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Helping High Conflict Couples with Jennine Estes. LMFT and Jackie Wielick, LMFT | 2.7.2024

In this episode, Kristen explores the dynamics of high conflict couples with licensed Marriage and Family Therapists and authors, Jenine Estes and Jackie Wielick. They delve into communication challenges, attachment wounds, and strategies for fostering emotional safety and vulnerability within relationships.

You'll Learn

  • The importance of recognizing your patterns and emotions in improving relationships.
  • Ways to create a safer, more open environment with your partner, even during conflicts.
  • Practical tips for recognizing and addressing communication challenges in relationships.
  • Strategies for de-escalating tensions and fostering healthier interactions.
  • Insights into navigating sexual dynamics and intimacy in relationships.

www.helpforhighconflictcouples.com

Resources

For counseling services near Indianapolis, IN, visit www.pathwaystohealingcounseling.com.

Subscribe and Get a free 5-day journal at www.kristendboice.com/freeresources to begin closing the chapter on what doesn’t serve you and open the door to the real you.

Subscribe to the Close the Chapter YouTube Channel

This information is being provided to you for educational and informational purposes only. It is being provided to you to educate you about ideas on stress management and as a self-help tool for your own use. It is not psychotherapy/counseling in any form.

Kristen Boice

Welcome to the Close the Chapter podcast. I am Kristen Boice, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice pathways to healing counseling, through conversations, education, strategies and shared stories, we will be closing the chapter on all the thoughts, feelings, people and circumstances that don't serve you anymore. And open the door to possibilities and the real you. You won't want to miss an episode so be sure to subscribe. Welcome to this week's close the chapter podcast you made it back or maybe you're a first time listener welcome in. We are so glad you're here. You matter you're important and you're loved and you're nothing if you don't hear that enough. I want to tell you that more. And hopefully, we can work through the shame that says you're not good enough. There's something wrong with you. You're defective to believe the truth that you have worth and value. And in today's episode, we're going to be talking about high conflict couples. But really we're talking mainly about just couples in conflict and communication and attachment wounds and how they play into our conflicts, and how to really create more security and connection in your relationship. I first was drawn to the work of Janine and Jackie because they wrote a book. So let me share with you more about my guest today. Janine Estes, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a heart set on making a big difference in the world of relationships. With 20 years of experience. under her belt doing relationship counseling, she created a group practice called STS therapy in San Diego. Her team is comprised of 16 therapists, and she really likes to train other therapists as well. She is certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy and the co author of the book high help for high conflict couples, and it's a guide for couples looking to untangle the relationship issues, heal the past and boost their communication game. And it's not your typical self help book. The book is full of practical action oriented steps to guide couples through twists and turns of building a stronger, more connected relationship. And then we had her co author and Jackie joined us which was fantastic wildlife and they both shared about their personal experiences with couples and then some really helpful metaphors. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and owner of her own private practice therapy by Jackie she has a Master's of Science in marriage and family therapy in degrees in both psychology and sociology with a focus on couples relationships, attachment, trauma and emotions. Jackie's passion is helping people find deep joy in themselves and in their relationship using her advanced training and research based therapies such as our theories, Emotionally Focused Therapy and Gottman method, couples therapy. She previously worked at the Gottman Institute for five years, one of the world's leading research institutes for couples and relationships where she was exposed to revolutionary research, love and relationships. So let's jump in. Feel free to tag me on social media at Kristen D Boice. Grab the journal. If you haven't already at Kristen D boice.com. Just go to the website, you can grab the journal. It's right there. All previous episodes are there too. So without further ado, here is my conversation with Janine and Jackie. Welcome to this week's close the chapter podcast. This is such an important topic. Because how many of you are out there feel like you're in this place where you don't know how to work through conflict with your partner. And I've got just the perfect guests to help you navigate conflict resolution. How do we work through things? How do we communicate better? How do we connect better? So I am so excited to have Janine and Jackie joining me who just wrote the book, right. December is did you finish it up in December 2023?

Jackie

Yeah, it just launched in January, high

Kristen Boice

help for high conflict couples. Perfect title, straightforward and direct. So welcome to the close the chapter podcast.

Jenine

Thank you so much for having us.

Kristen Boice

I'm so thrilled you're here. So let's start with a little bit about yourself. So tell the audience who you are, and then we're going to jump into how you got to write the book.

Jackie

Okay, well, I'll start this is Jackie, my name is Jackie Willick. I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. My own my own practice called therapy by Jackie. I'm located in Washington State but I see clients virtually in California and I've been extremely passionate about couples and relationship counseling from the get go. I always knew I wanted to be a therapist, but from the beginning I knew I wanted to help couples. And so when I found Emotionally Focused Therapy, which is what the book is based on. I was so excited to begin working with Janine and that's how we met. I was her associate. And we kind of connected in that way. And so yeah, I love helping couples in my practice. It's really fun.

