Poet and philosopher Rumi once wrote, “Love is the bridge between you and everything.” As much as a loving bond between people may be the starting point for close relationships, the future of it however, is shaped by stress, communication, coping, mental health, and interpersonal support; which are the defining factors that allow those relationships to last or crumble. Bicker, squabble, argue, wrangle, fight, disagree, dispute, and spar are some of things that we do when we’re in a relationship with someone that we care about. Without the full knowledge of the psychological science behind it, it’s hard to know if the behaviors and approaches to conflict resolution are effective or even healthy.
On this episode, relationship expert, award-winning teacher, professor at Monmouth University and author of Stronger Than You Think: The 10 blind spots that undermine your relationship and how to see past them, Dr. Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., discusses how seeking personal growth and undergoing self-expansion can help us grow. Relationships are the vehicles to broaden the lens we use to look at ourselves and inspecting our blind spots can carry tremendous benefit.
About Dr. Gary Lewandowski
Dr. Gary W. Lewandowski Jr. is a an award-winning teacher, researcher, writer, and relationship expert. He is a Professor at Monmouth University and author of Stronger Than You Think: The 10 Blind Spots That Undermine Your Relationship…and How to See Past Them, and co-author of an innovative research methods text, Discovering the Scientist Within. His work has been featured by the Washington Post, IFLScience.com, Daily Mail, Business Insider, Salon, The New Republic, Time, the New York Times, The Atlantic, VICE, CNN, and NPR. His TEDx talk, “Break-ups Don’t Have to Leave You Broken” has viewed over 2 million times, while his relationship articles have been enjoyed by over 3.5 million readers.
About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.
Sucheta Kamath: Welcome to Full PreFrontal exposing the mysteries of executive function. This podcast, as I have said many times aims to tackle all things cerebral cortex. And even within that prefrontal cortex and our hope, my mission, my goal is to really tackle this complex topic in three ways. One is to kind of really understand and do a deep dive in executive function, the self-regulation, the capacity to introspect, and to actually be able to make changes within make change your ways change yourself through introspection. The second is to really understand the research and this research keeps coming and informing us and to bring that and translate that into everyday life. And lastly, can we influence other people? No, we are in charge of other people. And sometimes we are just living with people who need a lot of change. But we might have this little confidence that we can change people and we need to really take a look at that. So, today, I get a chance to talk about that. But before I start telling you about that, I had a great story, you know, over this, over the weekend, I went for a walk with my girlfriend, and she and I, you know, we both have kids who are very close friends. And she proceeded to tell me a story about her friend, her son's girlfriend, and the son's girlfriend is from England, and she happened to call her parents. One afternoon it was, you know, Sunday afternoon in England around two o'clock and apparently, she was trying to FaceTime, and the parents were in the middle of a little squabble. And the topic of squabble was dinner time and father wanted to have dinner at 5:30 so that he could have a pint of beer with his dinner, and his mom was outraged and protested that we are not geriatric, a couple to eat that early. She preferred that they started dinner at seven. And then dad got upset because he felt if he started dinner at seven, then pint of beer would make an impact on his bladder control, and he will have to get up in the middle of the night. And all this went down when the daughter had just called to say hello. So, the daughter chuckled and said, that's another ordinary day at Wilson's house. What was so cute about that the parents were comfortable enough to fight. But the fight of course, was a little empty. There was a lot of negotiating happening through that squabble. So, bicker, squabble, argue, wrangle, fight, disagree, disputes, spar, lock horns are some of the things that we do when we are in a relationship with someone that we deeply care. Without the full well knowledge of the psychological science behind it. However, it's hard to know if these behaviors and approaches to conflict resolution are normal, or even healthy. executive function is a key ingredient in regulating emotions, thoughts and actions as we navigate relationships and engage in help seeking and help giving behaviors. And that's why I am going to have this wonderful guest to share his wisdom with us. Because in my practice, I see children adolescents and adults with the diagnosis of ADHD who suffer from symptoms that range from diminish attention span impulsivity, lack of sensitivity regarding how one's own behaviors impact others. And as I know, a such type of emotional and behavioral dysregulation can negatively affect family relationships, friendships, a friendship, making, and even marital harmony. So, with the United States, you know, three to 11% of children are being reported to have been diagnosed with ADHD and 30 to 50% of child referrals for mental health services are attributed to ADHD, investigating best ways to improve interpersonal relationship is definitely valuable, so that we can improve executive function and also improve relationships. So, with that in mind, I would it's a great pleasure to introduce you to Dr. Gary Lewandowski, Jr, who is an award-winning teacher, researcher, writer, and a relationship expert. He is a professor at Monmouth University, the author of Stronger Than You Think: The 10 Blind Spots that Undermine Your Relationships and How to See Past Them. He's all and he's a co-author of an innovative research methods text, Discovering the Scientist Within and he has written one more book that co-authored with another of his colleagues. His work has been featured by Washington Post, Daily Mail, Business Insider, Salon, and the New Republic and many more, including my favorite, the Atlantic and his TED Talk, Breakups Don't Have to Leave You Broken has been viewed 2 million times and that's just the beginning, I think. So, welcome to the podcast. How are you?
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: I'm doing great Sucheta. Thank you so much for having me.
Sucheta Kamath: So, you wrote about 10 myths that sabotage our relationships and our love life. And you have gifted the world with some practical science backed tools that act more like a microscope and binoculars to introspect our relationships, hidden strengths, if harnessed, that can help us build deep Lee meaningful and long-lasting relationships. So, how did you end up studying relationships?
