3 Practices to Strengthen Your Relationship (from Personal Experience)

3 Practices to Strengthen Your Relationship (from Personal Experience) | Dean Pohlman | Better Man Podcast Ep. 041

Last episode, I mentioned how I’m the happiest I’ve been in recent memory. In this episode, I’m revealing why… 

When most guys want to become happier, their first instinct is to improve their fitness, their finances, or level up in their career. I’ve fallen into this trap myself. But these 3 things don’t make you nearly as happy as focusing on another aspect many guys tend to overlook:

Your relationships! 

In fact, according to Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and author of Happiness Hypothesis, the best way to improve your overall happiness is by improving your relationships.  

That’s why in this episode, I’m revealing the 3 practices I’ve used to strengthen my most important relationship—my relationship with my wife—so you can use these strategies to strengthen your relationship with your spouse. 

Want to strengthen your relationships and improve your happiness? 

Listen now.

The Better Man Podcast is an exploration of our health and well-being outside of our physical fitness, exploring and redefining what it means to be better as a man; being the best version of ourselves we can be, while adopting a more comprehensive understanding of our total health and wellness. I hope it inspires you to be better!

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Watch a Clip From Episode 041

3 Practices to Strengthen Your Relationship (from Personal Experience) | Ep 41

Episode 041 Highlights

  • The top 3 practices to strengthen your relationship with your spouse (even if conflict frequently bubbles up) (3:08)
  • How to get a “personal trainer” for your mental wellbeing by doing this specific type of therapy (3:27) 
  • Why doing couples therapy even when your relationship is great can actually make it stronger and more rewarding (4:13) 
  • The changes that occur in your relationship when your wife becomes your children’s mother (5:45) 
  • The insidious “Chronic Contempt” trap long-term relationships fall into which poisons them from the inside out (7:48) 
  • Why seeking outside help for your relationship struggles is a sign of strength, not weakness or failure (9:51) 
  • The biggest mistake men make when trying to calm their spouse’s worries and anxieties actually make it worse (and how to fix it to strengthen your relationship) (15:56) 
  • How seeing your spouse as your role model can morph a healthy relationship into a toxic one (18:04) 
  • How to transform every conflict in your relationship into an opportunity to improve it (22:44) 
Episode 041: 3 Practices to Strengthen Your Relationship (from Personal Experience) - Dean Pohlman – Transcript

Hey, guys, it’s Dean. Welcome back to the Better Man Podcast. Today is a solo episode, and in this episode I am going to talk about the most important aspect of your life when it comes to your overall happiness. I did a recent podcast, a recent solo episode, and I mentioned that this is probably the happiest I’ve been in years. And in today’s episode, I want to address one topic in particular that I think has contributed to that.

So I was reading a book a few weeks ago. It’s a book that I’ve read before, but I’m a really big fan of it. And it’s called The Happiness Hypothesis. And in this book, one of the chapters talks about the one aspect of your life that is the most important when it comes to your overall happiness. And it’s not your fitness. It’s not your career, your overall success. It’s not the amount of money that you have, but rather it is the quality of your relationships.

And that kind of inspired me to. Well, that inspired me to talk about this aspect that I’m talking about today. The most important relationship that you have potentially for many of us, and that is the relationship with your spouse.

And I want to talk about my experience with improving my relationship with my wife over the last few years. And there’s three practices in particular that have really helped that have helped my wife and I to develop skills and develop kind of tools and a framework for for discussing differences, for working through arguments, for being more open with each other. And these practices have also helped me personally to kind of help guide me toward realizations that influenced me to make changes. And so part of it is the work that you do with your wife in those conversations or your spouse or your partner. I’m talking specifically from my experience, or if I say wife, just know that I’m talking about my experience.

And yeah, so and those three practices in particular, which I’ll discuss here, are cognitive behavioral therapy, which is basically modern psychology, couples counseling, and then also personal journaling or just some sort of internal reflection. So I’ve been seeing a cognitive behavioral therapist since 2018 on a weekly basis, and this has been incredibly helpful for having a kind of sounding board to exploring my own thoughts. And I personally like to think of this as a personal trainer for my mental and emotional well-being. And similar to fitness and having a personal trainer, you might be able to hold yourself accountable to do your workouts on a regular basis, but it’s much easier when you have a regular appointment set up and you commit to doing that over a long period of time.

