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Elevate Your Relationships: The Transformative Truths of Boundaries Revealed by Dr. Dana McNeil

Sep 11, 2023

Get ready to embark on eye-opening exploration of self-discovery and empowerment in this thought-provoking episode of Spirit Speakeasy. Join us as we dive into the depths of relationships, boundaries, and personal growth with the brilliant psychologist and therapist, Dr. Dana McNeil. 

This episode is a treasure trove of actionable advice and “food for thought” that can reshape the way you perceive boundaries from the inside out. From dispelling myths to providing concrete strategies, Dr. Dana McNeil shares so much wisdom with us!

Show Notes:
Dr. Dana McNeil is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and is the founder The Relationship Place, a group practice with locations in her hometown of San Diego, California. Dr. Dana’s practice specializes in couples’ therapy and utilizes an evidence-based type of couples’ therapy known as the Gottman Method. Dr. Dana is a certified Gottman Method therapist and Bringing Home Baby instructor. She also leads trainings at the Gottman Institute to help clinicians master the art of couples therapy.

Dr. Dana works with all types of relationship issues from pre-marital counseling, dealing with the aftermath of extramarital affairs, partners working through addiction recovery, military deployed families, parents of special needs children, LGBTQ+ partners, and polyamorous/ethical non-monogamy clients.

Dr. Dana regularly contributes to media publications and television appearances for outlets such as the Business Insider, MSN, Yahoo, Bustle, Parade, Oprah Living, Martha Stewart Living, Reader’s Digest, and AARP. Dr Dana is the resident relationship expert on the Cox Communications show “I Do” and will be featured in an upcoming documentary on the art of couples therapy. She is also the host of the podcast “The D-Spot” all about modern relationships. Her new book called “D-Spot Conversations” which is a book all about navigating today’s complicated relationships.

Dr. Dana makes presentations about her work with couples at conferences such as Therapy Reimagined, UCLA’s Emerging Behaviors Conference, CAMFT and the Gottman Institute. She is often featured on relationship podcasts such as the Practice of the Practice, the Practice of Therapy, Modern Therapists Survival Guide, and Relationship Advice, to name a few.

Connect with Dr. Dana McNeil or learn more about her work:

Instagram: The Relationship Place 
Instagram: @sdrelationshipplace and @drdanamcneil

To learn more about the program Dr Dana discussed, “The Intensives” :

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Episode Transcript:

Hey beautiful soul Welcome to Spirit Speakeasy. I'm Joy Giovanni, Joyful Medium. I'm a working psychic medium energy healer and spiritual gifts mentor. This podcast is like a seat at the table in a secret club, but with mediums, mystics and the spiritual luminaries of our time. So come behind the velvet ropes with me and see inside my world is I chat insider style with profoundly different souls. We go deep share juicy stories laugh a lot and it wouldn't be a speakeasy without great insider secrets and tips. You might even learn that you have some gifts of your own. So step inside the spirit speakeasy.
Hey, beautiful soul. Welcome into the Spirit Speakeasy. I'm so excited to chat with our guests today. Her name is Dr. Dana MacNeil. She is a therapist. I'm gonna read her bio in just a minute. But she's going to share with us so much wisdom around boundaries, which I think is so important to those of us that are highly sensitive, because we have all of these mixed feelings about wanting to be a good person and wanting to be a good partner in whatever relationships that we're in in our life. But we have a right to have our needs met as well. And boundaries is just such a topic that so many of us either struggle with or feel challenged with or have questions about and Dr. Dana has graciously agreed to chat with us today, not only about boundaries, but I do ask her quite a few questions about boundaries. In this conversation. She's going to talk to us about relationship therapy and why it might be differently intended than you actually think it's she shared Alyssa that is not just to fix the couple that that's not her intention. So here what that is, and then she's also going to talk to us about a very intensive version of therapy that she's currently offering and what that looks like. So buckle up, whether you are exercising, or vacuuming or cooking or driving. I am so grateful to have you here with us today. And hopefully, you will, you know, have some thoughts provoked for you in this conversation about your own boundaries. And it's so much more than just setting your needs or making a request there really. This conversation is so enlightening because Dr. Dana really talks to us about our motivation for the boundary and going into our own paths, the things that we've done as defense mechanisms and whether they're working for us and just giving us a different way to think about evaluate and hold our boundaries today. So I am so excited to share this conversation with you from this beautiful soul Dr. Dana McNeil
Hey, beautiful souls. Welcome back or welcome in. My guest today is Dr. Dana McNeil. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the founder of the relationship place, which is a group practice located in her hometown of San Diego, California. Dr. Dana's practice specializes in couples therapy and utilizes an evidence based type of couples therapy known as the Gottman method, which we're going to talk all about. Dr. Dana is a certified Gottman method therapists bringing home baby instructor and also leads trainings at the Gottman Institute to help clinicians master the art of couples therapy. Dr. Dana works with all types of relationship issues from premarital counseling, to dealing with the aftermath of extramarital affairs to partners working through addiction recovery military deployed families, families of special needs children LBD LGBTQ i plus partners and polyamorous slash ethical non monogamy clients. Dr. Dana regularly contributes to media publications and television appearances for outlets such as there are so many it's amazing. The Business Insider MSN Yahoo bustle parade, Oprah living, Martha Stewart Living, Reader's Digest, and AARP, but we don't get that. Dr. Dain is the resident relationship expert on the Cox communication show? I do. And she'll be featured in an upcoming documentary on the art of couples therapy. She's also the host of the amazing podcast that I listened to called the D spot, all about modern relationships. Her book is called the D spot conversations which is a book all about navigating today's complicated relationships. I will have all of her contact points of course in the show notes but help me welcome Dr. Dana MacNeil. It's so great to be here with you.
I enjoyed sounds like someone much more impressive should have been on after reading that bio. So thank you.
Well, I think you are a pretty impressive, my friend. And like I said, I listened to the D spot so I get to hear you. Share your wisdom and your light all the time. Highly recommend it. I'm going to link that in the show notes too, because I think everyone needs some sort of help in some sort of relationship in their life. We all
do even those of us that call ourselves that experts we all need help in our relationships.
