going to receive a same-sex. I mean, that's changing, thank God. But so I would kind of sometimes I would say my partner or my spouse and I would sort of code switch, you know, I would kind of like, hide it. And I don't do that anymore at all. 

So it was, there are many layers to it. I mean, I didn't feel any shame about it. It was more just fear of just, you know, sometimes you're dealing with customer service and you just don't. And they always say, “Oh, has your husband duh duh duh?” And then you say, and I’m married, and sometimes I'll just let it go, you know, just like, I don't need to explain this, but that's another topic. But that was a big moment to switch into that kind of language. I mean, language matters, you know?

Justin: Well, right. 

Audra: That's why we want to talk about it, because this does matter. It's like how we're kind of going to be referring to kind of like a major part of a program, you know?

Justin: And I don't have a problem using partnership, and we and we use it, and it's fine. I do. I guess I just don't want the word marriage to go away. I don't know, will it be canceled? Like will the word marriage be canceled?

Jenny: Well, I hope not. I mean, if you want your alliteration, though, Justin, you could call it like the partnership pie chart or something.

Audra: I like it! Put in a pie shape would look more delicious, too.

Justin: Well, it well, it won't work as a pie. It really is a matrix, and we're going to talk about this in a little bit. But now that we're talking, I think I do want to bring up one of the matrices. And so for the listeners, obviously, this is a podcast. You cannot see the matrix, but we are going to link to it in the show notes. If we put this up on YouTube, we'll have it prominently displayed on YouTube. 

But I'll describe the matrix and this matrix is going to come up in workshops and seminars and things that we do. And there are actually two of them and we need two because they don't work without one another. But the first matrix is, so on what we'd call the Y-axis, the line going up and down. 

We have Authenticity at the top and then at the bottom we have False or Lost Identity. And so you can chart where you are in your marriage for yourself, like in your marriage. How true to your essence can you be? Are you your full, authentic self? And is your marriage or partnership allow you to be just fully you? And so you can chart yourself up and down? And then on the X-axis that goes horizontally across on one end is Uncommitted that you are in a marriage that you're like. You know, I mean, we'll see how long it lasts, or we'll do it for as long as it feels ok. And then on the other end, you have Fully Committed and this is you know what I'm with you through. I like, it's not even a question. I am here and I'm not going anywhere.

Audra: Can I ask a question. I’m asking a question… It's about the false/lost identity part of it. And you mentioned in your marriage. I just as we're...on LinkedIn, it was like linked on LinkedIn, a Psychology Today article about survivors of childhood trauma and like common responses. And that's something that Jenny will be able to totally chime in on. And one of them is a false or lost identity, a persona that they develop because they're not safe or have not felt safe and full authenticity. So is this just false/lost identity in relationships here in relation to your relationship in your marriage? Or is it like in for you?

Justin: Well, when I put this together, this was through a bunch of reading that I was doing and talking with some relationship coaches. And so the idea here is, is that an ideal relationship, like when you're really in the zone with your marriage or your partnership, you are able to be 100% yourself in the relationship like you. You can show up with your full, authentic self. You don't need to hide anything, you don't need to say, well, my partner doesn't like this part of me, and so I need to hide this part or I need to play this part down. Like, you know, ideally, you show up with your full, authentic self. And that is like when a relationship is clicking on all cylinders. Does that make sense?

Audra: Yeah, no. I get the authenticity part. It was just like, it's the false/lost identity part where it, I was thinking, like, potentially, you know this, this is for somebody who is maybe in the space of pursuing healing. And is it the false identity in relation to you and our in our partnership? Or is this in relation to their are struggling with a false/lost identity in general like their lives?

Justin: I think I understand.

Jenny: What's interesting about this matrix is that relationship issues might fall on one or both of these acts. What's the plural axis? And so what I can say is. Is that as a person whose attachment stuff came out as being pretty people pleaser, very, one of the words that I'm really in love with is this idea of echoism, which I think we talked a little bit in past podcasts about. But where Narcissus is at one end of a spectrum Echo in the Greek myth is at the other. So he has all the self and she has no self, right? She just repeats thoughts. 

So for those of us whose trauma kind of expresses itself in those ways as being accommodators, people-pleasers, Echo is in order to stay safe in trauma language that it's called the fan response. So I can see that my, the work that I'm doing personally and in my marriage is around bringing, bringing my authentic self, knowing that it's safe to do that. I love that and I've learned how to do it in my life. I would say my marriage has been the most challenging and rewarding place of that work.

So in many ways, I absolutely totally be myself. I mean, obviously, with my wife, I mean completely. And when we are in conflict, it is usually because I have stepped out of my authentic self around something that was just too big and too scary to ask for or express or share, you know, whereas, you know, in friendships and things like that, I've gotten much, much better at it. It's not as scary. It's not as threatening to the attachment, but the marriage is like the final frontier. 

So, you know, it's growing me in huge ways to confront that, you know, with my wife.

Justin: Oh, I love that, Jenny. And that brings to mind a quote that I wanted to talk about, but that we are wounded in relationships, but we heal through relationships as well. And what I'm hearing is that in this life partnership marriage that you're in, it has forced you to heal in some areas where you wouldn't have otherwise healed because you would have been able to avoid those wounds. Right?

Jenny: And yeah, and that's not to say that I didn't try to avoid it in my marriage, right? But because my commitment was over on the fully committed, it got to the point where I just didn't have a choice. And I would say that my wife would probably say regarding her issues that it's the same thing because she's she and I have both always been on the. That just hasn't been our issue. Commitment just hasn't been our particular place of struggle. So we're over here on this fully committed, which has then at a certain point demanded that we do the healing on the other axis because we didn't want to break up.

Justin: Did it demand that you do the workaround authenticity because otherwise, you would have been in a relationship that lost all of its energy? Or did other conflicts come up?

Jenny: Yeah, I would say that when I get too fearful to bring my authentic self and really talk especially about hard conversations, you know, I start to disconnect, which is another trauma response, which is I tend to kind of withdraw. Disconnect and just back. And when I noticed that happening because I am fully committed, something in me says, uh oh, this isn't how I want to be. This isn't how I want to be in relationship with her. So then I feel called to, you know, turn toward the hardest stuff and the scariest. 

I mean, like, it's nobody wants to, you know, it's like, really. I mean, I remember once early, early on, we were going to go to a therapist because we had just, I can't even remember what it was. We had one conflict. We just kind of kept circling and circling and was like, Oh my God. And this was like over a decade ago. 

So I was not where I am now in this work. And I remember getting up in the middle of the night in a panic and laying on the bathroom floor, just terrified of going into this session and saying what I needed to say. I was terrified. But I did it, you know, and turns out everyone lived. You know, it's like, it's never as bad as you think it's going to be this.

Justin: Yeah, so this is, I wanted to bring up the first matrix to talk about commitment, but now we're talking about authenticity. But this brings us to the second matrix that I'll describe so we can kind of go back and forth. So on the Y-axis, the one going up and down for the second matrix we have. Are you in a relationship with lots of connection where you, you know, there's just lots of conversation and physical intimacy and relational intimacy and just lots of opportunities for connection? Or is it lots of disconnection? Just, you know, the arguments or just, you know, withdrawal? And so that's that. 

So you can chart where you are on the vertical Y-axis and then on the horizontal X-axis, we have skills for repair. Do you and your partner have skills for repair because disconnection is inevitable? I mean, there's no relationship that I'm aware of that, you know, is just absolutely full of connection 100% of the time. And so the question is, do you have skills for repair? No skills for repair on one end. Lots of skills for repair on the other. And so you can chart where you are on this matrix as well. And it sounds like there was this pressure of disconnection because of the authenticity piece was driving you to gather onboard these scales for repair.

Jenny: Yeah, because it was intersecting with disrupting my level of commitment. Because the truth is, disconnection actually feels good when you're in a trance, when you're in a trauma state or when you're in a high conflict and you're going into that like real primitive part of your brain of fight and flight. For me, disconnection is a relief. And so I can't say that disconnection frightened me. What frightened me was that if the disconnection were to continue, it was going to, you know, I mean, if I were just looking down the road, you know, this isn't sustainable. To be in that disconnected state and be fully committed is just those aren't going to work. 

So, I mean, not to get too intellectual about it, but do you know what I mean? Like, I don't know about you. But in terms of skills, I mean, Tina is so good about reaching for me in a conflict like we all have our conflict and then she's so good about coming toward me and saying, Let's slow this down. Let's take a breath because of the way I grew up, the way I coped. It's really hard for me to be the one to do that, and I'm so glad that there's one of us in the relationship that can because as soon as she does, I soften. But I have a really hard time being that person. I really want to just go hide under the bed. I mean, I just, that's my safe place. That was my safe place as a kid. And so, you know, and also growing that personal awareness of this, then you can you don't have to reenact it with your partner. 

So to answer your question, Audra, like, it's both right?

Audra: Right, right, right, right. It reminds me of another quote that I was telling Justin about. And that is, if you don't face your childhood traumas, your relationship will.

Jenny: Oh, yeah, 100%. And they'll just start reenacting it.

Audra:  Yep. Yeah, that's what's coming up for me, for sure. And I identify so much with what you're saying. I think as a child of divorced parents and then all of the things that also brought me into people-pleasing and the placating and trying to make the environment around me stable. When we get into it, I have...

Justin: There’s another part that is not people-pleasing, that is resentful of the people-pleasing part.

Audra: Yeah, but I'm not talking about that right now. I'm talking about the fact that I will, for me it's the part that just wants to go away and be on my own. There is a part that's just like, screw this, I'm good on my own. I'm out. I don't, why I don't even yeah.

Jenny: That's and I think what Justin's, you know, piping in with is the split, is the split, which is it feel, when we are not in our embodied authentic self when we're not in our prefrontal cortex and we're back in the trauma brain, it feels like the choices I either have to be a people pleaser to be in relationship or, and I don't get to have a self, or I can have a self, but I have to be all alone.

Justin: Oh my god, yes. How does that land for you, Audra?

Audra: Totally.