Kristen Boice

I love that. And I love that's how you guys met was doing couples work? Beautiful. Yeah, we found

Jackie

each other through Emotionally Focused Therapy. And then we started our relationships, just being colleagues and working together ever since it's been great.

Kristen Boice

That's fantastic. So Janine, tell us a little bit about yourself. Yes.

Jenine

Hi, everyone. My name is Janine Estes, and I am a licensed therapist as well. But I have been working with couples for 20 years, I started up my business called Estes Therapy, and gradually built it up to having two locations, a group of clinicians and being the relationship hub in San Diego just focused on relationships. So high conflict couples are a thing. That's what walks on the door. And we decided to write the book on high conflict.

Kristen Boice

I'm so glad you did. Because let me tell you, everybody needs to know how to navigate conflict. At the end of the day. I mean, we are like lost, we didn't get the skill set, we needed to know how to communicate in a healthy way connect with each other. We have all these defenses we've built up from childhood and trauma and all these things. So let's define what a high conflict couple is. What would you consider a high conflict couple high

Jenine

conflict couples, these are kind of what we've decided the way that we look at it as high conflict couples aren't the same as regular couples, but with the volume kind of metaphorically turned up on high. So the reactions are a lot more intense. So it might be the ice cold shutdown severe stance, or the extreme intensity in the body where people are reacting, and a lot of volatility, anger, blaming slamming doors, really intense emotions turned up on.

Kristen Boice

So when we are kind of worked like defining conflict, what would you say these couples have patterns of like, what would you say? slamming doors kind of yelling, screaming dysregulation? What else would you see in these couples,

Jackie

one of the biggest parts of Emotionally Focused Therapy is identifying what we call the negative cycle. And so what these couples have is pretty like rigid and exaggerated cycles where you might have a pursuer who's kind of coming towards their partner with criticism, anger, and high intensity kind of fiery with that volume turned up. And then on the other side of the spectrum, the other person like Jeanine was saying, with the exaggerated shutdowns are really big withdraws, are really, really big threats to the relationship. And these two patterns of behavior kind of ping pong back and forth with each other, and make the other person's responses pretty exaggerated in return, right, the more somebody shuts down, the more their partner is going to turn up the volume and vice versa, it's gonna go back and forth. So that's a huge aspect of high conflict couples that we addressed in the book. But what's really cool is because high conflict couples are just like regular couples, but with the volume turned up our book is really helpful for I would say all couples, it does target high conflict relationships. But a lot of the tools are helpful for anyone in relationships. So I love the feedback I've been getting on the book, because people are saying, like, I'm not considered high conflict. And this is helping me. And that brings me so much joy. It's really been cool. I love that. So

Kristen Boice

I would date in my husband and two months into dating, I was like, let's cut a premarital counseling. And he was like, why? Let's get it all on the table, our childhood, our patterns, what past issues we've had, and relationships. And I think all couples that they start that early, a lot of people don't because they don't maybe have the resources or they don't even know where to begin. What's the first step for someone to begin this journey of working through their conflicts?

Jenine

I think the first is we need to identify kind of the landscape of where they're at, of understanding the intensity when issues are what they're dealing with. Right? So the more the landscape, they understand what they're dealing with, then they'll have a starting point of and so we have kind of a questionnaire of what are the things that you're dealing with within your relationship, what type of explosions what type of fights, there's three A's that we have to address right away is any type of active abuse active affair or active addictions, those will automatically create high conflict couples, and those have to stop before we even begin. We have to have some sort of safety. And so that means addictions have to be taken care of the affairs neato stop any type of abuse has to stop but once we have safety under control, then we have to look at where our They right now, what type of intensities are they threatening? What type of volatility. And from there, once we know where they're at, then they need to start understanding what their cycle is, who's doing what moves, how to regulate their body, because body regulation, if somebody's in so much distress, there's no way they can be cognitive and calming themselves down and going to vulnerability if their body's dysregulated. And so that's kind of the next piece is like, how can they regulate their bodies to then start figuring out the next moves? They have to be creating kind of that window of tolerance? Like how can we tolerate distress? How much can their body tolerate the distress in order to be responding in more of an appropriate manner or catching their reactions or catching that pattern that goes on between both people? There's so many moving parts within one reaction. And so it's important to get educated on where are we? What's our landscape? who's doing what, who does, what type of move? And then what's my side of the street? How do I calm my body down? How do I make myself move different in the relationship, which can then impact the partner, one

Jackie

of my favorite parts of the book for writing, it was the chapter where we talk about cooling down. And we have point by point tips on how to calm your body down and regulate because like Janine saying, this is so important when we're dysregulated in our trauma, or in our past, or in the relationship, because there's been affairs or attachment injuries, or whatever our bodies and our minds, we go offline, we get so dysregulated that our prefrontal cortex can't even stay in the conversation to make a new decision as to how to respond. So it gives us a lot of empathy. Because a lot of times people are so reactive, and they don't like the behaviors that they're doing. They don't like how they act towards their partner when they're so dysregulated. But we can have empathy and be like, Well, yeah, you're offline, your body is in fight or flight, your prefrontal cortex is offline. And we do a whole chapter on cooling down, which is so so cool. And that techniques are like, very effective. And also very practical, like we were thinking of like what, in a real life situation with a busy life and kids and a couple, like, how are you actually going to do this stuff for people who can't go to a two hour yoga class every day. So it's like really easy, kind of fun tips and tricks as to how to get your body back online. And you have to do that first, before you can make any new decisions about how to respond to your partner, right?

