authors of Conscious Loving
Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks are
relationship experts from whom other relationship experts seek advice.
A happily married couple for 25 years, they have written several
best-selling books together, as well as founding the Hendricks
Institute, a learning center in Southern California that teaches core
skills for conscious living by assisting people in opening up to more
creativity, love, and vitality through the power of conscious
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|Dennis: How long have the two of you
been doing couples counseling and relationship work?
Kathlyn: We’ve been doing this as long as we’ve been together, since 1980. As soon as we fell in love with each other and began to explore what’s possible in relationships, we wanted to start sharing that with other people. In fact, we just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, so one of the things that we always say about our work is that it’s been kitchen and bedroom tested. Lasting Love is not just a book we made up in our heads; we have used all of the principles and all of the techniques ourselves to create our own lasting love. Of course, we’ve worked with thousands of couples, too. But we definitely have thrived off of taking our own medicine over the years.
Gay: One of the most basic principles that we’ve been exploring in our work is that every relationship interaction provides an opportunity for learning. And if people take that opportunity, then the relationship can be a very rich journey of discovery--rather than getting caught in repetitive cycles of blame and criticism and complaint.
Dennis: One of your latest books, Lasting Love, talks about five secrets or steps to creating a conscious relationship. What I really liked about this book is the fact that there is an action plan at the back of each section or step which helps you put it into practice.
Kathlyn: That’s because we think it’s not enough to just have a good idea if it doesn’t translate to daily life. So we’ve put a lot of focus on translating this material into activities or processes that will allow people to actually embody the discovery, and practice the discovery, in their day-to-day lives. I would definitely recommend Lasting Love for people who are single, and people who are starting out in their relationships, and also people who are in a committed relationship and want to know how to revitalize or rekindle a sense of real passion and discovery with each other over time. The five skills in the book apply to all kinds of relationships and all phases of relationships.
Gay: We really want people to try out these different skills and to be able to get a sense that this could really work in my life. From that sense of discovery, they can invent their own ways of applying the information. What we found is that anybody can do these five steps. You don’t have to be at a certain stage in your life; you don’t have to know a lot about relationships; you don’t even have to agree. You can just try them out and let them really empower you.
Dennis: Tell us about the steps or secrets explained in Lasting Love.
Gay: In a way, the first big secret is the most important. It’s the secret of Commitment. When people hear the word “commitment” they think they understand it, but we have a very different meaning. It’s important to understand that you need to make commitments to processes, not to outcomes. For example, it’s very common in a wedding ceremony to commit to loving someone “until death do you part,” but that doesn’t really tell you how you’re going to get there. That promise is an outcome, but it doesn’t commit you to the central tools that would actually allow you to love someone for a long period of time. Another example is committing yourself to speaking honestly to your partner--not bluntly, but honestly. Speaking authentically to your partner, that’s a meaningful, useful commitment because it commits you to a process. So if we ask a couple: Are you committed to telling the truth to your partner all the time? The way they answer that question will tell us where we need to do a lot of the work, because many times people have never even considered telling the truth all the time to their partner. They believe so strongly in the value of secrecy and keeping a part of themselves hidden, that they are actually committed to hiding inside. That’s very destructive to a relationship.
Kathlyn: What a lot of people don’t understand is that making the commitment allows you to have a road map and a place that you can return to because it’s not just about a one-time thing. They might think that if I slip off of the commitment or I forget about the commitment or I drift away from the commitment, then it’s all over. But we’ve really seen that it’s not just about making that wholehearted first commitment--it’s an ongoing effort in recommitting. When I say, for example, I commit to telling the truth to you, Gay, and then I notice that I am not feeling as close to Gay, I’m going to think about whether there was something that I’ve concealed. And then I’ll simply recommit rather than thinking that I’ve failed. I’ll use that as an opportunity to reconnect to what I really want and begin moving in that direction. And people can get good at committing and recommitting by practicing.
Gay: Another thing about commitment that people really need to understand--which took us years to figure out for ourselves--is that anything that’s causing a problem in relationships is really caused by an unconscious commitment. For example, you might have a conscious commitment to having a lasting love relationship, but in actual real life you’ve been left by someone six different times. What you need to realize is that you’ve got an unconscious commitment to being left that’s stronger than your conscious commitment to having lasting love. Once people understand that it makes life so much easier. When you realize that the problems are caused by unconscious commitments, then you can can look into the problems usefully that used to be very mysterious.
Kathlyn: The real power of identifying an unconscious commitment is to retrain your creativity. So if I realize that I have been unconsciously committed to concealing, then my creative energy is actually freed up to choose a new direction, and to begin practicing moving in that new direction, rather than feeling confused. This is a powerful tool.
Dennis: A lot of times we find that we’ve been sleep walking, just going through the motions.
Kathlyn: Right. I think a lot of people have discovered that they’ve been sleepwalking--they’ve learned to be in relationships from what they’ve seen around them. However, people should be tolerant with themselves in the whole learning process, because most of us really didn’t see conscious relationships around us growing up, and thus we haven’t had any training in how to create a conscious relationship. But we’ve had lots of training in how to have unconscious relationships. So we can look at this as an adventure in learning, because if you can learn how to do your relationship unconsciously, you can learn how to have a conscious relationship. It’s a commitment to learning and that’s so powerful.