Actually, it's one of my favorite things about your work is, you know, we are all constantly in process and in progress. And as we change and grow, we all get to reevaluate, you know, ourselves and our relationships. And I think that you do that in your life.
Yeah, I mean, relationships are the basis of everything. We've had relationships with our parents, we have a relationship with ourselves, learning how to like own ourselves, and what's important to us and what we value. We have our, you know, marital or partnerships, we have relationships with our children, we have relationships with our community, relationships are kind of the foundation of everything.
Yeah, and I think I mean, just, I love that it's based on a modern take on relationships and a lot of your work just because what was true, even 20 years ago, is so different now. Right?
Well, I mean, if we look back at the history of what couples therapy was created, for it was created for opposite sex partners who wanted to avoid getting divorced and be good parents. Yeah, we've changed a lot in life, right? We can have same sex partnerships, we can have consensual non monogamy, we have lots of relationships to navigate. And let's not, you know, forget about what COVID has done to us, it's really kind of put an eye on is this relationship sustainable when we don't have all the other things to distract us that help us manage too much togetherness. So yes, modern relationships are very tricky, and they're constantly changing. And when something that worked 10 years ago, isn't always going to work anymore.
I've got so it's so great to know that you're growing alongside your clients.
I don't have any options, they keep me on my toes. So and they don't, thankfully, they don't let me get away with anything. Obviously, we've created a good enough relationship that they're like, I don't like that what you're doing not working for me, let's do something different. And I appreciate that kind of feedback. And if you're in therapy, and you don't feel comfortable telling your therapist, hey, I'm this is not what I want, you know, then you need to start looking at what are you really getting out of your therapy? And what's what's going on with the power differential? And how are you going to like, get what you deserve from your therapeutic relationship?
I think that's such a great point. Because even the therapeutic relationship is a relationship. Yeah, one of the things I want to talk to you about today, you kind of started to touch on it already is this idea of boundaries, knowing our boundaries, and being able to have permission within ourselves to exercise them, a lot of our listeners would identify as highly sensitive people and often reforming people pleasers, I'm gonna raise my own hand on that. What I want, I want to hear your take on the best way to start understanding our own boundaries, so we can exercise them in relationship and have a better time.
I think one of the things that most of my clients don't really understand is why they are people pleasers. And so I think that there's a lot of I saw, you sort of see partially like, Hey, that was me, I think we need to give ourselves a little bit kinder perspective of why it is that we're people pleasers, essentially, from a therapeutic perspective, it's a maladaptive coping skill, right. And so it's not serving us any longer. But we needed to do it to get through childhood, if you grew up in a family of origin, where people were inconsistent, or you didn't know if they were going to make you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and you couldn't make your own peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Maybe you somehow figured out that if I make myself indispensable to them, and they love me, then I'll get my needs met. That sounds like you're scrappy, and successful. And you figured out how to get through childhood, it's the continuing to do the thing that got you through childhood that is problematic. But it is still a coping skill. And it's you, you had to do this, this is something that you had to do in order to exist. The thing that becomes problematic is that we don't really realize that somehow it morphs into when we're adults, and we're in relationships, and it's our way of taking control. And we don't think we have control. And a lot of my clients will be like, What are you saying this is not about me being in control? Yes, it is. Because you believe that you can't ask for your needs. So that if you make yourself indispensable to your partner, or your family, and you somehow decide to take it away, that they will be lost without you and their worlds won't be complete. So therefore, you've ensured that they're never going to abandon you or get rid of you. And so you've somehow sort of circumvented and got some control in a non helpful way, but it's the way that you've learned to navigate it if that makes sense.
Totally. So do you feel like it's important for each of us as individuals to go back and understand our personal origin with you know, people pleasing behavior or boundaries
I think it's important for us to, there's this concept in in therapy called a broken I am belief. I don't know if you've ever heard of that before, but I am a small child, I am developing a sense of who I am, right. And so let's just say I'm chatty, and I like to talk a lot. And my parent comes home from work, and they've had a rough day. And they, you know, they snap at me, and they're like, why are you always talking? Can't you ever just be quiet? I'm like, I need some peace and quiet. I just learned something, right? I learned I am best loved or I am best appreciated when I'm quiet, and I don't cause problems. And I'm a good, I'm a good child. Yeah, because we're very much black and white thinkers until we're 15 years old, like around 15, we start to develop Shades of Grey. And we That's why kids love rules, right? Oh, I don't do that. You're gonna get in trouble for that. You said a naughty word. That's not okay. I'm going to tell somebody, right? So I'm forming this belief about who I am from my environment, not because I have a sense of self. And so if you're constantly going through life, and you're believing, hey, I have this set of rules that says who I am, and you don't ever challenge it, then you're going to continue living under this broken set of rules. Well, I am chatty, because I like to talk which served me well, because I'm a therapist right now versus something's wrong with me or not ever reflecting on maybe dad just had a bad day. Maybe Dad didn't really think that about you. But he didn't know how to articulate his needs. He didn't know how to cope with the things that were happening to him, You are a safe environment for him to project on. So yes, it is more complicated than just sort of like, don't do that anymore, you probably do need to be a little reflective and understand why you believe the things about yourself that you believe, and are they still serving you in your current relationship with both yourself and your romantic partners or your family?
That's such a great point. Because, you know, we talk about this a lot here. And in my work we do when we're small, you know, we glean all this information, and we kind of file it away and use what we're understanding to make connections and help us understand like, quote, unquote, who we should be, or how we get our needs met. And a lot of times, you know, I think probably all the time, we're coming from such a limited perspective, as we're collecting these things that we turn into beliefs about ourselves that from different vantage point in our life might not even hold true anymore.
And it served you because when you think about culturally, who we are from the origins of people, we grew up in groups, and if we didn't, please the group, we would be ostracized from the group and we wouldn't survive. Right? So if I, you know, didn't contribute to the overall bettering of the group and they said, Okay, you can go live out in the backwoods hope that all turns out well, for you. That's a survival skill, we have to figure out how to get along with the group. It's that when we don't start questioning it when we've grown out of its ability to serve our needs, and it's actually punishing us. And our value system is turning against us that we need to bring in this idea of what is a healthy boundary? Well, the first part is, you have to understand why it's important that you have them.