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: This, it actually goes back all the way to college. When I was a college student, I was a psychology major, and I thought, like a lot of psychology majors, I was going to be a clinician, because I wanted to help people. You know, I was I was the friend that, you know, everyone else, you know, sought out for advice and wisdom. And, you know, as an 18-year-old, I had none of those things, but people sought it out, nonetheless. So, I thought for sure, you know, being a clinician was the way to go. But then my junior year into my senior year, I had an internship, where I quickly realized that it was not the way to go for me, I was a little bit too focused on immediate impacts. And that, you know, it's a field where, you know, your immediate wins are not going to be as plentiful as perhaps you would hope. And, and particularly at that time in my life, you know, I was 20, at the time, I was not patient enough to, to kind of be a clinician and sort of play the long game, I think. And so, I, and that was my academic advisor, and I kind of brought to her my dilemma, like, you know, I thought it was going to be a clinician, and I just can't do this, I just don't see over the long haul that I you know, I'm going to be able to have this kind of impact on people the way I want to, and she said, Okay, yeah, that's good. It's good to know what you don't want to do, which is actually really profound advice. And so, she said, you know, well, what is it that you like to think about in our psychology is a broad field, like, what do you enjoy? Like, what was a 20-year-old male college student? So, relationships? And I kind of flippantly said, you know, relationships, but you can't study that, like, that's not a real topic. And she said, no, you can study that. And people do. And there's this whole science to it. It was just like, you know, it's like you have those moments in life where like, the whole like, you don't, you're so ignorant without even knowing it. And then all of a sudden, somebody like says some things that now just immediately seem so obvious. And at the same time, it had never been revealed before. It's like, oh, I yeah, that's exactly what I want to study. And so, I really, I've been doing that for the last 20 plus years.
Sucheta Kamath: Well, brilliant. Thank you. So, before we visit a few myths, I think 10, we might have to bring you back. And because it's just fantastic. But can you start us off with the human plight, our insufferable self-blindness, you say, and I quote you that one of the biggest obstacles we face when trying to see our relationship clearly, is that we give ourselves a lot of credit for how much insight and self-awareness we have our own about our own lives problem is that the credit is unwarranted. So, why do you say that?
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: Well, you know, it's certainly true. I mean, we think we know ourselves a lot better than we actually do. It turns out, we don't actually spend that much time thinking about ourselves. And even when we're given the opportunity to think about ourselves as a study where participants were brought in, and they were given the opportunity to basically, you know, the gift of time, like we always say, we just need more time to do certain things. And so, they were given that gift, they were said, told, you know, you can sit here for 20 minutes, and think about yourself. Or if you'd rather, you can give yourself electrical shocks, which they had all agreed they had experienced these earlier and all agreed that these were painful, but so now they had a choice of they get to sit here and think about themselves for 20 minutes or give themselves an electrical shock. I mean, it seems like a no brainer, yet 40% shows the shocking path of let's give myself electrical shocks, which, you know, just kind of goes to show that, you know, we like to think we know who we are, but we don't. But the reason part of the reason why is it's a little bit threatening, we don't really want to kind of dig into what's going on with ourselves. Yeah, when it comes to relationships, really defensive about that, in the sense that we really believe that we know what's best for ourselves. And yet, you know, there's been other research done where, you know, researchers have asked people in relationships, you know, what's your relationship future look like, you know, like, how is this relationship going to turn out how happy you're going to be those types of questions. But they also asked the roommate, and their mom. And so, the roommate in the mom, you know, we're asked the same questions, you know, what is their future going to look like? And they basically said, That's a tough question. I don't really know. But here's my guess. And then so they tracked those participants over over time, and what they found was the most confident person was the person in the relationship themselves because they it was their relationship, they knew how this was going to turn out, right? They absolutely knew. Mom, and the roommate not so confident, but who was the most accurate? Roommate was number one, mom was number two, the least accurate person was yourself. And so, we ourselves had had this really deadly combination of supreme confidence in what turned out to be the least accurate information. And so that's a problem. And so, you know, a lot of times, we just really don't know what we don't know. And we fall back too much on our experience, but we have to realize experiences have the same thing as expertise, you know, as many relationships as you've had as an individual, it pales in comparison to the number of relationships that us as relationship scientists get access to in any one study. And so, you know, if you want to set yourself up for success, and essentially play the odds, to put the odds in your favor in terms of, you know, what's most likely to work out for long term relationships, stability and happiness, you know, you have to cite the science.
Sucheta Kamath: I really like the way you set up the book as myths, and then providing some lens how that is a myth and not reality, and then giving some advice, because I can see, you know, I've seen a lot of self-help books, which are kind of give tips. And the problem with the tips is my experience having given tips to people is they certify themselves to be fabulous. And this I already use it. And so, if you set it up, which doesn't lead to introspection, because strategy is almost looks like a choice, but beliefs looks like I don't question my wrongness until I'm challenged or until I'm nudged. So, so one thing that let's start with the men and women difference that you talk about, you know, you said, Your the first assumption you bust is I quote, the scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that men and women are from the same planet. So, where did we all go wrong to make such a such a strong assumption? And how does that get us off track from seeking and enjoying healthy relationships?
