CNM 056: Handling Marriage Communication Breakdowns – with Drs. John Van Epp & Morgan Cutlip

Hello and welcome to Episode 56!

This will be the last interview in a 3-part series with Drs. John Van Epp and Morgan Cutlip.

They are counseling psychologists and relationship experts, and I’ve been talking with them about having healthy relationships at every stage, from the very beginning when you’re just getting to know a new person, to the stage where you’re ensuring that you are and your partner are ready for marriage, to today’s interview which is geared for couples who are already married.

If you’d like to check out the previous episodes in this series, they were Episode 54: Guidelines for Choosing the Right Romantic Partner and Episode 55: Ready For Marriage? Here’s How To Know.

So let’s see what my guests have to say about how to maintain a healthy marriage relationship using their Relationship Attachment Model…

Interview with Drs. John Van Epp & Morgan Cutlip on Marriage Communication Breakdowns

Brian: Welcome back to the show, Dr. John and Dr. Morgan. We’re so glad to have you back a third time.

Dr. Morgan: Glad to be here.

Dr. John: Oh, it’s great to be here. Thank you so much for giving us this platform to talk to your listeners in this kind of conversation. This is really wonderful. We’re both hoping that it’s going to be a real benefit to all of them.

Brian: Thank you. It’s an honor to have you on the show. By the way, for those who might have missed the first episode or two in this series, I contacted Dr. John and Dr. Morgan because I read one of Dr. John’s books years ago and it had a major impact on my life (and my future marriage with my wife). So it’s an honor to have you on the show to share some of that wisdom, and I have a feeling that it’s going to be well received. I get a lot of compliments for the guests I bring on the show and I don’t think this is going to be any exception, so we’re glad to have you back for number three.

Question: I want to start this interview by asking you this question:

We’re talking about marriage (assuming the people are already to the point of a marriage commitment). What should we do if we find ourselves in a marriage where we didn’t follow the RAM (Relationship Attachment Model)?

(And by the way, for those of you who aren’t familiar, listen to episode 16. Also, two episodes ago we described the RAM just briefly – but episode 16 goes into great detail about what that is.)

Assuming we did not follow the RAM, if it’s not going well in marriage, what do we do at this point?

Dr. John: I wrote a book called How To Avoid Falling In Love With A Jerkand the most common response to that was, ‘So it’s too late for my wife? What is she supposed to do about it now?’ or ‘When are you going to write the sequel? I’ve already married a jerk,’ or something like that. I know that’s not exactly what you are asking but it’s somewhere in the ballpark of, ‘If we had a rushed relationship or if we didn’t really get to know the person extensively but we formed a commitment or got sexually involved because that felt right at the moment, but now here we’re married and we have all these issues…’ I think that’s basically what you’re asking – what is a couple to do?

I would say first of all, that’s no different than any other couple that did it any other way and they did it allright. Still, when you face issues in your marriage relationship, you’re going to have to adjust, buckle down, identify them, and make a plan to try to work through them in a way that resolves the issues, puts them in perspective, and puts you both back in a good place.

I worked with a couple once that did get married pretty quickly. They did not date very long so they kind of broke what I would call a minimum amount of time to really get to know each other. The other thing that I would say they had working against them is that through their dating relationship, it was speckled with lots of arguments and emotional tension and yet they still got married. They’ve been married ten years and that emotional tension had continued for ten years in their marriage relationship.

I helped them to sit down and look at their relationship through that model of the RAM, ‘How are you guys staying in a know of each other? Where is your trust or belief in each other? How are you meeting each other’s needs and forming a good mutual reliance where you can look to each other and say, ‘I can depend on you to do right by me and to take care of me.’ How are you doing that? What is your level of belief and commitment to each other? How are things going in your physical affection as well as sexual relationship?’ Those are ‘know, trust, rely, commit, touch’. That’s the model right there that we talked about, the RAM (Relationship Attachment Model). And they had all kinds of problems inall five areas. But what I try to help people do is identify where they are, and then talk about what it would look like if they really got to where they would like to be, and then identify a step or two in that direction.