So I might not always feel like having a conversation with my therapist, but I it’s usually helpful and I know a lot of those times when I haven’t felt like doing it or really have dreaded doing it. Those have been some of the most productive sessions, and I kind of take a similar view toward couples counseling. And so instead of thinking about it, I don’t know, maybe in a traditional sense where it’s something that you resort to when things are going badly, but rather I look at it as a practice to going above and beyond to having more than the average relationship, having an extraordinary relationship, more rewarding and more satisfying with the person who’s most important in my life, my life partner and my wife.

And then the third practice that I’ll mention is journaling. And that is a practice that I found incredibly powerful for further examining my own personal thoughts without any sort of filter, without any sort, without any sort of apprehension or fear of the response of the person that I’m talking with. Even with my psychologist, I can have fear of what he’s going to say. Back when I’m journaling to myself. There’s absolutely zero fear of what I’m, you know, of of of what I’m going to think of what I think. So And it’s helped me just kind of dig deeper into some of those things that have come up as a result of sessions and couples counseling or in in in in psychology.

So I’ll talk about those. And I do truly believe that is the it is the synergy of these combined practices that have led me to the significant improvements that I have noticed in my relationship with my spouse, which is why I find it important to mention all three and not just one. So I’ll start the story of this progression kind of with the low points.

Two months into being a father, I realized that my relationship with my wife as I knew it would be forever changed and no longer would she just be my romantic partner. She was now also going to be devoting the majority of her time to being the caretaker of our child. And then secondarily with that, every time she had left over, that would be time and energy that goes into to our relationship as husband and wife. And I could go into some of the details there. They’re honestly not as juicy as you might think, but for me in particular, there was this increased sense of loneliness when the person that you hang out with every day and is typically available to pay attention to you whenever you are in each other’s presence, when that person shifts, her focus shifts their focus to somebody else. The end result is just feeling lonely.

So these interactions that I normally got from my wife on a daily basis, I wasn’t getting those any more. And the end result of that is feeling lonely. Feeling that you are less important to this person, not getting the sense of acknowledgment or the show of attention that allows you to feel loved. I’m sure many of you, many of you other dads can relate to this. But, you know, I used to always be able to say, Hey, Marissa, look at this thing over here. Or Hey, Marissa, I want to talk to you about this. And she would listen, you know, right away. Now it’s. Hey, Marissa, How’s it going? Let me show you something over here. And she’s busy listening to Declan, and I just. I get ignored, like, 50 to 75% of the time, and it took me a while to kind of deal with that just because I was used to, you know, to her paying attention to me.

Not that she’s like, ignoring me on purpose, but she’s got something else to deal with, you know, is she’s got our child to look after.

But the end result of that was feeling, you know, feeling less loved, feeling more lonely. And so that was that was a big part of this. On top of that, I think the added stress of navigating and recreating a restructuring of where your time and energy went to balancing your professional life, your family obligations and self-care that led to a significant amount of friction that created this really content, chronic contempt between the two of us.

And even though we we thought we had been through enough struggles that we had, you know, Marissa had lost her mom to cancer in 2018. We got engaged in 2018, we got married in 2019, we got pregnant with our first child in 2019. So we had a lot of significant life events very close to one another. And we thought that we had developed skills to be able to work through those. And that was that’s honestly that’s one, one big reason why we value our relationship is because we feel like we have an extraordinary ability to work through struggles like that.

So anyways, we thought that we were prepared to to face the challenges of being parents, but we were largely unprepared and we didn’t have the communication and the conflict resolution skills necessary to be able to work through these situations on our own. So this was kind of around the time where, you know, I had always thought like, Hey, couples counseling is a good idea. Again, it’s just kind of like I thought of it kind of like physical fitness, like, Hey, let’s just work on it. Let’s make it better. So, so, you know, so we can just have a better relationship.

But, you know, as those first kind of few months went by, in particular, the first six months, the first six months of our child was really difficult. I think he was just a he was just a very particular is the the word we like to describe. But he was a very particular newborn with a very particular set of preferences that we could not understand what he wanted because he was a newborn and he could not talk. And that took a ton of time and energy to address and it also just led to us both being pretty relatively unhappy. And it was around that period, you know, those months, 2 to 6 where I was like, Hey, I think we should really think more about couples counseling.

And it kind of took us a while to both of us to get there, to get to that point. But once we did, it was it was really good. I mean, it was not really good right away. I won’t say like we started it and I was like, Oh, God, everything’s fixed. You know, it’s it’s not like you start eating healthy and then one week later everything is better. But the point is that it took us a while to get on the same page. I think there was also kind of a clash of personalities there. One of us which favored systems and solutions, let you know. I’ll let you guess which one that was and the other one which prefer to be able to handle situations in a more free, structured approach.

