Maintain Your Growth At Holiday Gatherings With Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin

Personal growth is easy to do when you’re on your own. However, when we’re around our family, it feels like we lose it. Relationships with people, especially with those closest in our lives, are never perfect and could sometimes give us either the happiest or the worst feeling. In this episode, host Jennifer Whitacre is joined by relationship expert and public speaker Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin as they tackle how to improve relationships with our family and peers, as well maintain our growth during holiday gatherings when we’re around them.

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Maintain Your Growth At Holiday Gatherings With Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin

How To Avoid Backsliding Into Dysfunction When You’re Around Your Family

I am with Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin. Rabbi Slatkin is a relationship expert and a public speaker who has helped thousands of couples repair their broken marriages. Together with his wife Rivka, he’s the Founder of The Marriage Restoration Project, which is a global initiative to help keep couples together and happy. Rabbi Slatkin is a licensed clinical professional counselor, a certified Imago relationship therapist, a rabbi and a father of five. He is an advanced clinician in Imago therapy. He is also the author of The Five-Step Action Plan to a Happy and Healthy Marriage, which is the introduction to Rabbi Slatkin’s marriage counseling approach with its foundational basics and its short transformational benefits.

One of the topics that we’re going to be talking about is personal growth and how personal growth is easy to do when you’re on your own. Many of us go out in the world and we go to retreats. We have these personal transformative experiences at retreats and then we come home and we’re around our family and it just feels like we lose it. It’s harder to maintain when you’re in the same environment around people who haven’t had a transformative experience in their life. It can be so much harder when you’re around your family, your spouse. We also have Thanksgiving and other holiday family gatherings. Rabbi Slatkin, welcome. It’s an honor to have you here.

Thank you. It’s an honor to be your guest.

I’m excited to have this conversation because when you and I had talked about doing this, I had just come off of a family gathering myself and I came back going, “What happened to me?” I do so well when I’m on my own and you put me in the midst of my family and I lose it. It’s like every dysfunction just crawls out of the woodwork again.

Relationships are hard. It’s wonderful to do the self-growth on your own. Once you start having to deal with other people and they push your buttons, that’s the litmus test to see how far you’ve come.

Could you give us a little bit of insight into family relationships and why that happens?

I can start first to give you in general about the Imago approach in terms of a couple and then to see how they can relate to the family.

If that makes sense to start there, please do.

To understand the relational paradigm, Dr. Harville Hendrix had founded Imago therapy. He writes about this in his book, Getting the Love You Want. The essence is that we are all born in a relationship. You’re in your mother’s womb, you’re connected deeply, and even after you’re born, if the baby’s nursing, then eventually at some point the baby’s weaned and they go out on their own. We’re always looking to get back in relationships. We’re ultimately looking to find a deep relationship with someone else. That’s your partner, spouse, the person you’re married to. In general, we are craving for connection with other individuals.

The idea of connection is what reality is all about. We are all connected in one way or the other. Even if we’re not married to somebody, we’re all interconnected. The idea that we’re separate is an illusion and we get ourselves in trouble in the world with all of the discourse that we have politically in this country and all over the world. The fact that we’re separate, that we’re different, we are all unique individuals, but we all also are connected and we don’t focus so much on that connection and that leads us to strike. In a relationship, we’re looking for a committed relationship. The theory is that we are all looking for our Imago. Imago means image. It’s the idea that we have an unconscious image of the ideal partner. That unconscious image is going to be a composite of the positive and negative characteristics of our primary caretakers. It means we’re going to look for someone who’s very similar and who is going to remind us of our childhood.

As we say, marriage is the unfinished business of childhood. It’s an opportunity to get it right, to do it over again. Even if we had a challenging childhood, even though we would think, “Why would anybody in their right mind want to go back to a painful experience?” the idea is that marriage is also for the purpose of growth and healing. It’s an opportunity to do it right. The fact that we were wounded in relationship, the only way to truly heal that is in a relationship. The person can do all the growth they want. The self-help industry is booming. It’s very popular and it’s wonderful that people are doing all the personal growth. The part that I feel that people are missing is something that I see, especially with people who are very advanced in personal growth and they do the couples work either privately with me or in our workshop. They have a hard time doing it. It’s surprising because we think you’re so elevated, you’re so conscious, you should be able to get this.

