Communication Conflict Sex and Intimacy

How We Love (On Identifying & Breaking Patterns)

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June 15, 2019

Every adult, to one degree or another, functions from negative patterns that were ingrained in them during childhood. To break free from those patterns — to establish new, healthy ways of being — we first need to identify what they are.

In other words: we’re diving headfirst into the deep end.

If you’ve made it this far into the Craig Brain journey with me, then you’ve likely gathered how much of an investment I make in self-discovery. Personality tests. The DISC. The Enneagram. Myers-Briggs. Kolbe. Etc.

I love tools. I’ve dedicated much of my life to learning how to wield the ones I’ve managed to get my hands on and to create usable tools for others to use, as well.

What I don’t love nearly as much as tools are talks, so when Jeanette told me that she wanted to visit a marriage counselor together, my agreement was begrudging at best. As an “achiever” on the Enneagram, I tend to equate the need for therapy with failure. “You’re doing something wrong.” I know it’s not true, and I would never tell it to anyone else, but it is still — unfortunately — the lens through which I tend to view my need for help.

That said, when the counselor told Jeanette and me that she’d recommend twelve weeks’ worth of therapy — like a chiropractor or something — I was annoyed. And then what? We take three months to evaluate whether you’re the right guide for us? We didn’t even know if we liked this lady yet.

What I did know was that I liked her less when she ended the first session by saying, “come back next week, and I’ll give you the tools you’ll need to work through this.”

I thought, “like hell,” and asked for the tools right then and there.

That’s how we discovered Kay and Milan Yerkovich’s incredible resource, How We Love.

The Yerkovichs are a married, seventy-something-year-old couple who happen to live not far from us in Orange County, California. Both are licensed counselors with decades of experience — Milan as a part of New Life Ministries, and Kay with a master’s degree in counseling — specifically related to couples’ attachment therapy.

Over the years and in their marriage, the Yerkovich’s developed a typing system that they call “Love Styles.” It’s not the same thing as a “love language.” Instead, Love Styles are better thought of as wounds.

You take a five-minute test which will then give you one-or-more of five possible “love style” results.

To call How We Love a “personality test” isn’t quite right. The point of this resource is more to help people identify and heal from the negative patterns in their lives than to tell them about a box they’re stuck in. To borrow from Levi’s post about the same, if the Enneagram helped Jeanette and I understand how we are, then How We Love helped us unlock why.

We took the test. I discovered that I am a Vacillator, and Jeanette is an Avoider. After that, we paid $1 for an hour-long audio conversation between the two authors, wherein they broke down the “core patterns” and hangups that married couples, specific to our results, face.

It was the best buck I’ve ever spent.

It was as though we’d given them a key to our bedroom. Like they’d somehow gotten inside of our heads and spied on two decades’ worth of arguments between us. Their diagnosis described what exactly Jeanette and I have experienced throughout the life of our marriage.

One of the negative patterns we discovered was that when tensions rise, Jeanette runs away, and I let my mouth get the best of me. In a typical fight (and neither one of us has to have any idea what we’re fighting about), when anger spikes, all Jeanette knows how to do is leave, and all I know how to do is stand at the door and make sure she doesn’t go. The longer we’re fighting, the more upset I get and the more I fight for immediate resolve, whereas she needs time and space to cool down and come back with a head that’s more level than either of ours is in the heat of the moment.

Identifying that pattern felt great because we finally had words to give to our experience. Learning, though, isn’t the same as implementing, and if it isn’t clear to you by now, I can be…bullheaded. The following week, Jeanette and I visited our counselor “friend” again, but she didn’t want to discuss our results.

So, I told her we were done.

I told her that $175 per session needed to give me more than just a space to talk. The results had been helpful, then why didn’t she want to talk about them now?

I got into an argument with her.

Which meant I got into an argument with Jeanette.

Which meant we entered back into our same old pattern again.

Ironically, we were hosting a marriage retreat shortly after that, and I started justifying my behavior with a classic game of comparisons. We’ll get through this because at least we’re not in as bad a spot as some of these people.