And I think there was also this unspoken sense of failure that accompanied seeking professional help to navigate our struggles as a couple. So I think it seemed like to me that seeking outside help was a way of admitting that it wasn’t as going as well as you wanted to. And the initial first couples counseling sessions were really difficult. Some of the conversations were incredibly uncomfortable, and we both needed significant work to get to the point where we could simply listen to each other’s thoughts and opinions without attempting to invalidate what the other was saying.

So, you know, and if you don’t speak if you don’t speak that language, basically what invalidating the other person is saying basically means instead of you saying, let’s say your wife says, you know, I feel really unappreciated instead of you responding, well, that’s that’s wrong. You’re very appreciated, blah, blah, blah, blah. This is why you should be appreciate it. Instead of doing that, you say, Oh, wow, I’m why do you feel unappreciated and trying to develop an actual genuine sense of interest and trying to better understand why she feels unappreciated instead of just trying to tell her that she should feel appreciated.

But we were both so ingrained in this pattern of trying to argue that the other’s person, other person’s position, was overreactive or inaccurate. Instead of shelving our egos and validating what the other person had to say. Being okay with with that, with that, with with any discussion, they’re not trying to argue it, but just saying, Wow, that really sucks. Tell me more about that. The goal wasn’t necessarily to find a resolution, but to genuinely seek to understand the other’s thoughts and feelings to avoid the “but” or “although” at the end of those statements and just end it there. But once we had enough practice and we both realized that we could say what we were feeling and trust that the response would be met with a desire to understand and instead of to argue or invalidate. We kind of internalized this method of discussing our agreements that that was far superior to what we had been doing previously, which was just invalidating and arguing that the other person’s feelings were incorrect.

Feelings are not incorrect. You acknowledge feelings. You don’t try to argue it like an essay. And that was that was a pattern that we really needed to break up. Not only that, but it really helped us understand that we were capable of sharing our frustrations with the other person. And kind of personally, for me, it taught me that she could understand more than I thought she could. She was better than I gave her credit for. And this meant that instead of me holding my frustrations in and further stacking up those frustrations and contempt to the point that something little would make me blow my top and lead into a huge fight or argument, I was now able to voice my frustrations on a regular basis to share how I was feeling, even if I thought she wouldn’t want to hear it, even if it led to a because it would lead to us having a deeper, more a deeper, more authentic connection.

I also realized that I was holding on to this paradoxical belief that by withholding frustrations and not getting into arguments, that I would be making our relationship better. Instead, I realized that by voicing my frustrations, by not voicing my frustrations, I was actually making the relationship worse. I was creating distance between us because there were things unsaid because I was holding in these thoughts and frustrations.

So I kind of sum all that up by going to couples counseling, by engaging in couples counseling on a regular basis and developing a better toolbox of strategies and skills to discuss our agreements. It led to the realization that I was holding on to multiple self-limiting beliefs. It wasn’t just problems in the interaction of the relationship, but there were there were problems in the way that I thought about the relationship.

And number one of those was that by not discussing frustrations, I was helping the relationship. And number two, that my wife was unable of handling these discussions and revising these not only helped to improve our ability to solve problems and to have better discussions, but it also elevated how I thought about my wife in my own head to hold her in a higher light. So there was a lot that came from that.

One other incredibly useful change that I made to my internal belief system just had to do with how I thought about my partner in general. The the increased skills which we acquired through couples counseling allowed us to have conversations about some of the most frustrating aspects ah of our relationship. And for my wife in particular, it was my reaction to her anxiety and worries and a lead into how this made me think, how this made me change, how I thought about my partner in general.

But my wife has anxiety and worries, you know, she just she’s concerned about things. And when she has those thoughts, she voices them aloud. And a lot of the times, those those anxieties, those worries are they’re illogical and they’re still in her head, their feelings, they’re valid. But my response to those those feelings was to say, that’s so unlikely to happen. You’re crazy for thinking that. I kind of just I scoffed at how irrational those worries were.