Yeah. So are there kind of any red flags for someone when they're trying to decide like, you know, I think this is a discovery process. Usually when we figure it out, I don't for me anyway, it was figuring out like, oh, wait a minute, I don't have a lot of boundaries hold on here. But are there like red flags that we start seeing or feeling or little implosions that start happening that let us know, okay, this is something to focus on.
I think one of the major red flags for me when I speak with my clients is, I see a pattern of treating yourself like you're a victim. And for me, that's a sign that like, well, what's happening here, because you, you always have choices, you may not like any of the choices, all the choices might suck, I'm not trying to pretend like there, there's the Great choice. And there's the rough choice, there's sometimes it's, I'm not going to get my needs met. But this is a relationship that I need to stay in financially because we have kids, this is feeling abusive, and if I don't do something, I'm not gonna, I'm gonna feel like my soul is dying, or I can leave and I'm not gonna have enough money to live like I'm not trying to sugarcoat it. Sometimes they're just all bad choices. But when we don't treat ourselves, like we're choosing amongst the bad choices, and we fall into victimhood, that I think that that's a sign that you need to probably start setting some boundaries so that you can feel more that you are owning a sense of who you are. So that the boundary defines who you are and what you need versus somebody else imposing themselves on you and you accepting it as if there's no other option.
I love that even just starting to look at the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves or what's going on.
Because Why is the boundary important? The boundary is important so that I know who I am. Yeah, I can't make choices. If I'm dependent on what does this other person feel is okay, I need to make sure that they're okay with me in order for me to feel okay about myself. That's, that's another red flag, right? I should feel okay. with myself and the choices that I made. And I made these choices about boundaries, because I want my life to make sense to me, not so that somebody else is accepting of it or agrees with me, or tells me that it's okay that I feel that way. I'm doing it more so that my life makes sense to me.
I think that's such an important point that you bring up as it's from our own, what we need for ourselves, and it might not necessarily be well received when we start creating boundaries.
And as I tell my clients, I cannot simultaneously take care of somebody's needs and set healthy boundaries. Right? And my clients will say, What do you mean, we're supposed to be in a relationship with each other? Okay, yes, you can have influence on me. And I don't have to be a jerk about it when I set my healthy boundaries, that the hardest thing about setting a boundary is being empathetic to how it's going to impact the other person and still not change your boundary. Does that make sense?
Yeah. And I think that's
the hardest part, if I were to say, Joy, I see that you're bummed out that we're not going to go to Europe, on our vacation this year. And we don't have enough money to do that, where I would feel like we had enough savings for an emergency that comes up. I get it. I'm heartbroken for you, I know how much you wanted to go to Europe and visit all the castles and you wanted like, all these selfies in front of like cool spots. And I can't handle not knowing that if we both lost our jobs, that we wouldn't be able to pay the mortgage. That's just something I feel strongly about. And I willing to hold space for you about how it's impacting you. But it doesn't change that that's a boundary for me. Does that make sense? So I can hold this for both?
Well, I think it's really kind of almost leaning into that gray area that things aren't so black and white that this and right.
But the boundary that I have said is that there's a financial space where if I go out of that I lose my sense of who I am, I lose comfort, I'm giving over to someone else that core ethic value or belief that's meaningful to me about how I live my life and what safety feels like.
I love that. That's such a I mean, that's such a strong one. Because that really is like, yeah, I understand you feel this way. But this is fact of the matter and and owning the boundary and being able to state it in a way that is still respectful of everyone in the situation, but doesn't change the boundary being adhered to.
Because the thing that people who are just beginning to set boundaries feel like they're being mean, right? That they're not being kind, or that they're not taking someone else's needs into consideration. And so it's almost like when you're beginning to set healthy boundaries, you're on a pendulum, right? It's either like I gave everything or I'm just like, No, don't even ask me a question. I'm crossing my arms and sticking my fingers in my ears. And so there is that at the beginning, you were giving too much of yourself. That's why it doesn't feel good. That's why you feel resentful. That's why you feel shut down. That's why you feel kind of crazy sometimes where you're like taken so much. And then you have this big huge explosion. And then you're apologizing for having the explosion. It's because you haven't let yourself say no or feel that saying no isn't being loyal to the relationship. And so you have to have that big pendulum swing are like Nope, not gonna have it Nope, don't want to talk to you talk to the hand until you sort of like gradually land somewhere in the middle, where you can have that empathy and maybe there are some things that you can compromise about. But what you don't compromise is not listening to what are the things that are important to you so that you feel safe.
I mean, I think that's so powerful and it's such a continuous thing to practice and learn. For someone who's just starting to understand their own wants and needs and boundaries are there kind of like starter boundaries that you I know it's probably sounds ridiculous, but like something that makes sense not so heavy but someone can start with when they're just practicing.
I think probably just the very like tiptoeing it up is if I have an interaction with you, and I don't feel okay. They're like so often I think people pleasers tune down the dial on their emotions because that becomes inconvenient, because it creates a conflict. Right and so,
or you're not a nice person or you're not being you know, All the things that I think we're told to be perfect not particularly
in you have to play that out for yourself. What does that mean? If I'm not a nice person? Yeah. Does that mean I'm not going to be loved? And so is that really what I'm trying to avoid? It's not so much that I'm trying to avoid the conflict. I'm trying to avoid the catastrophe scenario, which is I won't be left.
Wow, I mean, that's really powerful. Because I think a lot of times we're not boiling it down to okay, if I, if my boundary is No, I don't want to go to this thing today. And I'm feeling anxiety or whatever the emotion that's coming up around holding that boundary or even stating that boundary, there's something bigger that it's boiling down to that we're catastrophizing down. Yeah, we're going in an unconscious way.