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: Yeah, you know, I mean, part of, you know, I appreciate that you kind of noticed this idea about the tips, because, you know, people don't like to admit when they're wrong. And so really, the way that I set up each of these myths in the chapter is to kind of, you know, sigh show why you might have thought what you thought, and then, you know, kind of use that as a foot in the door a little bit to kind of then show like, here's how it's not exactly correct. And then not only that, like, everybody fundamentally wants to get it, right relationships are so important to so many things, right? You want to be a good parent, you want to have a good relationship, right? I mean, everything's kind of is that fundamental. So, you start that way. But then, you know, kind of show people how to how to fix it. And so, it's the same thing with the difference between men and women, we tend to think there are these extreme differences between men and women, because we are kind of preprogrammed to notice differences. And so, if you want to go looking for differences between men and women, you will find that, right, there are some differences that exist, they happen to be primarily really obvious and easy to see once, right? How are parents how we dress, physical characteristics and qualities and you know, proficiencies, you look at hobbies, you know, like, who likes scrapbooking? It's women, it's not men, right? I mean, you can find these huge differences. And so, if you're already going into it predisposed to believe there are these differences, you adopt this confirmation bias, and you have ample evidence, right at your disposal to say, look at this, they really are different. But it's we oversimplify things, right. And it's one of the greatest problems that we have as humans. And we're, you know, psychology and science really try to fight back against that, isn't we oversimplifying? So, we think when we see some difference means everything's different. And yet the research, overwhelmingly and even write this somewhere in the book where it's like, you know, I share meta analyses and meta syntheses, when it's really combining hundreds and hundreds of studies and even have this like throwaway line, because there was so much more I could have included, and I just got sick of finding the same thing over and over when I did my research on for the book, basically, you say, there's tons more. I mean, I could include it all. But it all says the same thing, which is men and women are overwhelmingly the same. Right? They mean, our similarities far outweigh our differences. If you want to look for differences, they're there, but they tend to be small. Even the differences that we think like oh, men are much less into communication and relationships than women. Okay, you can find true significant real differences between men and women on that dimension. The real, the real small, tiny, real small. And so, you know, we make too much out of those small differences which you kind of ask, why is it such a problem? Well, if you're in a heterosexual relationship, you know, we similarity brings people together, differences drive people apart. And so, the more you believe you're fundamentally different from your partner, yes, in any way, right? It's just going to, you know, it creates divides.
Sucheta Kamath: You know what's so neat about the way that you shared that is one, I remember. I was two years into my marriage, and I bought this Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus book. And I remember we had gone for a long trip across the country. And I was reading this book out loud, to my husband, who cannot pay attention to any spoken word when he's driving. He hates that to be read, okay. And I was reading about how he's getting me wrong, and how he doesn't understand me. And I'm like smothering him with this newly found knowledge, which was a terrible way to even communicate or negotiate that space with them. And finally, what it did to me is kind of confirmed my bias about how he cannot do certain things, and how it certified me to say, See, told you so. And now that I read that book, there were so many similarities. For example, I'll give you a quick story. So, my, my husband and I, we both grew up in India, and it's considered a love marriage. That means we It was not an arranged marriage, we met in college. But he, he was a medical student, I was a speech language pathology student. And he, anyway, there was a long backdrop of how we got together, but it my birthday was coming up, my birthday is in October, and his it is in December. And he made a card, a 3D card, a card was a big like, he had to carry it into the department with my speech language pathology department. And the card had a beautiful poem, it had like a constructed road with a car with his name and speed breakers, which is a speech pathology, you know, analogy, I would not have ever imagined my husband to be so romantic and so creative, because he was not only a brilliant thinker, but he was very cut and dry. If you talk to him, he would like science kind of thinking, and I never thought he would be so adorable and artsy first of all, and then I made a card that was also three dimensional. And so, then that led us to be talking to each other instead of meeting every day but writing letters to each other. And the last letter that we wrote to each other was 30 page long. So, this relationship was based on a writing that went on for eight months, when we met every day, but we wrote letters to each other for eight months, I would have never imagined that to be that kind of person, my husband, or that young man, because he just had no signs. It's not just if I relied on the way he spoke, that he was capable of doing those things, which is what you're talking about, right?
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: Yeah, absolutely. And it's actually a perfect example, for one of the primary myths that surrounds men and women is, you know, he asked people who's more romantic about relationships? Is it men or is it women? And it turns out, it's men. And it's this exact kind of thing. Like men tend to be more romantic in this way. And particularly in the way of, you know, believing that love will conquer all they'll believe they're more likely to believe in love at first sight. Whereas, you know, women, on the other hand, are much more pragmatic. You know, you ask people who falls in love more easily, is it men or women and people tend to miss predict that it's women that fall in love more easily, when in fact, the research shows men fall in love more easily.
Sucheta Kamath: That's unbelievable.
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: But you know, it just goes to show we don't know what we don't know,
Sucheta Kamath: Literally don't know what we don't know. And so, then your message is that relationships are hard. And what we often get wrong is that they shouldn't take any work or take minimal work, particularly when it comes to fantasizing true love. And another thing, wonderful thing you say his true love should be perfect. And effortless is a myth. Why? Why? Why is this a myth? And can you share with us some of the barriers this myth creates?