And in my head what I was doing was I was trying to convince her with logic. I was trying to reassure her that those things wouldn’t happen. In reality, what she was getting from that was invalidation of her feelings. She was hearing me say that her thoughts and her feelings were invalid, that they were crazy, and that made her feel terrible and it made her not want to share things with me. She kept doing it. She kept she kept pushing on. I’m glad she did. But it just made her, you know, made her, made her feel bad. And because we were able to have an effective conversation about this once in a couples counseling session, I now have the patience to listen and to understand that her expressing these anxious, these these anxious thoughts and these worries wasn’t because she thought they were likely to happen or because she wanted me to tell her that they wouldn’t happen, but because her expressing these thoughts out loud was her way of processing these thoughts and not allowing them to become more powerful.

So all I needed to do was to listen to her and to answer calmly and honestly without belittling her for having those thoughts. Sometimes that meant saying, okay, okay, you’re having those thoughts. Sometimes it just meant acknowledging what she was saying. Other times it was answering her questions patiently without judgment. You know, sometimes she would ask things like, “Dean do you think this is okay?” And me, instead of saying, Oh my God, that’s insane, why would you even think that? My response now is, I think it’s okay. You know, I calmly answer without judgment. But I think this realization also led to one more important discovery, and this is probably this is probably the most important revision of a self-limiting belief that I have when it comes to my relationships.

But whenever my wife did something that I that I wasn’t proud of, I, I kind of made her feel bad for it for a while. In the first couple of years of our relationship, if I came home when I found out that she had been watching TV all day, I would kind of teaser about not being productive and, you know, I’d make her feel bad for not being more productive and exploring this, you know, this kind of I don’t do that anymore. But there are still certain manifestations of this belief that we should all be more productive that I kind of impose on her for for little things.

And in a conversation I recently had with my psychologist, I questioned why my wife needed to be my role model. And at first this felt like a really negative thought. Why would I shift this way of thinking? And I thought, well, is this is this is this belief making either one of our lives easier? And I decided to shift my way of thinking and to instead of thinking that my wife was my role model, to let her be who she is and not hold her accountable to my standards or hold her accountable to the standards that I would want, you know, somebody in my life to be held to.

And when I started doing that, I noticed a pretty immediate improvement in our in our relationship. And so I you know, I kind of did this for a couple of weeks and I decided, okay, let me give this a shot. Let’s see how this if I change this part of my operating system, how’s it going? How’s it going to play out? And to my surprise, it it really improve things. I realized that my relationship with my wife started immediately improving, and after a couple of weeks of doing this on my own and not really telling her about it, I eventually told her about it in a couple’s counseling session and I said, Yeah, I just like, I’m not looking at you as my role model anymore.

And initially I thought that she was going to be really hurt by that, but she was actually relieved that I wasn’t holding her to these, you know, that I wasn’t holding her to these standards anymore. So she was actually, you know, really happy with it. And I wouldn’t have been able to wouldn’t have been able to get to that point if I wasn’t doing cognitive behavioral therapy on my own or if we had been doing couples counseling and also the journaling fell into that because I was able to delve more into that on my own outside of my one on one psychology.

And this doesn’t even get into some of the changes that my own wife made in her in her in her mind. One big problem that we had was this idea that the other was contributing more to the household than the other. So, you know, my wife was home taking care of Declan while she was on FMLA, while she was on leave, a leave of absence from work. And it felt to her like she was doing everything. She was taking care of Declan, she was doing the laundry, she was putting him more, playing with him most of the time, and she only focused on that instead of also focusing on the things that I was doing, which was, you know, making dinner, cleaning up, helping her indirectly by getting stuff ready for her to do with Declan or cleaning up whatever it was.

But we were both just kind of stuck and looking at this idea that we were doing more than the other and we were able to shift this way of thinking because we had this discussion and couples counseling. And, you know, I no longer felt anxious because I was worried that that she was mad at me for not doing what she wanted me to do.

And she also kind of freed herself of her own thoughts by no longer assuming that I was doing nothing to help out, but I was just doing helping out in other ways. So the bottom line here is that there were certain practices that I had to do on a repeated basis in order to get to where I now am in my relationship and and something that I think Marissa and I have that is really special is that we’re really connected with each other.

We don’t always know why, but we usually end up moving toward the same page and it just takes some time and willingness to discuss how we’re feeling in order to get there. And I was also reflecting on how how I think about relationships and how they actually get better with conflicts. Every conflict is an opportunity to to work through them and to come out better on the other end.

And that’s a big that’s a big theme in life in general. And it’s a big thing that we’ve discovered here on the Better Man podcast, discussing with podcast interviewees about struggle, the struggles they’ve gone through and, you know, things that have shattered their lives, events from trauma that have shattered their lives, but being able to work through them and how they’ve come out on the end for the better.