Jenny: Yeah. And the people pleaser gets pushed far enough. I mean, yes, we are very we can be very resentful, angry people. We can be very nice. But there, because we can, we have a hard time setting boundaries and things that get swallowed. And once we, I don't know about you, Audra, but once I hit a certain place, I'm out. I'm just like and scene. It's really hard for me to walk into a relational place.

Audra: Oh, yes, yes, and for some folks in some relationships like I'm just out. Like, there's no there's no coming back, it's broken at that point.

Jenny: Right, which is where the personal work helps because I know that this predates Tina. I mean this has nothing to do with her in many ways and of course, everything to do with her because we're with each other and we're, you know, but now that she knows this about me, she can, if she chooses, she can come toward it with some compassion. And there are things about her that you know that I can, that drive me nuts, but I can also come out with compassion. You know, we can find our way back to each other.

Justin: So, Jenny, you described one particular pattern. All right. So. And this is…

Jenny: I know it well.

Justin: We could. We could. Yeah, we could call this an attachment style or a trauma pattern. How should we talk about this pattern? 

Jenny: You want to put it in another matrix, don't you, Justin?

Audra: She can read you like a book.

Jenny: No, I mean, I think we can think of it through a lot of lenses. I mean, if you think of it through attachment, you could think of it as avoidant, anxious. So I tend to be more avoidant. Once I start to get kind of activated or scared or angry, I tend to back away. I'm the one who's going to say, I'm out of here, I'm leaving. You know, I've found a healthier way of doing that now is to say time out, you know, usually avoiding people get together with anxious attachment style. Which is exactly to your point, which is...

Justin: I'm pointing at myself. 

Jenny: He's pointing big arrows at himself. So to your point earlier, Justin, of like we pick partners to heal our, you know, this is what the anxious and the avoidant want to do is heal. So the avoidant wants to learn to not be so avoidant and get to actually land in relationship. And the anxious one needs to learn to tolerate a little bit of frustration and let there be some space and still know that they're loved and we get to be close and connected. So that's like how we could heal. But when we're unconscious about it, the avoidant just keeps being more avoidant, which just makes the anxious one more anxious. And then that just makes the avoidant one more avoidant, you know. 

And then what I did back in the day is I would pick people who were either anxious or avoidant, and then I would play the other part because I was so good at it being a people pleaser. But the same amount of space remained between us. So if I was anxious and you were avoiding or if they were anxious and I was avoidant, but we never got to, you know, connect and be together.

Justin: So what's coming up for me is I am thinking about a listener who is saying, “Oh my God, you just described a pattern that keeps coming up for me and my partner. What are some first steps, now I guess we can say go to couples therapy? But before that, I mean, are there some first steps that couples can start to make?”

Jenny: I know this isn't possible for everyone, but I would. I would. I would vote for individual therapy before couples in a lot of instances, because when you do your own work, and it's not as threatening, you know, to have it pointed out. Also, can I just plug real quickly like premarital counseling or going early on when you guys don't really have a lot of conflict is so, when there's so much loving and liking and warmth between you is such a great. Most couples wait until they're 10 years into resentment and just anger and hurt. And it's harder to undo that. It's not impossible, but it's just when we can kind of create a foundation of learning about each other, what activates us, how to communicate it just makes it a lot easier. 

So that's my little, it's my little plug. But what I think you can start doing is turning with curiosity toward yourself. And I say this in that lesson that we're preparing right now, which is and I get how hard this is to do. I don't want to. This is not easy. 

Call your friends and bitch about your partner. Get it off you. You know, vent, blame, blame, blame. Fine. But at a certain point, the only thing you really have any agency over is yourself. And so at a certain point, it's much more effective to turn toward yourself and get curious about what is going on here. What got activated and get it into like a feeling place. Not a they did that. And then but like, what is actually getting hurt? How am I hurt?

Justin: So Jenny, I just heard this amazing quote the other day from this Internal Family Systems relationship therapist. She said, “If the feeling’s intense, it's your own.” Like if you're if you have a moderate amount of anger or whatever, and you can just state what the problem is, and, you know, then you know that that's a whole separate thing, but if you're triggered and you're really pissed off, it's your own. That was kind of a revelation. That is a sign. Like, if you're really, really pissed off, that's a sign that there is some internal work that has to be done. 

Jenny: Yeah. I would say that's true. I just want to put a caveat out for people, folks out there that are. I just have a soft spot for the super people pleaser folks out there who tend to self-blame really, really quickly and take on all the responsibility of their relationship, especially the ones that are in the place in their life, where they're in relationship with a lot of people who are narcissistically wounded. 

And so you can be feeling an intensity and it actually not always me. Now that's not to say that you don't have a you are a part of it, and there's a reason why you keep picking people who treat you this way. So I believe what she's saying is true. And I mean, this just goes without saying when there is verbal abuse, emotional abuse, gaslighting, things like that. Just.

Justin: Right, Yes. Yes.

Jenny: Obviously.  

Justin: You're feeling triggered because you've just been hit in the face.

Jenny: It's just not that obvious is the problem is that there can be mutilation, but that's another episode. But yes, I would agree that in most relationships and partnerships, that yes, exactly that. If it's the if, if it's a lot of intensity for you. And even if it's there's always some part of yours. I mean, it's whether it's 100% or 75%, there's something we need to be doing there.

Audra: Yeah, that's something that I'm really identifying with as you're sharing that and I'm thinking back. And Justin and I agreed that we'd, you know, be open and very real in this podcast together as we normally are. 

But I remember prior to Justin's journey into doing his inner work, and I can visually remember it. I remember getting into these arguments that we haven't gone into since being pushed to not only yelling, but like crying and feeling like I'm so not heard, and part of it was that even it was kind of a gaslighting. I mean, it was sort of like, I know you don't feel that way. No, that's not how this is. No, that's not what's. No, I'm not listening. I'm not listening. I am putting up a wall. I don't, I'm not even going to acknowledge you. You know, like, kind of like that. That is that I remember like escalating, escalating my voice and myself because I felt like I was knocking on a brick wall. 

But it was even more than that because it was like the insinuation was I was just the one that was 100% wrong. So I think that this is something that is striking me that I mean, I that level of activation was definitely part mine, right? Like, definitely it has to do with some of my parts, but definitely part yours too. So how do we help since there is this nuance like to think of like the mindful, there's got to be a mindful way of digging into that where maybe the what is, what we're talking about is like identifying between a trigger and what's not trigger anger. You know what I mean? Maybe, maybe it's something simple like that.

Justin: Well, so an example she used that help to illustrate that she said. Like, if I were to call, if she was talking with the host of the show, she said if I were to call you selfish, you would get a little upset because you have a part in you because we all do, that is that what's to take and a part that feels ashamed about this part that says oh we have internal stuff around being selfish. 

But if I were to call you a communist, like that word has lost. It's like, maybe if I called you a communist 50 years ago, it would have triggered a thing. But like, you would just be like, What are you talking about? No, I'm not. So she used that to literally say, like, if I insist that you're a communist, you would just, you know, calmly explain, like, I no, I'm not a communist and you don't have, you know, I don't know why you would say this, but you wouldn't be triggered. But if I insist that you're selfish, then you then you get triggered because you have a part in you that has been accused of being selfish in the past. A part that's ashamed about, you know, so now we're getting into all these internal things that are going on in there. And so that helped me understand what she meant by if it's intense, it's yours. If it's, you know, if you have a moderate amount of discomfort, just go, Yeah, if you're like, No, I'm not a communist, then it's not yours, you can just, you know.

Jenny: Yeah, I think maybe we're getting hung up is this idea of it being entirely yours. I mean. Like if there's a hook to it, I mean, you know, and we're going to pick a partner who is going to be able to, you know, activate like trigger and activate those parts of ourselves. I mean, we're just, that heat that we feel goes both ways, right. The passion. And then, you know, I mean, there's an intensity there and I think, yes, 100%, you always are bringing your own trauma, your own past, your own hurts and wounds, your own stories. And we're probably going to pick a partner that we, you know, we do a dance with. 

I think where it gets tricky is, when is it ok to say, Hey, when you do this, I feel this, right. I mean, like that there are times where it is ok to be, that you are triggered, it is yours, and there's a behavior that you need to be looked at or addressed.

I don't know, is that kind of what you were meaning, Audra?

Audra: Yeah, Jenny, that's exactly it. And I think that you're hitting on something and you said this when you said you recommend that people do individual therapy first and looking at what The Family Thrive is interested. The work that we're really interested in mental, anima,l and emotional health for parents is focusing on yourself first, like what you have agency over, you know? 

And so when I look at this matrix event or the matrices, if you will, is that the, yes. All right, then what I'm seeing in that is how can I relate in this? And what can I take from this? Not what can we? You know, this is about my work to do. And so I really want to bring the focus and the lens back to to that like I'm in this situation and conflict with my partner. What can I do? Not like, what can we do? I think the chances are going to be really slim that the two of us are going to be taking this workshop together or do it. You're reading this thing together. You know, it's going to come down to, I look back on that me prior to, you know, it was a few, a number of years ago, and I think I can look back at that me and I see so much opportunity to be with her in support. But I just didn't have the skills. Getting back to your matrix and skills, I just didn't know I didn't have any idea.

 And I think what's happening now between the work that you do, Jenny, I think a lot of the mental health influencers on social media are doing a great job. I think what we're doing in The Family Thrive is fantastic. We're starting to raise awareness about the fact that we can that kind of digging deeper, doing this inner work, the process of recognition, you know, developing the skills and beginning to heal. These are things that we can do. 

And I think before this, I used to think like, you know, you're, I don't know how to put it, but there were so many notes within. It was, I have a problem. I don't have a problem. You know what I mean? It was kind of like, I feel like I didn't get, really didn't get the nuances. Says we're either doing this well or not doing as well. It wasn't nuanced.

Jenny: Yeah. It makes me think too about in terms of the intensity. And if it's intense, it's mind. You know, the personal work allows you to dial down that intensity and so that it starts to feel more like being called a communist than being called selfish. You know, and then we can talk about it and we can still not like it when you call me selfish and that doesn't feel good, but I also don't feel like I'm being annihilated in that moment and then I can. 