So what is it that you're feeling? So if we're talking about the event, what is it about the event that's creating you anxiety? It's not if it's not that, well, I have social anxiety. And I don't like to be around big groups of people, because I feel anxious. That's very different than I don't really want to go because I'm afraid that we're going to have some conversations that are going to be uncomfortable, or that person doesn't respect my feelings, or they're they're often asking more of me than I want to give. And I don't know how to tell them that. Right? That's those are like, You need to tap into that. Why is it that that conversation is so difficult for you? And what is the catastrophe scenario that if you have it, and it doesn't go well? Do you not trust that your relationship can heal from it and survive from it? These are, I mean, these are the things that we're trying to avoid dealing with by being a people pleaser,
for sure. All of those and so much more. I do, I want to talk more about boundaries. But like I have so many questions. And I want to understand how this ties in to the Gottman method what that is, because I know it's such a big part of your work. And quite honestly, I couldn't find a ton of information about it online. There's bits and obviously Gottman has their own website, but I'd love to hear from you.
So when we think about couples therapy, there's some popular I popular I'm using air quotes are very well known theory. So the the idea of couples therapy itself hasn't really been along very long. And in the world of therapy for about 50 years couples therapy has only been researched. So there's a few very popular styles that most therapists use. And the Gottman method is probably in my humble opinion, one of the gold standards of couples therapy and what makes it that way for us therapists is it something that's called evidence based, so having therapy and have science attached to it can feel like what what is happening, I thought therapy was all woowoo No, there's actual research that has gone into the Gottman method. And what we have found is that couples who use this technique, report, their relationship is improved by 86%. And we've come to that conclusion by putting the different interventions that we use through clinical trials, and 1000s and 1000s of couples over the last 50 years that we've been researching it. They have behaviors that they do that they were accidentally doing because none of us have had any training. We didn't take a couples communication class in high school, you're not screwing something up, right. But there are the accidentally doing it well, and we call them the masters of relationship versus the rest of us, which are the disasters of relationships, right, and we want to be the masters. So the Masters we're teaching John and Julie Gottman, what are the ways that they handle things when we get defensive with each other? Do we just keep doing that? Or does it like stop at some point? Or is conflict normal? What does healthy conflict look like? How do we repair from conflict? How do we deal with things where both of us are not in agreement and we have something that we call on the Gottman world a perpetual issue, which is going to stay with us throughout the course of our relationship and it's never going to go away? Right? How do we avoid just not talking about it, or it becoming world war three whenever we do. And so those are some of the tenants of what we do in the Gottman method because you are two people or possibly more people. And it's not about the fact that you don't have conflict that makes your relationship healthy. It's what you do when you find yourself in it. And because most of us don't have any tools, there's just this stigma around like bringing our dirty laundry to a stranger and having this idea that I'm going to just be like and yet you are the correct one, we need to do what that person says and you the other person, you're doing everything incorrectly. And so the Gottman method is very much set up to look at behaviors that are impacting the couple. The couple is my client, not to individuals and so there are things that are causing the couple distress. And here's some ways that we can create a common language so that we can navigate it like people that love each other versus sometimes what shows up?
Yeah, I love that. Because I do know I mean, from sitcoms and even for my own life, often it's one person kind of dragging the other person and sitting down with a therapist and being like, tell them they're wrong. And yeah, how to fix it. So I love that this is, you know, like you said, that couple is your client. And truly many of us, I would even venture to say most of us didn't have healthy conflict modeled for us, you know, in our relationships that we saw when we were young and and truly, like all in most places in our lives, I think even now, so how powerful to be able to understand that conflict is is there to help us grow and that there are healthy ways to evaluate and to reach. I don't know, is the goal to reach compromise? Is it to hear both people I mean, I guess at some point, everything's compromised, right?
My goal is not to save your relationship if it's not meant to be saved. Right. So I also like to break that stigma that the therapist is there to save your relationship at all costs. That's not necessarily what needs to happen. Maybe you're in a relationship that has run its course and you want a peaceful, what is the uncoupling? As Gwyneth Paltrow would say, right, that you've just come to a decision that we want to do this in a kind, loving way. So it isn't necessarily saving the relationship. But what I do tell my clients, so even if they're in that space, the common denominator, and all of my relationships moving forward is myself. And if I don't have the skills to ask for my needs, right, that is that setting that healthy boundary, asking it in a way that I feel confident that I'm asking for my needs. And even if the other person can't do it, that I still hear myself asking for my needs. That's part of my own process of learning why I have boundaries, and why they're important, and not because I need to please someone else. But because I need to get my needs met, that couples therapy will be a success, because you are going to have relationships with your parents, with your co workers, with your children with your neighbors, you need to know how to have healthy communication. And that doesn't always mean that we both agree on everything, or that we can find a compromise. That's a forever compromise. It might be a temporary compromise for right now. And we'll have to keep revisiting it.
I love that you mentioned I already forgot how you said it. But those challenges that continue to arise are like perpetual issues, challenges, perpetual issues. Are there some that are just super common that might be you know, our listeners might identify with? Or are they totally all unique to to the relationship itself?
Both. So there are common themes that happen, but I think they get disguised in situations that we hear in the media, like every couple of fights about money. No, they actually don't. What Every couple fights about is not feeling like their value system around money is being acknowledged by their partner. They're feeling like they're not being acknowledged for or being allowed to have influence on decisions that are made about money, right. So it's not that symbolic thing that we put out there in the media that we tried out like to say like, here's the problems that all couples are having. No, most all couples are having a sense of disconnect, a sense of not feeling heard and understood. And oftentimes by the time they come to couples therapy, feeling alone in their relationship, which feels like the worst kind of hell that you can have. And still, you know, I'm alone, even when I'm sitting next to you. How did I end up here?
So powerful? And I think, is this the reason why you do practice and recommend premarital therapy?