Kristen Boice

Yes, that's incredibly important, I think the concept of self regulation. So let's talk about maybe some top two tips that you would have for self regulation, and then how to increase that window of tolerance to tolerate a hard conversation to tolerate bringing issues up, what are the top two, would you say coping strategies to kind of get yourself calm, so you can face these hard conversations,

Jackie

I've got some ideas I want to hear out for Jackie, we talk a lot a lot. So it's really hard, I wouldn't say there's like two that are the best, I would probably recommend everybody try every single one and that we put in the book. And then we actually recommend them reading them as to what works for my body and what doesn't. And then going from there and knowing what works. We talk a lot about the importance of taking negotiated breaks, I love I love love couples taking negotiated breaks, if the conflict and the conversation is so escalated that you can't stay online, we recommend this is a great little tool, just saying to your partner in a way that signifies the importance of the attachment in the relationship. Hey, we need to take a break so we can come back. And we can address this we recommend the break be no less than 30 minutes, because that's about the time it takes typically for the body to come back to baseline. If somebody has a trauma history, it might take just a little bit longer. But in that amount of time, your job is to not ruminate about the conflict or the relationship or think about what you're going to say back to your partner that's going to make your point really good and make the really bad we don't want you to do that at all. We really just want you to focus on taking a break calm your body down and then coming back together is like the biggest nono ever do never never take a break without saying exactly what time you're going to come back and talk about it again. And making sure your partner knows that you love them. And the point of this is to have a productive conversation so that it's not perpetuating a cycle of abandonment but that's a really great easy coping skill for couples deep breathing. I know it sounds so cliche but just the research on taking one to five minutes and taking a couple deep breaths doing some box breathing can switch your body from fight or flight into a more online space. That's a good one to add. Those are great.

Jenine

Another thing I just wanted to jump in around was About really kind of looking at we both are scared. And we both need to create safety, right? So kind of creating this like team like wording, instead of a blame of you or I just really coming back on like, Hey, we're in conflict right now, I love you, you love me, we both are on this team, we both need to make it safe right now. So really putting the responsibility on the team as a couple verses on each other is instead of like, I don't feel safe, or you're not doing this, it's very much like we both need to make it safe, we both need to come back together and really focusing on that attachment part.

Kristen Boice

I think that's important point that I don't feel safe. People say that a lot. I don't feel safe. So saying, I love you, I care about you. And let's kind of using we language, let's take we language instead of an eye language when you need to take a break. Yeah, I like that. Let's talk about attachment. For those that don't know anything about attachment, let's just do a high level. What is attachment? Why is it important for individuals? It more importantly, as a couple?

Jenine

That's a good question is that we're a pack animal, it takes a village to raise a child, we are about a community. And that's kind of our hard DNA, our wiring our hard wiring. And so research shows that the more connection we have with others, the more robotics can regulate the brain stimulates can regulate through distress, the pain tolerance is stronger when we have a strong connection. And so attachment theory is about how to create more of a secure attachment knowing that when we need our partners, we can rely on them, they're for us, they have our back, they'll respond when we need we know that we matter. And there's that security. And so attachment is all focused on how can we build that security in our relationships. So we can navigate the world when we're away from each other, we're a lot stronger, we can regulate and deal with harder things when we have secure attachments with our partner. And with EFT am of Emotionally Focused Therapy, Sue Johnson founded the ar e, accessible, responsive and engagement. So it's basically experiencing just that of I can count on my partner, they will respond when I need them, they'll show up the way that we need them to. Like if I go to the ledge, and I'm super vulnerable and terrified. And I jump and I share something vulnerably I need to know my partner is going to catch me I'm not going to land on my face, basically, that attachment theory is about all of that, it's just knowing that if I do take a risk, you will show up for me but I'm also going to jump to you in a secure way in a safe way. So

