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The ripple effects of how we were raised can often be felt in adulthood as we form and show up in relationships. Joining me this week is clinical psychologist and couples therapist Dr. Marina Rosenthal. We’ll discuss the intersection between the work I do in family therapy and the work she does with partners. And we’ll offer strategies for successful communication and connection skills in your romantic relationships as well as proactive steps you can take with your children to foster secure attachment. She and I get into the impacts of making kids feel safe and seen in childhood and how this can create the building blocks for their ability to form healthy relationships as adults.

Dr. Marina (00:00):

So much of the work is learning to be with your own experience as it’s happening and be with those really hard feelings without necessarily acting out on them in a way that’s destructive.

Dr. Sarah (00:18):

The way we interact with the people closest to us, whether that be our children, our parents, or our partners share many overlapping patterns. Joining me this week is mom and licensed clinical psychologist. Dr. Marina Rosenthal. Dr. Marina specializes in couples therapy and helping partners with intense, complex or destructive conflict patterns learn how change the way that they fight. We’ll talk about the parallels between our work as a couple’s therapist and a family therapist. And we’ll talk about how you can use these all encompassing principles that will identify to help you navigate the most intimate relationships in your own life.

Dr. Sarah (01:00):

Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights. So you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.

Dr. Sarah (01:34):

Hi, I’m so excited to welcome to the podcast Dr. Marina Rosenthal. Hi, thank you for coming.

Dr. Marina (01:41):

Thank you for having me.

Dr. Sarah (01:42):

Yes. So you you are based in Minnesota, you have a private practice where you specialize in working with couples.

Dr. Marina (01:49):

That’s correct. Yeah, I do.

Dr. Sarah (01:51):

So tell like, I, I was so excited to have you on in part because well, I’m from Minnesota. So I was like very excited to find a fellow Minnesotan, but also, you know, we had this really interesting conversation about out sort of the intersection of couple’s work and parenting work, because at the end of the day, we’re talking about relationships we’re talking about in intimate relationships. And we had just such an interesting conversation about how those two things are different, but so similar. And I was curious like, I, how did you get started in this work? And then I wanna pick your brains all about, you know, the way that couples and parenting work kind of intersect.

Dr. Marina (02:34):

Yes. So my background originally was in trauma, both on the research side and clinically. And so I spent a lot of time studying the different ways that in particular childhood trauma perpetrated by caregivers and other really close people, just regulates a person. Leaves, leaves somebody with a lot of, of relics of what happened. And so I dug really deep into that work during grad school, both as a researcher and my teaching with clients. And when I had the opportunity to work with couples, I saw it as this extension of the trauma work because you take this individual work, looking at how trauma has impacted a single person who may or may not be single, but just them as a unit. And then you place them in the context of a relationship and have the opportunity, not just to work with them, but to work with their partner and their whole dynamic. It puts the trauma symptoms that they’re experiencing into a context. And it has such a powerful capacity to ripple into their lives. I just started seeing that it was such an effective way to work on everything really. Anything somebody might be experiencing when put in the context of couple’s therapy kind of supercharges it because you’re doing that work within the relationship, not just within yourself.

Dr. Sarah (04:03):

Yeah. And I think, you know, it’s so funny because I also, like I backed into parenting work because I have a background in trauma and attachment. And I would see like, you know, in working with adults who have these chronic and pervasively, you know, attachment poor childhoods, where there were so many ruptures in their core relationships with these primary caregivers and I was working them with adults. And a lot of our work was like, how do you feel safe in a relationship with another human being and really helping them sort of rebuild their sense of self from this place of safety. And when I started doing parenting work, what I realized, cause I became a parent and I was like, oh my gosh, a lot of this work that I’m doing in parenting of trying to help my child build this solid sense of self through this safe relationship, reminded me, had echoes of like the work I was doing in therapy to help build these self states in other human beings and help them be healthy. And I was like, if we could just help parents kind of get this from the get go and get the importance of fostering that secure attachment from the beginning. And maintaining it and nurturing it throughout the life of the relationship. You know, people wouldn’t be showing up in my office in their thirties to do this kind of healing. And I think there’s so many parallels to what you’re talking about, cuz at the end of the day, we’re just talking about safety in relationships and feeling seen and held and thought about in a way that is protective.

