Tag Archives: meryl streep

The Purpose-Driven Life . . .



This is the fourth article in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Click the box for the full list →    →    →Top 12 Relationship Skills

January’s tip I’m guessing no one taught you in school is the idea that there’s not just one you. And in fact it really helps to recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

So far I’ve presented 2 of the 3 main ideas ~

  1. Each of us has a variety of ways of showing up. We have distinct inner Parts. See this post;
  2. Parts exist in relationship to one another. Tune into your inner chatter and you’ll hear one Part persuading or critiquing or judging or dismissing or ignoring or protecting another Part. See here:

This week? 

3. How and Why do our Parts relate?

Plus ~

  • How on earth does any of this help my relationships?
  • And, who’s really in charge of all these Parts?



It can feel random when we first tune into our inner chatter and hear loads of contradictory messages, but each Part is absolutely acting purposefully, and when we come to see what their purpose is, everything shifts.

In any given moment our Parts are relating to one another, brokering how we show up. When things are going along reasonably well and there’s not too much external stress we can show up with access to our good feelings and (we hope) with the lid tightly shut on our bad feelings. Most of us walk a fine line between happiness and despair, or between confidence and embarrassment. We never know if something will trigger all those nasty feelings we’ve shoved away deep within, under the carpet of our inner basements.

Indeed, the purpose of our Parts has as much to do with managing our pain & shame as it does with the pursuit of happiness.

I’m going to paraphrase a bit here from Richard Schwartz (the founder IFS), and you’ll find much more about this in his book Internal Family Systems. We manage or inner system by organizing our Parts into three groups.
Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 9.18.52 AMMANAGERS – This group’s purpose is to be highly protective, strategic, and interested in controlling the environment to keep things safe. When things go well, these are the Parts we become most familiar with as important aspects of our personality. These are the “front men & women” who manage how we go through our days –  learning, growing, adapting, relating and scanning for danger. Freud would call these parts our Ego. Our managers can be balanced and kind, or forced by context and circumstances to be strict bullies within us.
Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 9.26.12 AM

EXILES – These are our shadow sides, exiled out of consciousness and out of the public eye because they’ve been tasked with holding onto (and burying deeply away) our pain, trauma, ugly beliefs, shame, unlovability, unworthiness, and not-good-enough-ness. Their purpose is to protect us from experiencing the emotional pain that has been inflicted upon us. When perfect little babies are born into an imperfect world, Exiles exist. Some of us have so much pain and suffering these highly vulnerable Parts can’t stay locked away and the person finds they have to relate to the world from a place of shame – which, paradoxically can be liberating and freeing (think AA meetings which begin with acknowledging something which, when hidden, we are ashamed of, but when shared, can be healed: “Hello, my name is X and I’m’ an alcoholic.”

Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 9.23.42 AMFIREFIGHTERS – This third group behaves like, well, firefighters! They are our first responders when there’s danger that an exile’s pain might be coming up. Their job is to react powerfully and automatically to stifle or sooth our shadow feelings. So – if we’re jilted by a lover and it triggers our deeply exiled sense of “not good-enough-ness” that we took on from critical or abusive parents, our firefighters step in and douse the feeling with highly distracting and often very damaging and extreme alternative behaviors – like over drinking, over eating, obliterating the conscious mind with drugs, accessing blind rage, disassociating and more.

OK – you’ve got the 3 main ideas for January and the first of ~

My Top 12 Relationship Skills

#1  Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

  1. Each of us has a variety of ways of showing up. We have distinct inner Parts. See this post;
  2. Parts exist in relationship to one another. Tune into your inner chatter and you’ll hear one Part persuading or critiquing or judging or dismissing or ignoring or protecting another Part. See here:
  3. This is not random. Our Parts each behave purposefully in one of three ways: to proactively manage our day to day, to exile our deepest vulnerabilities or to dowse our inner pain when it is triggered.

Want to play with this?

Watch movies and see if you can distinguish what parts are coming up for the characters. Here’s a fun one for you to get started. Below is a scene from Woody Allen’s movie Blue Jasmine.  It’s the story of a wealthy financier’s wife who tumbles down through the social strata as she looses touch with reality (inner and outer) as her anger, shame and drinking increasingly unhinge her.