So coming up on the Better Man podcast, we do have the legendary Kelly Starrett. It is coming back to talk about how we can improve our longevity and also make that as simple as possible. They’ve got a brand new book coming out called Built to Move. I highly recommend you pick one up. It’s fantastic. Kelly Starrett wrote the foreword for my second book, Yoga for Athletes, and he is one of the original experts on mobility. The term mobility exists because of Kelly Starr. It he developed how we think about mobility. So it’s always worth listening to him and I got to ask him all the questions that I wanted to. So check that out.

In Man Flow Yoga world. We put out a brand, a few new brand, brand new features. First off is a new useful playlist features. So we’ve been creating useful playlists of workouts for commonly searched workouts such as morning yoga routines that involve all standing poses back pain relief, low impact recovery workouts, power yoga. And we’ll be adding more of those of those helpful playlists to our useful playlist section. So be on the lookout for those.

We also put out a Man Flow Yoga Program Roadmap. This is a sequence of programs that you can follow to take you from brand new beginner to advanced man for a yoga practitioner that is also now live in the members area. We do have a challenge coming up starting on Monday, February, February, Monday, April 3rd. We’re going to be using the Fix 20 program for this. So intense 20 minute workouts. This is going to be appropriate for an experienced or intermediate level. If you’re advanced beginner, I would give it a shot, but these are intense 20 minute workouts, so hopefully it’s a more manageable timeframe. That’s going be a four week challenge. So if you’re a member, be on the lookout for that email to sign up.

We’ve also released three and five day per week accountability emails for all beginner programs now. So for all of our beginner programs, including Absolute Beginners, Beginners, Fundamentals, Breath series, Strength Foundations, Course in 90 days the flexible you can sign up for three day or five day per week accountability emails, so you’ll get an email every day you have a scheduled workout. We’re currently releasing Sore to strong series workouts, so there’s going to be a total of six of those. This week we are on number three. These are workouts designed for weightlifting to help you get from feeling stiff and sore and back to feeling strong and ready for your next workout. These are also great morning yoga routines, though. They’re great for relieving stiffness and just easing back into things in general. So it’s not just for weightlifting, it’s for really anybody. So give those a shot.

And I also want to say that we are currently accepting requests from members for four new content, new workouts. So we’re kind of going to the drawing board and figuring out what content is going to be most helpful for our members, which workouts, what kind of programs, what tutorials can we create? If you have ideas, please send those to [email protected]. We also have a fantastic thread going on this in the Man Flow Yoga community on Facebook where you can add your ideas.

So guys, that’s what I’ve got for you this week. I hope that you’re enjoying the podcast. I hope you got a lot out of this solo podcast talking about how to improve relationships, based on my personal experience.

I also. I didn’t mention, I just had a. We just had a baby. Mailey Beth Pohlman was born on early Friday morning, late Saturday, early Saturday morning, round four 4:23 a.m.. She is a beautiful, healthy baby. Mom is doing well too. We’re hopeful that she can come home from the hospital tomorrow and I’ve been staying there for the last few days. So this is the first time that I’ve gotten home and I decided to record a quick little podcast.

But anyways, baby is fine, Mom is fine and we are looking forward to bringing her home and showing her her new life. So. So guys, anyways, thanks for being part of the Man Flow Yoga community. Thanks for listening to this episode. I hope it’s helpful for you. More episodes coming out.

We are going to be more regular with our podcast episodes moving forward. I apologize for the delay in those episodes. We were working on a pretty comprehensive onboarding experience for new members. It’s a brand new Getting Started series, so if you are a new or an existing member, check that out. But basically this is a a whole new way of helping our members get started with Man Flow Yoga, making sure that they’re successful as possible.

And and that’s why the podcast took a break, because we were working on that series pretty intensively. So anyways, thanks for being here. I hope you found this helpful and I’ll look forward to seeing you guys on another episode soon. Bye bye.


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Want to unlock more flexibility and strength, reduce your risk of injury, and feel your absolute best over the next 7 days? Then join the FREE 7-Day Beginner’s Yoga for Men Challenge here: https://ManFlowYoga.com/7dc

Tired of doing a form of yoga that causes more injuries than it helps prevent? The cold, hard truth is men need yoga specifically designed for them. Well, here’s some good news: You can start your 7-day free trial to Man Flow Yoga by visiting https://ManFlowYoga.com/join.

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