Dennis: Essentially, it doesn’t do any good to blame ourselves; it’s best to just keep on practicing and growing.
Kathlyn: What we’ve found is that commitment is the gateway. If people make a commitment, then they get to find out what they need to learn. I’ve often used this analogy: if I want to learn how to swim, I can hear lots of theories about swimming or about the temperature of the pool, but the very first thing that I need to do is to get in the pool! Then when I’m in the pool, I get to find out what it is that I need to learn that’s going to allow me to really enjoy swimming. It’s really the same for conscious relationships. Once any person commits, then they get to find out what they need to learn, and that’s the excitement of being in a relationship, because you don’t really know ahead of time.
Gay: The second big secret is how to be with your emotions in a relationship--the reason being that there are three big emotions that are going to come up over and over again in close relationships. They are anger, fear, and sadness. Those three emotions are often the most difficult that human beings have to deal with in general. Unfortunately, most of us get absolutely no training or education on how to deal with these emotions. We don’t learn very often how to speak about them honestly and in a matter-of-fact way. We don’t even learn how to be with them inside ourselves. So one of the things you have to do in a close relationship is really develop the skill of learning how to feel your feelings--how to be aware of what you’re feeling and also how to speak about it in a simple, honest way. You need to know how to say, I felt scared when this happened. Or I felt sad when you said, whatever. Or I felt angry when you did, whatever.
Kathlyn: Another thing we talk about in Lasting Love is how to be present with ourselves, and how to be present with our partner, particularly when strong feelings are being expressed. The tremendous value of this is all of the rich connections that emotions can bring. The other thing that I discovered in teaching the seminars is that the skill most people find so valuable is how to befriend their emotions, and the emotions of their partners. Most people are really scared of emotions because they don’t have much experience with them. Once people open up to making friends with their emotions they get more creative, they get more connected with themselves and with each other, and much more of their time in their daily lives can be spent being with each other rather than being in a power struggle.
Dennis: Just when I thought we were more conscious compared to our parents and grandparents. There’s certainly still quite a bit of room for improvement, or for growth, for all of us.
Kathlyn: We like to ask people to let go of their partners as “improvement projects” and to open up to seeing themselves and their partners as appreciation projects. This is one of the other five secrets. There is a tremendous power in appreciation. Specifically, one of the definitions of appreciation is “to be sensitively aware of.” A wonderful way for people to begin to make friends with their feelings and the feelings of their partners is to actually be sensitively aware. In other words, what do I notice in my body, what kind of sensations do I notice as I listen to you--then focusing primarily on the positive. This is not to overlook or deny what’s wrong, but so many people are unbalanced in the direction of only looking at the negative.
Gay: Blame and criticism are one of the biggest factors in destroying relationships. One of the biggest benefits of what we do is that if you go through the steps outlined in our book, blame and criticism will disappear from your relationships. When they do big surveys with thousands of couples, chronic blame and criticism are always right up near the top of the list of reasons why couples break up. And so we figured out a way to end blame and criticism from relationships, and it works so well that in our own relationship we haven’t had a single instance of blame or criticism in many, many years. The value of that is when you end blame and criticism, it frees up a tremendous amount of energy that you can use for creative projects and all sorts of other things. It’s a really important thing to focus on as you’re getting out from under the chronic blame and criticism game.
Kathlyn: We teach people how to shift from blame to wonder--how to generate wonder and curiosity rather than criticism and being willing to learn from every relationship interaction. We can learn to be more interested in choosing curiosity than in getting defensive or being invested in a power struggle with our partner. I’d say the attitude that most people get stuck in, the one that really needs to shift, is the attachment to being RIGHT. Lots of folks would rather be right than have a happy relationship! They get a little burst of adrenaline and that feeling of “Ha, ha, I’m right and you’re wrong.” But when people learn how to shift into wondering and being curious, then all kinds of discoveries and creativity and free energy opens up. I don’t think people realize how much of their life’s energy gets tied up in blame and criticism; it’s a huge energy drain.
Dennis: Sounds like a way of keeping the relationship fresh and trying to be more in the moment.
Kathlyn: Yes. You can create that sense of renewal and discovery and freshness by opening up and learning how to speak and listen authentically. It’s been my personal experience that really committing and learning how to say what’s true is the quickest way to rekindle romance and passion.
Dennis: One of the things we all want to avoid is becoming one of the bickering old couples you see from time to time.
Kathlyn: Right, you have the Bickerers or the Blands. I find it really sad when I’m in a restaurant and I see two people sitting across the table looking off into the distance, ignoring each other. You know they’ve gotten caught in the blands. People like that think that in relationships you just go up to a certain point, and then you know everything there is to know about the other person and it’s basically downhill from there. But that has not been my experience at all. After almost 27 years with Gay I continue to discover more things about him and more ways to play and explore. If you told me this when I was in my twenties, I would have been totally skeptical. So this has really been an experience that I find absolutely thrilling and I want everybody to know that they can use the energy of relationships to fuel creativity. That’s another one of the secrets we talk about in Lasting Love. The big payoff for ending power struggles and criticizing and blaming each other is that you get to put your focus instead on creating and co-creating and using all of that rich connection to fuel what you really want to do, and how you want to be contributing and growing your own unique genius. To me that’s a worthy payoff.