Dr. Marina (05:41):

Exactly. And for folks who’ve had attachment ruptures in childhood, which is so many people, that’s not a small group, the way that they show up in their adult relationships can look funky. It can look big and loud. It can look like withdrawal. You know, lots of things can show up in those relationships that aren’t actually getting them what they want, which is usually to feel close and connected and safe. But the way that we try to get that is sometimes really counterproductive. And I had done that work individually with people on how to show up in your relationship in a way that would fuel security, get you more of what you want out of the relationship. But I found it was so powerful to do that work live with couples because it’s happening right there in the moment in the room and we can actually intervene within their relationship right then right in that moment.

Dr. Sarah (06:38):

Yes. And like, that’s kind of what we do in parent work sometimes, you know, sometimes I see parents individually, like just the parents without the child, but a lot of times we do family therapy and the magic is when we can kind of catch these misattunements in the moment or these moments of like mounting tension or frustration or dysregulation. And we like can just explore it in that moment, in this really safe environment and say, Hey, what’s going on here? What were you? You just made a face, right? Like you just twitched a little bit. What are you experiencing right now when your child did this thing? Like I saw your face change, like what happened and just have them go into that physiological experience of like watching their child do something that triggered them and be able to explore it.

Dr. Marina (07:22):

Yeah. That’s so much of what I do with couples is helping them notice what’s going on for them in the moment. And it’s an interesting flip because a lot of people seek this type of work. And I imagine probably with parenting too, focused on what is gonna happen for the other person. Like what can we get my child to do differently? Or in my case, what can we get my partner to do differently? And so much of the work is learning to be with your own experience as it’s happening and be with those really hard feelings without necessarily acting out on them in a way that’s destructive.

Dr. Sarah (07:57):

So what would you guide someone to do in couple’s work in that moment when you’re like, okay, we’ve, we’ve hit something here in the session.

Dr. Marina (08:07):

Yeah. Well the first kinda step in the work that I do is almost always noticing what the spiral or the emotional spin out, the escalation pattern looks like for you for your half of the relationship. And so we start by just trying to spot it like that was the moment when I started to spin out a little bit. That was the moment when I felt a prickle all up my body and wanted to push back. And then we get really, really curious about what’s happening in that prickle. What is going on for you and less about this? The other person said X, Y, and Z. And that was really mean that was hurtful. How could they have said that? Or they did this more about what is happening for me. And so that that’s always the first step is just like tuning in and getting extremely curious and interested in the internal experience as the fight starts to ramp up.

Dr. Sarah (09:05):

And then as they gain that awareness over time, I’m sure this is an iterative process, but as they gain that awareness over time, what are you watching people be more capable of doing?

Dr. Marina (09:16):

Well the, I guess successive approximation toward having a different fight is then being able to do some of that out loud in a collaborative way. Like, uh, we’re falling into this fight again. We’re we’re doing it again. This constant circular argument that we get into this unsolvable problem that we keep trying to solve, I can feel it happening. Can you feel it happening right now too? And being able to collaborate in that mindfulness of noticing like, oh, we’re spiraling out. Can we, can we do something different? Can we connect instead? And even if the, the fight still happens and the spinout still happens, it’s really powerful to be able to notice and verbalize with your partner and essentially connect over how frustrating it is that we keep getting in this same stupid fight. We don’t want this. Why does it keep happening? And you can even connect in the middle of a fight. And that’s really, the goal is not necessarily to stop fighting or prevent those triggers from happening, but to figure out a way to create connection and that thread between you and your partner, even in the really tough moments.

Dr. Sarah (10:23):

Yeah, it’s so funny. Cuz when I originally had thought about what this episode would be about, I was like, oh, the parallels between the couples work that you do with two individual people in a relationship. And then the parenting work that I do with two parents in a relationship. But when I’m hearing you describe this process, what I’m also hearing, another parallel is the parent and the child. Because when I’m working with parents on helping them understand how to help their child, when their child is doing things that are so annoying or so irritating or so overstimulating for the parent or so scary or destructive or whatever you name it, a kid’s tantruming, a kid’s running away from you at the park, a kid’s, you know, smacking their sister, all these things like that is a fight between you and your child in a way. Like sometimes you are not, you don’t really realize cuz the child’s doing these behaviors on their own, you know, kind of in opposition to you, but it’s still like in those moments, like as the parent, how do I find this thread? How do I stay connected to my kid? How do I lean in co-regulate name, their feeling name what’s happening right now between us, you know, so that I could stay connected so I can keep my child in a safer interpersonal state and help them move through that dysregulated state with a bit more ease, obviously like a parent-child relationship is, the dynamics are, you know, the power differential is there. There’s so much, there’s so much discrepancy between a parent and a child in a relationship than two individual adults in a relationship. But there’s some similarities there too, I think.