It’s one thing to understand the concept. It’s another thing entirely to put it into practice and apply it in your life.

Maintaining Your Growth: We are all connected in one way or the other. The idea that we’re separate is an illusion.

To live it, especially when someone’s pushing your buttons, we believe in the motto that your spouse is the one who’s got to push your buttons unlike anyone else because that’s the opportunity to do it over and heal. Once we get unlocked in our power struggle with our spouse and we see that, it’s our childhood that you’re triggering. You might be doing the 90/10 rule. We say 10% is what your spouse is doing, but 90% is what it’s evoking for you. Any committed relationship can be a very triggering thing. Even taking it out to other relationships, if you have his issues with your parents and you felt wounded growing up or you had unmet needs, they could push your buttons in this extended family or children even, they’re also going to remind you of some of the issues. It’s amazing that the conflict that we wind up having in the world or the workplace.

This can be with our family, siblings. If we learn about the things that bother us, we say if it’s hysterical, it’s historical. It’s more about our own issues as opposed to what the other person is doing to us. The problem is that we don’t realize that. We tend to focus on the other person who’s bothering us and we put the blame on them and when we act and we don’t get along with them. We can’t control how other people behave, but we can control our own reactions. That’s the work that we teach couples. That’s how this applies to any relationship. Learning about yourself and learning how to be able to make a conscious choice to behave differently. Otherwise, with all the self-growth that you might know, you’re not able to go beyond yourself. Self-growth becomes selfish.

For those of us who aren’t married or aren’t in a relationship, how can we apply this around our family in general?

Even if you’re not in a relationship, we are in a relationship with other individuals, unless you’re living in isolation. You’re going to interact and people will push your buttons. You may notice certain themes in your life and your relationships. We tend to blame, “This person did this to me and this person did that to me.” You’re thinking about, “Is there a pattern here? What can we gain insight?” One thing to learn that we can do besides just being aware of the patterns is to understand how people work and how people respond and react when they’re not feeling safe. This is something that applies to our relationships, emotional safety. We all need to be emotionally safe to be in a relationship with someone other than ourselves. If we don’t feel safe, then we go into reactivity mode.

There’s a model of the brain called the triune brain that breaks the brain into three parts. There’s the brain stem, that’s what we call the reptilian brain. That’s the part of your brain that modulates your breathing and keeps you alive. That’s like a reptile. They have no emotions or cognitions. It’s just a reaction. That’s where we go when we’re under stress. We have our middle brain, the limbic system, the emotional brain, and then the pre-frontal cortex, the logic part of our brain. In order to act in whole-brain integration, to be able to interact with a person in a healthy way, we need to access our whole brain. If we are feeling stressed or triggered, we go right to that brainstem. If you’re in an interaction with a family member, a boss or a co-worker and you’re noticing yourself feeling uncomfortable, you are in that brainstem.

The brainstem’s sole goal is to stay alive and survive. That means you’re not able to think about having empathy for the other person’s feelings or compassion and understand where they’re coming from or think logically a way to resolve this conflict or to talk about this topic with this other person. You’re just focusing on feeling safe and staying alive and you go into reactivity mode. There are one or two ways in which we tend to react based on how we learned growing up to survive, we call this minimizing or maximizing. We either minimize our energy. We contract within ourselves. We either freeze or we submit. We liken this to a turtle. With maximizing energy, where when we feel unsafe, our energy pushes outward. That means we either fight or we flee. Even those people that run away, they’re also maximizing as they’re pushing it out as opposed to bringing it in. We call that in Imago hailstorms.