I had a professor in school who was our, he was our couples therapist professor, and he was like, “Yeah, I just decided for a few months I was going to live by the addage: I shall not draw my sword in this marriage.” He just was like, I'm just. And he's like, I could feel myself reaching for it, but I just decided not to draw it. And I thought that was a great image of just kind of, trying to come out of that defensive place. But if you don't do the inner work, you just don't know what it is you're even defending. You don't even understand it.

Justin: Oh, Jenny, that resonates because when I started to do this work. You know, now, almost two years ago, one of the things that came up was like I was finding I like, I wasn't aware that I was being triggered by this whole internal series of like narratives and judgments that I had. I just thought that they were just, you know, the way things should be. 

And I just reacted to a little feeling inside of like Audra, you know, I do. Why are you doing X, Y, and Z when you should be doing A, B, and C? And it was just like the way things were. And then when I started to do this work and it was like, oh, where we were before I say anything, I can now see that I'm like, slightly triggered. 

And now I can start to do, to step back and be like, I actually don't need to say anything right now. And in fact, my desire to say something is mine. It has nothing to do with her. And then I was able to start to see like, oh my god, I have all these unexamined judgments and criticisms that have nothing to do with her, like they're not hers, they're that they are mine. And that was a process.

Audra: It was revolutionary, though.

Justin: But it was revolutionary. Yeah.

Jenny: And in the biz we call that withdrawing the projection. Like we had a story about Audra and you were projecting it onto her and then her actions are just reinforcing it unbeknownst to her. And then, and this goes both ways. This is the thing. Nobody's side of the street is clean here like everyone has shit and it's but, it's also everyone's job to tend to their own dirty diaper. You know, if we're going to stick with that metaphor. Like to clean it up, you know, and people are so resistant to it.

Justin: One of the really great things about I resonate so much with this idea of like the first step is go into individual therapy, like, do this work for yourself? Because one thing that happens, I've come across this idea of relational polarity. So the idea that in a relationship, a polarity can emerge where one side starts to feel like if they don't fight like hell, the other side is going to completely overtake them. And so then the other side feels the same way like, well, shit, man, if I don't fight like hell, the others are going to. And then it just gets more intense over time, and it's and then it becomes this relational polarity. 

Audra: And so it'll be a thing like as a parent, for example, this will manifest in like bedtime, and this is something that Justin or screen time, right? It's a really interesting process because Justin will, is on the more stringent side. There'll be a parent who's more stringent, a parent who's a little bit less. He has a story about me that I have. I would have a frat house if it were up to me. 

Justin: The kids may never go to bed like they like.

Audra: We're just going to be, you know, I don't know, like doing lines of pixie sticks and, you know, like watching who knows what. And then I have a story about him of like, these children will never live a life. You know. They are going to be living this military style, you know, sort of thing. And so without even really realizing it, we kind of reinforce that as he is like you know bedtime should be... and I'm like, Well, you know, I, you know, I think that they could go an extra another half hour. And in his mind, he's thinking she's like, What do you mean? It's another three hours and I'm, you know, and I'm thinking. 

Justin: Or this is how it's going to be every single night. Like so yeah. That's a great example. That's a great example. What I was going to add, though, just to Jenny's point about doing the individual work, is that the way to break a relational polarity or one way to break it is for one side to unilaterally disarm. And what your and then just trust that in this relationship, you're not going to overt like you're not going to destroy me, you're not going to overtake. And if and so I love that idea of like, I'm just not going to draw my sword no matter what. And then the relational polarity just like starts to fizzle.

Audra: And what happens. What I've experienced to happen here, too, is as you put down the sword, you don't try the sword. I start to feel safe as well. To like, take off the armor, you know, and we start to like just sort of like disembattle ourselves, and then it's progressed to the point where I feel safe saying like, listen, if we're going to set a rule, I'd love to have a family meeting about it. 

Like we can talk about it, but let's talk about it at dinner. Let's make agreements with everybody. Everyone's on the same page. I don't like being caught off guard with new rules that I was not a part of making or, you know, I don't know, like. And so he's agreed to that. And I feel like we've gotten to a really good place of like, let's talk about it, vent about it, but then let's go make a rule together with the kids. You know make this a family thing and we're in a totally different zone because of that.

Jenny: Yeah. I mean, that's it. It's like when couples come in for therapy and they're both like, It's your fault, it's your fault, it's your fault, it's your fault. It's like, it just will go nowhere. I mean, someone has to be the one to say. Harville Hendrix. You know him? He does a lot of Imago couples work if you're familiar, and his whole thing is like, give your partner what they want, which sounds easy, but when you are withholding it because you think what they want is bad, wrong or a threat to you. 

But man, watch a person melt when you just give them and it. But it requires trust. And I think that's where the individual work comes in is like when you do your own individual, when you come into understanding of your own emotional reality and all of the parts inside and the ways that they're hurting in the ways that they're scared and trying to stay safe.

 Once you turn with curiosity, they start to settle down, they start to feel safe inside of you. Then you can feel safe with your partner laying your sword down. But if you're not safe with yourself, how are you going to be safe with someone outside of you? You know, I just feel like it's it. You've got to do that. You've got to get to know you. You know, if you want your partner to know you. Mic drop. I'm just, yeah.

Audra: Yeah. No, I mean, I think this is really, really powerful. And it does make me think that it starts with us, right, and starts within me. Starts with me, and the cool thing is, is that when you do that work like we can't have the expectation that our partner will do the work to or change to, right. But by starting on this, like everything that we've said, I have personally experienced a shift where it's made much more safe for everybody to then engage in it. And you'd be surprised at like how the temperature can just like, come down. And I feel like we have a safe environment now to discuss a good amount of things. And that's really powerful. It's really it's a really big change.

Justin: You've now piqued my curiosity.

Audra: Whenever you try to talk with me about budgeting. You know, for sure. Like now, I know I get like, we definitely have very different childhood backgrounds around money and things like that. And so that's still, I think, a terrain where it's not that it's unsafe. It's just it does, like Jenny said at the beginning, for certain things can feel really big, you know, it feels. Yeah, I know I can be easily triggered in that and you know that we can be get and easily get into polarity. So I do think that you and I like try to do our best and communicate when we have to about it. But like.

Jenny: You know what's great about what you're, the way you're speaking about it is you're allowing for there to be a difference between you that you can be different. And that's the work of differentiation, which to me is what a lot of marriage is about and partnership is about is that you can be you and I can be me and we can be different, but we can still be close and connected. 

And I think a lot of people, when they're in conflict are like, no, no, no, we need to see it exactly the same way. We need to do it this one way, and it's very frustrating. I don't know about. I think there's grieving in marriage when we start to really realize that no one human can be our fantasy and that they are, you know, they bring their humanity to it and that there, I think there's so much we're fed about the fantasy of what marriage is or what it should be or how it should look. And I mean, I find the reality of it much better, I think, than that fantasy in the sense that it's much more real and deep.

Justin: It allows room for growing and in like. I mean, it's part of that authenticity. I mean, the idea of just this melded couple. I mean, that's also it strikes me that like this romantic fantasy is also very childish in the sense that it's really a longing for, you know, returning to the embrace of the mother.

Jenny: It's a longing for it's a fantasy for something that doesn't exist, which is perfect attunement and a lot of times we have to mourn that. And this is the work of personal therapy as we have to grieve that loss with our own parents, right? Which is that longing in that fantasy for perfect it to meant that we will never get because no human can be perfectly attuned to another human at all times. 

Now, some do it better than others, right? I mean, some parents really with it entirely and others get pretty close, but it's natural and human to long for that. But where we get into trouble, I think, is when we don't realize that it's a longing and it's not really a reality and that we've got to accept something good enough or close enough, you know?

Justin: Well, Jenny, can I reveal something? I have a judgment around this. Like I have a judgment that that longing is a sign that some personal that the road of personal development has not been traveled far enough for that person. For me, there is this exciting, you know, transition in like midlife adulthood of like discovering what does it really mean to have an authentic self and to express this like this, you know and like this requires leaving behind some idea of, you know, I'm going to be cocooned in a, you know, in a kind of all-embracing relationship. Like, no, I want my relationships to be adult ones where we give and take and we and we come together and we leave. And yeah, so I think this is a kind of personal developmental stage.

Jenny: Would it feel better if I framed it as there is a part inside that longs for that kind of perfect attunement?

Justin: In fact, I totally agree with that. Yes, yes. No, yeah, I am in 100% alignment with that, that I absolutely have parts that are still children that, you know, if they think that if they can only perform well enough that their mom is going to love them, you know?

Jenny: Sure. Yeah, same, it's like I've done a lot, a lot, a lot of work around my relationship with my mom and accepted her for where she's at and who she is and changed some things. And we have a much different relationship than we did growing up, right? And I and you know, she's in her 90s and I know one day she will pass and I'm kind of preparing myself for that. And I know that there is a part that deeply, deeply wishes we had a different kind of relationship.

I just, and I know that part will always want that and long for it and dream of it. Is it the loudest part? No. Does it drive the bus? No. Does it pop up at times when I'm feeling particularly vulnerable? Yes. When something happens between she and I? Yeah, you know, like, but I feel that part is welcome and I and especially with like the mother and the father, too. But...

Justin: I hear, you know, and I was perhaps too strong or misspoke. It's really this unexamined desire for this, for this kind of cocooned embrace. That is definitely childhood parts want that. But I think in, you know, midlife personal development, there is this like expression of an authentic self that would be stifled by that.

Jenny: Yeah, yeah. I hear what you're saying.

Audra: You've had like the opposite of a midlife crisis, like the one kind that they would get in the 80s, 90s and like dad goes and gets a Corvette, you know, and like that kind of midlife crisis, you've had the opposite. A very different version of that, where instead of being a crisis of like trying to go back to youth, you have, you know, wanted to fast forward into a sage, you know, adulthood like, you know, it's.

Justin: I want to be an 80-year-old. Wise.

Jenny: Well, you've responded to it differently, you know, which is, yeah, instead of trying to grasp some bygone moments, you know, you've turned inward, which is, imagine the world we would live in if when people hit their midlife, they heeded that call. I mean, that would be a game changer.