Dr. Marina (12:14):

There is, I think in many ways it’s a very similar skill set. And our kids can certainly push our buttons in unique ways. But for most parents, there’s this thread, this well of love and empathy, that can be the saving grace. That’s like, okay, I’m gonna find that connection. I’m gonna find that way to reach out to you. Even though you’re doing something that drives me nuts right now. And sometimes we don’t have that for our partners. And it needs to be learned. It needs to be cultivated. How to find that thread that love that you have, even when it, it feels like it’s gone out the window. And I work a lot with couples who get really messy in their fights who, who have really big, loud fights who do stuff during conflict that is kind of objectively unacceptable, but it’s happening anyway. And so then here we are, what do we do with it? And something I often work with those folks on is figuring out ways to tolerate really unpleasant stuff from your partner that you wish were not happening would prefer were not happening, but it is happening. And here you are. And so how, how can you sort of just get through it to the other side so that you can reconnect? And I think that has so many parallels to parenting. You don’t have to like, or embrace a tantrum like, oh, well how wonderful that my kid’s having a tantrum, but if you can tolerate it and sort of survive it and get through without doing anything to reinforce the cycle of disconnection, then you’ll get to the other side feeling okay, good about how you parented and your child will be able to feel good about you.

Dr. Sarah (13:53):

Yeah. And I think that’s such a helpful permission for parents to be like, you don’t have to solve it. Like you don’t have to make it nice. You sometimes just have to survive it without damaging things in the process. Like sometimes parenting is about just surviving the moments and that’s, that’s actually not a failure. That’s not like a subpar. Well, all I could do was survive. It’s like, well maybe that’s that’s, that is the goal in certain moments, that’s all you’re expected to do. That’s all your capable, like that’s all one can do. And it’s, that would be like the A, that would be the A scenario like you would get an A for that it’s not a B.

Dr. Marina (14:34):

Exactly. And I think the same plays out in conflict that we have really aspirational ideas and social media is definitely reinforcing this of what it might sound like during a conflict. I think you and I actually originally started talking because we have similar thoughts about scripts, about how sometimes being given a script can make it seem as though the words you’re saying, the specific words, are the important part and that’s misleading, right? Like the thing that matters is how you get to those words, the process of getting to those words, the experience that both people are having of the words, it doesn’t necessarily really matter what the specific words are. And so that’s true, I think in parenting, and it’s also true in conflict that there’s no perfect script to get you out of a messy fight with your partner. The goal in a lot of moments is to sort of survive, not hurt each other any worse than what’s already happened and get to the other side so that you can reconnect.

Dr. Sarah (15:36):

Yeah. And that’s where I think repair comes in. And that’s why it’s so powerful. Cuz you know, I often say that a relationship that has no conflict, no rupture doesn’t have much opportunity for repair. And repair is actually what makes relationships intimate, profound, you know, more, have more depth to them, relationships with a lot of ruptured with an adequate repair. Those are problematic because they don’t feel safe. And like that’s that doesn’t, that doesn’t work very well in the long run. But this idea that we’re not supposed to mess up. We’re not supposed to lose it. We’re not supposed to hurt each other, whether we’re talking about parent-child, whether we’re talking about co-parents, whether we’re talking about a couple, like no, no like it’s actually part of being in a relationship with another human being is you are going to mess up. You’re gonna hurt each other. And if you can one reduce the damage in the moment and then afterwards come together and repair authentically and in a way that is actually meaningful to both of you, that means something that feels real. That’s kind of the best possible scenario.

Dr. Marina (16:52):

Yes, exactly. And those repair efforts they can be so connecting. They can create so many layers of a, of connection in a relationship to have had the experience of feeling pain with somebody, which is of course a part of life. And then being able to say that, like, oh, that hurt so much. I’m sorry I hurt you. I’m sorry. I was hurting too. And have that, that full circle. I think is really healing both in a parent child dyad and also in a couple.