I would say that’s true for any and every couple. We’ve got to run our relationship, and identify where we are. It’s just that the RAM helps you to have specific areas to consider. They’re major areas that are the bonds of our relationship, and so you can look at, ‘Where am I here? Where are we in this area? And then what do we need to do to move toward where we’d really like to be?’

Question: So if somebody realizes that they need help in this area or that area, do you find that couples are usually able to work that out among themselves if they have the right tools and knowledge, or do they frequently need help if they’re really in a bad spot?

Dr. John: I think the majority of timecouples are trying to work it out on their own. Let’s just give them a rule-of-thumb, if you’re trying to fix something and it’s been three, and at the most, six months and it is not really changing, then you need to bring somebody else in. And just to be a little self-promoting here, I mean we have Rock Solid Marriage which is an online video course that is way cheaper than going to a therapist and it’s a good starting point.

Let’s get some input and then have conversations about that input. We have worksheets and things like that in the material. But I think that too often, couples kind of get that logger jam; they get stuck. They argue about it and then they reach a point of just quitting. They stay in the relationship and continue to go forward, but now they’re not even addressing it and it is just a lit fuse.

Dr. Morgan: I think a lot of times when couples get to that point, it feels like this is how it is and therefore this is how it will always be, and at that point their hope for the relationship improving really starts to erode and it becomes a very dangerous place to be.

Dr. John: Hope is crucial. We have colleagues that do marriage intensives. It’s like taking marriage counseling (one hour of therapy)and putting it into three or four days where they just go nonstop with a group of couples. One of the biggest reasons that intensive is successful and helpful to couples is it moves them out of the hopeless state that Morgan just mentioned, into feeling hopeful like, ‘Hey, there’s something here.’ I do think that whether it’s grabbing our online course, which is a very simple thing to do, whether it’s going to a therapist, or whether it’s signing up for an intensive, it is worth it to do something to try to re-germinate that hope and to see that there is a way to get beyond this state that we are stuck in.

Question: In your program you mention the attitude that we have towards our partners. The question is how do you just simply maintain a positive attitude towards your partner in marriage?

Dr. Morgan: In the last episode, John, you talked about ‘the between and the within.’ I think that it’s really common in marriage to feel like you have a bad attitude toward your partner because of something he or she did. It’s a reaction to what you are seeing in the relationship. I think one of the first steps is to really understand that a big part of the work in marriage is done within. If you have a bad attitude toward your partner, you have to own that and you are going to have to do something about it. It’s not necessarily just your partner’s fault.

Dr. John: I was doing a presentation at a university andhad an afternoon with several professors. One of them had just finished a dissertation on the subject of trust, and their whole premise was that trust does not just come automatically from the other person. There’s the one that’s being trusted and the one that is trusting. But the one that is trusting has to make some choices. What are they going to focus on with the other person? What are they going to zero in on? What are they going to bring to the forefront?

We say trust is earned but I think trust is also chosen, so there’s this blend. It’s not one or the other, it’s both. So my attitude toward my partner is an attitude of trust, what do I believe about them and what do I think about them? The more good things about my partner that I bring to the forefront of my mind, my whole attitude starts changing. I start seeing them in the best light. I start thinking of them in the best way.

Haven’t you ever known somebody that was married and they’re their partners worst enemy? They think of all of their negatives. You talk to them and say ‘Hey, how’s your partner doing? How’s your spouse doing?’

And they say, ‘Oh, you know him, he does this and this and this (all these negative things),’ or ‘You know her, she does this and this and this,’ and you think, ‘Well, I do know them and those are not the things I think of first,’ but obviously you do so you need to take some responsibility for what you are choosing to focus on because that is determining your attitude, and it’s altering the whole mood of your relationship.

Question: You also talk about becoming a connoisseur of your partner, what exactly does that mean?

Dr. Morgan: That word is often times associated with wine. You become a connoisseur of wine. What that means is that you are an expert in a subject. You don’t just know about it, but you love and appreciate it. You’re invested in learning everything you possibly can about that particular subject.

In the course we talk about how you want to be that way toward your partner, you want to be just really an active investigator of what is going on with your partner and really knowing the way they tick, understanding them, and loving that process.