Jackie

I love thinking about when we think of attachment theory too, we think a lot about like babies, right, because a lot of our attachment is formed, I can't quite remember, I think it's before the age of three, like our attachment styles even are kind of ingrained into us. And the coolest part is is that it's plastic, it's fluid, it can change at any time. And that's the point of our book is to help people who do not have a secure attachment style, to feel empowered to be able to create one with their partner. And there's a lot of research on kids that kids with secure attachment styles are more adventurous, you'll take them to a playground and they're actually gonna go run away and go run and jump and play on things, meet new people. And then they're going to come back to their primary caregiver and seek comfort and reassurance and fill up their cup and then they can go back out and explore. It's we're no different as adults, I think we always think that when we grow up, we're so different in our attachments, but it's the same I hear a lot of couples may be expressing like a fear of losing their some sort of independence or something when creating this more safety and connectedness with their partner. And it's like know, people who have a secure attachment, these couples, they feel their safety extends to the other person and out into the world around them. They feel so secure in themselves that they can kind of go out in the world and like be really authentic and be who they are. Yeah, I

Kristen Boice

think this is an important concept for people to understand what attachment styles do high conflict couples have? Like, are you seeing a secure attachment with a high conflict couple at the beginning? Not at all?

Jenine

No, no, no, no. There is a lot of anxious attachments and disorganized attachments. There's just a lot of distress around it because I don't know if I can count on you. And we talked about like there are these three areas that cause that attachment to be more insecure. One is through traumas, unprocessed traumas from their history, so they might have a childhood where it was an anxious attachment and that just shows up in their current relationships or they might have attachment injuries and attachment injuries are such as an affair that happened in the past or a time when the partner wasn't there such as a miscarriage or birth through the birth of their child, right, some way of I thought it was safe. And now it's not safe in our relationship, which creates that anxious attachment in the relationship or this uncertainty. And the third one is ongoing, needs not being met within the relationships. So if we have been trying to get our needs met over and over for years and years, and I cannot get my needs met, sooner or later, I feel like it's not safe, and I can't count on you. So those three areas all create this uncertainty, insecurities that then flare people up that have them kind of on guard, kind of like, I can't count on you to take care of me. So I'm going to take care of myself through either throwing bombs and blames and comments, or by shutting down and withdrawing and stuffing all my emotions. And so those are the three that we have to watch for is, do we have any ruptures that we need to repair, does trauma start showing up that hasn't been processed, and my body's totally dysregulated. And

Jackie

then to tie in kind of like that insecure attachment place, then, like exaggerates that negative cycle that we talked about earlier. And so in the book, what we do, and we do, and really like step by step way, which I really liked, loved how we kind of tackled the book together was focusing on how to de escalate each side of the cycle. And before you can do that, how can we start to feel a little bit safer and a little bit more secure, so that my response can be a little bit less exaggerated, so that I can start to trust you a little bit, and then the response is a little bit nicer, and then it kind of snowballs. And you can see the responses start to go back and forth and like a little bit of a calmer way. It's a very simplified way of saying that, but it's the overall goal.

Kristen Boice

I'm with you. It is an interesting concept, because what I find is like, I'll do an attachment assessment. And then I can see, okay, you had an anxious attachment with your dad. And guess what you have in your marriage. Oh, you got an anxious attachment, or you had an avoidant attachment with your dad, now you're avoidant in your relationship. It's an interesting parallel, and it could be with a mother could be you have an anxious attachment style with your mom, because you can have different attachment styles with different parents. And then to see that play out again, in a relationship. So really healing that childhood relationships with each parent, I find how critical is that with high conflict couples?

Jenine

Well, it really depends on to resolve with their parents. Some people cannot go do that resolution.

Kristen Boice

Yeah, I should not say that question. Let me reframe that mean, like to go back with your parent, but doing that healing work individually? Yeah, that came out wrong. Okay, chances of you being able to repair it directly with the parent is very rare, if

Jenine

they can do that processing. So that's where the unprocessed trauma and unprocessed pieces if it's not processed properly, we will be reacting and not knowing why react. So we find like clients who can go do a lot of trauma work or a lot of history work with their history and kind of really reprocessing it to make sense of why their body reacts the way it is that emotional awareness expands. And now they're building that emotional tolerance of hard things to know like, oh, here goes my body, I want to go into a fight stance right now. Oh, it's just my partner, it's safe. This is no longer mom yelling at me, or it's something that they should absolutely do is go process it with a therapist, if possible, that's going to be always my go to.

Jackie

Right. And then in the trauma chapter, we really focus on kind of developing like a more nuanced view of trauma. And we have an assessment for people to take, which I think is really helpful, which is like, do I have trauma? And we include examples of more nuanced views of what could have been traumatic that can be influencing like the person's reactions in their relationship now, because we all know, right? How many people show up in session? And they say, No, I don't have any trauma. I don't know why I'm yelling at my partner all the time. But then we find out we'll actually you do have trauma, but it just might not, in your mind have been defined as that. It's not just we have a saying in our book, like it's not just war veterans that have trauma, trauma can be being bullied traumatic experiences, not just with parents, but maybe with siblings. There's tons we could think of hundreds of examples, but it's important to help people realize like the different ways it can show up. Yes,

Kristen Boice

I think that's key. So let's talk about communication. Because high conflict couples have a hard time communicating. So what are some of the keys to begin to communicate in a healthier way?