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: Sure. I mean, it kind of ties in really nicely with this idea of over being overly romantic towards relationships, right. And so, when we watch movies or read books, like there's this idea of like, you know, when two people are meant to be it just is kind of everything is magical, and it goes together and it's seamless, and it's effortless. And I mean, it sounds great. But you actually have never had that kind of relationship with almost anyone in your life. The people you're closest to you think like of your parents, your siblings, your very best friends. It's nothing is perfect and easy and effortless because people have their own opinions. People are their own individuals. And so, you know, it would be boring in some ways, if you were so incredibly similar, that, you know, you'd have this frictionless kind of, you know, inter woven experience. But I mean, the fact is, even with your own self, you kind of debate and struggle and argue with yourself in some ways. And so, it's just this, it's this nice idea that sometimes we carry too far. And it's nice to kind of think that we can find someone who's our perfect match, because that sounds like something we should want. And it's, it's, it's possibly a harmless belief. But if you start using that as the criteria by which to judge the quality of your current relationship, you're trying to live up to this unattainable standard. And that's, you know, one of the fundamental messages behind the book and the title of the book stronger than you think is that people have all these myths and what I call blind spots. And they think they don't even know they haven't, first of all, and then they don't realize how, what seems innocent, and planned or helpful for many of you, most people think these things are helpful, or actually making you think your relationship is worse than it is, which is the opposite of what anybody really wants to have happen. And so, you know, it's really shaming. And it just again, kind of goes to, you know, I tell students who take my class all the time is like, I don't know, if there's a more important class you can take in college, then of course, about relationships, because it's going to impact every day of the rest of your life.
Sucheta Kamath: You know, the part that was really striking to me is that the, they had a researcher, Tony Attwood, who, who is an autism expert, and he was talking about that a lot of, if you talk about autism spectrum, as a neuro, atypical then you have neurotypical women are attracted to men on the spectrum. And they take them on as a fixer upper project. And they fail miserably. Because it's, it's a desire to make change somebody who lacks fundamental social communication ability, because of the, let's say, you know, not able to theorize the minds of others kinds of struggles, but women attend to consider that there, they can be motivational inspiration, you know, honey, all you got to do is wear different color shirt and different pants and talk less and talk more and, and just, Oh, do you see that this kind of partnership improvement project that we all take on? is more done by one gender over the other? And what are some of the challenges of doing that? Because there's an expectation that if you really love me, then you would not be hesitant to change yourself?
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: Yeah, you know, and ironically, it's the opposite, right? If you really loved me, you would need me to change you would love me for who I am. Yes. And, and so, you know, I think people do, I think people do approach relationships, too often in terms of, they want to project, they kind of want to take this person and shape them into this wonderful person who's ideal for them. And so, you know, as much as we all kind of want to be that, you know, reveal your inner Chip and Joanna Gaines and be a fixer upper, and really, like, try to like turn this thing into this wonderful outcome. It's really presumptuous. So, first of all, it's presumptuous in the sense that you think you know what's best for that person?
Sucheta Kamath: Yes,
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: I know, what's better for you, I know you need to do this. It's also presumptuous, you know, autism is in that kind of your example is a little bit on the more extreme, because I mean, you have neurological reasons why someone's not going to change likely. But you know, in other cases, we're talking to people to make a fundamental change that to their partner's personality, personality is really reluctant to change, you know, personally, is largely stable, worse, it gets more and more stable as you get older and older. And so, you know, if you're 20 years deep into your relationship, and now you're hoping that you're going to mold shift and cajole your partner into, you know, there's new and improved self. Oh, I mean, you're setting yourself up for failure. You know, it. It's so even so let's just assume you really do know what's best. Your partner wants to do it, having a partner who wants to change who they are also isn't a great sign because it means that they're not so sure about who they are, which while they may be willing to change the fact that they're so unsure about who they are comes with a whole other host of problems. You let's say, Oh, that's fine. Now, how do you go about changing your partner? Right, so what's the implementation look like? And what the research shows is that as even if you think you have a good plan, and even your partner thinks you have a good plan, most of the time your input implementation is poor, where what you're doing is I'm nagging. Yes, insulting, cursing, you're you know, you're, you're showing signs of irritation and frustration and like, you know, you're doing all these tricks to try to, like, motivate them to change it. It's all stuff that is really off putting an end shouldn't be the kinds of things someone who's your best friend who loves you, who respects you, it's not the kind of thing they should be doing. Right. And so that's, that's usually what the problem is that so then Okay, one last piece of this, even if you know that the nagging complaining route is wrong, I'm not going to do that, I'm going to do it the right way. And just compliment them and be nice to them when they do all the things I like. And then just kind of ignore all the bad behavior. You're like a good behavior now analyst right away, so you're just going to reward the good and ignore the bad. That's better, right? But it's still affection, it's with strings attached. And so that's still you know, the ideal in a relationship is unconditional love, like I should love you for who you are, and not for who I want you to be. And that's where, you know, this idea of changing you for the better. Like I said, When I started, it's extremely presumptuous, and it's usually destined to fail,
Sucheta Kamath: You know that that chapter reminded me of the play I saw in 90s, which is called I Love Your, You're Perfect, Now Change. And that play was exactly based on this idea that you're Yeah, I think, yeah, I get it that you'd like me, I like you, I love you fine. But there's so much, so many more ways you can fit to my ideal version of who I am. So, what I got that out of that chapter, that one is there is an incredible urgency with which we try to control other person. And second, there is a genuine lack of acceptance for who the other person is. So, there is a kind of a rejection built into this kind of love. This is a love with strings attached, but it's also a little critical love. So, can that be a really love? Is the question we should be asking. And, and, you know, lastly, I'll say, and I don't know what you think about this, but this to me is also applicable to not your most intimate love, but even parents will love you know, you there is a so much expectation of change is built into the way parents relate to their children, that you are your honey, you're perfect, but you just need to do this more this less, and then you can become more desirable. So, are these principles applicable to all relationships? Or do they more hold true for most intimate ones?