Dr. Sarah (17:26):

Yeah. And I’m curious too, like I wanted to ask you what you thought about the, this idea of like, okay. So sometimes I, I work with a lot of parents as couples and they come in to work on a an issue that’s going on kind of in the family system with their, with their child. But a lot of times it really becomes clear that, okay, there’s, there’s also stuff going on in the relationship between the parents either. It’s we don’t, we’re not on the same page with how we parent or we get in a trap kind of undermining each other’s parenting strategies or maybe we’re really not trusting each other or we’re not hearing each other or yeah. Like I just am curious what you, what you see and how, what your thoughts are on, you know, when parenting work may actually really be couple’s work.

Dr. Marina (18:15):

Yeah. I bet I see people sort of at the stage after they come to you because often people put off couple’s work for a really long time. It feels like the thing can be put to the side or moved down the road and they’ve tried work for the kids. They’ve had a parenting coach, they have individual therapists for their kids and all of this is not resolving the distress that’s in the relationship. And so finally they get to the point where it’s like, okay, well maybe it’s us. Maybe we actually need to work on our relationship in order to give different results in our family. And it’s often I think, a struggle to get to that point. It doesn’t always feel, I think for parents, like they have permission to explicitly focus on the relationship because there’s so many other demands on us as parents there’s so many other pulls for our attention, why would you invest that time? And that energy in something that’s, in some ways it feels selfish like, oh, it’s for our relationship. We’re fine. We need to invest that in the kids. And so often I think parents wait a really long time to seek out support specifically for their relationship.

Dr. Sarah (19:29):

Yeah. And it’s funny, it’s like, obviously the family system is all connected. Like I often describe like, the parents’ relationship is a part of that family system. So like, I often describe a if you think of a family, like a spider web, like if you pull a thread on a spiderweb the whole thing moves. And families are sort of similar to that. Like every single thing is interconnected. You can treat a child, you could treat a parent, you could treat the couple relationship you could, but you, any of those things is going to have a ripple effect on the rest of the system. And much like treating certain things has a ripple effect on the system, not treating things has a ripple effect on the system. So, you know, having a tension in the parent relationship can affect the integrity of the entire family system too, because our kids are interconnected with us. They feel that tension, it can even be dysregulating for them sometimes. Like they’re like such incredible little sponges. They’re so neurologically plugged in to like every twitch in our facial expressions. And like, they can feel that tension if it’s present, even if we think we’re masking it really well, and it can be dysregulating for kids. And that actually can lead to what appears to be a child’s behavioral problem, but really it’s, you know, maybe anxiety or maybe some type of like dysregulation related to feeling that discomfort.

Dr. Marina (21:10):

Yeah. That’s, that’s really common in my work to see parents come to couple’s therapy and the way they would define the problem they’re struggling with is like, we disagree about how to parent or we’re having a lot of trouble with one of our kids, and we want help you getting on the same page. And not that those aren’t great goals, but a lot of the time when we dig in, what we find out is going on is more that they, they don’t have a like a healthy map for themselves about how to relate to each other and are focusing all of their attention on sort of resolving different symptoms or behaviors in their kid. And it kind of moves the tension that’s inside the parents, to the child. It, it relocates it and places it in them. And rather than dealing with it within yourselves, you end up dealing with it outside of yourself in your kid. And for some reason, I think that sometimes feels easier or like a easier on ramp for parents who don’t feel like it as is as permissible to say, actually, this is just about us.

Dr. Sarah (22:17):

How do we make it more permissible? How do we give people more permission to say, I wanna work on me and I wanna work on my relationship, even when my kid is actually having issue. And like, our family is having tension. And there’s, there’s things that are there’s, you know, ripples that go all over the place. But to say, let me focus on me first.

Dr. Marina (22:38):

Well, I think a lot of the work you do gives permission to parents to, in some ways, raise the bar for themselves, but in many ways, lower the bar. Like the research on attachment shows that what matters is a parent’s presence and you know, care for their child, that internal representation gets translated into the parenting relationship. Like that’s what matters. It’s not. Did you say this thing perfectly? Did we do this activity? Did I spend X number of hours with you this weekend? Did you have Y number of minutes of screen time? And so I think that lowering the standards a little bit of what good enough parenting looks like can actually be permission giving for couples to then turn some of that energy onto their relationship. And again, it all feeds into the family system. You’ll fuel the health of your whole family by fueling your relationship. But a reminder that potentially it is okay to have kids watching a movie and do a telehealth couples session. Like that’s an option now, and that that’s, that’s a good trade off. That’s actually a healthy trade off for your whole family.