Relationships are hard. Once you start having to deal with other people and they push your buttons, that’s really the litmus test. CLICK TO TWEET

We have a story. Imagine two people. The hailstorm would like to speak to the turtle and wants the turtle’s attention. The rain hailed down on the turtle shell. No one likes to feel hail banging down in their shell. The turtle, instead of engaging and sticking his head out, he withdraws and retreats within. The hailstorm say, “What’s going on here? I’m trying to get your attention. Where are you?” The hail gets louder and bangs even more hail. How do you think the turtle responds? By retreating even more. At some point, the turtle becomes a snapping turtle. They’re these quiet people that might seem very passive and then all of a sudden they get angry. That’s the dynamic that happens in relationships. We tend to be drawn towards people who have the opposite adaptation. We see that the person who is a turtle tends to be attracted to a hailstorm. What happens is the more that the turtle needs to feel safe and go into the shell, the louder the hailstorm gets. We’re out where the hailstorm gets.

It’s unsafe if somebody is loud, aggressive and scary, but it’s as equally unsafe for the hailstorm when they’re not noticed. Imagine if you grew up in a home where you know nobody cared about you, nobody noticed you, you felt all alone and your needs weren’t getting met. Some people need to make a lot of noise to get their needs met. That’s how they got safe. They survived by getting big and making noise or running. You have other people that survive by freezing and submitting, going inward. It was too chaotic. The only way to control their surroundings was to go within. What happens as an adult, those things helped us growing up. They helped us stay alive, but they actually do the opposite as an adult.

In your interactions with people, if you notice someone triggering you, you are going to likely go into either one of those two adaptations. Into the minimizing adaptation or the turtle or the maximizing the hailstorm. If you’re at a family gathering and you’re a maximizer and someone starts getting beneath your skin, you might start getting loud, aggressive and you might even pick a fight with someone. If you’re the turtle type, you might just be sitting there quiet, but you’re suffering inside and uncomfortable. You’re hitting yourself thinking like, “I just came back from this personal growth retreat and I can’t even deal with being around my siblings and my parents.”

It’s important to realize that you’re not feeling safe and to try to get yourself to a place where you can feel safe. The ideal is if you have two people that want to work on it together, your sibling, your brother-in-law, your cousin or whoever’s there to be able to have a conversation and work through it together. Assuming that you’re doing this on your own and trying to figure out what can I do to be a better person and what can I do to be healthier in relationships? The first step is awareness, understanding how you’re getting triggered. Also, if you see another person acting out in one of these two ways, you can also have compassion and realize, “The reason that this person is being so pushy and aggressive in our conversation is they’re feeling triggered, they’re not feeling safe.” Instead of me becoming a turtle and going into my shell, what can I do to step out of that, be there and maybe hold space for them and allow them to feel heard and understood?

A lot of this is easier said than done in the moment.

It is harder to do in the moment, but with practice, it’s something to work on to stop your reactivity instead of going right into reactive mode. What we teach couples and teach anyone, even business, is to mirror back what the other person said. That’s repeating back what they said. You have to do this in a way that seems natural. You don’t want someone to think that you’re playing therapist on them. If we’re teaching someone to do it formally, we would have them say, “I heard you say that you’re upset with me because of X, Y and Z. Did I get you? Is there more?” If we were doing this more casually, you can say, “It sounds like you’re feeling angry like I pushed your buttons.” Don’t just interpret what you think. Don’t analyze them. “It sounds like you’re mad with me that I didn’t call you to invite you to the party. Is there any more you want to share about that?” Instead of reacting, you’re doing something productive to make space for the other person. Many times by hearing someone, they actually will calm down and be less reactive themselves. If we change the dynamic, if we become less reactive, then the other person will be less reactive and there’ll be less strife.

Maintaining Your Growth: The dynamic that happens in relationships is that we tend to be drawn towards people who have the opposite adaptation.