Dr. John: There are a lot of books, especially for marriage, about how we meet each other’s needs. His Needs, Her Needs is an old book that has been around for a lot of years but is somewhat of a classic. The Five Love Languages is another one, and Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. There are different needs, and successful relationships, strong relationships have two people that are what we would call a connoisseur of their partner. They knowwhat needs are most important totheir partner because those are the ones that they want to try and meet.

If we put this in connection with what you talked about in terms of your attitude – if I really am driven or I make it a strong priority to watch my partner, to pay attention to my spouse, to listen to what they like and I try to meet their needs, and then I also think about my partner in the best light possible – if you take two people that are doing that (thinking of each other in the best light possible, putting the strengths of each other in the forefront of their mind and then actively trying your best to think about what your partner likes, what makes them feel loved and happy, to be that connoisseur, and to meet those needs), then those trust and reliance bonds are going to be really strong and that’s going to bring about a really enjoyable marriage relationship.

It almost becomes the equation for success. How can you be successful? Have a good attitude. This what it means and be a connoisseur. If you do those two things, that alone will tend to bring your relationship up tremendously.

Brian: There you have it, folks, we’ve got the formula; good attitude plus connoisseur equals marriage success.

Dr. John: There you go.

Brian: That’s great. Let’s talk about communication a little bit more. We talked about it in the engagement episode (the last episode) but now here in a marriage, let’s talk about something called active listening.

Question: I’ve been trained in active listening as a coach, but I want to hear what you have to say about what active listening means in terms of marriage relationships. How do you do that?

Dr. John: I’m going to start with my RAM model. Communication, I always say, is a means to an end. What is our end goal? That helps everybody to step back where, ‘Oh, I thought in communication we were just talking about skills.’ So you have to think of it as, ‘I want to build good trust and I want to meet their needs(that’s the reliance part of my model), and really know them, so we’ve got to have a good openness.’

If I’m really trying to know my partner, then obviously it means when we talk, I am not playing on my phone or I’m not grabbing and answering a text right in the middle of our conversation. I’m putting that aside. I’m focusing on us. In my mind, I am putting myself into their world. I’m using whatever they’re telling me to help construct what’s going on with them and to be in their world.

As I do that, I periodically put what they’re saying in my own words, to let them know I’m listening. I occasionally reflect back what they told me or how they feel. I might try to look for the feelings that they haven’t expressed with a word but I’m going to use a word to try to capture it. For example, ‘Oh, man, you must have… when that happened and you didn’t even get any recognition on the job for all that work you did.’

…Now I’ve got to guess at how my partner feels. Are they the type to be outraged? Are they an angry type that’s going to get mad, or are they the hurt type that must have felt devastated? Maybe they’re the type to really be sensitive to feeling completely unvalidated and overlooked. Then I might say, ‘You must have felt like you’re completely invisible on the job,’ and if that’s really meaningful they might say, ‘Yes, that’s exactly how I felt.’

They feel like I know them. I’m in their world and it makes them feel like we’re joined together in this kind of mystical union that our communication has resulted in. That is active listening with a good means to the end of knowing them. I think this also comes into play when you have a conflict.

Dr. Morgan: Yeah, we jokingly call it the defense attorney technique. If you can make this shift in how you talk when you are in a conflict, it is powerful. When you describe your side of the story in an argument, it is so easy to talk for five or ten minutes and go on and on about how right you are. But if we could just give that same amount of time and effort to explaining our partner’s side of the story, the way that we communicate during a conflict would be completely different.

Dr. John: Itrequires my ability to calm myself down. Let’s say my partner is disagreeing with me and saying some things that are just stirring me and get me a little bit upset or frustrated inside. If I’m going to do this technique where I become her defense attorney, I’m going to explain her views back to her with as much time and energy as I was explaining my views.

If I’m trying to do that but I can’t calm down my own emotions, then it’s probably going to come out with sarcasm and things are going to leak out through. I’ve got to be able to calm myself down and I might have to say, ‘Can I just take five minutes to just get a glass of water and clear my head?’ And then when I come back, I say something like, ‘I want to explain your point back to you and make sure I’m on the right page…’ and that’s the defense attorney technique.