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: I think all of them. You know, I think it's really hard for one person to be the source of knowledge and truth for someone else's life. Right? No two people are the same. And so as much as you like to think, you know, I, you know, I have a daughter, she's 13, you know, going to be 14, you know, as much as there's certain things like you kind of want to overlay your life experience and hopes and dreams onto them. Which is fundamentally unfair, because those were yours. And when your parents tried to do that to you, you knew how that felt it felt like they were rejecting you, they didn't accept you for who you are, like all the things we were just talking about. And so, we tend to forget that when we're in the role, and we have more control, like it just seems like no, no, honey, we know best we know best. And it's like, sometimes, you know, you have to let people be who they are, and accept them for who they are. And it's actually something I talked about in this chapter a little bit that which can apply to parenting too is like, you know, every chapter kind of shows like the problem like you don't want to think about changing your partner and all the reasons I just described, like, there's a better way. And so, the better way is relationships should change. So, that sounds like that's completely opposite of what I just said, but your relationship should change you in the way you yourself want to change. And so, my partner isn't there to guide my change. My partner is there to help me change in the direction I want to go. And so that's the kind of support that relationship partnership provides. And so, you know, as a relationship partner, whatever my wife wants to do to improve herself, my job is to stand back support, cheerlead, you go like, anything I can do to kind of help facilitate her direction of which she has chosen, not for me to say, you know what, I know you want to go do this, but this would be better for you. And so, you know, a lot of this relationship stuff is that there's nuance to it. And so, you know, it's some points that can kind of seem like, you know, both sides or, you know, you're arguing the same thing on both sides. But it's, I think it's the same with you know, being a parent too. You have to kind of take a step back and as much as it can be frustrating because they're not choosing what you would have chosen. You had your chance you chose your things now, it's there. And you just kind of do what you can to support them.
Sucheta Kamath: And you know, that reminds me of the concept from mindfulness, contemplative studies is that non-judgmental presence, you know how to be there strongly rooted in values, strongly rooted in love, but giving the freedom and no leash, so that the person who's doing the self-exploration has the courage to do so. Because they're not doing it for you. They're doing it for themselves, because they have a secure tie to you, where you have shown them, how much you love them and accept them. Wow, well, how many relationships? Do you know like that? Oh, is this fantasy? Or is this something happens without work? Doesn't it require work?
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: I think it requires work. And I think it requires insight. And I think, you know, a lot of times left here on devices, as we discussed earlier, it's tough to find that insight on your own. And that's where you need to take a class, read a book, listen to a podcast, you know, one, any one of those things can kind of, you know, give you that shift in perspective, I have a quote in the book that says, you know, a shift in perspective is worth 80 IQ points. And that's true, and all kinds of things, but particularly with your relationship, because we kind of get into these ruts in relationships, where we're doing what we have seen our friends do, we're doing what we've seen our parents do, we were doing what we've seen on, God forbid, television. And so, you know, we don't really know any better, because we're kind of living in this little relationship bubble. And so, you know, the great thing is, you know, teaching a class on this, I get to, you know, look out at a bunch of people and give talks to, and you kind of see, like, people come in with all these assumptions. And as they get these new perspectives, you can just see the IQ, you see, like their face, Oh, my, oh, my gosh. And so, you just you need things every once in a while, to kind of, you know, get you out of your relationship ruts, I think.
Sucheta Kamath: You know, it's interesting. So, executive function training is nothing but perspective building, and expanding your worldview. So, it's the deck of your experiential knowledge about how to respond differently, to novel circumstances, in unpredictable situations, and during uncertainty, but also to sit with the discomfort that comes from having to witness somebody who's not doing things the way you want them. So, can you talk a little bit about emotions and role of emotions in handling and building strong relationships, when without victimizing yourself, or definitely drawing the line when other person's behaviors are inappropriate, but kind of developing this incredible tolerance for different ways that your husband or wife does things, or your children do it? I'll give you a quick example. We, we have a lady who comes and helps my mom, who is 78. And she lives with us. And so, we have somebody who comes and helps us during the day when my husband and I are gone. And so, she loaded the dishwasher in a particular way. And dishwasher is a classic tell tale about your relationship, I feel what the other spouse does. So, my husband, of course, so I came home first. And so, she said, I'm leaving. And I said no problem. She said, the dishwasher is not loaded correctly. But Ananth will fix it. So, my husband will fix it. I look, I did not even bother to open it because I know he's going to fix it. Even if I fixed it, he would fix it. The minute he came home, we bought take lunch to work. And he brought his lunchbox, he emptied it out, he opened the dishwasher. And then he dropped everything, and he reloaded the dishwasher. So, we just realized this is something I have come to terms with that he needs to do this. How much ever masterfully I load the dishwasher is never going to be adequate. But why would I try to impress him with my dishwasher, loading skills when he got it? So, I walk away, and he can do it. So, tell me a little bit about that. That emotion of discomfort or anger or frustration we feel when dealing with other person is literally having to deal with their deck of different ways of thinking and being and, you know, existing, I guess?
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: Yeah, I mean, I think you know, what you're describing is one of those things that we call relationship work. And there's lots of different things you do kind of Yes, you know, sometimes, you know, you clearly realize it. So, this one is, you know, in front of the scenes, but sometimes it's really behind the scenes that you're doing these little things that make the relationship work. And so, you know, if that's the kind of thing that matters to your husband, then he just kind of takes care of it and you don't have to worry about it and you kind of divide and conquer that way. You know and a lot of it has to do with just kind of picking your battles. I mean, there's lots of things you can be frustrated. With but, you know, sometimes there's just going to be these little quirks about your partner. And though, rather than thinking of it as a bug, right in their programming, maybe it's a feature, maybe it's just something that that's kind of unique and adorable about them that they have this, you know, dishwasher, Tetris kind of way of doing things where they take over. And rather than finding it, like annoying, and, you know, obsessive, and you know, I admire a good dishwasher setup myself. And so, you know, my wife does not. And so, we're in the same way, the same kind of situation. And so, it just, rather than saying anything, I'm just like, okay, whatever, that's funny that this is all this and it just kind of fix things, and you and you just kind of move on. So, you know, this is what it's like living with anybody. Right? I mean, it's like, what it's living with your spouse, it's like this living with a teenager. And then there's just certain things, you worry about certain things you don't, because if you worry about everything, you're attempting to control everything. And when you try to control everything, you're going to be totally frustrated and annoyed. And that's, that's not a way to live.