That’s a key point. The less reactive we are, if we can control our reactivity in the moment. Sometimes the best thing we can do is not respond or not say anything, especially if we’re not well-practiced. You did say practice is important. You went into a pretty detailed explanation as to how the mind works when that fight or flight comes up or the emotions come up and that limbic brain. It seems to me that educational peace and understanding yourself is an important part of awareness. I want to point that out to our readers. It’s important to know how our minds work and it’s important to know how we get so reactive. I think that’s a key component too, at least it was for me for years when I was a lot younger. I didn’t understand why I was so reactive. I just reacted all over the place. That educational component does help a little bit.

Even though I am teaching this and working with it all the time, it’s still important for me to remember that because we get sideswiped and it comes out of the blue. If something happens, we just go straight into that survival mode. It’s something to have at the forefront of our minds as much as we can.

Our bodies are hard-wired for survival because from an evolutionary perspective, we have needed the fight or flight response for so long. The reality is the world we live in is safer than it’s ever been for humans. We don’t have any natural predators that hunt humans anymore. That’s thousands and thousands of years in our past when we had saber-toothed tigers or other predators that would hunt us. Our brains are hard-wired to create this fight or flight situations. Our minds also make up the story that something is wrong. When our body feels the fight or flight, it’s easy to make up a story that goes with it. It’s important to interrupt that process too.

We’re going to go straight to that story. It’s all about being conscious and intentional and dealing with it. It’s easy to say that, but the true test is if you can do that with another person who’s pushing your buttons and to see the situation for what it is and to have compassion for the other person. It’s to realize that they also have the story for why they’re reacting the way they are.

They have a story and we have a story. Our story is not necessarily somebody else’s story. Rabbi Slatkin, I’d like to ask you a little bit about your five-step action plan because I know that you have a book, The Five-Step Action Plan book. It’s been featured on CNN, NPR, Fox News, The Huffington Post and Psychology Today. This five-step action plan is making waves out there in the world. Can you tell us a little bit about this action plan?

I created it based on my experience working with couples. How can I distill the secret ingredients to success for a couple? Because I’ve seen couples in all different stages of a relationship, working with them within the context of Imago therapy and seeing that certain couples are much more successful than others. I made it simple for people so that you can step by step know exactly what to do. The first is commitment. The idea is that if a couple is not committed, it’s going to be quite challenging for them to be able to be focused on making things work. I’ve seen couples who’ve had the most egregious breaches of trust in a relationship and fidelity. It’s pretty horrifying stories.

We are all unique individuals, but we also are connected. Not focusing on that connection is what leads us astray. CLICK TO TWEET

People always say, “You’ve never heard a story as difficult as mine,” but I’ve seen them be able to repair and not afraid of the content in the sense that if I know that they’re committed to the relationship and making it work, a couple seems to get through everything. Even though it might be difficult, they can get through anything. Whereas I have seen couples with I would say relatively minor problems compared to other couples and the commitment wasn’t there. They didn’t want to be in the relationship. They didn’t want to do whatever it took to make it work. I find that that makes a difference. It’s almost a prerequisite to success. If you’re committed to the rest of the steps in the program, the process can help you. The process can’t help you if you don’t want to be there. Sometimes people have one foot out the door or they have an exit plan or they think somebody else could be better.

I’m guilty of having one foot out the door and having an exit plan. I’m guilty that I’ll always be prepared.

It doesn’t mean it’s a death sentence. That’s not my job to say whether someone should get divorced or not. That’s every couple’s decision. I would say I want to help keep couples together. There is an institution called divorce, but that it should be just an option when people don’t feel like giving a try. I feel that there’s a lot more work that can be done to save a relationship. There’s a lot of people that are impacted, especially if you have children. It’s not just about you. It affects your children and it affects generations. One of the things that always strikes me when I’m working with couples, we revisit their childhood and see the impact on them. It makes me so sad. I know that parents do the best they can with the tools they have. They can mess up their kids to the extent where the kids have to be dealing with this in their own relationship. It’s something sad that could be prevented if there were better parenting out there and everyone was more healthy in general.