Audra: It would absolutely change the world for the better.

Justin: That's what we want to do with The Family Thrive. 

Audra: That's exactly what we want to do.

Justin: Provide a space. 

Audra: An environment for that.

Jenny: I think it's good to just normalize like your marriage, my marriage. Like, Yeah, we fight sometimes. Yeah, there's conflict. Yeah, we went through this patch and it was intense and rough. And yeah, we went to therapy. And yeah, you know, it's like just to remove the stigma around that. 

So many people think like, I think having conflict is hush and we don't talk about it or going to therapy means, you know, you're on the brink of divorce or, you know. 

Justin: Jenny, my parents never argued in front of me. Never once I had. I have no. I have no. I don't even know what that's like. I have no idea. They've never not even like a cross look.

Audra: Well, that's an interesting thing that you bring up, too, because mine did not either. It was that much of a practice of doing it behind closed doors, and you and I have had like a really long-standing difference around it, like I felt like argue in front of the kids. As long as we're not calling names are getting activated or triggered or dirty like, you know, in it, but argue and show a resolution like. We should show what the process is like.

Audra: Can we think of, together, some takeaways from this? For The Family Thrive, we are supporting parents’ mental and emotional health and then all of the things that are in support of that, right, it's a holistic approach to this. We do believe that it starts within us individually and that we want to be a platform that supports the individual in their work. 

And maybe that's why the marriage matrix thing wasn't working for me too, because it's like I'm seeing this through the lens of the mom or even the dad. But it's mostly going to be the mom who is like, not only exhausted in her relationships, you know, at home with her kids, but she's not feeling connected. She's triggered. She's wondering why this is going on with her partner. 

And it's like, where can I start? Where can I start digging into this? We want to be a supportive environment for that. So can we list off? We said a number of things on the podcast, but just to be like really kind of concise a couple, just a couple of places and start, before individual therapy too.

Justin: Well, maybe each of us just say something that like, we're taking away from this.

Audra: I think that's a great idea. Does that sound like a good idea to you, Jenny? 

Jenny: Yeah. If you guys go first.

Audra: Yeah, go ahead, Justin.

Justin: Oh, all right.

Audra: You're always ready.

Justin: And one thing that I personally am taking away is I'm glad that I got the opportunity to reflect on the doing this work over the past two years and the shift that that's had in our relationship. And so what's coming up for me is just a renewed commitment to doing this work because it's not done. It's not, you know, it's not perfect. And so just a renewed commitment to being aware, being mindful of the triggers for me and then looking inward and not putting that out onto you.

Audra: Thank you. Thank you. What about for you, Jenny?

Jenny: I was going to go last Audra, but ok, first of all, I just want to say, guys, you're always so generous and kind in your compliments and the feeling is totally mutual. I just think you guys are amazing humans, and I'm so honored to get to have these conversations, whether they're being recorded or not.

 They're just so, I just I mean, I just love you guys and I love this. I love this stuff. I think what I'm taking away is, I kind of like part of it is like, oh, I wish Tina were here. You know, I'd love to hear her perspective in terms of, you know what a pain in the ass I've been at times, but no, but how we've come together and kind of grown together. I'm also really struck by your matrix in the sense of what is holding us in partnership. 

Is this something around authentic self, commitment, skills? I just think that's a really interesting way of looking at it. And for me personally, I'm like, Oh yeah, I've always been fully committed. That is like the one, you know, thing I can say has just been unwavering for me. And now I'm sort of seeing the way that's tied in with my authentic self and my, you know, the way we repair and things like that. 

So it's just I find that really helpful, Justin. So just kudos for your matrix, and I hope other people find it helpful, too. Yeah, I don't think that was a little abstract, but I just love talking about this. And if I can, if I can demystify people turning toward their emotions and their scary feelings and their anger. If I can just demystify that for any one person and say it is not as bad and scary as you think it's going to be, and it will truly set you free. It will completely set you free.

Justin: I heard the analogy of it's like lancing a boil.

Audra: Oof, oh god. Justin.

Justin: It's like, oh, that sharp thing is going to hurt, but it's like, no, no, no, you got to do it. So then clean it out and you're going to feel awesome.

Jenny: So let's leave with that image Audra?

 Thank you, Justin, yeah, I'm thinking like Dr. Pimple Popper or whatever. I think the kids like to watch on TikTok or something.

Jenny: When that commercial comes on, I have to like, leave the room. 

Audra: What is coming up for me, in conclusion, here is some, a conversation that I had with Jenny actually in MaxLove Project about shadow work and. It so, it was really powerful to me, and I think that we spend so much of our lives like we've got the shadows, like we're surviving where, you know, often coming through childhood into young adulthood and then her parents coming into early parenthood is really, really traumatic. 

And some, for some like actual like, there's physical medical trauma and things like that, but it's a traumatic experience. And so I think we accumulate almost an army of shadows. And I mean, there's a lot, there's a lot there that by the time we get to this place of the midlife opportunity, if you will.

Jenny: I love that reframe.

Audra: We have, we have a lot of folks around the table with us. And, you know, it's something I think that was a really powerful realization for me. But what but I wanted to share about the shadow work is instead of seeing that as like kind of like a darkness we carry with us or whatever. For me, our conversation about that Jenny was so powerful because that we are as we go through these difficult things, childhood traumas on and we accumulate the we survive, we persist. And so we accumulate this. We have the shadow that we kind of, yeah, kind of stuff away, right? That's a survival mechanism, and it's something that I have significant gratitude around. 

So I want, I guess, what I want to share is a movement out of shame around that. Like, we all have so much junk in the trunk, you know, or whatever there. We carry a lot with us. We have a lot of baggage. Everybody does and it's a beautiful thing. It's a survival mechanism like, we need it. We need to have room for that somewhere to pack that away. And when we talked about it in MaxLove Connect, it was like, yeah, it's kind of like high circulating blood glucose or something like, we have fat cells that take that in to protect us from the really, really devastating effects of, you know, of blood glucose just circulating in the blood, right? It's a protective mechanism, you know, like we can name many biological protective mechanisms like that. 

This is a protective mechanism for our heart and sometimes even soul in our, you know, our inner world and like, totally appreciate that. But we do get to the point where, like the quote that I mention, like if you, if you don't face this stuff, then your relationships, well, whether it's your partnership or your kids or in the workplace. 

My goodness, Jenny, we have so much to bring to the world around that and how you show up at work like this stuff is showing up and it is like there's there's like who you think you are and then there's like all of the shadow folks, you know, popping up and again, we're grateful, but it comes to be the time that that's our work to do and the word that you use liberation is the first word that comes up to me. On the other side of that work is freedom. And how beautiful is it, I see a picture of like Bora Bora, you know, I, you know, kind of like walking down this beach and that is like on the other side of me doing the work to be able to be my authentic self.

Jenny: Right. And just if I can add one little cherry on top, it's not freedom from ever feeling bad. It's not freedom from conflict in our marriage. It's freedom from the shame around that. And it's a freedom to allow everything to be here and us to walk through it and get to the other side instead of having to stuff it, fester it, defend it. You know, just move through it, let the waves crash on the beach, you know?

Audra: And is it a freedom from the weight? From the burden, from the bigness of of these things, from that, from the unsafe things, from that, like, you know, all of that stuff, right? Like, yeah.

Jenny: From the all or nothing. You know, that's from that, from the all or nothing, from the binary of like, it's bad or it's good. You're bad or you're good. I'm bad or good. Our marriage is bad or good. I mean, the binary is on its way out. Thank God in so many ways. But this place where there are no bad emotions there, just some that are harder to experience than others, you know? And so any way we can...

Justin: I love that. No bad emotions. Some are harder to experience than others. I love that. That's beautiful. I think that is a perfect way to put a bow on this conversation, which is really just a comma, a pause because we are going to do this again, Jenny.

Jenny: Yay, I can't wait.

Justin: Oh, my friend. Thank you so much. You are just a joy. You are. It's an honor to know you. And thank you so much for coming back.

Audra: Thank you for sharing your brilliance with us, all of your Jennyisms, ways of making sense. 

Jenny: Oh my goodness. Thank you, guys. It's always an honor. Love you both.

Audra: Love you too.

Transcript 

Justin: Jenny, this is going to be a relationship themed interview with you, we've had you on a couple of times and we love you. But so do the listeners. Yours is one of, I think, or might be the all time highest downloaded podcast.

Jenny: Are you kidding?

Audra: No. I know everybody loves Jenny.

Jenny: That's kind. Before you said Interview, I thought you were going to say intervention and I was like, ok.

Justin: Fair enough. Fair enough. 

Audra: It’s been a day.

Jenny: We've brought you here Jenny, to talk about the way you do relationships.

Justin: So this is relationship themed. We're going to focus on relationships today. We have a bunch of stuff cooking for relationships in The Family Thrive. We have workshops, cooking, we have a bunch of content. And so we need to have just a full discussion on relationships. Let's start off if we can, with the word marriage, it seems to trigger Audra.

Audra: And does that trigger you, that it triggers me?

Justin: Yeah. And I'm triggered because she's triggered. So marriage, I have written it into a lot of Family Thrive stuff because let's be honest, most like, I'm sure, you know, a very high percentage of the members and readers and listeners who are in long term relationships and have children are married.

Audra: Or, are opposed to marriage. And they have like a dad to the children who they co-parent with and then they're in a relationship with somebody else who's a partner. Like, I don't know. I know I just haven’t— 

Justin: I know that partnership is more inclusive. I get that. But Jenny, is there anything? I mean. Can you? 

Audra: He likes the alliteration.

Justin: Can you give us some guidance here? How do you feel about the word marriage?

Jenny: You know, it's interesting because for kids, as I'm married to a woman and my marriage was not seen as a marriage for the first year by the government, and then we went and had another one. 

We have so many anniversaries. You guys, we have like the Big Gay Wedding, then we have the legal wedding and then we have, you know, when we started dating. And then anyway. So I get it, I get how it is kind of a loaded word for different people and different experiences. Also, I don't know if you guys read the stats, but last week, I think it was in the New York Times. This next generation, the marriage rates are going down. People are not getting legally married.  Did you read that or?