I’m not going to do it in a one liner. I’m not going to do it with a sense of sarcasm. I’m going to do it with humility and respect for my partner’s view. ‘I married somebody who has good opinions, who has a good head on their shoulders,’ I need to remember that when we’re in the midst of this kind of an argument where I’m thinking, ‘No, no, no, that’s stupid. What are you saying that for?…’ I don’t want to go there because I am implying that my partner doesn’t have good points when they almost always do.

This defense attorney approach does require some humility, it does require some self-regulation, self-control, or self-soothing. But hardly anybody takes much time to try to explain their partner’s views. If you would do that, it has a hugely powerful effect in people bringing different views in a conflict together toward good resolution.

Brian: Yeah. To the listeners, just imagine you defending your partner’s point of view in such a way that you demonstrate that you know it just as well; you’re in their shoes. Just imagine how the defenses might melt away in the relationship if you could do that. It’s incredibly powerful. After I learned of that technique in your program, I actually tried that with my wife in our very next conversation, and guess what? It worked like a charm.

Dr. John: Yeah, I would say to listeners exactly what you said, Brian, but even on the flipside. Imagine arguing something with your partner or trying to bring your point, and your partner doing that with you. Think about how that would feel if they’re going on and on and you’re saying, ‘Yes, that’s what I said,’ and they’re saying, ‘I just want to make sure I’m really getting it,’and you’re thinking, ‘Thank you.’ You can almost feel it when you imagine your partner really doing that, and it feels great.

If it’s only a one-way street, it’s not going to work very well because it’s going to backfire down the road – but if both people work to do that, it’s wonderful. Sometimes one person has to do it a little more than the other for a while and then it catches on, so don’t just do it conditionally. It’s a really powerful thing when both people do it.

Brian: Yeah, that’s great. You could go from defensive to agreeable in an instant if both people have the right attitude about it.

There’s another term that you mentioned and you call it a ‘huddle.’

Questions: What is a ‘huddle’ and how often should you do a huddle? What should you talk about when you do your huddles?

Dr. Morgan: A huddle is basically a relationship management meeting. It’s a regularly scheduled time for a couple to come together and talk about how they’re doing in their relationship. I can tell you what a huddle is not. A huddle is not long. They’re not meant to go on and on. Twenty-minute tops is a rule of thumb. And they’re not an opportunity for couples to come together and just gripe or complain about things, but really a time to come together and work through the five areas of the RAM, check in, and then create a plan for making any adjustments or changes to the relationship to make sure that they’restaying strong in those five areas.

Dr. John: Just to name the areas – you sit down in a huddle and you go through the know, which is basically catching up with each other. This is a look back on the previous week or so. You may discuss conversations that still need to happen, or ones that haven’t been finished yet. You’re touching base on how you’re doing in general. Is this the first time you’ve had a good conversation in a while? If so, you may be tempted to talk way more than twenty minutes, in which case you should plan more regular talks because you’re starving and now you’re just living for the big feast rather than spreading it out.

The knowis your catch up. The trustis this attitude stuff that we already talked about. ‘Let me tell you the things I appreciate. Let me bring it to the forefront. Let me refresh my trust attitude towards you. If there are some things that I did that I apologized for this last week, let me apologize again, let me just tell you that I appreciate you.’

The knowand the trust, the first two steps are a little more of a look back. The relytransitions; ‘How are we doing in meeting each other’s needs? What are we doing together?’

One of the things that we have couples do in our Rock Solid Marriage course is each partner comes up with their own top ten list, ‘What are the top ten things that are really important to me that I like you to do with me, and for me, here’s my top ten list.’

In step three of the huddle we look at our top ten listsand we offer top ten list of our own, so there’s around twenty or thirty items between our lists. Then we say, ‘What have we been doing well? What do we want to do as we go into the next week or two before we have a huddle again? We start to form plans of our togetherness, working together, supporting each other, laughing together, having fun, playing together?’ The commitment is how we support each other.

Step four in the huddle is looking at what’s on your calendar, what’s coming up, ‘How can I best be there and support you and how can you support me?’

Then the fifth step of the huddle is kind of a wrap up of touch, where we talk again specifically about our affection in our sexual relationship, and just let each other know that we love and support each other through this week. This ends the huddle.