Jackie

What are your thoughts to noon Do you have any like a lot I know I'm like I'm trying to organize right now. I'm in my mind like organizing like

Jenine

the way that At we need to what we've been talking about is we need to find that pause button, right. And so we're pressing the pause button, identifying what's been going on emotionally, and what's going on physically in their body, but then they have to make the jump. So I talked about, I used to do trapeze, okay, funny thing for people to listen as I did flying trapeze, so you didn't like trapeze. And so what you had to do was go climb up, this ladder is 23 feet up in the air, put your toes over the edge, lean out and reach for a bar, and then you jump, you swing through, you do a trick in the air, and you get caught by the other person.

Kristen Boice

I just really sad. It's so brave. First of all, that is so brave.

Jackie

Isn't it amazing, actually,

Jenine

in the book, because it's my way of kind of weaving in my personal life into my therapy worlds. But with flying trapeze, when you're up on that platform, you're terrified, right? And each person responds to fear different some people hold on to the bar, and they're like, no, no, we're not gonna jump other people go robotic, some people shut down, some people freeze, there's just all different reactions. And so then when it comes to the Flying Trapeze, when you're up on that platform, you have to let the catcher the person who's on the other side, let them know, you're ready, you let them know, like, Hey, this is a trick I'm gonna throw to you, they start pumping up their swing, and they'll, hey, I'm ready for you jump hat, they'll it's called happiness, the code like kind of the term to get you off the board, you jump, you fly through the air. And in order to do it, right, you have to reach for them in a safe way, when you're doing that trick, and you're released off of your bar in mid air, and you have to reach for them in a safe way for them to grab you. And that catcher has to then grab you and swing through. So the way we look at communication is the same as when you're standing on that platform, you have to let your partner know I'm about to take a risk, because I love you. I want to share something vulnerable with you, I'm scared, the other person has to then say okay, let me be ready for you. Okay, I'm ready. Now, sometimes I'm walking out the door, on my way to work, don't, I'm not ready for you. So we do need them to let them know like I'm ready for you take that risk jump with me. So they'll help you get off that bar, then the person who's sharing the rest, they have to share it vulnerably of Here's what's coming up for me, and really putting the spotlight on them on, I'm really scared, I'm really whatever it is in a very raw vulnerable way, not in an attacking way the Reach for the catcher, they have to do it in a very raw vulnerable way without any bombs without any blames any type of criticism will come out. So you have to really shed that and just saying like, here's where I am. And for reach, they have to say what they need for that moment because they're scared, right? They're jumping through the air, they're scared. And that partner then has to show up and say, Okay, see you I've got you tomorrow. Does that make sense? I'm that makes perfect

Kristen Boice

sense. And the person's like, I mean, like you said, there's many different responses on both sides,

Jenine

both sides, right. And so there's a lot of times we think, Oh, my partner should just know what I want. And actually, that is false. At times, they might know what you need. But other times they have no idea that you're up on that platform terrified, and that you need your partner that I'm about to share something scary partner has no idea. And so it's your job to say I'm scared, I'm going to share something with you vulnerably. And then they have to share, and then the other person has to show up. So they have to give a response that says, Your feelings matter to me, they're valid, I care about what you have to say, you know, I care about how you feel, and then that ask for what they need, we have to ask for what we need. That's going to give us comfort right now, a lot of times clients will say I just need you to just understand that in the future when I take these. And they give these global things global kind of needs or wants and we have to get more specific right now, while I'm flying through the air. I'm terrified. And here's what I need from you right now to comfort me, I need you to hug me and you should have told me it's safe and that you're not going to leave me I need reassurance right they have to ask when high conflict couples in the beginning of when they start doing the work vulnerability is actually used against each other. So vulnerability in the beginning working with high conflict. That is the last thing I want my couples to do is go vulnerable because it gets us the first thing is we need safeties that means no F bombs, no walking out the door, no slamming doors, no cursing, right, we have to really create that structure of safety, no disappearing acts. Once we do have that safety, then we put in the vulnerability and then we take those risks and then the other person has to catch on because if not to fall flat on their face. They make that jump and the person does not catch them and doesn't respond. They'll fall fall flat on their face and will say I'm never going to do that again. They put their armor back on and they go back into, I'm gonna take care of myself, I don't need you. It's

Jackie

excellent. It's the most beautiful metaphor ever is tying it with trapeze. And I love that we put it in the book. And we've gotten so much feedback on it like really resonating because imagine standing up 23 feet and they're on a platform and jumping is terrifying. That's how it feels when we've all been there in our relationships. That's how it feels to share, right, but the process of making sure the other person is ready and that they can catch us it's perfect

Jenine

billing when that person is in a in anger, state, frustrated, agitated, anxious, we have to understand that's a protective kind of armor, I've got my gloves on, I can't count on you to take care of me, you are not my teammate. And so people go into this anger and frustration we have to remember now this is my partner, they love me they're scared too, when both people are on that ledge when I was doing the Flying Trapeze and running some of the classes seeing the people scared, they hang on tight, they have all these different reactions because they're scared. And we need to all remember that these anger reactions are because they're scared, but we need to press that pause button, slow it down. I'm here with you. We're a team. I love you. You love me. If you can't talk to me right now, because you're angry, let's come back in half an hour, you can't regulate your body, let's come back and talk about it when we're both regulated. And at that point, then we want to do that vulnerability and taking that risk.