Audra: I didn't read that, but I'd love to see that and I can imagine a number of reasons why.

Jenny: Right. But people are still forming families, you know, but just not getting married. That said, as a therapist, you know, you sit with all kinds of people, and I've certainly had lots of people say, you know, yeah, you know, marriage is just a piece of paper, and that has not been my experience. 

I felt a real transformation when Tina and I got married. I mean, it felt like the wedding was so powerful in terms of community and commitment in front of our loved ones and their commitment to us in terms of supporting us in this marriage. And I mean, something definitely changed inside of both of us after that ceremony. And that was without the legal status, right? 

But that moment changed something in each of us. So marriage took on a new, it meant something in a different way than dating and even living together did. And it was just my personal experience. You guys got married. How long were you together before you got married?

Justin: Well, we were friends for probably five years.

Audra: Not five, five years? We've been married for, it'll be 20 years in March.

Jenny: Oh my god.

Audra: I know, right. 

Jenny: I didn’t know you were in the friend zone that long.

Justin: Well, we met early in ‘97.

Audra: Late ‘96.

Justin: Yes, and then we were friends for years. Three years, probably. And then I think it was 200-ish where we became romantically.

Audra: So we've been together for 23 years.

Jenny: Is that all?

Justin: But we got married in 2002, right? So we are so we're coming up on 20 years. It definitely was a big deal for me, you know, but just I remember thinking, how like the shift? There was a shift when I said “my wife” like that. I was, you know, that was a big shift.

Audra: Did you feel that, Jenny? 

Jenny: Oh yeah. I mean, I felt a lot of pride, and I also felt, I think over the years, I don't even say it. I don't even hesitate. But, you know, in the beginning, you never know how people are going to receive a same-sex. I mean, that's changing, thank God. But so I would kind of sometimes I would say my partner or my spouse and I would sort of code switch, you know, I would kind of like, hide it. And I don't do that anymore at all. 

So it was, there are many layers to it. I mean, I didn't feel any shame about it. It was more just fear of just, you know, sometimes you're dealing with customer service and you just don't. And they always say, “Oh, has your husband duh duh duh?” And then you say, and I’m married, and sometimes I'll just let it go, you know, just like, I don't need to explain this, but that's another topic. But that was a big moment to switch into that kind of language. I mean, language matters, you know?

Justin: Well, right. 

Audra: That's why we want to talk about it, because this does matter. It's like how we're kind of going to be referring to kind of like a major part of a program, you know?

Justin: And I don't have a problem using partnership, and we and we use it, and it's fine. I do. I guess I just don't want the word marriage to go away. I don't know, will it be canceled? Like will the word marriage be canceled?

Jenny: Well, I hope not. I mean, if you want your alliteration, though, Justin, you could call it like the partnership pie chart or something.

Audra: I like it! Put in a pie shape would look more delicious, too.

Justin: Well, it well, it won't work as a pie. It really is a matrix, and we're going to talk about this in a little bit. But now that we're talking, I think I do want to bring up one of the matrices. And so for the listeners, obviously, this is a podcast. You cannot see the matrix, but we are going to link to it in the show notes. If we put this up on YouTube, we'll have it prominently displayed on YouTube. 

But I'll describe the matrix and this matrix is going to come up in workshops and seminars and things that we do. And there are actually two of them and we need two because they don't work without one another. But the first matrix is, so on what we'd call the Y-axis, the line going up and down. 

We have Authenticity at the top and then at the bottom we have False or Lost Identity. And so you can chart where you are in your marriage for yourself, like in your marriage. How true to your essence can you be? Are you your full, authentic self? And is your marriage or partnership allow you to be just fully you? And so you can chart yourself up and down? And then on the X-axis that goes horizontally across on one end is Uncommitted that you are in a marriage that you're like. You know, I mean, we'll see how long it lasts, or we'll do it for as long as it feels ok. And then on the other end, you have Fully Committed and this is you know what I'm with you through. I like, it's not even a question. I am here and I'm not going anywhere.

Audra: Can I ask a question. I’m asking a question… It's about the false/lost identity part of it. And you mentioned in your marriage. I just as we're...on LinkedIn, it was like linked on LinkedIn, a Psychology Today article about survivors of childhood trauma and like common responses. And that's something that Jenny will be able to totally chime in on. And one of them is a false or lost identity, a persona that they develop because they're not safe or have not felt safe and full authenticity. So is this just false/lost identity in relationships here in relation to your relationship in your marriage? Or is it like in for you?

Justin: Well, when I put this together, this was through a bunch of reading that I was doing and talking with some relationship coaches. And so the idea here is, is that an ideal relationship, like when you're really in the zone with your marriage or your partnership, you are able to be 100% yourself in the relationship like you. You can show up with your full, authentic self. You don't need to hide anything, you don't need to say, well, my partner doesn't like this part of me, and so I need to hide this part or I need to play this part down. Like, you know, ideally, you show up with your full, authentic self. And that is like when a relationship is clicking on all cylinders. Does that make sense?

Audra: Yeah, no. I get the authenticity part. It was just like, it's the false/lost identity part where it, I was thinking, like, potentially, you know this, this is for somebody who is maybe in the space of pursuing healing. And is it the false identity in relation to you and our in our partnership? Or is this in relation to their are struggling with a false/lost identity in general like their lives?

Justin: I think I understand.

Jenny: What's interesting about this matrix is that relationship issues might fall on one or both of these acts. What's the plural axis? And so what I can say is. Is that as a person whose attachment stuff came out as being pretty people pleaser, very, one of the words that I'm really in love with is this idea of echoism, which I think we talked a little bit in past podcasts about. But where Narcissus is at one end of a spectrum Echo in the Greek myth is at the other. So he has all the self and she has no self, right? She just repeats thoughts. 

So for those of us whose trauma kind of expresses itself in those ways as being accommodators, people-pleasers, Echo is in order to stay safe in trauma language that it's called the fan response. So I can see that my, the work that I'm doing personally and in my marriage is around bringing, bringing my authentic self, knowing that it's safe to do that. I love that and I've learned how to do it in my life. I would say my marriage has been the most challenging and rewarding place of that work.

So in many ways, I absolutely totally be myself. I mean, obviously, with my wife, I mean completely. And when we are in conflict, it is usually because I have stepped out of my authentic self around something that was just too big and too scary to ask for or express or share, you know, whereas, you know, in friendships and things like that, I've gotten much, much better at it. It's not as scary. It's not as threatening to the attachment, but the marriage is like the final frontier. 

So, you know, it's growing me in huge ways to confront that, you know, with my wife.

Justin: Oh, I love that, Jenny. And that brings to mind a quote that I wanted to talk about, but that we are wounded in relationships, but we heal through relationships as well. And what I'm hearing is that in this life partnership marriage that you're in, it has forced you to heal in some areas where you wouldn't have otherwise healed because you would have been able to avoid those wounds. Right?

Jenny: And yeah, and that's not to say that I didn't try to avoid it in my marriage, right? But because my commitment was over on the fully committed, it got to the point where I just didn't have a choice. And I would say that my wife would probably say regarding her issues that it's the same thing because she's she and I have both always been on the. That just hasn't been our issue. Commitment just hasn't been our particular place of struggle. So we're over here on this fully committed, which has then at a certain point demanded that we do the healing on the other axis because we didn't want to break up.

Justin: Did it demand that you do the workaround authenticity because otherwise, you would have been in a relationship that lost all of its energy? Or did other conflicts come up?

Jenny: Yeah, I would say that when I get too fearful to bring my authentic self and really talk especially about hard conversations, you know, I start to disconnect, which is another trauma response, which is I tend to kind of withdraw. Disconnect and just back. And when I noticed that happening because I am fully committed, something in me says, uh oh, this isn't how I want to be. This isn't how I want to be in relationship with her. So then I feel called to, you know, turn toward the hardest stuff and the scariest. 

I mean, like, it's nobody wants to, you know, it's like, really. I mean, I remember once early, early on, we were going to go to a therapist because we had just, I can't even remember what it was. We had one conflict. We just kind of kept circling and circling and was like, Oh my God. And this was like over a decade ago. 

So I was not where I am now in this work. And I remember getting up in the middle of the night in a panic and laying on the bathroom floor, just terrified of going into this session and saying what I needed to say. I was terrified. But I did it, you know, and turns out everyone lived. You know, it's like, it's never as bad as you think it's going to be this.

Justin: Yeah, so this is, I wanted to bring up the first matrix to talk about commitment, but now we're talking about authenticity. But this brings us to the second matrix that I'll describe so we can kind of go back and forth. So on the Y-axis, the one going up and down for the second matrix we have. Are you in a relationship with lots of connection where you, you know, there's just lots of conversation and physical intimacy and relational intimacy and just lots of opportunities for connection? Or is it lots of disconnection? Just, you know, the arguments or just, you know, withdrawal? And so that's that. 

So you can chart where you are on the vertical Y-axis and then on the horizontal X-axis, we have skills for repair. Do you and your partner have skills for repair because disconnection is inevitable? I mean, there's no relationship that I'm aware of that, you know, is just absolutely full of connection 100% of the time. And so the question is, do you have skills for repair? No skills for repair on one end. Lots of skills for repair on the other. And so you can chart where you are on this matrix as well. And it sounds like there was this pressure of disconnection because of the authenticity piece was driving you to gather onboard these scales for repair.

Jenny: Yeah, because it was intersecting with disrupting my level of commitment. Because the truth is, disconnection actually feels good when you're in a trance, when you're in a trauma state or when you're in a high conflict and you're going into that like real primitive part of your brain of fight and flight. For me, disconnection is a relief. And so I can't say that disconnection frightened me. What frightened me was that if the disconnection were to continue, it was going to, you know, I mean, if I were just looking down the road, you know, this isn't sustainable. To be in that disconnected state and be fully committed is just those aren't going to work. 