Sucheta Kamath: That and you know, you the the last myth, I think maybe we can visit in the given timeframe we have is, it's, it's wrong to be selfish in a relationship. And you say that's a myth. Because more self-work you do more investment you make in taking the time away, by yourself and on yourself is not a bad investment. Can you talk a little bit about this concept, and also the theory that you and your colleagues propose about the self-expansion, because I just love that concept and how beautiful you have weaved in really how the layers the way I saw, the way I interpreted that. It's almost like a diamond that gets, you know, comes out of the rough and undergoes this mechanism of developing these multiple facets, and more exposure to higher heat, you know, more facets, you build greater the sparkle, I guess. So, talk to us about that.
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: I like that. I like that the diamond analogy, I think that's very appropriate. I think, you know, a lot of these myths and blind spots come from these beliefs. So, they've kind of been passed down. And you know, these overly romantic beliefs, romanticized beliefs. And so, this one is, is really about this idea that you don't have a good relationship, relationships are all about sacrifice, you must kind of forego your own impulses for the good of your relationship for the good of your partner. And now, you know, to be sure, relationships do require some sacrifice, but it shouldn't be this thing where you know, people kind of take it too far and think you're not allowed to do things for yourself. And then if you're doing things for yourself, it somehow means you're neglecting the relationship, or you're not being faithful to the relationship in some ways. And so, you know, it's the research shows, I mean, sad when we make a lot of sacrifice, right? It makes us more committed, it builds a stronger bond, but it doesn't necessarily make us happier. So, now being more committed sounds great, but not being as happy that I mean, why do you want to be more bonded to something that doesn't make you as happy now, you want to think like, why does it not make you happy? Well, it does, on the days that you aren't experiencing any stress. But I don't know about you, I don't experience any of those days. Most people don't, right. So, I mean, if that's a typical to be a have a stress-free day. But the really, the bigger problem is that for every 10 things you do to sacrifice for your partner, your partner only sees five, right? So, they're missing 50% of what you're doing for them. And so now, you're doing all these things for them, they're not picking up on most of it, it becomes a real recipe for resentment. And so it turns out, it's kind of the fundamentally the wrong way to approach it anyway, is that your job isn't always to make all these sacrifices for your partner, your job is to kind of, you know, be an independent person who's looking out for yourself and your partner, if your partner is doing the same, you're not going to require all this sacrifice, because you're both going to kind of let each other blow the dishwasher however you want. Right? And you kind of like you, you step back and get out of the way and let people just kind of be who they are. The amount of sacrifices as necessary. And then so you know, in that chapter, it kind of goes into, you know, the biggest mistake people make is this. What I call sacrifices, fatal flaw is that a lot of times when we say, you know, you can't be selfish, we neglect the self, you're yourself and who you are is everything. And, you know, much of the research I've done is on this idea of, as you mentioned, self-expansion. Self-expansion is this idea that we all have this fundamental motivation to grow and improve our sense of self. We basically want to become better people and we want to become better people so that we were more capable of accomplishing new things. We want to, you know, feel more able to tackle challenges, we seek out new, interesting, challenging and exciting activities. And so, we want to grow, and relationships or relationship partners are one of the fundamental ways that we do that. And we do that by getting close to our partner, we do it by spending time together with our partner. But one of the really interesting things about the research that we find is that as much as you can self-expand and grow your sense of self in your relationship, you can also do it on your own. Now, a lot of times people will feel guilty for you know, going off to go hang out with their friends, instead of spending a night with their partner or go golfing instead of hanging out with their partner. And they there's like a guilt that is associated with that, because it feels like selfish, like I should be doing more for my partner. But what the research shows is, when you go and do things on your own and self-expand and bolster your sense of self, it spills over to the relationship, you now have more experiences to bring into the relationship to share with your partner. No, so even if your partner goes on a business trip to some city that you've never been to, and it seems like oh my gosh, they get to do that it's not fair, they come back with all this new information and stories and experiences. And you know, just as you said before, plus different perspectives that they now get to share with you. And because your partner experienced it, and you're so close to them, it almost feels like you, yourself experienced it. And that builds yourself, right, that expands yourself. And we know from you know, lots of research, the more you broaden and build these positive emotions, it just kind of spills over into all kinds of other things.