Dr. Sarah (23:47):

Yes. Oh my God. I love that idea. And I, it’s so funny cuz now that like the whole world of therapy has gone virtual I actually feel like work with parents and work with couples and work with, you know, which would, previously in an, in an earlier world that we formerly lived in. Like, it was really hard to get two adults to a therapist office in the middle of the day, at the same time. Like that was really just logistically a nightmare. And that was one of like talk we’re talking about all these sort of emotional and psychological barriers, perceived things that we kind of create for ourselves that keep us from, from making that, that initial session. But there’s also like logistical nightmares. Like parents ,couples, were so busy, the idea of having to like get our butts in a therapist’s chair in coordination with, with our partner. Like that was so hard. And now I think one of the silver linings of this, like, you know, transition towards telehealth though the reason was not optimal. The fact that we kind of rallied and figured out a way to do it as a, as a field has made it so much more accessible. And I think I see so many more parents and couples now than I ever did when I was in an office. I always, I mean, really, it was always one that could make it, you know, so we just, I just did individual work in that way. And I think now I do so much more work with the, with the, with the parenting unit or the couple just because they can both stay in their offices or in their, wherever they are. They can click into that zoom and like just be together for 45 minutes.

Dr. Marina (25:32):

Exactly. I agree. I’ve seen, I think more couples who it wouldn’t have even been possible for. It wouldn’t have been on the table pre the dominance of telehealth and it’s shown me that we really want to, I think, make those services available and normalized. And part of that to me comes down to kind of circling back to that question of how do we give that permission is having kind of realistic views of what relationships look like over time and what relationships look like in really stressful moments, which I would consider just co-parenting young children, especially just a generally stressful moment. It’s a hard time with a lot of struggles. And I think people have a lot of shame about the fact that their relationship maybe doesn’t look like what they think others relationships look like. Or they’re seeing advice out there, that’s like my partner would never say that my partner is never in a million years gonna say, I hear you, honey, thank you for sharing your feelings with me. That’s just not gonna come out of their mouth. And then there’s this shame and dissatisfaction with the relationship and shame of course then blocks any sort of productive movement. And so we just stay stuck.

Dr. Sarah (26:49):

Yeah. Oh, I know. That’s actually a really interesting point that like we’re allowed to not sound like that and still be in a healthy relationship. And I mean, I think this part of, you know, we were talking about the scripts earlier and this big thing that I talk about with parents is like, you gotta say it in a way that feels right to you. If you, if every single time, you know, your child does something you don’t, like you say in this sort of mono robotic voice, like, I’m not gonna let you do that. You have this choice and this choice, I hear you. You know, it’s like tech, those words are great. And I use those and I encourage people to think about why those words are helpful, but if that’s not the way you talk, then it’s just not gonna land for your kid. And like the same, I think is true and couple’s work. Like we don’t have, we see these scripts on social media for parenting and communicating with our romantic partner. And we’re like, oh, that doesn’t sound like me. Or that doesn’t sound like my partner. And so we think that it’s not for us. And in reality, like you were saying before, it’s not what you say. It’s, it’s the process, how you get those words in the first place. And if you have different words, but you’re communicating the same message, which is basically, Hey, I love you and I something’s happening here and I’m gonna stay right here while it happens. Cause I’m not gonna leave you. And also I’ve got feelings about it and you’ve got feelings about it and we’re gonna figure this out together. Some iteration of that, it doesn’t really matter what you say. It’s always how you say it.

Dr. Marina (28:23):

Yes, exactly. And you know, I think those scripts can be really empowering for people who just don’t have the words, right. If it’s a matter of like, I didn’t have this modeled growing up, I don’t know the words, they can be wonderful. So I don’t, I don’t want to dismiss that. And I will work with couples on like, okay, literally here are the bumpers of this conversation. We’re not gonna go outside these bumpers. That can be really helpful too, but you’re right. For some people, it feels really inauthentic or maybe it doesn’t feel inauthentic for one partner, but it does for the other, it feels fake and phony like therapists speak. And we can get really focused on trying to get people to sound a certain way when maybe the really rough, messy way they’re talking. That can be okay too, that that can be connecting too. I have couples who are just spicier, like the way they communicate, everything comes with a little heat and a little bit of fire. And so things that are technically like in a textbook would be like, oh, this is bad. You shouldn’t yell. Or you shouldn’t you know, swear during conflict. They do that, but it’s, it’s okay for them because they do that in the context of their actual relationship where this is how they sound and trying to change. That is kind of a losing game. And so instead we work with it and actually start with where they are, what they sound like and shift the dynamic rather than shifting the words.