That’s the first step. Once a couple was committed to being in a relationship, then it’s like, “How can I be with this person? I don’t feel comfortable with them. I don’t feel safe. I had a history of negativity. I’m not ready to be with this person. I need to be able to cut out all the distractions.” That’s called seal the exits. It means any energy leaks that prevent us from being fully present in the relationship. The obvious exits of course are if there’s infidelity or there’s substance abuse or any type of addiction. That’s going to suck the energy out of the relationship and those need to be closed. There are also even some more benign exits, like things that we do to better function that are normal, like working, social media, parenting, eating or exercising if they’re done for the purpose of avoiding our spouse. “I’m going to stay at the office for two extra hours, I want to make myself busy because I don’t want to go home.” That’s an exit.

Sometimes it’s even talking to people about our relationship. We’ve been talking sometimes to individual therapy or even personal growth work can be an exit because I don’t want to deal with my marriage. I’ll work on myself, but I can’t be with this other person. Closing those exits instead of facing each other, that can be scary if you don’t feel safe or the space doesn’t feel safe. It therefore leads us to the next logical step, which is to detox your marriage. That’s working on removing the negativity, the poison from your relationship. Meaning eliminating the criticism, shaming, blaming and learning to ask for what you need instead of, “You don’t do this, you don’t hear me, you don’t care about me. I need to feel cared. I need to feel understood.”

It’s about flipping it around, asking for what you need instead of focusing on what the other person is doing wrong, eliminating all of the negativity and taking responsibility for yourself. These are some of the things that hopefully we’re learning in the personal growth that we should be good. It’s about not being a toxic person, but being more emotionally mature and bringing that in. Once you clear the space, then it’s step number four. It’s called to acknowledge the other. That’s the idea that when you’re interacting, you’re in a relationship with an other, someone other than yourself. Your spouse is not you. They’re not an extension of you. As much as you thought they were when you first fell in love or you would like them to be, they’re different.

Maintaining Your Growth: There’s a lot more work that can be done to save a relationship. Divorce should be just an option when people don’t feel like giving a try.

It’s about being able to acknowledge the differences and acknowledge that all because if I want something, it doesn’t mean my spouse wants the same thing or is available. We acknowledge others in two different ways. This essential teaching we teach in this step is called the Imago dialogue process. Even without an understanding the spirit of it, when you’re speaking, acknowledge that there is another, meaning because I want to share something or I’m upset, it doesn’t mean you’re available to listen. It’s about checking in, making sure the person’s available. “Is it a good time to talk? If not, when are you available?” Make an appointment, acknowledge that someone else might not want to be available to listen at the time.

Acknowledge the other when listening. It’s learning how to listen. That means mirroring. It’s not interacting, not even commiserating or trying to fix the problem. It’s being in the other person’s space. In theory, it’s saying nothing. We teach couples to repeat back what the other person said to make sure they got it, validating. It makes sense that you feel that way and empathizing. Imagine you’re feeling scared and sad. It’s a scripted process that we walk couples through. The idea is that we’re acknowledging that this person has a completely different way of looking at things and it’s totally okay. I can be in their space without responding out of my own anxiety or activity.

The final step is what we call love infusions. That’s all the positive things that we do in a relationship. That’s about sharing daily appreciations with each other, performing caring behaviors like learning our partner’s love language and practicing daily a few things in that love language to show them what we care or going out on a date night. For some couples, the love infusions are actually the first step because there’s such a negative place that we need to put some positivity in there to even get to a place where they want to commit. For others, it’s like the icing on the cake. It’s a logical progression, but all of them can be done partially concurrently or even in other orders, depending on what you need. This are what I saw to be the necessary ingredients for a successful relationship.

I know that from what you’ve said, you tend to work with marriages with that type of relationship. It sounds to me like these steps, commitment, seal the exits, detox the relationship, acknowledge the other, love infusions, that can be applied to any relationship. It doesn’t have to be an intimate marital relationship. It could be with your family, your spouse, your friends. It sounds like an excellent way to reframe any relationship, especially if you’re stuck in that rut of negativity. How many of us out in the world are there or have been there? I think this is fantastic. Do you work with people in person? Do you work with people online?