Sucheta Kamath: And what is just such a fantastic way to present the opportunity to do some self-work. But it's not done because there's something lacking, but it's a natural trajectory of self, to maintain this journey of a, you know, growing, I guess, you know, you grow because you're changing, and you change, and that's how you grow. And one thing I can tell from my experiences, you know, in our relationship, I traveled, I mean, not since the pandemic, but I'm returning back to traveling, and I travel a lot more than my husband does. But one of the things that we all as a family are really fond of is travel and travel is one of the most beautiful ways to do the self-expansion. You know, because it the newness of circumstances, new ways of behaving, new demands on your thinking, new ways of emotional regulation needed, because the context is new, can allow you to really explore that, your limits of yourself, I guess, and then expand those limits. I'll tell you a cute story that we, for a must on 20th wedding anniversary, we decided to go to Paris and with and we decided to take our kids as well. And what I did is I put together I had by then I had been to Paris four times without my husband, and you know, two times with him. And so, what I did is I put together a little book of curated artwork to see from five different museums. And I chose each art piece and gave a reason why. And then I asked I created a reflection journal. There's a little too much, by the way, nobody does that in the first place. It became a little class. But my husband was like this was supposed to be romantic, not unlike a workbook. Yes. But what but my idea was to kind of, but one of the things that I was saying, can you guess why I love this painting. And so, it was really an exercise of seeing my perspective. And it was so cute, because we had taken our boys who were teenagers, but it was everybody's perspective, it was kind of a knowing me knowing you kind of exercise and it was just something to bond over, you or, you know, just engaged in this experience that was very unique. And, and I really have seen a great way that we both and have changed and grown closer because of such kind of experiences. Yeah, when you think about one more thing that you said, yeah.
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: I was just going to say, you know, I mean, what you're describing there is, you know, you design a new, interesting and exciting activity. And so early in relationships, we have tons of those we date all the time when we're doing all these kinds of fun activities together. Also, our partner is new and interesting, because we don't know a lot about them. And so, this is fundamentally why when our partner goes and does things without us like when you went to Paris a bunch of times without your husband, you now came back with new and interesting information and experiences that you didn't have before, so he gets the benefit from it. And so, you know, we have to kind of remember what the early stages have a relationship or like, and so what we've seen in our research on this is that when you experience more of this novelty, interesting, challenging and exciting activities, it improves your passion, it improves your commitment, your satisfaction, relationship quality, it makes you less likely to cheat on your partner. I mean, it has all these great benefits, that we don't often think of relationships as being this key source of self-expansion and personal growth. But they absolutely are. And, you know, if we neglect it, if we're not getting sufficient amounts of personal growth, you know, we're doing Paris related workbooks, you know, it can be a detriment to our relationship and things, things can go poorly.
Sucheta Kamath: I love that. So, as we think about the proposition of, you know, a lot of your writing is encouraging readers to introspect and investigate their own beliefs, and then make changes in their beliefs, attitudes, and eventually actions or disposition, so to speak, from my work or for of over past 20 years, you know, this falls in the realm of metacognition, awareness of awareness, knowledge of self-knowledge of your knowledge. And there are a lot of barriers. In that process, as we talked earlier, one of the components of metacognitive research that talks about is, it has a tendency, particularly if you're laden with self-blindness, that it has a tendency to look inward and return with high self-marks. And saying that, I'm pretty fabulous. What do you suggest for people with such predicament, or people who are dealing with people, or who are married to or raising children with poor self-knowledge, but they have very high self-esteem about their knowledge? Or they're pretty comfortable about their ignorance? How, what do you suggest we can do about that?
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: Um, you know, it's actually really funny, because it's fundamentally why this book was called Stronger Than You Think because rather than trying to point out all the ways that people get it wrong, like this, this book could have been called you the 10 ways you're wrong about relationships. Right. But that's, you know, for all the reasons you just mentioned, is too threatening to people. And so, you know, instead, it's your relationships good. But here's Here are ways that it's possibly better than you think. And so, you kind of use people's inertia/momentum for you, and kind of help them move in the direction that you're hoping they go. And I think, I don't know, I feel with relationships, it's a little bit easier, because we all fundamentally realize intuitively just how important they are. And so, we all want to get it right. And so, it's not a tough sell necessarily, to convince people that, you know, it's worthwhile to learn more about relationships, so that you can experience better relationships. And so, in that way, it's a little bit easier than trying to get people to change behaviors about their diet, right, where it's like, you know, junk food tastes so good. You know, we want to have a really good relationship, and there's no reason, good learning what helps relationships, you make them worse, right? I mean, there's just no way that this just wouldn't make sense. And so, you know, hopefully, it's a little bit easier for people to be more convinced. I mean, at least, you don't want it when I give talks and my class. It's popular, right? I mean, it's, it's one of those things where people want this kind of information are really eager to learn these types of things. And it's one of the great joys of what I do is, you know, hearing from students, you know, now, I've been doing this, well, decades later, you know, writing me emails and messages on social media about you know, just how much the information they learned from my class still helps him to this day. And so, you know, that's what, that's what this book is, his book is, you know, taking that class, you know, any great class to change the way you think about the world, and make your life better. And so, you know, rather than have to take 14-week class with, you know, as my students would tell you tests that are way too hard. You just, you know, you can pick it up in a book and revisit it anytime you need.
Sucheta Kamath: I love that you're a true psychologist, you know, so much of your message is full of optimism. But there's deep care for people's abilities and in abilities, and as you said, you know, I didn't even think about that. You're meeting them where they are. So, you're kind of saying a stronger than, than you think means you already got so many ingredients going for you and they're right. And they are full of potential. I just love that. It just occurred to me. I'm talking with you. So, as we end, there's a one wonderful thing that you talk about is when You know, with no relationship is really permanent. And I know we are talking about intimate relationships and breaking or, you know, a very close friend of mine, after 30 years of marriage is going through divorce, and it took it's a big news for all of us but very surprising news. We kind of it there was no like telltale sign so and when as she herself was blindsided by this decision. So, I love that your last message or talking about you know, not really falling apart even though it is very painful. Why do you say if we break up, I'll be broken is a myth? What What's there to be sprung from a broken relationship?