The huddle just walks straight through the RAM with the first two steps looking back and then the next three steps looking forward and anticipating the week coming up.

Questions: Moving on to another question, sometimes we feel like we fall out of love. Let’s face it, things get boring, things get tense. How do we stay committed to our partner in those moments when we have that feeling like we’re not in love anymore?

Dr. John: One of the things that we say in our Rock Solid Marriage course is slow leaks either lead to a flat relationship or a big blow up. I wouldn’t leavethat subject of regular huddles too quickly because the huddles are the solution to the normal ways that relationships start deflating. You don’t have to do anything wrong for something to cause a leak. It’s going to deflate naturally sometimes. Your kids are busy, you’re running around, you have to travel for your job, somebody got sick. It’s constant. Life deflates the bonds of a relationship. This is just normal.

The danger comes when the couple begins to have a bit of a deflated relationship and they don’t do anything about it. If they have regular huddles, they’re identifying it and saying, ‘Oh, wow, this is normal. We’re not pointing fingers, we’re not throwing stones at each other. But what are we going to do about it as we go on to the next week?’ We’re managing our bonds, our closeness; not just our schedules, but finances, kids, and everything else. We’re actually managing the true aspects of our relationship.

I would say a couple can avoid having this flattening of their relationship or leading to a big blow up. They can’t avoid the ups and downs, but they can avoid them getting stuck in them for long periods of time which is the real danger, if they have the regular huddles.

Dr. Morgan: And just to piggyback on that, when you look at the research as to why couples report they divorced, the top two are,‘We’re not in love anymore or we grew apart.’ I think the beauty of teaching our courses in the RAM is that falling out of love just sounds like this really confusing ambiguous experience, but the RAM provides a visible kind of bond to this invisible world of relationships. When you have a plan and you regularly manage these bonds in a relationship, it really is just an incredible preventive tool to avoiding this kind of ‘falling out of love’ experience.

Dr. John: And if you’re already there, you need to know that lots of people have come back in love after having it slip. It’s a range, it’s not all or nothing.

Dr. Morgan: Yeah, and often times when they come back after going through this and they build the relationship back up, research shows they’re happier than they were before. It’s almost like you have created more resilience and stronger bonds in your relationship when you come back from being at this place.

Dr. John: We saythis very empathetically and compassionately; when you feel hopeless about your relationship and marriage, it is as if the horizon point is two inches from your eyes. We live life with horizon points. What’s around the corner? We’re hoping for something better down the road. It feels like what I call the eternal present.

When your horizon point has moved so close that you feel hopeless that there is nothing out there that is going to bring any kind of a difference for what’s going on in your relationship, at that moment, it feels like the present experience is eternal and it will never ever change. This is a very, very dangerous relationship state. It’s a dangerous personal state. It’s when people take steps to harm themselves in that state, whereas if they had just gotten out of it, they would never had taken those steps.

What they find with relationships (what Morgan was describing), is that when people stay in the relationship, the horizon begins to reemerge. It begins to come back. Particularly when they start doing some things (like what we’ve talked about here) to re-engage and reignite these major bonds of their relationship. When they start doing that, all of a sudden they start getting some horizon of hope and that brings a better perspective and ultimately the relationship improves. That’s a good thing.

Brian: It’s so great to put it into a system and making a definition for your huddles, like twenty minutes maximum. I know sometimes when my wife and I sit down, I have a tendency to be okay talking longer but she doesn’t have as much of a tolerance for it, so twenty minutes is a great point to say, ‘All right, it’s not going to be all night, here is what we’re going to cover.’ What a great thing to build into your life together. ‘We’re going to do this once a week and here’s what we’re going to talk about and kind of move on and not dwell.’ It’s nice to have some structure around that.

Dr. Morgan: I just want to say one thing about huddles that I think is really powerful about that. So often in marriage, when somebody’s bugged by something, they have to come to your partner and say, ‘We need to talk.’ And a lot of times, just those few words really elevate defenses and then you find yourself in an argument wondering, ‘How did we even get here?’