So, I mean, not to get too intellectual about it, but do you know what I mean? Like, I don't know about you. But in terms of skills, I mean, Tina is so good about reaching for me in a conflict like we all have our conflict and then she's so good about coming toward me and saying, Let's slow this down. Let's take a breath because of the way I grew up, the way I coped. It's really hard for me to be the one to do that, and I'm so glad that there's one of us in the relationship that can because as soon as she does, I soften. But I have a really hard time being that person. I really want to just go hide under the bed. I mean, I just, that's my safe place. That was my safe place as a kid. And so, you know, and also growing that personal awareness of this, then you can you don't have to reenact it with your partner. 

So to answer your question, Audra, like, it's both right?

Audra: Right, right, right, right. It reminds me of another quote that I was telling Justin about. And that is, if you don't face your childhood traumas, your relationship will.

Jenny: Oh, yeah, 100%. And they'll just start reenacting it.

Audra:  Yep. Yeah, that's what's coming up for me, for sure. And I identify so much with what you're saying. I think as a child of divorced parents and then all of the things that also brought me into people-pleasing and the placating and trying to make the environment around me stable. When we get into it, I have...

Justin: There’s another part that is not people-pleasing, that is resentful of the people-pleasing part.

Audra: Yeah, but I'm not talking about that right now. I'm talking about the fact that I will, for me it's the part that just wants to go away and be on my own. There is a part that's just like, screw this, I'm good on my own. I'm out. I don't, why I don't even yeah.

Jenny: That's and I think what Justin's, you know, piping in with is the split, is the split, which is it feel, when we are not in our embodied authentic self when we're not in our prefrontal cortex and we're back in the trauma brain, it feels like the choices I either have to be a people pleaser to be in relationship or, and I don't get to have a self, or I can have a self, but I have to be all alone.

Justin: Oh my god, yes. How does that land for you, Audra?

Audra: Totally.

Jenny: Yeah. And the people pleaser gets pushed far enough. I mean, yes, we are very we can be very resentful, angry people. We can be very nice. But there, because we can, we have a hard time setting boundaries and things that get swallowed. And once we, I don't know about you, Audra, but once I hit a certain place, I'm out. I'm just like and scene. It's really hard for me to walk into a relational place.

Audra: Oh, yes, yes, and for some folks in some relationships like I'm just out. Like, there's no there's no coming back, it's broken at that point.

Jenny: Right, which is where the personal work helps because I know that this predates Tina. I mean this has nothing to do with her in many ways and of course, everything to do with her because we're with each other and we're, you know, but now that she knows this about me, she can, if she chooses, she can come toward it with some compassion. And there are things about her that you know that I can, that drive me nuts, but I can also come out with compassion. You know, we can find our way back to each other.

Justin: So, Jenny, you described one particular pattern. All right. So. And this is…

Jenny: I know it well.

Justin: We could. We could. Yeah, we could call this an attachment style or a trauma pattern. How should we talk about this pattern? 

Jenny: You want to put it in another matrix, don't you, Justin?

Audra: She can read you like a book.

Jenny: No, I mean, I think we can think of it through a lot of lenses. I mean, if you think of it through attachment, you could think of it as avoidant, anxious. So I tend to be more avoidant. Once I start to get kind of activated or scared or angry, I tend to back away. I'm the one who's going to say, I'm out of here, I'm leaving. You know, I've found a healthier way of doing that now is to say time out, you know, usually avoiding people get together with anxious attachment style. Which is exactly to your point, which is...

Justin: I'm pointing at myself. 

Jenny: He's pointing big arrows at himself. So to your point earlier, Justin, of like we pick partners to heal our, you know, this is what the anxious and the avoidant want to do is heal. So the avoidant wants to learn to not be so avoidant and get to actually land in relationship. And the anxious one needs to learn to tolerate a little bit of frustration and let there be some space and still know that they're loved and we get to be close and connected. So that's like how we could heal. But when we're unconscious about it, the avoidant just keeps being more avoidant, which just makes the anxious one more anxious. And then that just makes the avoidant one more avoidant, you know. 

And then what I did back in the day is I would pick people who were either anxious or avoidant, and then I would play the other part because I was so good at it being a people pleaser. But the same amount of space remained between us. So if I was anxious and you were avoiding or if they were anxious and I was avoidant, but we never got to, you know, connect and be together.

Justin: So what's coming up for me is I am thinking about a listener who is saying, “Oh my God, you just described a pattern that keeps coming up for me and my partner. What are some first steps, now I guess we can say go to couples therapy? But before that, I mean, are there some first steps that couples can start to make?”

Jenny: I know this isn't possible for everyone, but I would. I would. I would vote for individual therapy before couples in a lot of instances, because when you do your own work, and it's not as threatening, you know, to have it pointed out. Also, can I just plug real quickly like premarital counseling or going early on when you guys don't really have a lot of conflict is so, when there's so much loving and liking and warmth between you is such a great. Most couples wait until they're 10 years into resentment and just anger and hurt. And it's harder to undo that. It's not impossible, but it's just when we can kind of create a foundation of learning about each other, what activates us, how to communicate it just makes it a lot easier. 

So that's my little, it's my little plug. But what I think you can start doing is turning with curiosity toward yourself. And I say this in that lesson that we're preparing right now, which is and I get how hard this is to do. I don't want to. This is not easy. 

Call your friends and bitch about your partner. Get it off you. You know, vent, blame, blame, blame. Fine. But at a certain point, the only thing you really have any agency over is yourself. And so at a certain point, it's much more effective to turn toward yourself and get curious about what is going on here. What got activated and get it into like a feeling place. Not a they did that. And then but like, what is actually getting hurt? How am I hurt?

Justin: So Jenny, I just heard this amazing quote the other day from this Internal Family Systems relationship therapist. She said, “If the feeling’s intense, it's your own.” Like if you're if you have a moderate amount of anger or whatever, and you can just state what the problem is, and, you know, then you know that that's a whole separate thing, but if you're triggered and you're really pissed off, it's your own. That was kind of a revelation. That is a sign. Like, if you're really, really pissed off, that's a sign that there is some internal work that has to be done. 

Jenny: Yeah. I would say that's true. I just want to put a caveat out for people, folks out there that are. I just have a soft spot for the super people pleaser folks out there who tend to self-blame really, really quickly and take on all the responsibility of their relationship, especially the ones that are in the place in their life, where they're in relationship with a lot of people who are narcissistically wounded. 

And so you can be feeling an intensity and it actually not always me. Now that's not to say that you don't have a you are a part of it, and there's a reason why you keep picking people who treat you this way. So I believe what she's saying is true. And I mean, this just goes without saying when there is verbal abuse, emotional abuse, gaslighting, things like that. Just.

Justin: Right, Yes. Yes.

Jenny: Obviously.  

Justin: You're feeling triggered because you've just been hit in the face.

Jenny: It's just not that obvious is the problem is that there can be mutilation, but that's another episode. But yes, I would agree that in most relationships and partnerships, that yes, exactly that. If it's the if, if it's a lot of intensity for you. And even if it's there's always some part of yours. I mean, it's whether it's 100% or 75%, there's something we need to be doing there.

Audra: Yeah, that's something that I'm really identifying with as you're sharing that and I'm thinking back. And Justin and I agreed that we'd, you know, be open and very real in this podcast together as we normally are. 

But I remember prior to Justin's journey into doing his inner work, and I can visually remember it. I remember getting into these arguments that we haven't gone into since being pushed to not only yelling, but like crying and feeling like I'm so not heard, and part of it was that even it was kind of a gaslighting. I mean, it was sort of like, I know you don't feel that way. No, that's not how this is. No, that's not what's. No, I'm not listening. I'm not listening. I am putting up a wall. I don't, I'm not even going to acknowledge you. You know, like, kind of like that. That is that I remember like escalating, escalating my voice and myself because I felt like I was knocking on a brick wall. 

But it was even more than that because it was like the insinuation was I was just the one that was 100% wrong. So I think that this is something that is striking me that I mean, I that level of activation was definitely part mine, right? Like, definitely it has to do with some of my parts, but definitely part yours too. So how do we help since there is this nuance like to think of like the mindful, there's got to be a mindful way of digging into that where maybe the what is, what we're talking about is like identifying between a trigger and what's not trigger anger. You know what I mean? Maybe, maybe it's something simple like that.

Justin: Well, so an example she used that help to illustrate that she said. Like, if I were to call, if she was talking with the host of the show, she said if I were to call you selfish, you would get a little upset because you have a part in you because we all do, that is that what's to take and a part that feels ashamed about this part that says oh we have internal stuff around being selfish. 

But if I were to call you a communist, like that word has lost. It's like, maybe if I called you a communist 50 years ago, it would have triggered a thing. But like, you would just be like, What are you talking about? No, I'm not. So she used that to literally say, like, if I insist that you're a communist, you would just, you know, calmly explain, like, I no, I'm not a communist and you don't have, you know, I don't know why you would say this, but you wouldn't be triggered. But if I insist that you're selfish, then you then you get triggered because you have a part in you that has been accused of being selfish in the past. A part that's ashamed about, you know, so now we're getting into all these internal things that are going on in there. And so that helped me understand what she meant by if it's intense, it's yours. If it's, you know, if you have a moderate amount of discomfort, just go, Yeah, if you're like, No, I'm not a communist, then it's not yours, you can just, you know.

Jenny: Yeah, I think maybe we're getting hung up is this idea of it being entirely yours. I mean. Like if there's a hook to it, I mean, you know, and we're going to pick a partner who is going to be able to, you know, activate like trigger and activate those parts of ourselves. I mean, we're just, that heat that we feel goes both ways, right. The passion. And then, you know, I mean, there's an intensity there and I think, yes, 100%, you always are bringing your own trauma, your own past, your own hurts and wounds, your own stories. And we're probably going to pick a partner that we, you know, we do a dance with. 

I think where it gets tricky is, when is it ok to say, Hey, when you do this, I feel this, right. I mean, like that there are times where it is ok to be, that you are triggered, it is yours, and there's a behavior that you need to be looked at or addressed.

I don't know, is that kind of what you were meaning, Audra?

