This has GOT to be one of the most interesting posts in the history of Live Lighter! Back in August I reviewed one of my now favourite books, The Art of Flourishing. I had the great pleasure to hook up with the author, Dr. Jeffrey Rubin, for an interview. Here it is for your enjoyment and education!
Interview with Dr. Jeffrey Rubin, author of The Art of Flourishing
Steph: In reading “The Art of Flourishing,” the big ah-ha moment for me was how intimate relationships can be the ultimate personal development tool, if both people assume a cooperative attitude and are willing to grow. Can a relationship survive if these elements are missing in one or both
Jeffrey Rubin: A relationship can survive if either person is not willing to grow and doesn’t assume a positive attitude, but it will be more contentious and not as deep and fulfilling as it could be.
Steph: What’s the potential then if only one person assumes a cooperative attitude and is willing to grow? Is a breakup inevitable?
Jeffrey Rubin: If only one person assumes a cooperative attitude and is committed to growth it is much more difficult to improve the relationship. While a breakup is not inevitable — many people live for years (or their whole lives) in such relationships — the person who is trying to work on themselves and improve the relationship risks feeling very deprived and resentful. This can lead to bitterness, even emotional or physical illness.
Steph: Throughout your book you explain how meditation, yoga and psychotherapy help us flourish in life and love. What if someone isn’t “into” yoga or meditation, and/or has personal blocks about using psychotherapy? Would you offer alternatives or encourage them to investigate different forms of each of these activities to find what best fits them?
Jeffrey Rubin: Yes. Each person has to find the path that works for them. Often when people don’t resonate with one (or several) of these modalities it may be because they had bad or limiting experiences with them. But if meditation, yoga, and psychotherapy are individualized to a person’s nature and needs then the person may have a more positive experience.
Steph: You describe how two main components of healthy relationships, especially intimate ones, require each individual to prioritize self-care and discover a sense of purpose for themselves. What happens to the relationship when only one partner fulfills these personal needs?
Jeffrey Rubin: The person who values self-care and discovers a sense of purpose will be more engaged and alive.
Steph: If one person in the relationship is more engaged and alive than the other, in your experience, what does that do to the relationship?
Jeffrey Rubin: It creates a palpable imbalance that often leads to the person who is more committed feeling deprived and resentful.
Steph: Would you explain the differences between a co-dependent and interdependent relationship? What are some of the tell-tale signs of each?
Jeffrey Rubin: In an interdependent relationship each person feels good about him or herself and then connects with his or her spouse or partner in a way that is enriching. In a co-dependent relationship, each person feels fundamentally flawed and incomplete, uses the other person to heal them and remains stuck and doesn’t grow. Signs of the former are aliveness and growth; indications of the latter are avoidance and stultification.
Steph: Once a co-dependent couple is aware of their unhealthy bond and they have a desire to change it, can they then transform their relationship into one that is interdependent using the information and techniques in your book?
Jeffrey Rubin: Yes, but it takes commitment and effort over time.
Steph: In your book, you list and explain the most common impediments or “weeds” in relationships that erode trust, friendship and passion: cultural myths; poor self-care; childhood fears and conflicts about intimacy; fundamental differences about goals and responsibilities; lack of empathy; long-standing disagreements and simmering resentments; and no reliable method for handling conflicts. Could a couple read your book and practice your tools to strengthen their relationship? Or do you feel relationships and people are too complex and require guidance from an experienced relationship counselor like yourself?
Jeffrey Rubin: Yes they can, but it might be easier for some couples to do it with professional guidance. If you have trouble doing it yourself, don’t judge yourself, but seek a competent psychotherapist.
Steph: In your section, “Healthy Interpersonal Negotiation,” you share, “Once each person understands the others’ feelings, it is time to revisit the original conflict. For change to happen, both partners need to work cooperatively to find a creative solution to the dilemma – one that not only respects the feelings of each person but that is mutually satisfying. Our attitude should be: here’s what I need, tell me what you need, and let’s figure out how we can both feel respected and nurtured without either of us stepping over the other person’s boundaries or disrespecting the others wishes and feelings.” This sounds so simple and essential to creating happiness in our daily lives, why do you think we aren’t taught mutually beneficial conflict resolution in grade school?
Jeffrey Rubin: Few schools teach us how to deepen self-awareness and sensitivity to our feelings and cultivate intimacy. And most teachers just want each side to apologize, so the classroom isn’t disrupted. There is no effort made to really resolve differences, let alone teach a method to resolve conflict. And most people don’t learn this is their families of origin.
Steph: What advice would you give a person who’s in a relationship with someone who refuses to take responsibility for their part in conflicts?
Jeffrey Rubin: Explain to them when you are calm that the relationship is in jeopardy and it is imperative that they work on it together and that if they don’t, the relationship, like a plant that is neglected, may wither.
Steph: What are your thoughts on the idea that “opposites attract”? Is it the differences between people that catalyze conflict and therefore open the door to personal growth via mutually satisfying compromise and change?
Jeffrey Rubin: Opposites often do attract, but that can break down if there isn’t mutual respect. Differences between people can lead to growth IF there is an interest in learning from each other.
Steph: You say it’s important in healthy relationships to constructively and respectfully share our emotions, needs and boundaries without judgment, criticism and blame. But many people do not share this self-knowledge and their requests in relationships because they’ve experienced negative reactions in the past. Obviously it’s more important in how we communicate rather than what we communicate. Can you give us some tips in re-framing our communications to avoid coming across as demanding or critical?
Jeffrey Rubin: Focus on how you feel and what you need rather than criticizing or putting down your partner. Your tone is crucial.
Steph: In Part 2, “Cultivating the Garden of Love,” you warn, “Don’t be seduced by that instantaneous ecstasy when you think you’ve met your soul mate… Give yourself the space and time to scout and get to know prospective partners. When you take the time to choose your partner carefully you avoid many problems and heartache down the road.” What are some of the characteristics, signs, level of maturity, etc. that you suggest one look for in a future partner when evaluating their compatibility and potential for a healthy relationship?
Jeffrey Rubin: Pay attention to a potential partner’s level of self-awareness. How capable are they of entertaining other perspectives? Are they embedded in their own point of view and feelings? Are they able to empathize with you? How do they communicate under duress?
if you are at all interested in creating a rich and fulfilling life you love and wish to maintain it, I whole-heartedly urge you, Readers, to pick up The Art of Flourishing. Buy it for $16 on Amazon.com here and if in Canada, click on the link or image below for Amazon.ca.
I’d like to give my warmest thanks to Dr. Rubin for taking the time to speak with me and share his expertise and wisdom with us all! What do YOU think of the information about relationships Dr. Rubin has so kindly passed on to us?