It’s a combination of both. The way that I work in my practice, I believe that especially when I’m dealing with a lot of couples who are struggling, the weekly 45-minute or 60-minute sessions are not enough to cut it, especially when couples are in limbo. You can’t afford the time to see if things will work. I work with couples in an intensive process. I do a two-day intensive either in person or online. We do follow up sessions online. We have a pack included in the program. I also have other associates as part of our organization that manage restoration projects and other locations around the country. I’m also following the same two-day intensive approach.

We also do a workshop called the Getting the Love You Want Workshop. My wife and I do that quarterly in Baltimore. We also do that a few times a year in New York. We’re also willing to travel to other locations. That’s a two-day intensive. It’s a group workshop. It’s not group therapy. It’s group instruction, but couples go privately around the hotel and they do their work together privately so no one knows what they’re going through. That’s a little bit more of an affordable option for people. If people want to do follow up sessions, we offer an eight-session follow-up after that. A lot of those couples, we do that online as well.

Marriage is the unfinished business of childhood. It’s an opportunity to get it right and do it over again. CLICK TO TWEET

From what you’ve told is me that you and your wife work together as a team.

My wife is not a licensed therapist. She’s not actually allowed to do the therapy, but she’s allowed to do the group workshop with me. We’ve done this work ourselves as a couple and that’s how we got into it. She’s very knowledgeable about it and she’s is a big asset to the workshop.

The experience of going through a program, I can’t even put to words how valuable experience is. I’ve found myself over the years and I’ve even mentioned this in the past where I found myself working with therapists or working with people who are trying to teach me a process or take me through a process where they haven’t been there themselves. What a disaster that’s been. I wouldn’t trust working with a therapist anymore, licensed or not if they hadn’t been through the process themselves that they’re trying to take me through. You can’t take somebody anywhere you’ve never been.

We always tell couples that we’re not here to teach you. This is a journey that we’re going on with you. We’ve been there. We know what it’s like to be in your shoes. We know how hard it is to not respond. We can empathize with what they’re going through. We know that it works because we know we’re the spokesman for the success of the process, besides the couples we work with. It’s definitely much more powerful. I remember when I was in school, for certain programs, you had to go through your own therapy to get your degree, but they changed that for some of the programs. They don’t require it. It’s so powerful. If you want to help somebody, you have to be able to know that it works and see that it works. It’s not just something that you learned in some theory.

I’m doing trainings myself and we are required in my training to have our own personal sessions because how do you know? It’s so different practicing with another student in the class than it is to be in the client seat with a therapist in a personal scenario versus practicing with another student. It’s totally different. I think it’s so important. I emphasize that to my readers all the time. Pay attention. Ask your therapists if they’ve gone through this process themselves because it is so important. Do you work only with married couples?

No. I have couples that are already divorced and they want to work together to know what to do about their kids, be able to work together and create some peace. I work with I would say families in the sense of adult children and their parents. Even in business, any relationship where people need to be able to feel safe, communicate and understand each other better, I’ve seen this to be a successful tool. It’s mostly with couples, but I have the experience working with others and those other populations and definitely as effective. We could use it in that the government too, the two parties together in this country.

Maintaining Your Growth: In business or in any relationship, people need to be able to feel safe, communicate, and understand each other better.

We sure could. I hope somebody takes you up on that. That’s a fantastic idea because as a nation, we need to learn to step across the proverbial aisle and learn to work with those who don’t agree with us. Do you have any insight as to why that’s become such a chasm in our country?

I’m not trying to be judgmental, but I there’s been immaturity that we all have. It comes from a wounded place. We just feel that it’s a lot safer for us to feel that everybody thinks the same way that we do. If you don’t believe like I do, you’re a heretic, a racist, an anarchist or whatever. I’m not being political or picking at any party. Both are guilty. It’s much safer to feel that everybody thinks the same way that I do. It’s a very self-absorbed way of looking at things. It’s a real paradigm shift to be able to see that both sides can have validity. You can hear the story, “I can totally understand why you would vote for this party based on your story. I would totally understand why the other person would vote for the opposite party.” To be able to see that, that takes some maturity. A lot of us are just immature and wrapped up in our own selves.