Audra: Yeah, Jenny, that's exactly it. And I think that you're hitting on something and you said this when you said you recommend that people do individual therapy first and looking at what The Family Thrive is interested. The work that we're really interested in mental, anima,l and emotional health for parents is focusing on yourself first, like what you have agency over, you know? 

And so when I look at this matrix event or the matrices, if you will, is that the, yes. All right, then what I'm seeing in that is how can I relate in this? And what can I take from this? Not what can we? You know, this is about my work to do. And so I really want to bring the focus and the lens back to to that like I'm in this situation and conflict with my partner. What can I do? Not like, what can we do? I think the chances are going to be really slim that the two of us are going to be taking this workshop together or do it. You're reading this thing together. You know, it's going to come down to, I look back on that me prior to, you know, it was a few, a number of years ago, and I think I can look back at that me and I see so much opportunity to be with her in support. But I just didn't have the skills. Getting back to your matrix and skills, I just didn't know I didn't have any idea.

 And I think what's happening now between the work that you do, Jenny, I think a lot of the mental health influencers on social media are doing a great job. I think what we're doing in The Family Thrive is fantastic. We're starting to raise awareness about the fact that we can that kind of digging deeper, doing this inner work, the process of recognition, you know, developing the skills and beginning to heal. These are things that we can do. 

And I think before this, I used to think like, you know, you're, I don't know how to put it, but there were so many notes within. It was, I have a problem. I don't have a problem. You know what I mean? It was kind of like, I feel like I didn't get, really didn't get the nuances. Says we're either doing this well or not doing as well. It wasn't nuanced.

Jenny: Yeah. It makes me think too about in terms of the intensity. And if it's intense, it's mind. You know, the personal work allows you to dial down that intensity and so that it starts to feel more like being called a communist than being called selfish. You know, and then we can talk about it and we can still not like it when you call me selfish and that doesn't feel good, but I also don't feel like I'm being annihilated in that moment and then I can. 

I had a professor in school who was our, he was our couples therapist professor, and he was like, “Yeah, I just decided for a few months I was going to live by the addage: I shall not draw my sword in this marriage.” He just was like, I'm just. And he's like, I could feel myself reaching for it, but I just decided not to draw it. And I thought that was a great image of just kind of, trying to come out of that defensive place. But if you don't do the inner work, you just don't know what it is you're even defending. You don't even understand it.

Justin: Oh, Jenny, that resonates because when I started to do this work. You know, now, almost two years ago, one of the things that came up was like I was finding I like, I wasn't aware that I was being triggered by this whole internal series of like narratives and judgments that I had. I just thought that they were just, you know, the way things should be. 

And I just reacted to a little feeling inside of like Audra, you know, I do. Why are you doing X, Y, and Z when you should be doing A, B, and C? And it was just like the way things were. And then when I started to do this work and it was like, oh, where we were before I say anything, I can now see that I'm like, slightly triggered. 

And now I can start to do, to step back and be like, I actually don't need to say anything right now. And in fact, my desire to say something is mine. It has nothing to do with her. And then I was able to start to see like, oh my god, I have all these unexamined judgments and criticisms that have nothing to do with her, like they're not hers, they're that they are mine. And that was a process.

Audra: It was revolutionary, though.

Justin: But it was revolutionary. Yeah.

Jenny: And in the biz we call that withdrawing the projection. Like we had a story about Audra and you were projecting it onto her and then her actions are just reinforcing it unbeknownst to her. And then, and this goes both ways. This is the thing. Nobody's side of the street is clean here like everyone has shit and it's but, it's also everyone's job to tend to their own dirty diaper. You know, if we're going to stick with that metaphor. Like to clean it up, you know, and people are so resistant to it.

Justin: One of the really great things about I resonate so much with this idea of like the first step is go into individual therapy, like, do this work for yourself? Because one thing that happens, I've come across this idea of relational polarity. So the idea that in a relationship, a polarity can emerge where one side starts to feel like if they don't fight like hell, the other side is going to completely overtake them. And so then the other side feels the same way like, well, shit, man, if I don't fight like hell, the others are going to. And then it just gets more intense over time, and it's and then it becomes this relational polarity. 

Audra: And so it'll be a thing like as a parent, for example, this will manifest in like bedtime, and this is something that Justin or screen time, right? It's a really interesting process because Justin will, is on the more stringent side. There'll be a parent who's more stringent, a parent who's a little bit less. He has a story about me that I have. I would have a frat house if it were up to me. 

Justin: The kids may never go to bed like they like.

Audra: We're just going to be, you know, I don't know, like doing lines of pixie sticks and, you know, like watching who knows what. And then I have a story about him of like, these children will never live a life. You know. They are going to be living this military style, you know, sort of thing. And so without even really realizing it, we kind of reinforce that as he is like you know bedtime should be... and I'm like, Well, you know, I, you know, I think that they could go an extra another half hour. And in his mind, he's thinking she's like, What do you mean? It's another three hours and I'm, you know, and I'm thinking. 

Justin: Or this is how it's going to be every single night. Like so yeah. That's a great example. That's a great example. What I was going to add, though, just to Jenny's point about doing the individual work, is that the way to break a relational polarity or one way to break it is for one side to unilaterally disarm. And what your and then just trust that in this relationship, you're not going to overt like you're not going to destroy me, you're not going to overtake. And if and so I love that idea of like, I'm just not going to draw my sword no matter what. And then the relational polarity just like starts to fizzle.

Audra: And what happens. What I've experienced to happen here, too, is as you put down the sword, you don't try the sword. I start to feel safe as well. To like, take off the armor, you know, and we start to like just sort of like disembattle ourselves, and then it's progressed to the point where I feel safe saying like, listen, if we're going to set a rule, I'd love to have a family meeting about it. 

Like we can talk about it, but let's talk about it at dinner. Let's make agreements with everybody. Everyone's on the same page. I don't like being caught off guard with new rules that I was not a part of making or, you know, I don't know, like. And so he's agreed to that. And I feel like we've gotten to a really good place of like, let's talk about it, vent about it, but then let's go make a rule together with the kids. You know make this a family thing and we're in a totally different zone because of that.

Jenny: Yeah. I mean, that's it. It's like when couples come in for therapy and they're both like, It's your fault, it's your fault, it's your fault, it's your fault. It's like, it just will go nowhere. I mean, someone has to be the one to say. Harville Hendrix. You know him? He does a lot of Imago couples work if you're familiar, and his whole thing is like, give your partner what they want, which sounds easy, but when you are withholding it because you think what they want is bad, wrong or a threat to you. 

But man, watch a person melt when you just give them and it. But it requires trust. And I think that's where the individual work comes in is like when you do your own individual, when you come into understanding of your own emotional reality and all of the parts inside and the ways that they're hurting in the ways that they're scared and trying to stay safe.

 Once you turn with curiosity, they start to settle down, they start to feel safe inside of you. Then you can feel safe with your partner laying your sword down. But if you're not safe with yourself, how are you going to be safe with someone outside of you? You know, I just feel like it's it. You've got to do that. You've got to get to know you. You know, if you want your partner to know you. Mic drop. I'm just, yeah.

Audra: Yeah. No, I mean, I think this is really, really powerful. And it does make me think that it starts with us, right, and starts within me. Starts with me, and the cool thing is, is that when you do that work like we can't have the expectation that our partner will do the work to or change to, right. But by starting on this, like everything that we've said, I have personally experienced a shift where it's made much more safe for everybody to then engage in it. And you'd be surprised at like how the temperature can just like, come down. And I feel like we have a safe environment now to discuss a good amount of things. And that's really powerful. It's really it's a really big change.

Justin: You've now piqued my curiosity.

Audra: Whenever you try to talk with me about budgeting. You know, for sure. Like now, I know I get like, we definitely have very different childhood backgrounds around money and things like that. And so that's still, I think, a terrain where it's not that it's unsafe. It's just it does, like Jenny said at the beginning, for certain things can feel really big, you know, it feels. Yeah, I know I can be easily triggered in that and you know that we can be get and easily get into polarity. So I do think that you and I like try to do our best and communicate when we have to about it. But like.

Jenny: You know what's great about what you're, the way you're speaking about it is you're allowing for there to be a difference between you that you can be different. And that's the work of differentiation, which to me is what a lot of marriage is about and partnership is about is that you can be you and I can be me and we can be different, but we can still be close and connected. 

And I think a lot of people, when they're in conflict are like, no, no, no, we need to see it exactly the same way. We need to do it this one way, and it's very frustrating. I don't know about. I think there's grieving in marriage when we start to really realize that no one human can be our fantasy and that they are, you know, they bring their humanity to it and that there, I think there's so much we're fed about the fantasy of what marriage is or what it should be or how it should look. And I mean, I find the reality of it much better, I think, than that fantasy in the sense that it's much more real and deep.

Justin: It allows room for growing and in like. I mean, it's part of that authenticity. I mean, the idea of just this melded couple. I mean, that's also it strikes me that like this romantic fantasy is also very childish in the sense that it's really a longing for, you know, returning to the embrace of the mother.

Jenny: It's a longing for it's a fantasy for something that doesn't exist, which is perfect attunement and a lot of times we have to mourn that. And this is the work of personal therapy as we have to grieve that loss with our own parents, right? Which is that longing in that fantasy for perfect it to meant that we will never get because no human can be perfectly attuned to another human at all times. 

Now, some do it better than others, right? I mean, some parents really with it entirely and others get pretty close, but it's natural and human to long for that. But where we get into trouble, I think, is when we don't realize that it's a longing and it's not really a reality and that we've got to accept something good enough or close enough, you know?

Justin: Well, Jenny, can I reveal something? I have a judgment around this. Like I have a judgment that that longing is a sign that some personal that the road of personal development has not been traveled far enough for that person. For me, there is this exciting, you know, transition in like midlife adulthood of like discovering what does it really mean to have an authentic self and to express this like this, you know and like this requires leaving behind some idea of, you know, I'm going to be cocooned in a, you know, in a kind of all-embracing relationship. Like, no, I want my relationships to be adult ones where we give and take and we and we come together and we leave. And yeah, so I think this is a kind of personal developmental stage.