I recommend therapy for everyone. I might, you know, be a little biased, but I definitely, I mean, I've even had like parents come in with their kids. And we've done therapy. I have CEOs that come in with their other CEOs, and we learn how to do communication. Like I said, Yeah, anytime you're in a relationship with someone and you're feeling like that, oh, oh, I really think this is going well. I don't feel like my needs are getting met. Sometimes I'm feeling shut down after these conversations. I'm feeling real defensive. And I don't know how to ask for my needs. I have a big hurt here. And I don't know how to bring up the hurt. And every time I do it feels like I'm minimized or the person like fixes my feelings versus acknowledging them. I mean, anytime any kind of relationship has that kind of dynamic. Getting some support about how to do it in a different way is a good investment of your time and your energy.
I love that. So you don't have to necessarily be coupled in this moment to benefit from this
work. Yeah, absolutely. Because I think what happens is it's very easy for us when we're single, and we think we got our stuff together and we're ready to get in another relationship. You're about two months in and all that stuff comes up again, because you're just kind of laying low do and you doing your journaling doing your walk in and all your self care. And now somebody's asking your time, your attention, they're putting pressure on you on all those healthy boundaries that you thought that you said in your therapy, right? And then here's this person who has a lot of influence on you. And it's normal to want to kind of move your boundaries around to like, wow, you know, that doesn't really feel comfortable to enforce that one right now that I might mix up this good thing that's happening, I'd rather not do that. But then you're giving your partner your new partner this message that like, oh, yeah, my boundaries are movable. Right? And then you have a problem, because then you're gonna work, come back and reinforce them in a couple of months. And they're like, but I thought you were doing this because you liked me, or that this was who you were, you mean, you were just playing me because you were afraid I'd go away. So it really doesn't serve you to like kind of go along to get along at the beginning. If that's not who you really are.
That's such a good point. Because I think we do tend to do that, especially in newer relationships of any kind, right? We want to, like you said, go along to get along and be flexible. But then at some point, a couple months down the line, we are realizing, working or actually I do prefer to do it this way. What would you say? You know, what's the best way if someone's entering into a new relationship of any kind, even if you know, friendship, or work situation? What's the best way to start introducing your boundaries, when you're kind of in a newer communication with someone?
This isn't always popular, especially with my clients that are dating, but the first time there's an offense, you have to talk about it. And it doesn't have to be aggressive. It doesn't be like, I don't like pizza, why do you keep going to go to pizza? Right? It's not, it can just be like, you know, could we talk about where we've been going to eat? You know, I have specific food allergies. And so I've been feeling a little bit uncomfortable to tell you, because I really enjoy going to dinner with you. I'm just wondering if we could look at other options. So that I kind of make sure that I'm getting my needs met as well, because my fear is, I'm just going to stop going to dinner. And you're going to receive it as I don't care about you. And I just haven't known how to tell you because maybe it doesn't seem cool, or I don't I don't know if you'll understand it. Or if worse, I worry that people don't care. Because in my past people haven't like, acted as if that was important that I get my needs met around food, or whatever, that him has given him some weird example. But
no, it's a great, it's a good example. Because I do think there are these small things that we can tend to let go that are actually important to us. So you feel like it's helpful to give a little bit more information with the boundary that you're sharing,
it can be a slippery slope, because for my people pleasers, we tend to give so much information because we want the other person to validate us. And then when they're like, Oh, that makes sense. And I'm like, okay, it's fine. I have that boundary versus like, you may not get it, and you're uncomfortable with it. But if they seem like they want to understand you more, and they're really asking you questions, so that they can be closer and more connected, versus this sense that like will convince me why we should do that. That's a very different vibe, right? So you got to feel out. And if you are people pleaser, you're probably super empathic and you're fairly intuitive, and you can read people. And so what happens is when someone looks at you skeptically, like I'm not sure I'm buying this, I don't What do you mean, you're dairy intolerant? And I've never heard of such a thing, right? That we start to over explaining and like, putting all of our personal stuff out and like this desperate grasp to get somebody who validate us. And then it just feels completely gross. Like you just want to like go, you know, soak in a corner somewhere and be small, because you've over offered in an attempt to try to get somebody to respect you and appreciate who you are. So if, if you're not sure, then you can just say, Hey, I love that we've been going out to eat I don't want to have any pizza right now. Is there something else that we can do? However they respond is going to give you information about how much more that you want to share, if that makes sense.
Totally because I love this understanding of like you we don't want to tip into trying to get asked permission to have our boundaries. That's too far maybe. Yeah, I love that.
Directive. And that's not attractive, by the way. I mean, I'm someone who says is it okay that we don't have pizza all the time? Like, is it okay that I don't really? Wait? Like if I'm dating you and I'm like, why would you need to check in with me about what you eat? That's weird.
Yeah, that's true. So sometimes in an attempt to like over explain, we can make it weird.
Don't make it weird.
Don't make it weird, guys. How does someone know the difference between like a red flag for example, and and a space where it's like a red flag, that would be like, Okay, we don't need to have a conversation about this, this is just a no versus like, Okay, this is maybe like a orange or yellow flag that I can state my boundary and decide how much to share
two things. So when let's always go back to how we're feeling about the experience, right, you have to get tech check in with yourself, if I'm sitting there having a lovely conversation with you. And all of a sudden, I feel uncomfortable, like maybe you're not going to accept me, if I say this thing, then I'm not really owning myself. And that's a red flag about myself, right? It's none of my business, but this person thinks about me, even if they reject me, that's probably less about me than it is about them. So if you know you're constantly worried that you're not going to be accepted, or that you're not enough, or you don't want to, like, share something with someone, because you're not sure if they'll like it about you. That's a huge red flag about your own work that you need to do.
Yeah. Is that true? I mean, I feel like the answer is yes. But is that equally true for someone that's maybe like, been in a relationship for a good, like a long time, and they want to start, you know, maybe something in them has shifted? Maybe they've grown a little and they have some new boundaries that they'd like to state? Is it equally true that if they're feeling that like, anxiety about sharing a new boundary with like, say they've been partnered 10 years? Is that again, a red flag about them?
That they've shown a relationship for a while and want to change their boundaries?
No meaning like, if they notice, like, Okay, I'm wanting to change this boundary, but I'm feeling really anxious about sharing this is sure, again, a red flag about them?