Kristen Boice

Because you don't want to fly on a Chappies to someone else. If you're dysregulated and the other person's dysregulated. I'd be like, No way am I could jump into your faculty, I don't believe you're gonna catch me because you're not even regulated. So that picture of the trapeze and dysregulation, neither one if you're one person's dysregulated it's not going to work. It's

Jenine

absolutely well not. And that's why we have to like press that pause button, how can I show you safety, I used to leave, I'm going to stay, I used to get quiet, I'm going to tell you that I'm thinking about things what you have to say matters. I'm still processing give me a few moments. Or I used to get big and loud and threaten. And now I have to pay I know I used to threaten, I'm not going to do that right now. I'm really working on not getting big and loud. I'm sad for couples

Kristen Boice

to be able to get to the place of self awareness to know when they need to calm down because they're so busy blaming the other person, like you're the problem and you're doing this, I say three fingers are pointing back at ourselves. When you're pointing the one finger to your couple. It's like, Oh, I love that. Right? You're like, you got three fingers pointing back to yourself. But they have a real hard time they think the other person's the problem. How do you work through that pattern? When someone's like, it's really not me, it's them? Well, and that's part

Jenine

of the problem, right? There is the blame. That's part of escalation. And we actually find that people who do the shutdown will say, Well, I just stayed quiet the entire time. But the quiet actually is part of the escalation. The partners thinking like, are you there for me? Do you even care about what I'm saying? They increase their volume to be heard. And the more they increase their volume to be heard, the more unsafe they begin for the other person, right? And so they end up becomes this ping pong, back and forth of one person might blame of Oh, you did this, you did this, you did this. And that is the pointing language, right? That is pattern of escalation. But the shutdown is also part of the escalation. Because

Kristen Boice

they can look real common the office, the one that's shuts down, and the other one can look real intense. So you have to really navigate that we can look at goblins for apocalypse, you know, horsemen of the apocalypse, which is stonewalling contempt, criticism and withdrawing and you're going well, it's a poopoo. platter. What are your top two that you go to that are defenses that you're trying to protect yourself? I like how you framed it for everybody, just so they know what that is? What is the biggest challenge for high conflict couples,

Jenine

the highest challenge is being able to take ownership of their side of the street and follow through when there's a lot of body dysregulation and wounds so really creating that safety. Research shows that getting a third neutral party involved helps deescalate pretty quickly. So that's where counselling was really effective, is having that third person help with de escalation and helping co regulate with the clients because the body is in a lot of distress they've learned throughout the years I can't count on you for some reason or the other. So helping them on their side of the street and understand how their side of the street while in pain, right? So I think about if we have severe amounts of pain, it's hard or to then track how their behavior is hurting the other person because they're so consumed in their pain that they can't see past their own pain, to see the impact on the other person or how it's influencing the other person or the cycle. So it's kind of I think of a screen door. And if you have a dirty screen where you can kind of see past, see through it, and then that's kind of a growth screen door. But there is something about when my pain is so big, I just can't see you. I don't care if how I react hurt you, because my pain is too big. And so really kind of breaking down their pain and helping them be seen and heard and understood. And creating hope is the hardest part. But once you get there, and you can help organize why they both do things, and they can start understanding their pattern, understanding their partner actually has her and start seeing each other is where we start to see the shift. But if somebody continues to throw bombs and hurt, if they can't create that safety, then escalation is going to continue. If Hey, the way you're talking to me hurts me, and I'm pleading with you. And I'm trying to let you know, the way you treat me hurts me, and you continue, then I'm going to continue to protect myself, right? And so we have to create that safety right away.