Dr. Sarah (29:50):

Yes, that authenticity is so, so more important than the actual words. Like I have a parenting course and I literally named it, The Authentic Parent, because the whole point was to help people really figure out how they sound and what their voices is and who they are and how they show up in the world with their children. Because that’s actually the most important part. That’s actually what you were saying before a precursor to security and attachment relationships is like, can you really authentically be yourself with this other person? And for that to feel good to both people. Like in the idea that Mary Ainsworth posed about secure attachment, like the, one of the things is that you have to be able to delight in your child. Like you have to enjoy it. You have to find a way for you to be really you and, and find the parts of it that you love. And that is what your child will then feel internalized and become their sense of self. And so you have to, you have to find the things you like about it. You have to talk in the way that you really talk. You have to be communicating a real truth, whether it’s your partner or your kid, cuz that’s the only way you could have that security because you have to show up as a real person.

Dr. Marina (31:08):

Exactly. Yeah. And with couples often they’re attracted to one another because of their authentic self, right? Like we choose our partners for specific reasons and may really value a partner’s intensity or fieriness. And then if in a conflict they sort of robotically are like, I hear you. I am upset right now. I’m going to take a break. None of which is bad or wrong, but for this particular person, it just sounds so fake. It’s not gonna work because it doesn’t feel like your actual partner. And people tend to really respond poorly in particular, I think when they feel that their partners are just, just saying what the therapist told them to say or reading a script. That’s read as inauthentic. And then often people say, well, it doesn’t count because you told me to say, I told you to say that. And you just said what I said to say. So it doesn’t actually get you what you were going for. Right.

Dr. Sarah (32:04):

And I think the same is true for kids like a kid. Isn’t gonna feel like that doesn’t count, but they might not feel it. And if they don’t feel it, it just kind of goes right through them. Like if you tell a kid to stop doing something or like gonna help them to stop doing something in a way that feels like, who are you? What are words like you? This doesn’t sound like you. It’s actually probably gonna make them a little bit more uncomfortable and a little bit less likely to lean in and listen, like sometimes we just really have to show up with our kids as our real selves and say like, you know, say what it is we really mean. I think there’s, I mean, obviously I do. I mean, I even post scripts on Instagram, but I try to do it in a way that helps people understand the why behind it so that they can make it their own because you have to talk to your kid in a way that you really talk, they have to recognize you in that.

Dr. Marina (32:52):

Exactly. And I agree. I mean, I post specific language people can you use as well because what else can you post on Instagram? Right? Like it’s hard to have anything concrete to offer if we don’t put it in an example. But I think it’s also just really important to keep talking about context and nuance and the individual factors that affect how our words are gonna land with another person. And yes, I think it’s off putting to have your partner or your parents suddenly be speaking to you in a way that feels like you’re being talked down to, or it is scripted. I think kids read that for sure.

Dr. Sarah (33:28):

Yeah. Yeah. So, okay. If people are listening to this and they’re like, Hmm, I like this is resonating with me. I’ve always sort of, I’d recognize some of the things that we’re talking about in my relationship. And I need the next steps. Like what do you, what would, what can we help people kind of walk away from this podcast with?

Dr. Marina (33:52):

Well, so one of the next steps to me in terms of relationship dysregulation in particular, if you hear yourself in the description of having messy out of control fights, which, you know, I work with all kinds of couples, but those are kind of my people are the people who are having fights that are a little bigger and a little worse than what they think their neighbors down the street are having. Of course, who knows if that’s objectively true. But if that’s you, the first step I think of is finding a language to talk about that pattern in a way that is separate from the fight itself. So not during a conflict, not in the moment of a fight. Talking with your partner about like, man, we, we get into these really messy fights. I say stuff that later I’m like I said that, geez, that’s not something I would normally wanna say. I behaved in a way that was really crummy. And, and you know, maybe I kind of feel like you did too. And what do we do with that? And being able to talk about it outside the context of the fight, not in the sense of blaming or seeking apology even, but just being able to hold it and like toss it around a little bit. Like we have messy fights. What goes on with that? Getting curious about the pattern in a collaborative way, almost like you’re on the same team against this pattern that keeps sneaking up and like biting you in your relationship.