In this scene, you may be able to detect her ~

  • MANAGERS – struggling to proactively maintain appearances with dignified work and options;
  • EXILES – the bursts of shame and unworthiness that pop out
  • FIREFIGHTERS – look for the background drinking and struggle to manage the shame


I’m answering this first of all with the wonderful Brene Brown quote at the top of this article:

If you think dealing with issues like worthiness and authenticity and vulnerability are not worthwhile because there are more pressing issues, like the bottom line or attendance or standardized test scores, you are sadly, sadly mistaken. It underpins everything.

Until you become aware of the rich complexity of your own inner system it’s as if you’re flying blind in the dark, with no instruments.

As long as you are not hitting another plane and you’re not being buffeted too violently, you can get away with blind flight. But as soon as you hit turbulence and your wings tip, or you go into a spin, or you want to avoid what might be an obstacle ahead and you start randomly punching at buttons on your instrument panel, your progress, your impact, your position and your recovery are totally random!

If you want to be a competent pilot in all weather conditions, you need to learn everything you can about your airplane. What are all the moving parts of your airplane, how do they interact and which instruments communicate with them and how. What are the emergency safety features and do any parts need to be repaired or updated?

If you want to be competent in relationships through good times and bad, you need to learn everything you can about your self. What are all your moving Parts? How do they interact and how do you impact their behavior? What are the emergency safety features and do any parts need to be repaired or updated?

Hope that metaphor works for you. We’ll keep exploring and deepening this answer .


Great question. Come back in February when I’ll be exploring this issue each Wednesday.


If you’ve not encountered Brene Brown and her work on Shame, you might enjoy either of these two TED talks she gave:

1. The Power of Vulnerability

2.  Listening To Shame



It’s OK To Ask for Help As A Couple…

The New Zealand Herald interviewed Mark and me about making marriages work as a side piece to Hope Springs (the movie).
It’s true – every little good deed someone does for you along the way – as my aunt offered to Mark and me on our honeymoon when we were lost for words and fighting (full story in up-coming book “Use Your Words!” Move Your Marriage from Conflict to Compassion One Fight At A Time) will most likely be passed along in that, or some other form.
Don’t be too shy to ask for help when you need it!

Hope Springs

If you too just had a date with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones  by joining them in Hope Springs, Maine, then welcome to the conversation about marriage!

Mark (you’ll come to know Mark – he’s my husband of almost 30 years and he’ll feature quite a bit in this blog) and I had a wonderful date at Howick’s Monterey Cinema last week and have found ourselves both irritated and excited by the film and it’s premise.

The irritated part comes from my frustration with how weak Meryl Streep’s character Kay is.  Come on!  Those of us born in the 1950’s did everything we possibly could not to recreate our parents’ 1950s marriages.  So, I did a spot of research about the screen writer Vanessa Taylor.  Interesting fact #1. Ms. Taylor has never been married. Interesting fact #2, Ms. Taylor is young enough to be my daughter (DOB 24 September 1978), is petite, gorgeous and talented. So – if one is supposed to write about what one knows, what on earth was she thinking when she dreamt up Hope Springs?

Here she is in a NYT interview:

“What if distance creeps into a relationship?” she asked. “Can you ever get back across? Or is it done? I was having trouble maintaining relationships. They’d get to a point, and distance would happen, and it kept happening over and over. I was trying to explore what you can do to heal those broken relationships, writing about it, and saying, ‘Let’s see if I can even imagine it.’ ”

OK, so maybe I can be less irritated if the writer was creating a character who was REALLY stuck so she could explore how to get unstuck. That’s actually a creative project to undertake.

Which brings me to the excited part.

Through my nearly 30 years of marriage, and through endless conversations with married friends over dinners, camping trips, river trips, school pick-up routines, shopping aisle encounters and more; through my life’s encounters with people as a facilitator, teacher and Life Coach and through my work as a Child and Family Therapist in the USA and as a Relationship Therapist here in New Zealand, I’ve been asking similar questions.  Well, lots more too actually. Questions such as:

  • Why marry – why not just stay living together?
  • Is it OK to fight?
  • How much is too much fighting?
  • What ways are there to grow as individuals within a marriage that do not involve fighting?
  • What is that “magic sauce” some couples have and can it be taught?
  • Why don’t they teach us anything about being in relationships at school?
  • Why don’t more couples get help when they get stuck?