We used to have that in this country much more so than we do now. A lot of us are looking back over history and trying to figure out where did we lose the ability to have a relationship or a friendship with somebody that we don’t agree with 100%?

I do think now that you’re saying that, why would it be different? We know much more now. We have access and we know everything that’s going on all over the world every second of the day. We’re bombarded with information from all sides, all different opinions. We get wrapped up in fear. We’re living in that reptile brain. There’s so much fear. “What’s going to happen if so-and-so? They’ll ruin the country,” or, “This one’s going to ruin the country.” There’s so much fear and propaganda. Because we have much more access to it than in the past, we get bombarded that we get wrapped up in that frenzy and people get wrapped up in these conspiracy theories. It becomes very scary.

It’s almost circling back around to your explanation of the triune brain theory, with the reptilian brain and the limbic brain, the cortical brain and how they all interact and being aware. We do have to become aware not only in our relationships with our partners but also in our relationships with the larger collective because that also is a relationship and how we interact when we go out in public.

It’s about being present and tuning out all the noise. When we have all this noise, we’re in that reptilian brain. When we can be present and have that peace of mind and be able to be there with another person, we can hear them and experience them and not just make up these stories based on what we heard on the news. It can change the whole way that we interact and see what’s the reality and not what someone else wanted us to spin for us as the reality.

We can’t control how other people behave, but we can control our own reactions. CLICK TO TWEET

When somebody has so much of that fearful noise inside their head and it’s just constant, what is the first step that somebody can take to interrupt that process and start to have some awareness and gain a little bit of control over themselves?

The first step is to turn off the news. I can be guilty of it too. They repeat the same thing over and over again. It’s like, “When is the next new report coming out about this or that?” Turn off the madness and disconnect. Take some time to be quiet and not get wrapped up in that. The first thing is to learn to be able to do that. It’s very hard, especially with our phones and everything. We don’t even have to go on the TV or go on the computer. We have it with us all the time. To be able to make time for ourselves every day where we are disconnected from all of that, that’s the first step to be able to see that we can disconnect. For other people, sometimes it’s helpful to work with practice breathing or do some type of meditation or reading, quiet time. Be able to have real conversations with people and meet people that are different than you.

Commenting on Facebook is not a real conversation, just FYI.

I see teens, the relationships are texting each other. They aren’t getting together in person and it’s changed our society. Imagine in several years, it’s a whole new world. There are a lot of wonderful things. People can access your podcast and Facebook Live and it’s great. We can disseminate more information, healing in the world and it’s wonderful. At the same time, we have to have some type of responsibility of being able to filter out and be able to still have a time where we can connect one-on-one in person with people.

Emotional homeostasis is what I call it, where we have some emotional balance and realizing whenever we’re getting overwhelmed. It’s easy to get lost scrolling on Facebook. I have a news app on my phone. I only have one, but it’s easy just to flip through article after article and read the headlines and get lost scrolling. It’s so easy to do that and get overwhelmed by everything. You don’t realize you’re stuck in the hamster wheel sometimes. It’s hard to imagine that you don’t realize that you’re stuck in overwhelm. I think so many of us are there that we don’t realize we’re stuck in overwhelm.

I’m thankful as a Sabbath-observant Jew that once a week, we don’t go on electronics. We are completely disconnected from the outside world for a day. We’re having real peace of mind and rest by being disconnected from all the distractions and all the things that get us worked up and interacting with other people, with family, with friends. If I didn’t have that, we’ll just keep going and going. I’d be worried about that. I’m not saying everybody has to take a day off but take even a day off our time of the day to make it sacred for yourself and not get wrapped up in the rat race.