Dr. Sarah (35:24):

Yes. Oh, I love that. It’s crazy. How many parallels are in this work and the parenting work? Cause I talk about this, the debrief, like after your kid has some explosive behavior and there’s this messy, you know, interaction. And then afterwards, when it’s calm, when you two can like come together and feel close and connected, that’s the time to kind of reflect on, Hey, what happened there? Like let’s like, let’s look at this side by side at the problem versus, you know, from other ends of a rope, you know

Dr. Marina (35:56):

Exactly. Yeah. It’s the same skillset I think. And one of the thing, I mean, two things happen when we do this and I’m thinking they’re probably the same in parenting. Like on one hand you reconnect, right? There’s some repair work in just being like, Ugh, that was kind of tough. You okay. We okay. Let’s check in. That’s part of that repair process. And so that can be healing and a really positive thing, but then also looking at a problem together in that little bit of a distanced way as though you’re sitting side by side, looking at it, like you said. It almost breaks up the way we see the problem in our, it starts to shake it and make it feel a little bit less permanent and rigid. It gives us a little more flexibility around it, like being able to kind of play with it and toss it around is actually like a skill in and of itself. And being able to do that together is something that then you can have access to the next time you’re in one of these messy fights to remember like, oh yeah, we did this before and afterward. I was able to kind of like get some distance from it. Look at it a few different ways. Maybe I can do that a little bit in this moment right now. Maybe we can do that just a little bit in this moment right now have just a tiny bit of a distance from how literal it feels because conflict feels so literal in the moment. Like my partner’s saying X and they mean it. And I have to act on it right now. And it’s, it’s not helpful to respond in, in that really literal way. And so anything we can do to create distance and reduce the literality of what a fight feels like is really helpful.

Dr. Sarah (37:35):

I love that. And if people, you know, wanna learn more about the work that you’re doing or wanna work with you, how can people find you?

Dr. Marina (37:43):

So I’m on Instagram @drmarinarosenthal and my website is the same. And on Instagram I am doing, you know, general couples content, but also trying to really speak specifically to those partners who have high conflict, messy, tricky relationships where maybe advice you’ve read in a self-help book feels like, yeah, that’d be great if we could do any of that, but that’s not really us. So if you hear yourself in any of that description come find me, you’re part of my community.

Dr. Sarah (38:18):

That’s good to know that like there’s a community for that. I mean, I think my thought is most people think that of themselves. And then in reality, realize we pull away a couple layers, there’s a lot of desire for connection. There’s a lot of love and like, we can get ugly in our messiest moments, but when we’re not in our messiest moments, there’s so much richness and goodness to those relationships.

Dr. Marina (38:47):

Yeah. That’s  why we stay in them. Right? Like the people I work with have tremendous love for each other and they just don’t always know how to access it, how to find that feeling of connection underneath all that ugliness and all that messiness. But, but it’s there.

Dr. Sarah (39:04):

Yeah. What an optimistic sort of holding that you have, that you do,

Dr. Marina (39:09):

That’s, that’s such the work of therapy in general is holding on to that that hope and the positive, you know, possibility within something really messy and challenging.

Dr. Sarah (39:25):

Yeah. That unconditional positive regard. I love it. Well, thank you so much for being here. This is incredibly rich conversation. There is so many things in here that has made me think a lot. And I’m hopeful that our listeners will also come away with this with some really like thought provoking moments and then also some really tangible strategies that they can really think about and, and, and weave into their relationships, whether it’s with their partner or their child or themselves. It’s just great.

Dr. Marina (39:56):

Thank you so much for having me. It’s exciting to join this space because I’ve got so much out of it as a parent myself.

Dr. Sarah (40:03):

I’m so glad. Well, come back again anytime.

Dr. Marina (40:06):

Thank you.

Dr. Sarah (40:12):Thanks for listening today. If you found this episode helpful, one of the best things that you can do to allow us to keep bringing you more shows like this one is to subscribe to Securely Attached on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you stream your podcasts. And while you’re there, go ahead and take a moment to leave a quick review. Your review makes such a huge impact and helps us to show up in searches so more people find out about our program. So I encourage you. If you haven’t already, please hit follow, then rate and review the podcast so we can continue creating more episodes and helping more parents to feel empowered, confident, and connected. Thank you so much for your support. And until next week, don’t be a stranger.


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38. The parallels between couples and family therapy: And the takeaways we can use from both with Dr. Marina Rosenthal