Gay: Another one of the big secrets also has to do with creativity. One of the things that we’ve noticed in thousands of couples that we’ve worked with is that if both people are not committed to their own creative path as individuals, they tend to take it out on the relationship. If one or both of the people aren’t doing something that’s creatively fulfilling for themselves, they will tend to be more unpleasant in the relationship--they’ll tend to criticize and complain more. So a lot of times, when there’s a great deal of heavy complaining and criticism in the relationship, we ask the person to point the finger back inside themselves and wonder: Where am I not expressing myself creatively? Because if you’re expressing yourself creatively and in a fulfilling way, you don’t have time to sit around and find fault with other people.
Dennis: So would you say that being critical is a symptom of an underlying unhappiness?
Kathlyn: Yes. The person might think that if their partner would just change, somehow they’d feel better. But it’s really a symptom of not focusing on what you want to create in your life. You need to find your passion--the one thing you love to do so much that when you’re doing it time disappears and you feel energized.
Dennis: One of the things that’s been beneficial for my wife and I, going on 20 years together, is encouraging the creativity of the other person.
Kathlyn: Absolutely. If you’re not involved in trying to get the other person to take care of you, and if you’re not blaming them, then you can truly appreciate them. Creativity, like commitment, is something that most people misunderstand. They think that only people like Picasso and Einstein are creative, but everybody wants to express creativity and that creativity comes in all kinds of different forms--from gardening to drawing to creating a symphony. It’s the act of expressing creativity that revitalizes people and also makes them very attractive to themselves and other people, which is very sexy.
Dennis: I think that it’s healthy to share some hobbies with my partner but also to note our individual skills and encourage that uniqueness.
Kathlyn: You’ve putting your finger on something else we’ve found to be very important: relationships really thrive when people have both time alone and time together. That way they honor both their unity and also their individuality. All relationships work much better when each person honors their rhythm of getting close and getting separate, and that includes their individual creativity and also what they may want to be creating together. By creating a rich field for flowers to bloom, appreciation is really a fertilizer that allows your relationship to flourish. It creates an overall attitude of what we sometimes call “leading with gratitude.” In other words, in my interactions, rather than leading off with a sense of entitlement (What’s in it for me), or blame (How come you aren’t taking better care of me), if I practice leading with gratitude, with genuine appreciation, then there is a sweetness that opens up in relationships that has a tremendous ripple effect.
Dennis: So you’re talking about all relationships, not just romantic relationships.
Kathlyn: Yes, the impact is felt not just in romantic relationships, but in people’s families and in their communities. It allows connection and co-creativity and problem-solving to happen much more readily. And it’s not that it’s a sugar coating; it genuinely creates connection in which problem-solving and getting unstuck can happen more readily and people can really address what we call the “One Problem.” Human beings are all encountering one problem at this time in evolution, which is withstanding our capacity to give and receive love…to actually grow to be able to handle more giving and receiving of love rather than being in the patterns that most of us grew up with and were certainly more prevalent in relationships in earlier centuries. Giving and receiving love is a relatively new experiment that human beings are engaged in.
Dennis: What do you mean by that?
Kathlyn: For thousands of years, human beings have had a thermostat setting in our physiology for what’s going to go wrong next, and being able to survive, so that most of us can only handle a certain amount of things going well and then we do something (usually unconscious) to bring things back to a more familiar level of distress. Very often when we work with couples in workshops we see them deflect appreciation. They can only handle a certain amount of love and appreciation coming at them and then they do something like criticize their partner or criticize themselves or break an agreement.
Dennis: Sounds like people who win the lottery and then blow all the money.
Kathlyn: Yes, that’s a great example. We’ve actually seen people lose their homes as well as their relationships when they get caught up in that way of being.
Dennis: Are you two still doing individual couples’ counseling and workshops, besides writing books?
Kathlyn: We have a number of live seminars that we do, where people can come and explore both how to create individual well-being and also how to create and sustain thriving relationships. So we primarily do those; we don’t really do counseling anymore. We’re more focused on providing this information for professionals who work with others, so that we can have the biggest impact and create the largest community of people who are interested in conscious loving.
Dennis: And don’t you also work with corporations?
Gay: We do some business consulting. Back when we wrote The Corporate Mystic, about ten years ago, we did a lot of on-site consulting, where we’d go to different businesses and work with executives and people in the corporate world. Nowadays, we do occasionally work with executives, but they tend to come here to Ojai, California and spend a day or two working with us. So it’s changed quite a bit, due to the fact that we got tired of traveling and created this beautiful paradise here in Ojai. Now we offer a huge number of alternative communication opportunities for people: online courses and a number of different products that people can interact with.
To learn more from Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks, visit their website at www.hendricks.com
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