Couples must learn to “cross the bridge” into each other’s world to create a safe space for connection and growth. When couples focus on truly understanding each other, even when they disagree, instead of trying to prove one person right and the other wrong, they establish an environment in which they can heal their childhood wounds and gain relational maturity. This is the essence of the work of Hedy and Yumi Schleifer, based on the relational philosophy of Martin Buber, the positive change approaches of appreciative inquiry and re-evaluation counseling, the latest research about relational neurobiology, and adaptations of processes from Imago relationship therapy. They present workshops and training events and offer private intensive sessions in four languages and in many different countries. This remarkable couple, Holocaust survivors who are deeply grounded in spirituality, share amazing insights and practices for personal and relational growth.
Hedy recently released a free online recording of three seminars to share the essence of their work: “Growing Our Passion,” “Embracing Our Differences,” and “Achieving Fulfillment.” Visit http://relationshipcoachinginstitute.com/miracleofconnectiondownload/ to download and listen. Each of the three programs lasts about an hour.
Program #1 Growing Our Passion
In the first program, Hedy addresses the initial "romance" stage of relationship and how to keep the excitement alive over time. Marriage, she declares, is not a problem to be solved, but “an adventure to be embraced and a gift to unpack.” She describes marriage as a crucible for growth and connection, for healing and transformation. Conflict is a friend, “growth that is trying to happen,” and should be welcomed as an opportunity. Speaking from her own experience, she describes the discovery she and Yumi made that what they were avoiding because they were afraid of was really what they needed to face and deal with together. She also describes marriage as “a laboratory for the creation of two adults” by helping each other heal childhood issues and achieve relational maturity. She notes that while a couple’s initial attraction is unconscious, re-romanticizing a relationship is conscious and that energy follows attention: what we focus on increases. She also introduces the concept that when we are caught in a power struggle between two alternatives, we should look for a third option that honors the relationship, which can live in the sacred space between us.
Program #2: Embracing Our Differences
In the second program, Hedy covers the "power struggle" stage of relationship and how we can use our differences to deepen intimacy and connection. She affirms that we choose our partners to “push our buttons” and stimulate us to grow. When the feel-good chemicals generated by a new relationship wear off, the power struggle begins. When conflict arises, usually one partner will “hailstorm,” and the other will “turtle.” This dynamic can continue for decades, triggering each other’s “fight or flight” responses, until we commit to creating a safe space in the relationship between us. When we “cross the bridge” into each other’s world and focus on truly understanding each other, we experience safety in our relationship, instead of reactivity, and passion flows again.
Hedy asserts that whenever we are frustrated by a situation or experience, only ten percent of the energy around that is in the present, and ninety percent is based in our past experiences. Beneath every frustration, there is a wish or desire. If we can express a wish as a specific positive request, so that our partner’s brain can process what it is that we want, we are more likely to receive it. Experiences of frustration and conflict thus truly become opportunities for growth and healing.
Program #3: Achieving Fulfillment
In the third program, Hedy describes the "conscious relationship" stage, what it looks like, and how to get there. We need to distinguish between the essence of a person and his or her survival patterns of behavior. We also need to re-romanticize our relationship because the original romance was between two strangers under the influence of powerful brain chemicals. Hedy references John Gottman’s assertion that happy couples do hundreds of caring behaviors a day. Because energy follows attention, we should focus on our dreams, not our problems and express appreciation generously. Happiness is sometimes dependent on having our expectations met, and therefore elusive. Fulfillment, however, is based on choosing to fully engage with what is, and thus is within our reach.
At https://www.hedyyumi.com, you can learn more about Hedy and Yumi’s Adventure in Intimacy, a three-day workshop offered in the United States and around the world, and other program options, such as a two-day private couple intensive and training for therapists and presenters. In the website store, you can purchase DVDs and books. You can view videos about them at https://www.youtube.com/hedyyumi and at https://www.hedyyumi.com/about-us/avcenter/. I think you will find their presentations healing and inspiring.
Jane P. Ives is a United Methodist Marriage and Family Ministries from Portland, ME.