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: Well, I mean, I think fundamentally, we miss-predict just how bad we're going to feel, after negative events, and particularly the research shows with breakup. And so, you know, a bunch of researchers did wood only researchers can do, and they ask people in relationships, if this relationship was going to end, you know, with this person you're very much in love with, like, how bad Are you going to feel? And they gave a rating. And then the researchers followed them over the course of time and waited for them to actually break up and then ask them again, how bad do you feel? Now, generally speaking, when they felt bad, right? I mean, breakup is bad, right? I mean, everybody has those negative feelings. But it wasn't as bad as people thought it was going to be. And it really just speaks to our overwhelming resilience as people, right, we experience negative things all the time, but we actually, you know, as much as we don't want to, we look, we look at them and expect them to be bad. And you know, in some ways, they're not nearly as bad as we think. And we're much better at dealing with them than we thought we were. The other side of this is, you know, when I say breakup doesn't have to leave you broken, it doesn't mean you're not going to experience any breakage, right? I mean, there's good, there's going to be parts of it that are bad, even the very best breakups are still there's guilt, there's always some bad, this just kind of speaks to human experience, nothing is 100% good, and nothing is 100% bad. And so, your breakup, as much as you know, there are bad elements, if, if you look for the bad, you're going to find it. But if you look for the good things, those are there too. And so, you know, as much as a 30-year relationship with someone ending, in an unexpected way, isn't great. It also now is an opportunity to find a new relationship with that's likely to be better, because, you know, if this relationship ended, it wasn't you know, I, you know, it's something I say in my TED talk, and it's in the book, as well as, like, great relationships seldom fail, but the bad ones do as they should. And that sounds, you know, that that, you know, as they should part can sound a little a thank you, oh, it can sound a little harsh. But, you know, the other thing I say, uh, you know, I think it's in the TED Talk, too, is like, everybody deserves a great relationship. And so, if you haven't found yours, keep looking. And so, it's hard to find the great relationship you deserve if you're in one already. And so as much as a breakup, it's an ending of something, and that's hurtful and painful, and it has all those kinds of emotions that are wrapped up in it. It's also a chance for a new beginning. And so, you know, don't lose sight of that.
Sucheta Kamath: Love that. Well, that just concept reminds me of a Japanese concept called Wabi Sabi, which is a traditional Japanese aesthetics where you live imperfections. So, a pottery with cracks is considered a sign of the true nature of life, which is imperfection. And I just love that the way you described it. Well, thank you, Gary, for being on this podcast and sharing your wisdom and incredible hopefulness. As we come to an end. Your book is going to be my top recommendations. When I'm asked what book has influenced me, so what a wonderful thinker like you what influences your thinking, what has been, has brought you joy in your reading? Can you recommend a few books for us?
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: Sure, absolutely. I mean, the number one book is the easiest question for me to answer is, you know, the number one book for me is Tuesdays with Maurey. You know, if you're familiar with it, it's about Mitch Albom is the author and he's talking to his old college professor about who's dying. And so, I you know, fundamentally what I am is a teacher. And so before, every single semester, every single semester I read that book, because it has nothing to do with teaching necessarily, but for me, it's a meditation on what's important in life and like how relationships really, it's the thing that underlies everything. And it's that connection to other people that as much as I might teach a course on research methods, statistics, or things that I teach that, you know, really what it's about is forming a relationship with students and like, helping them live a better life. And so, Tuesdays with Maury is, I mean, practically haven't memorized, I think, at this point, but it's a quick book, and it's something that just, I don't know. can't get it off of it.
Sucheta Kamath: I love it. It's one of my favorites. But I've never thought about recommending that as a teacher student relationship, of course. Wonderful. Any other one more book?
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: Um, yeah, I can think of another good one for your audience. The other the other one that I have read several times that I like, a lot is Start With Why by Simon Sinek. It's this idea that, you know, you familiar with it, that really, you know, I am here to find your life purpose. You find your life purpose. And, you know, he talks about, it's really couched in business and how businesses have to figure out their why behind what they're doing what they're doing. But, you know, I don't have a business. But I think that it's like this life philosophy is that if you have a good reason why you're doing things, right, then that becomes like this vision and sort of, you know, action plan for life that you want to have everything fit into that vision, you know, like, what is your why in your professional life? What is your why in your, you know, as a parent, what is your why as a spouse. And so, it gives you this kind of centering experience to identify and kind of, once you've identified it, now, you have this ability to kind of check in with yourself. And it forces this perspective, where it's like, you know, if my why is to, you know, you know, professionally for me, like my why is to use science to help people lead more fulfilling lives. And so am I doing that on a day-to-day basis. And I can kind of check in to see if I'm doing those things. And what I find is when I'm doing things that align with my why I'm having a much better day, and just feel better about what I'm doing. And so, you know, like I said, he talks a lot about businesses, and he talks about the difference between like Apple and Dell, which is really all very interesting, but I think it's one of those concepts that very easily and obviously applies, particularly if you start thinking about all the all the kinds of roles you play in life. And you know, if you adopt a why for each of those, it's like I said, it's very centering to me.
Sucheta Kamath: I love that. Well, thank you so much, Gary, for being here with us and podcast listeners. If you love what you hear and you keep coming back, I know you do. I really appreciate that and spread the joy spread the word. Leave us a review like us on our social. And since Gary himself is a fan of Rumi's, I would love to end with a beautiful poem that that goes like this. This is how I would die into the love I have for you. All pieces of cloud dissolve in sunlight. And that light ness with which that capacity to love somebody unconditionally. May all of you be gifted with that. Thank you for tuning in. And keep coming back. Thank you for being here with me or Gary, so much.
Dr. Gary Lewandowski: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. Take care.