Given how much sadness and anger some people endure in their lives, this last question intrigues me. What are we therapists doing that makes coming to us seem like “not an option”?

Is it the price tag (in my case for about the cost of filling your Ute weekly for a month you could transform your marriage for a lifetime).  Heck – if your tooth is throbbing you hot-foot it down to the dentist and fork over potentially $1000s to remove, canal or cap the offending molar whilst minimizing the pain with great meds.

Ah – maybe there’s the rub. Is there “out there” this lingering association between “great pain” as well as a “great price-tag” when it comes to therapy? I wonder how different it would be if we therapists could either offer you great meds to numb the pain, or make the process of coming to see a therapist less ghastly?

And, even with the bad rap therapy gets, let me just reassure you the profession is alive and well. Every day, folks like you are having conversations with folks like me. There are 3 broad reasons folks seek my help. I think of it as “Me”, “We” and “Us” issues.

What are the “Me” issues? It’s when one partner recognizes there might be something getting in the way of them being effective in their life or relationships. Maybe they feel they are still fighting ghosts from childhood, or  dragons from former relationships, or self esteem or body image issues. They come to see me about themselves – hoping that working on themselves will improve their relationships.

What are the “We” issues?  This is when both partners recognize there is something getting in the way of being happy together. Could be a blend of working with two people with “Me” issues above. Or, it could be that the couple sees pretty quickly how they wind one another up. Roz has a promotion and is increasingly late at work. Larry is lonely so when she finally comes home he snaps at her and complains about her hours, her lack or interest in their home life, in him or the kids. Roz feels less and less effective at home and dives ever more deeply into her work. Larry feels increasingly abandoned by Roz and complains more and more loudly.  The louder Larry complains the more Roz retreats into work and the louder Larry complains. Get it?

What are the “Us” issues? These are about external pressures on the couple that test their skills, resilience and partnership. These issues include illnesses, children, money worries, international moves, in-laws. With these quite often the couple is working together as best they can – but they need help, an expanded tool kit, support and maybe the recruitment of a wider community.

So, while I  deeply appreciate each week  the “Me”, “We” and “Us” couples I meet, I’d love to invite more couples to take the chance to shaking things up. Of getting a bigger, happier, zestier life.

I won’t be able to promise you great meds, but I am certainly here to offer you the “less ghastly” part. Now there’s a marketing slogan worthy of billboard space:’

“Come see Gemma – her form of therapy is less ghastly than you’re expecting.”

That’s my goal. To help couples shift through their pain to a more connected, loving, zesty and alive place whilst minimizing the pain along the way.

To celebrate Mark’s and my 30th anniversary I am committing to help more couples enjoy their marriages.  The countdown is on for our 30th wedding anniversary on November 20th. And here for this blog, is my Me / We / Us commitment.

Me Commitment – My first book (with the working title of ) “Use Your Words!” Move Your Marriage from Conflict to Compassion One Fight At A Time is on the way. The purpose is to provide couples with a simple but transformative way to use their fights to deepen their love. Nutty as this sounds, it is what I do at work every day – help couples take that energy and raw emotions that fights precipitate and mine it for the gold beneath.

We Commitment – Hey, don’t be a stranger! I’d love to get to know more about you and your marriage – where it is. By way of an introduction I’d love to send you an early sample of my chapter in the book on HOW NOT TO FIGHT ~ The 7 Deadliest Fight Strategies, subscribe to my blog and I’ll send you a PDF advance copy.

Us Commitment –  This one is about Mark and me.  I am inviting readers of this blog to help us celebrate our 30th Wedding Anniversary.  We’ve only been here in New Zealand for just over one year so have loads to see and experience here.  So, please send us ideas for how to best celebrate 30 years of marriage and our adventure here in Aotearoa. Budget: $1000. Suggestions sought.  I’ll of course publish the winning suggestion and our adventure!