The Five-Step Action Plan to a Happy and Healthy Marriage: Increase the Joy of Sanctity, Safety, and Stability in Your Home

I love that you point that out because it is so important to find out what brings you peace in your own life and to implement that. Even if it’s once a week or one day a week or a little bit each day, whatever that looks like, find out what works for you and do that for yourself. That’s an act of self-love and that fosters the relationship with the self, which is just as important, maybe even more important than the relationship we have with others.

Because if you’re not healthy, then there’s nobody there to be in a relationship with someone else. You have to definitely take care of yourself.

I know some of my readers are going to have questions. You’re a rabbi. Do you work with other religions or secular, non-religious people?

For sure. I happen to be an ordained rabbi. I don’t have a pulpit anywhere. I work with couples from all different backgrounds, all different religions, cultural backgrounds. This is not a religious work. I find that helping people connect is a spiritual process. I don’t bring into the work that I do with couples unless they want me to. Even non-Jewish couples come because they want somebody who maybe has a spiritual event. I work with people that are atheists. Idea says we’re all in a relationship. We’re all human beings and we all have the same challenges in that sense.

I just wanted to put that out there and be clear in case many of our readers had questions. That way nobody would wonder or not reach out to you if they had any questions. I understand that you’re going to offer a discount on the No Blame, No Shame Marriage Communication video training. Can you tell our readers a little bit about that?

The video training is based on the book, The Five-Step Action Plan. It actually includes a PDF copy of the book. We have an audio slideshow for each step where we take it a little bit further than we do in the book. We will give you some more ideas and thoughts about it. Also, the video aspect, we have a full-length professional video where my wife and I demonstrate some of the processes that we teach in the program is specifically step four, acknowledge the other. It’s to actually learn how to have the Imago dialogue with each other and be able to talk about any issue. There’s also the appreciation dialogue, which is an important ritual. You also have a lot of different smaller videos where you can see us working out our own issues together so you can see real-life scenarios as well as the PDF book and the workbook.

Thank you very much for offering a discount on that.

It’s something for a couple that if you don’t feel like you want to necessarily need to get professional help, but you want to work on your relationship. It’s a great affordable way to implement some of the tools that we talked about. Even if your spouse is not willing to go to help with you, a lot of people have done this program on their own and it’s been helpful for them in terms of being a better partner and that in turn changes the relationship.

The discount code is This has been a fantastic conversation. A lot of it circles back to education and awareness. Those are the first steps. It’s to learn a little bit about yourself and how your mind works and why we’re so reactive. It’s part of our biology and we can override our biology with a little bit of awareness of how our biology works. If we’re not aware of it and we’re not educated about it, at least at a basic level, then that becomes our hidden control panel and then we react all over the place.

We’re not being human.

Shlomo, thank you so much. It’s been an honor to have you on the show.

It’s my pleasure. Thank you.

Do you have any final tips or bits of wisdom you’d like to leave with our readers?

Do your best to understand that everybody has a story and no one’s born mean. Were born joyfully alive. Have compassion that there’s something deeper there beneath the surface even if you don’t know what it is, even if the other person’s not going to share with you what it is. Imagine in your mind that this person is hurting and that’s why they’re hurting you or saying and doing things. That will help you come from a place of compassion and curiosity instead of just judgment and reactivity. It’s a great way to frame your mind when you’re entering a potentially contentious situation.

Thank you so much, Shlomo.

You’re welcome.

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About Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin

Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin is a relationship expert and public speaker who has helped thousands of couples repair their broken marriages.

Together with his wife Rivka, he is the founder of The Marriage Restoration Project, a global initiative to help keep couples together and happy.

Rabbi Slatkin is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist, a Rabbi, and a father of 5. He is an advanced Clinician in Imago Therapy.

He is also the author of The 5 Step Action Plan to a Happy & Healthy Marriage which is the introduction to Rabbi Slatkin’s marriage counseling approach, with it’s foundational basics, and it’s short, transformational benefits.

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