Jackie

So the boundaries, we put boundaries and like the first chapter of like, these are the boundaries we have to do here, some no goes and what else, right? What are some Nobel's? And I think another challenge to this is just coming up, I'm just thinking of this now. And Janine, I want to hear your thoughts on this, too, is like we talked about this in the first chapter also, that in a lot of high conflict couples, only one partner, you can only get one partner to read the book, or only one partner to go to therapy, right? We see this all the time, we got a lot of individuals wanting to do couples therapy, and we're like, where's your partner, we can't do without them. And so creating that hope for people and getting that buy in of the partner who doesn't want to I guess do the work is very difficult. And so we actually really intentionally have that in our hearts when we wrote this and made sure that you can do this entire book alone if you need to. And you can do all the exercises we prefer, obviously, if we have both people and doing it together and creating that vulnerability, of course, but also, we wanted to maintain that hope that there is research that shows that if one person does step out of the cycle can have a positive impact, and doing the exercises and going through this. It's possible, which is exciting, too. But that's a huge challenge is getting the buy in from both people. Yeah,

Kristen Boice

oftentimes, so many people come to therapy, and they're like, my partner doesn't want to come. My spouse doesn't want to come and I'm like, that's all right, let's you're taking the first step. You're here. Good for you. That took a lot of courage. So yes, let's talk about when someone comes in, you've got a high conflict couple, and someone starts getting super intense, they're starting to raise their voice, the other person is starting to really shut down. How do you navigate that when you've got somebody in your office,

Jenine

I love this stuff. We lean into it, and we actually will, you're gonna follow the emotion in the room, right? There's a lot of emotion in the room, and whoever's one person shutting down, one's getting bigger, I'm usually like, talk to me, don't talk to them. And I would really put in some, like, I will be a lot more active and directive, when needed. When it's highly escalated, I lean into it, I went into the punch and like, talk to me, don't talk to your partner, because that pattern doesn't work. So let's try something different. And I like to organize it that way. And if somebody is shutting down, that's an indicator of a lot of overwhelm, and that they are feeling a lot. And it doesn't feel helpful for them to engage in that point, because they know that battle will keep going. So as a clinician, I'm going to lean into it, talk to me, don't talk to them. And I'm going to start do 10 minutes with one person talking about their experience, go over to the other one, try to organize it without having them getting into their pattern, right like blame, shut down, attack, criticize, withdraw, pursue withdraws at a common pattern. And so we'll just say hold on, we're not going to do that. You get to do that for free outside of here. Let's try something different. Yeah, I like to bring in some humor with my clients do.

Kristen Boice

But it helps diffuse things, I'm sure. So let's talk about practical things at home that people can start doing that they want to shift the pattern. We talked about self regulation, kind of being the first place noticing your body, kind of taking those you have those in your book, if you need more tips in terms of how to self regulate, how did they start, like what are some practical things they can do to start breaking patterns and communication and anything else?

Jackie

One thing that might be helpful kind of at the beginning of this healing journey, if people are like I want to start doing less at home, whatever I begin is maybe they can just get a piece of paper and start writing down what they see with their partner if the partner is open to it, or they could do it alone and what they see their pattern is with the format of when I blank, I noticed you blank when you blank, I noticed that I blank, right and you start to see how your behaviors influencing your partner and how your partner's behavior is influencing you and doing so we have this as an exercise in the book. But in doing so you're kind of creating your ability to notice what we will call as your negative cycle, which is one of the first things we do with our couples when we use Emotionally Focused Therapy. And then the goal and the point of all of that is not to blame or use that against your partner, but is to stop it. So when you start to notice that then outside of that little exercise, at home, you're setting the kitchen and you go oh, here we go. Okay, this is what I wrote down as part of the cycle I think we're starting to get into it now is to collaboratively with your partner using like the Wii language. And all this is saying like, Hey, we are starting to get into our cycle. Let's press pause, let's do something else. I think stopping the cycle is one of the very first most helpful steps for couples.

Jenine

So what Jackie's saying is when you take out that paper is writing down, who does what behaviorally and what emotion and intention is under, underneath those behavior. And once you have that pattern, being able to put a name to it and call it out, Hey, we are doing the tornado or we are doing the whatever it is. And as she's described it is the more that you can understand your pattern, if you pull on a baby mobiel the whole thing moves. So if we just move one person in this pattern, it only takes one person to step off step out of the cycle. And that's where the Emotionally Focused Therapy piece comes in. As clinicians know if we can step up, get one person to step out, both people can step out, one person's not blaming, the other one can't get into a defensive mode, if one person doesn't shut down and the other person won't keep throwing bombs at the wall. So we need to understand fully what your pattern is to stop it and try something different.

Jackie

And I think the most important thing of all of this, but Janine, we've done which I'm so glad you did, because I forgot to mention is the most important part is like the emotions underneath it. So then you start to see, you could write on that piece of paper, what I think my partner might be feeling in this moment, that's in our book. And that's really important. So when you say on this paper, I watch my partner shut down, and then you can go what do I think they might be feeling in that moment, and you can just take a guess. And then that's where we want to go, maybe they feel hurt or overwhelmed, or in pain or whatever. And that core vulnerability and like connecting to the heart of the matter, lean. That's what all of this is about is seeing the pain that our partners are in and having empathy for that vulnerability. Yeah, and

Jenine

noticing our own pain, right? Yes. When I feel hurt or let down or not seen. It's my common reaction is to go into this, like, intense critical blaming position, right? It's that is my go to I can go into this blame so easily. But I have to press that pause button. It'd be like, Hold on, I'm irritated. I'm frustrated. What other feelings Am I feeling? And I need to search deeper to find like, Oh, I'm actually afraid that X right, like, maybe how I feel doesn't matter. And I want to know that how I feel matters. And that's why I get big and loud. So I'm a really good pursuer, which in relationships. And so the more that we can understand what those Roger vulnerable feelings are underneath the frustration, anger, frustration, anger, those are secondary reactions, right? It's a reactive kind of emotion, we need to know that primary rawr feeling. And once we get that, then we can share it.