Well, so you know, so things don't exist in a vacuum and part of nature, also learning what is an appropriate amount of vulnerability, and what is a response that feels equally vulnerable, so that you feel like you're building upon a relationship, right. So if I were feeling that anxious about a boundary that I have, or feeling anxious about sharing something with someone, I would suggest that you share with that person that you're feeling anxious about the sharing, right? Because you could be Miss read. And I don't want to miss read, I want to be clear about what's coming up for me, I want to be able to be vulnerable with you, this is really hard for me to talk about, I've been in relationships where it hasn't been well received, or I feel like I've been misunderstood. And yet, it's so important to me, so I'm willing to be vulnerable with you, and I don't know how you're gonna respond, I would love it if you could hear me out. Right. And if you could respond in a way that lets me know that you're not judging me or that I'm not, you know, being perceived in a kind of way, I just would really like to share this part about myself with you. And I hope that you're willing to hear it. Right. So I think it's always very important to commingle the two, if this is a difficult boundary for you, being vulnerable enough to share with somebody that this is difficult for you usually makes you seem more attractive, and somebody that's aware of who they are and why they do what they do, and what your intention is behind the behavior that you're doing, or why you're sharing what you're sharing. Because you want to build upon this and have a closer, more connected relationship.
I think that's great. And I think it's true, you know, even in our friendships and our other personal relationships, like you said, if we're sharing, okay, here's how I'm feeling about this. And then the statement, it can change the way they're being, you know, we're being perceived when we're sharing that information, because it can, especially when we're nervous, I think things can sometimes come on differently than intent.
And I think it's always important to share when you're dating with someone that you're feeling nervous, or that it's uncomfortable, or this feels awkward, or I'm not used to this, or I don't know how I'm landing with you, or can we talk about the energy that I'm feeling in the room? Are you feeling it too, like, I think that's always a great icebreaker, because then you're getting to have a shared experience. And that's always going to make you feel more close and connected with this person at minimal at a friendship level. And that's all that you should be working on. At the beginning, you should see if this is even a person that you'd want to be friends with, who does make you feel comfortable when you're sharing something vulnerable, like not having been good at setting boundaries in the past?
Yeah, that's a good point. And then are you evaluating for their response? Like, obviously, we're not looking for permission, like we said, but are you evaluating to see how they receive that boundary? Absolutely.
Are they receiving it with kindness? Are they having empathy? Are they thanking me and appreciating that I was willing to do something hard? Are they dismissive of me? Do they try to like talk over the top of me or do they like, oh, well, here's why that's not important. Here's what's more important about me like how does somebody respond to the gift of your vulnerability, even if it is talking about boundaries there, it's still vulnerable to share something of yourself and how that person responds is A huge, orange, yellow red flag.
Yeah. And is this different? If it's say it's not a new relationship, but it's like an existing relationship that we've had for a long time. And we're just either something in us has changed. Or maybe we just never asked for this boundary before, but we've always kind of held it inside I wanted it. Are we? How is the evaluation different? Because I know sometimes when we're setting a new boundary with someone that knows us pretty well, or feels like they know us, well, sometimes those aren't always gonna be received, right? If I'm
finally willing to set a boundary, I have this funny thing. And my clients do this all the time. But I do something really hard. I set a boundary with them. And they didn't do it. And I'm like, okay, like, Well, where did you expect that the other person who you've been doing this same thing with for 20 years is going to be like, Well, you did something hard, okay. Let me like, just change how I respond to you. Typically, if that person is used to you behaving in a certain way, they're probably pretty comfortable with the pattern that you've gotten into. And they may not be interested in changing it. Just because you have decided it's problematic. And because you have decided to do something hard. That's for you. That's not because you're going to expect that the other person is going to like go Oh, absolutely. Let me get right on that. That's not how people operate. So you might have to be prepared to say it many times. You might even which may sound contra indicated, but maybe say something like, You know what, I need to apologize for you, I've been giving you the impression that I was cool with this and I wasn't. So it's probably going to feel a little bumpy for a while because I've decided this isn't working for the way I want to proceed myself in relationships, and you're used to this going along the way that it was, it's probably not going to feel great for you.
I think that's a really good point. Because a lot of times, like you said, if if someone is used to us being a certain way or accepting certain things, and then suddenly we're making a new request, it might be a little bit of an adjustment, period. It doesn't mean we have to release that boundary. But it also doesn't mean we have to, you know, storm out? Yeah, not give some grace. And it sounds like that's maybe a good time to seek out a couple's counselor like Dr. Dana McNeil, if you're I guess you work by zoom to right, if people aren't local here,
we do, we also do something that are called intensives. So we have because I am in California, and my license extends to the state of California, we have couples that come from around the United States and spend one two or three days or more with us. And we just work one on one with a couple kind of digging into the dynamics of their relationship. What are their communication patterns? What are the things that have caused them problems? How do we do a reset. So I mean, we're not going to fix your relationship, like over a weekend, but it certainly can take like a big chunk out of something that's been a thorn in the relationship for a while and started getting you back on the path to repairing it. And they're, they're just amazing to participate in and clients just get so we're so busy these days, and we have so much coming at us just the fact of like taking a trip somewhere else where you've left the world behind, and you've like set aside your work emails for the day, you know, not just for an hour, but for a weekend and you're focused on your relationship. So many couples are finding that this is like a really effective way. Romance is not always like you know, it doesn't always look like just romantic. Sometimes we have to be intentional about it. And we have to carve out time to work on it.
Well into your point. I mean, everyone has different situations. And sometimes if if we're taking care of other family members or kids are having that carved out time and I love this idea of intensives because I think we see it in so many areas of our life professional development, it's very common. But this is such a great way to supercharge the work at MI intentions. And then it sounds like and I would assume just from knowing you that you're then giving them tools or some sort of practice to take home. How does that look?