I think one of the beauty of huddles is also that they spread out the responsibility of managing the relationship, and then it’s normal that you’re going to talk about stuff that you can both work on. I think it creates a safe conversation to have regularly and avoid some of that intensity that comes with the ‘can-we-talk’ conversation.

Dr. John: Yeah, for couples that have done huddles on a weekly basis, one of the things that they start to do is huddle up all through the week. They have little mini huddles, and they’ve gotten used to practicing that model so long that they can see it in their mind’s eye very clearly. When they huddle up, it brings that positive kind of sense to the little interactions that they have all through the week.

It starts out maybe more formal, a bit mechanical. ‘Hey, let’s do this and let’s stick with it.’ ‘ Okay, times up, we need to move to the next item.’ But if they do it mechanically and formally for a little bit of time, I would say give yourself a month or two, it will start to feel more natural and then you’ll see it starts generalizing. It expands and starts changing the whole landscape of the relationship, and that’s when you know it’s really powerful.

Question: Let’s move to a topic we’ve talked about the last couple episodes and we want to mention it here again now that we’re talking about marriage.

I’m going to ask the question a little bit differently. It involves physical touch and physical intimacy which is the last stage in the RAM. The question in this context would be – what are some common problems that couples have with physical intimacy in their relationships?

Dr. John: I think the first thing that is important for couples to know is that as we grow together through life, we’re going to change in many ways. My sex drive or how I experience arousal is not going to necessarily stay constant. Life changes and stages are going to impact our sexual relationship.

The starting point for all couples is to get really comfortable being able to talk about their sexual relationship. If you’re doing huddles, and if in every huddle you have a little bit of time that you talk about this like, ‘Hey, where are we in our sexual relationship and our affection?’ because some people think, ‘You know, if you show me a little more affection, I might be a little more sexually responsive to you.’

Another person might think, ‘You know, it’d just be nice if you would talk to me,’ and somebody else might be thinking, ‘If we had a plan, then I could think about it and get myself in the mood.’ These are common things that you hear people say in marriage. If they’re doing this in their huddles and having a consistent, regular, open conversation about this area of their relationship, then I think they’re going to avoid all kinds of problems that happen when life changes begin affecting them. Let’s face it, it’s going to happen. These changes in life are going to happen.

Brian: Fair enough.

Question: As we move to start wrapping up here, I wonder what should be the biggest takeaway for our listeners about how to start being a better spouse, especially if we feel like we’re dealing with a difficult partner?

Dr. John: I’m going to start with this idea that relationships don’t run themselves. If there’s a big takeaway about marriage, it’s that it always takes maintenance. When you are dating you’re building a relationship, and then when you get married, the idea that marriage is now going to run itself or it’s self-correcting (so that if something gets a little bit out of balance, it’s going to rebalance somehow down the road because everything always is self-correcting) are myths that set people up for overlooking and having some real problems in the accumulation effects. Marriages and relationships in general don’t run themselves.

Think about your kids (if you have kids). Your relationship with your kids does not run itself. I have a granddaughter that’s five years old. She only lives three blocks from where we live so we see her pretty often and know her really well. But then I went to her preschool to pick her up. I walked in and asked her to show me around. She showed me around and I realized there was a lot I didn’t know. All of a sudden I went into a part of her world where I’ve never been. Now I have more things to talk to her about and think about. That is just because I chose to step into her world.

My point is that whether it’s a child or a friend, relationships vacillate; they fluctuate. But bottom line is you have to be runningyour relationship.

The power of the RAM (Relationship Attachment Model) is to define your job description. These are the major areas that you are running. I would tell a couple that the most important takeaway is you need to both be willing to step into running your relationship. If you are with a difficult partner, that’s probably somebody that doesn’t feel like stepping in to run the relationship very much, or they’re running it in a way that is not in agreement with you, try to get on some kind of agreement with that person about how to have a huddle. Talk through these areas of relationship. Make your needs known to them and get to know their needs so you’re a connoisseur to each other. Try to get in agreement about the process and put it into play in your relationship so that you slowly start moving toward a better outcome overall. Be intentional about running that relationship.