Jenny: Would it feel better if I framed it as there is a part inside that longs for that kind of perfect attunement?

Justin: In fact, I totally agree with that. Yes, yes. No, yeah, I am in 100% alignment with that, that I absolutely have parts that are still children that, you know, if they think that if they can only perform well enough that their mom is going to love them, you know?

Jenny: Sure. Yeah, same, it's like I've done a lot, a lot, a lot of work around my relationship with my mom and accepted her for where she's at and who she is and changed some things. And we have a much different relationship than we did growing up, right? And I and you know, she's in her 90s and I know one day she will pass and I'm kind of preparing myself for that. And I know that there is a part that deeply, deeply wishes we had a different kind of relationship.

I just, and I know that part will always want that and long for it and dream of it. Is it the loudest part? No. Does it drive the bus? No. Does it pop up at times when I'm feeling particularly vulnerable? Yes. When something happens between she and I? Yeah, you know, like, but I feel that part is welcome and I and especially with like the mother and the father, too. But...

Justin: I hear, you know, and I was perhaps too strong or misspoke. It's really this unexamined desire for this, for this kind of cocooned embrace. That is definitely childhood parts want that. But I think in, you know, midlife personal development, there is this like expression of an authentic self that would be stifled by that.

Jenny: Yeah, yeah. I hear what you're saying.

Audra: You've had like the opposite of a midlife crisis, like the one kind that they would get in the 80s, 90s and like dad goes and gets a Corvette, you know, and like that kind of midlife crisis, you've had the opposite. A very different version of that, where instead of being a crisis of like trying to go back to youth, you have, you know, wanted to fast forward into a sage, you know, adulthood like, you know, it's.

Justin: I want to be an 80-year-old. Wise.

Jenny: Well, you've responded to it differently, you know, which is, yeah, instead of trying to grasp some bygone moments, you know, you've turned inward, which is, imagine the world we would live in if when people hit their midlife, they heeded that call. I mean, that would be a game changer.

Audra: It would absolutely change the world for the better.

Justin: That's what we want to do with The Family Thrive. 

Audra: That's exactly what we want to do.

Justin: Provide a space. 

Audra: An environment for that.

Jenny: I think it's good to just normalize like your marriage, my marriage. Like, Yeah, we fight sometimes. Yeah, there's conflict. Yeah, we went through this patch and it was intense and rough. And yeah, we went to therapy. And yeah, you know, it's like just to remove the stigma around that. 

So many people think like, I think having conflict is hush and we don't talk about it or going to therapy means, you know, you're on the brink of divorce or, you know. 

Justin: Jenny, my parents never argued in front of me. Never once I had. I have no. I have no. I don't even know what that's like. I have no idea. They've never not even like a cross look.

Audra: Well, that's an interesting thing that you bring up, too, because mine did not either. It was that much of a practice of doing it behind closed doors, and you and I have had like a really long-standing difference around it, like I felt like argue in front of the kids. As long as we're not calling names are getting activated or triggered or dirty like, you know, in it, but argue and show a resolution like. We should show what the process is like.

Audra: Can we think of, together, some takeaways from this? For The Family Thrive, we are supporting parents’ mental and emotional health and then all of the things that are in support of that, right, it's a holistic approach to this. We do believe that it starts within us individually and that we want to be a platform that supports the individual in their work. 

And maybe that's why the marriage matrix thing wasn't working for me too, because it's like I'm seeing this through the lens of the mom or even the dad. But it's mostly going to be the mom who is like, not only exhausted in her relationships, you know, at home with her kids, but she's not feeling connected. She's triggered. She's wondering why this is going on with her partner. 

And it's like, where can I start? Where can I start digging into this? We want to be a supportive environment for that. So can we list off? We said a number of things on the podcast, but just to be like really kind of concise a couple, just a couple of places and start, before individual therapy too.

Justin: Well, maybe each of us just say something that like, we're taking away from this.

Audra: I think that's a great idea. Does that sound like a good idea to you, Jenny? 

Jenny: Yeah. If you guys go first.

Audra: Yeah, go ahead, Justin.

Justin: Oh, all right.

Audra: You're always ready.

Justin: And one thing that I personally am taking away is I'm glad that I got the opportunity to reflect on the doing this work over the past two years and the shift that that's had in our relationship. And so what's coming up for me is just a renewed commitment to doing this work because it's not done. It's not, you know, it's not perfect. And so just a renewed commitment to being aware, being mindful of the triggers for me and then looking inward and not putting that out onto you.

Audra: Thank you. Thank you. What about for you, Jenny?

Jenny: I was going to go last Audra, but ok, first of all, I just want to say, guys, you're always so generous and kind in your compliments and the feeling is totally mutual. I just think you guys are amazing humans, and I'm so honored to get to have these conversations, whether they're being recorded or not.

 They're just so, I just I mean, I just love you guys and I love this. I love this stuff. I think what I'm taking away is, I kind of like part of it is like, oh, I wish Tina were here. You know, I'd love to hear her perspective in terms of, you know what a pain in the ass I've been at times, but no, but how we've come together and kind of grown together. I'm also really struck by your matrix in the sense of what is holding us in partnership. 

Is this something around authentic self, commitment, skills? I just think that's a really interesting way of looking at it. And for me personally, I'm like, Oh yeah, I've always been fully committed. That is like the one, you know, thing I can say has just been unwavering for me. And now I'm sort of seeing the way that's tied in with my authentic self and my, you know, the way we repair and things like that. 

So it's just I find that really helpful, Justin. So just kudos for your matrix, and I hope other people find it helpful, too. Yeah, I don't think that was a little abstract, but I just love talking about this. And if I can, if I can demystify people turning toward their emotions and their scary feelings and their anger. If I can just demystify that for any one person and say it is not as bad and scary as you think it's going to be, and it will truly set you free. It will completely set you free.

Justin: I heard the analogy of it's like lancing a boil.

Audra: Oof, oh god. Justin.

Justin: It's like, oh, that sharp thing is going to hurt, but it's like, no, no, no, you got to do it. So then clean it out and you're going to feel awesome.

Jenny: So let's leave with that image Audra?

 Thank you, Justin, yeah, I'm thinking like Dr. Pimple Popper or whatever. I think the kids like to watch on TikTok or something.

Jenny: When that commercial comes on, I have to like, leave the room. 

Audra: What is coming up for me, in conclusion, here is some, a conversation that I had with Jenny actually in MaxLove Project about shadow work and. It so, it was really powerful to me, and I think that we spend so much of our lives like we've got the shadows, like we're surviving where, you know, often coming through childhood into young adulthood and then her parents coming into early parenthood is really, really traumatic. 

And some, for some like actual like, there's physical medical trauma and things like that, but it's a traumatic experience. And so I think we accumulate almost an army of shadows. And I mean, there's a lot, there's a lot there that by the time we get to this place of the midlife opportunity, if you will.

Jenny: I love that reframe.

Audra: We have, we have a lot of folks around the table with us. And, you know, it's something I think that was a really powerful realization for me. But what but I wanted to share about the shadow work is instead of seeing that as like kind of like a darkness we carry with us or whatever. For me, our conversation about that Jenny was so powerful because that we are as we go through these difficult things, childhood traumas on and we accumulate the we survive, we persist. And so we accumulate this. We have the shadow that we kind of, yeah, kind of stuff away, right? That's a survival mechanism, and it's something that I have significant gratitude around. 

So I want, I guess, what I want to share is a movement out of shame around that. Like, we all have so much junk in the trunk, you know, or whatever there. We carry a lot with us. We have a lot of baggage. Everybody does and it's a beautiful thing. It's a survival mechanism like, we need it. We need to have room for that somewhere to pack that away. And when we talked about it in MaxLove Connect, it was like, yeah, it's kind of like high circulating blood glucose or something like, we have fat cells that take that in to protect us from the really, really devastating effects of, you know, of blood glucose just circulating in the blood, right? It's a protective mechanism, you know, like we can name many biological protective mechanisms like that. 

This is a protective mechanism for our heart and sometimes even soul in our, you know, our inner world and like, totally appreciate that. But we do get to the point where, like the quote that I mention, like if you, if you don't face this stuff, then your relationships, well, whether it's your partnership or your kids or in the workplace. 

My goodness, Jenny, we have so much to bring to the world around that and how you show up at work like this stuff is showing up and it is like there's there's like who you think you are and then there's like all of the shadow folks, you know, popping up and again, we're grateful, but it comes to be the time that that's our work to do and the word that you use liberation is the first word that comes up to me. On the other side of that work is freedom. And how beautiful is it, I see a picture of like Bora Bora, you know, I, you know, kind of like walking down this beach and that is like on the other side of me doing the work to be able to be my authentic self.

Jenny: Right. And just if I can add one little cherry on top, it's not freedom from ever feeling bad. It's not freedom from conflict in our marriage. It's freedom from the shame around that. And it's a freedom to allow everything to be here and us to walk through it and get to the other side instead of having to stuff it, fester it, defend it. You know, just move through it, let the waves crash on the beach, you know?

Audra: And is it a freedom from the weight? From the burden, from the bigness of of these things, from that, from the unsafe things, from that, like, you know, all of that stuff, right? Like, yeah.

Jenny: From the all or nothing. You know, that's from that, from the all or nothing, from the binary of like, it's bad or it's good. You're bad or you're good. I'm bad or good. Our marriage is bad or good. I mean, the binary is on its way out. Thank God in so many ways. But this place where there are no bad emotions there, just some that are harder to experience than others, you know? And so any way we can...

Justin: I love that. No bad emotions. Some are harder to experience than others. I love that. That's beautiful. I think that is a perfect way to put a bow on this conversation, which is really just a comma, a pause because we are going to do this again, Jenny.

Jenny: Yay, I can't wait.

Justin: Oh, my friend. Thank you so much. You are just a joy. You are. It's an honor to know you. And thank you so much for coming back.

Audra: Thank you for sharing your brilliance with us, all of your Jennyisms, ways of making sense. 

Jenny: Oh my goodness. Thank you, guys. It's always an honor. Love you both.

Audra: Love you too.

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