So the Gottman method itself has over 50 different interventions or tools. So we give our clients all of them that they can take home with them, but then based on what's going on. So we do an assessment at the beginning. So if somebody does a three day they come in for three hours the first day, they've usually traveled and had to get into their hotel. And so that's kind of like, Ooh, is this person scary? Right? Let me see what their office looks like. And so but we do a very deep dive on what's going on in the relationship for the first three hours. Part of it is them as a couple and then the other part of it is them individually so that we can also have an individual understanding of what each person's needs are. I call it the vent session of our of our work because you may sugarcoat what's going on for the person sitting next to you and the therapist doesn't really have an idea of what is it that you want to accomplish. Right. So we have all that that we sort of do the first day and then the next day It's, it's a solid nine to 430, we're just hitting it. And myself and the clinicians that work with me, we decide which interventions we want you to utilize based on what we've individually looked at and assessed is happening in your relationship. So they will, they will definitely get an opportunity that you don't get in a one hour session where we could do one intervention for maybe two or three hours, right, and really feel like we've gotten to the core of something where we may have had to do that over the course of three or four sessions for traditional therapy.
And to most people focus the intensives on whatever like the persistent issue is, or is it more just on what the topic is the most problematic for them? Or what's working and what's not working? All of those
things, but what I find is, if I were just to say to my couples, tell me why it is that you think that you're here, Partner A is gonna have a reason and Partner B is going to have a reason and they'll probably have a fight that breaks out because that's not why I came though. That's not why, you know, you know, that stereotypical like, we're not having sex anymore. Oh, my God, you don't understand me? No wonder we're not having sex, right? And then they're off and running. So we kind of look more at what are your communication patterns, I want to see how you're interacting with each other. I want as we speak of something called turning towards each other in in bids for attention in the Gottman world. So if if your partner is crying on the couch, talking about an experience that you had, and you're like podido, looking at the ceiling, like writing notes to yourself, and you're not tuned in to this person in distress, that tells me a lot about what we need to work on. I don't mean necessarily to tell me right or in conflict if you use mean language, right? You use curse words, you belittle the other person, we call it holding a partner in contempt, or you act as if they have no value, and you're incredibly dismissive of them. Right? That tells me a lot, you don't need to tell me things. And there's also the physiological arousal that we call in the Gottman world being flooded, which happens for every couple and it in layman's terms, it's you go into fight or flight or freeze will try and to stay in a conflict. When you're in a physiologically aroused state where your brain shuts down, you probably need to understand how unproductive those conversations are going to be. So if I'm seeing that happening, we also have to address what are we going to do to take effective breaks so that we can work on those issues that you're bringing in. So it's, I call it the seven layer dip, there's so many things happening in a relationship. And you're so sort of in your own internal world that having somebody that can look at the whole scheme of things and look at the lay of the land and help you unpack those different layers is really one of the reasons that intensives or couples therapy itself is so important.
Sounds so incredible, because you like you said, you are looking at so many more things than just the face value of the words being said or the like laundry list of problems being articulated. If someone's listening, and they're wondering like, Oh, I wonder if this these intensives are for me, who are they for?
Therefore anything from premarital, as you mentioned all the way up to there's been an infidelity I mean, and everything in between because there is no relationship that isn't served by having better tools and better communication and having a deeper friendship, learning how to have fun with each other how to talk about your sex life, how to talk about finances, right how to talk about being co parents, how to deal with the aftermath of a regrettable incident, like a betrayal that may not have even been an affair, maybe my partner saw that there was something that they wanted to invest in, and they thought that your answer would be no. So they took the money out of your savings account and did it anyways, right? There's, there's lots of layers of things that happen in relationships. And if we go long enough without ever addressing them, then we fall out of something that the Gottman world speaks to us holding each other in a positive perspective. And we enter into this idea of negative sentiment override, which means I no longer see you doing anything Well, I just assume everything that you're doing is to push my button it's been so long, since I've been able to believe in the power of our relationship that I'm just tired, right and I need a new set of tools or some some sort of inspiration and motivation. And I think
just as humans it's so helps to have a like okay if this then this or if this is what you're trying to communicate here's a good method to to say it now I know that you said that your goal is not to you know, air quotes, fix the hole or make this relationship work as the as the therapist as the practitioner. What is your goal particularly amaze intensives
I feel myself as Switzerland from France, both France and Germany in the audience, right? My goal is to represent the needs of not only the individuals so that nobody gets lost in the shuffle. But also how do we then work together as a team by creating a shared language. So the Gottman method, we will learn how to ask for the things that we need and deal with disappointment deal with defensiveness deal with criticism. How do you do it differently? So John came up with something that he calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, right? The four most common patterns of communication breakdown, our criticism, defensiveness, something that we call stonewalling, when you shut your partner down, you know, all of these things, they I have to teach you an antidote, I can't just be like, don't do that joy. That's wrong, good. Girl, this is not why your relationship isn't working. But what should I do instead? Right, what evidence based tool do you have to offer me data that when I, okay, I hear you I'm motivated, our relationship doesn't feel good, I have to motivate you to try to do something different. I have to give you the tool, I have to guide you through it, I have to help you see the stumbling blocks, I have to help you practice it, I have to help you get over being scared that your partner won't do it with you that you're the only one that cares, I have to heal old wounds and help facilitate holding space, when it's getting in the way, I have a lot of work to do as a
couple of words to do. Sounds like it. And sometimes I have to
set boundaries in the room, right? If you're used to being in a pattern where you just yell over the top of each other, I then also have to let you know what things are going to look like different in my office and why that's not serving you that we haven't been being kind and respectful to each other.
Like that's, it's so important to and if you're teaching this like common language of how to move forward, right, if the past if it hasn't been working, or if it's just not as good as it could be. And we want to make things better, which I don't know if we can even qualify that way. But I think a lot of people coming in are probably just wanting to make things a little better in one way or another. It's I'm sure it's so helpful to have, you know, common ground that we're working from, like either this common language or these tools that we're trying to employ, hopefully together. But
yeah, I mean, you had spoke earlier about compromise. You don't get to compromise without noticing the things that you jointly have in common your shared meaning your shared value that you're both on the same team. It's it is your best friend, you've just gotten loss.