Kristen Boice

Yeah, I think it's so important that self awareness piece, because it's like when we were able my husband and I didn't map out, he bends towards shame. But underneath it is fear. I've been towards anxiety, but underneath it is fear. So you can really understand like, if I say something, it can trigger his shame and few says something, it can trigger my anxiety. And then underneath that we're both in fear. So it's like when you're scared. That's really what it is. I mean, that's really underneath the whole couple dynamic. Really, when you think about it, you just use different mechanisms to cover it. We're not like shaking in a corner people think fear is like we're like paralyzed and like sometimes it can look like that on an extreme freeze state right? Or it can be so subtle in the nervous system. It lives. I mean, it's so subtle, but when we recognize those were our bends, I go more towards anxiety. He goes more towards Shane were like, Oh, well, this all make sense. Why act the way we do and why we have our defense and protective mechanisms. And I think when we can start doing that naming and looking I get that to your point, we go, oh, okay, now it's up to me to recognize it. And I always see couples go, well, now you're in shame. And I'm like, well, that's not really what we're doing. Like, because we're telling the other person what's happening. I want you focused on what your experience of yourself is. Right? You're doing this and I'm like, Well, wait a minute, we've just exactly we've left our lane. And I think that seems to be the biggest challenge for couples. A lot of times, we're like, what you do this? If someone brings up something? How do you help couples kind of get back on track back in their lane? And to that

Jenine

is hard for you, isn't it? Tell me about how hard it is, when your partner is doing that? Tell me about what that's like in your body, just bring it right back to them. Because when their partner does X, Y, and Z, it causes distress for the partner, right? And we need to talk about what's happening in their body versus and you do this and you do that right?

Kristen Boice

Blame Exactly. And just notice when you do start to blame what's going on inside yourself, when you start to blame? What's going on? Okay, this has been so amazing. Is there anything we did not cover that you felt was essential to the conversation or important to note, I

Jenine

think another piece is there is a sex pattern that happens that a lot of couples don't talk about, they don't talk about it with their friends, they don't talk about it. Sometimes even with their therapist, sometimes therapists have a hard time asking about their sex dynamic. And there can be a lot of wounds that happens sexually, prior to the relationship or during the relationship and understanding that we can have a pattern of communication where we have a pursuer dynamic, or a blame withdrawal that happens for Most Topics. But that dynamic might look different sexually. And so it's really important to understand how sexes influenced and created like a sense of art disconnection needs not being met. Because sometimes it's really hard to go, sex is very vulnerable. If we don't have a sense of safety in our relationship and security in the relationship, then it's really hard to then be vulnerable, sexually. So it is something that has to happen and how to put words to it of, we need to make the relationship safe, we need to make sex safe. If somebody's just saying I'm not going to show up sexually, and the other ones like well, I need to have, we can have so many dynamics sexually. And so I think just knowing that if you're working towards developing more of a secure relationship, and trying to work on your side of the street is to consider how sex has also influenced the disconnection and the volatility on both sides. We thought this was so important that we actually ended up making sex and its own entire chapter in our book, which remember, that was in our outline originally, but I remember a specific meeting we have and we're like, No, this means an entire chapter just for itself. So because it's huge, what exactly what

Kristen Boice

you're saying, Yes, such a big, big important point to bring up and work through in therapy, and with each other. So where can people find you by the book and learn more about your work kerfing

Jenine

we have helped for high conflict couples.com Or they can buy the book. They can buy the book at any bookstore or on Amazon anywhere. It is all over. And you can learn more about me Janine STS at estes therapy.com.

Jackie

And you can learn more about me Jackie, we look at Jackie we like.com.

Kristen Boice

I love it. Thank you both so much for the work you're doing in the world. Congratulations on your book, everyone. Go grab it. And I appreciate you sharing your wisdom with us today.

Jenine

Thank you so much for having us.

Jackie

This is great. This was so fun. Thank you. This was great.

Kristen Boice

Thank you. Thank you so much for listening to the close the chapter podcast. My hope is that you took home some actionable steps, along with motivation, inspiration and hope for making sustainable change in your life. If you enjoy this episode, click the subscribe button to be sure to get the updated episodes every week and share with a friend or a family member. For more information about how to get connected visit kristendboice.com. Thanks and have a great day.