Dr. Morgan: The only thing to add to that is – in a scenario where you have one person who just seems very disengaged in the marriage and you have another who’s trying to manage the relationship without their partner joining in – I think that at that point it’s really important to manage yourself. Your own attitude toward your partner has such a drastic impact on the overall mood of the relationship. If your attitude becomes incredibly negative and that colors the mood of your relationship, things are going to snowball to that place. If you’re feeling ‘on your own’ in this and you’re trying to change the climate of your relationship, one thing that’s important to pay attention to is just your own attitude towards your partner, and where you choose to focus.

Dr. John: You talk so much about codependency. Sometimes you have to say, ‘Listen, I need to get some of my needs met by somebody other than my spouse.’ I’m not talking about having an affair or anything like that, I’m talking about getting involved in some work that you really enjoy, or directing some of that toward your friends and not having that spouse be the sole source for certain personal and emotional needs. I’m trying to get some of that from other places particularly when the spouse is resistant or they’re just not available to meet those for whatever reason.

I think that becomes exactly what Morgan said. ‘I’m managing it within but I’m also deciding what other sources outside of my marriage are legitimate, healthy sources to make me feel good and to actually bring that back into my marriage and get my tank filled up not just for my spouse but from others.’ I think these are good ways to try to help somebody who’s wondering, ‘How do I move forward in my relationship when I have a partner that’s difficult?’

Brian: Absolutely. Thank you for that feedback. As we wrap up this part of the series here, I’ll give you an opportunity, if you’d like to, to discuss some of the programs that we’ve referenced over the past couple of episodes.

Question: You’ve built online programs for folks who are dating or new in a relationship, looking for the right partner, folks who are preparing for marriage, and folks who are already married. Would you like to take a quick minute or two and talk about those programs and what’s in them?

Dr. Morgan: We have three online courses. We have Head Meets Heart which is for singles. In that course we talk about five targetareas around which you’ll want to get to know about a partner that are predictive of what they’ll be like later on in the committed relationship. We also talk about how to pace a growing relationship in a way that minimizes vulnerabilities and also helps you keep your head and your heart in balance so that you can identify red flags. The course is video based. It’s the two of us teaching the material. Along with that, we have a workbook that’s downloadable. We also have different research summaries and some homework sheets that you can do to enhance what you learn in the course.

Dr. John: The course that we have for engaged couples is called Rock Solid Marriage Ready. It follows the exact same format as that course that Morgan just mentioned, meaning it’s video based with a workbook, info sheets, and research sheets. It’s also designed for two people to do together although the Head Meets Heart is designed for the individual (although two people could take it together). This is really designed for two people that are engaged to explore where they are in the relationship. A lot of people do get some kind of counseling but this is a great add-on to their counseling.

Also part of that course is the Couple Check Up which is an inventory from Prepare/Enrich. It’s internationally used and is a terrific way of comparing ten major areas of your relationship. We integrate some of that, and they get the test for free as part of the program with printable results. It helps couples take the material that we’re presenting, personalize it and to realize which parts of the video lessons they really need to focus on.

That inventory is also part of our marriage course which is called Rock Solid Marriage. Again, Morgan and I teach the course. We’re a father-and-daughter team and both doctors. We have different perspectives from our two different generations but we have the same kind of message and mission about helping people in marriage to really maximize their relationship and have a plan for running that relationship. So the video series, the workbook, and the Couple Check Up is also there for them to use as well.

What’s nice about these courses is you can do them privately. Historically for twenty-some years now, I’ve had instructorcertification courses where people get certified, then go out and actually teach these materials in live classes. But we really wanted to offer something that individuals and couples could do in the privacy of their homes. They can talk, they can explore together, and these are the most convenient way for them to step into relationship growth.

All my programs have been studied by researchers, and research has been published research on them so they have a lot of validity behind them.

If people put the time in and work on this on their own, I think that they will see the benefits on a personal level in their own relationships.

Brian: Thank you so much again for participating in this mini series, for explaining what those courses are all about, and for taking so much time to give such wonderful information to the audience.

Dr. John: Oh, it’s been great being here.

Dr. Morgan: Thank you for having us.

Dr. John: Yeah, and we appreciate it so much, Brian.

Brian: My pleasure.

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