Yeah, and I think that's such an important point. Because even even when lots of things feel like they're going wrong, usually there is some underpinning of connection of why we're invested in this right. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. If someone is curious to learn more about the intensives, or wants to read more and decide if it's for them, what's the best way for him to do that? Yeah, we
have a specific website that just addresses the intensives. It's therapy And it talks about the different packages and like, what it would, who it might be best for it also gives you an opportunity to reach out to us and talk to some of our staff and have a consultation about Hey, is your relationship one that would be served by this? What are all the details, right, you can also go to my group practice website, which is SD which is short for San Diego relationship And hopefully, you'll have some links. And that can also take you to the intensive but it talks more, you can get more information about the Gottman method about what we do in our practice and sort of like a philosophy about why we exist.
I love that we will definitely have all of it linked in the show notes, your website and therapy Just because I feel like the work you're doing is so valuable. And anyone who's feeling I don't know, the way I always think about is like if you're feeling called to it's probably it's for you.
Check it out at least so that you know it's an option. Let's just say you are working through stuff. It's nice to know that you have tools that are available to you in case you hit a hot spot.
I agree completely. I want to shift gears if that's okay with you. I know that we are on a limited time today. I could talk to you all day. But I want to ask you these four fun and easy questions. We call it the spirit speed round. And I'm so excited to hear your responses. Are you ready?
I'm ready. Okay, the
first one is share one thing that really shocked you or was unexpected about your work as a therapist.
Wow, just one. I think I'm sure there's something that shocked me. And in a good way is how willing people are to share their personal lives with someone that's kind of a stranger to them. Like, that's the biggest compliment to get is that somebody you know, maybe they're just in so much pain or whatever it was that I thought at the beginning of being a therapist, it's like, you just told me all that stuff that is like, I feel blessed. I feel like wow, I must have instilled something in you that created a trust and I felt very honored.
I love that and I think it says something about you that you're honored to hear those things. If you have to spend And a day in the spirit world, you got the full tour, you got to spend time with everyone you've ever known who's crossed over. And it's almost time to return to your life. But your guide tells you you have one hour left and you could spend it with anyone who's on the other side. Who do you choose and why?
Oh, it's easier. I choose my grandfather. He is he was just like such a. He was my best friend growing up. And he just taught me so much about respecting, like our history and just music and art and he just was always like my, my biggest cheerleader and best friends. So I miss him greatly. I'd love to see him.
I love that. Thank you. Even though we have spiritual gifts and gifts of communication, we have very human lives. What's one quirky thing about you that people might be surprised to learn?
Oh, God, there's so many. Um, my assistant Bianca is in the background. She's snickering I'm sure she can give you a whole list of them.
wait, crikey, Bianca. She's like new. I would say she's definitely document. Um, I don't always have good boundaries. My dog. How's that? I try like a smack. But like when my dog comes up to me and gives me these like soulful eyes. I'm like, Yes, you can have 12 more treats. And I know it's not dinnertime. But yes, you can have the whole bag I'm not great with
beloved. I love it. That's perfect. If you could leave us with one pearl of wisdom. What's one piece of advice that you wish that you'd had early on in your understanding of relationships?
Well, there's a phrase that we have in neon in the office on the wall that says Be curious versus furious. And to me that means can you approach your relationship from a curiosity place versus being furious from what you're hearing from your partner, because it's most likely that they are doing it because it's important to them or it's meaningful to them, or it's part of their family of origin or it's something that is just an expectation that's built in, and they're not doing it to antagonize you or irritate you. So if you can come at understanding them with less furious SNESs and more curiosity, I think you're really doing something that can serve your relationship. Well.
I love be curious, not furious. I think that's an amazing piece of advice. Well, thank you so much for being here with us today. Make sure that you check out Dr. Dana's podcast, the D spot wherever you get your podcasts. I listen to you on Spotify and Apple podcasts. But I know that you are across all of the platforms. And be sure to check out the show notes. So you can look at her website. And if you're interested in the intensives, you can go to therapy, which we'll also have linked. I'm so grateful to you, Dr. Dana, for being here with us and sharing your light.
Thanks for having us. This is this has been a lot of fun. And I really need to spend more time understanding my quirks. So thanks for giving me that as well.
Well, we would love to have you back again. Sigh.
I would love it. Thanks, Joy.
Thanks. Wow, I just loved that conversation with Dr. Dana McNeil, I really, I think I can speak for both of us here. But I really have so much to think about now around, you know, the boundaries that I set and why I set them and how I didn't use to do it or why I didn't use to do it. Or really just, you know, as we talked about here a lot, there is so much self excavation that we still have to do. And as we grow and change and shift and expand as people, it's fair for us to reevaluate some of these things, what's working what's not. And truly, as Dr. Dana said, relationships really are the most important thing in our lives. And we have so many different versions of relationships across our lives, not just, you know, our parents and our family of origin, but also romantic partners and friends and colleagues and co workers and bosses and all the relationships we have in our life, the parent child relationship on both ends. So I think it's so important to think about, you know, the boundaries that we hold and the ways that we behave and what boundaries we might not be requesting that we actually want. And just different ways to navigate our feelings and relationships. I love that she went into sharing some of the red flags and how to know when something is a red flag or if it's just us having feelings about things and like we talked about here all the time, it is so important to acknowledge and identify our own feelings just for the information that they hold for us. And not necessarily sharing our boundaries and feelings with the intention of having like permission or acceptance for someone else from someone else. But just because that's what we want and need to do to honor and love ourselves. So I am so grateful that Dr. Dana was here sharing all of her wisdom with us today. I'm sure it's not all of her wisdom. I know she's got With so much wisdom, so if you are someone who is in a relationship of any kind or even the relationship with yourself, I just encourage you to check out her work, particularly her podcast the D spot and do look at those intensives and see if maybe they're right for you. I know I often got questions from clients and from you, our spirit squad here around the relationships we have in our lives and I thought who better to bring on and this incredible relationship expert, Dr. Dana McNeil, and again, I'm just so grateful to her for sharing her wisdom and her light with us today. It has been so wonderful to have you. Whether you are really just trying to express your boundaries for the first time or whether you feel like you are a boundaries expert. I'm so grateful to have you here with us sharing this conversation and sharing the space. Lots of love. Bye for now, from inside Spirit Speakeasy

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