At least we’re not going through that couple’s hell.

In hindsight, I’ve come to realize another pattern: I always push forward under the assumption that “we’ll make it through” (meanwhile, my wife loses more and more hope).

Of course, the irony isn’t complete without telling you about who I booked to speak at our retreat.

Kay and Milan Yerkovich.

It was through their presence in our broken home — literally regarding our marriage and figuratively concerning our ministry — that I was led to a place of what I can only call “repentance.”

That is: to identify a problem, about-face, and walk the other way.

Jeanette and I decided then and there that, no matter what, we were going to do this work.

Moving away from Pasadena was a part of it. Amid marital growing pains, I had also begun to identify the struggles I was having, personally, concerning my life and workload. We always talked about moving to the beach, and I streamlined the decision when I realized that I wasn’t sure change would be possible for me if we stayed where we were. I’m not sure Jeanette believed it would be possible either way, but although our differences weren’t resolved overnight, we were dedicated to change.

To healing.

We moved. I slowed down. We spent time with the Yerkovich’s, went through their book and workbook together, and — to our excitement — even participated in one of their three-day counseling intensives.

It was the snowball that has since grown into an avalanche of self-discovery, personal healing, and rediscovering what it feels like to fall in love with one another all over again.

We dove into our parents’ patterns, and what childhood was like for us. Jeanette was able to identify the root of her depression. She felt heard and understood, like she had permission to feel the way that she did day in and day out, and took comfort in knowing that help was available to her. She started taking Zoloft, and although both of us hoped that she wouldn’t have to be on medication forever, I was proud of her for pursuing help.

Right around the same time, Jeanette grew to be more open about another awareness tool (and one that — if you’ve paid attention thus far — you’re all familiar with by now): cannabis. She suffered from a slight case of social anxiety and began to realize that cannabis helped her be more outgoing and comfortable with people in her life. Our friends noticed it, too. I was overjoyed by the way it helped her because she began to remind me of the woman I fell in love with so many years ago — outgoing and carefree. She was starting to come out from hiding — the uninhibited Jeanette I knew existed beneath her armor.

As we explored our childhoods together, resentment and unforgiveness seemed to be resounding themes. I have an entire website/talk dedicated to resentment (Resentment.org). Thankfully, I was able to work through a lot of my hurt when my dad and I reconciled, but Jeanette hadn’t experienced that kind of restoration. Her mom left with her and her brothers when Jeanette was one, never to see her dad again. And she’s never had the relationship a daughter deserves to have with her mom. There was so much hurt to work through.

At the time, a friend of ours had just attended a weeklong retreat at The Hoffman Institute in Napa Valley, California. If How We Love was our entry-point resource for this kind of healing and transformation, The Hoffman Process was all of it plus more, baked into a 7-day intensive retreat. Frankly, for all of the ideas that I’m continually throwing at the wall, I figured I’d get pushback from Jeanette when I suggested she attend, but by that point in her journey, she was ready.

Diving into the Hoffman Process is another chapter for another time, but the idea is that it helps stuck people get unstuck by making peace with their past, releasing negative behaviors, pursuing emotional healing, forgiveness, and authenticity and improving relationships.

Jeanette went. She did it all. And at the end, when I picked her up from the retreat, I met an entirely different human being.

I don’t want to say that we’re living happily ever after, because we still have plenty to learn. To work through, be aware of, and to understand.

But I will say that I’m in a different marriage now. I’m married to a different person. Everything has changed.

It’s like falling in love again.

This has been the best, sweetest time we’ve experienced in our entire marriage.

The seasons that led to this place haven’t been easy. Here again recently, with the start of our new venture, Christian Cannabis, we’ve had friends disappear, and ministry and business partners leave.

But Jeanette and I are finally united. Together. One. We’re aware of the fact that none of what we fought about for the past 20 years had as much to do with one another as it did with the lingering pangs of broken childhoods that we never had the tools to work through.

As I write this, I am an hour away from Hoffman, myself. The transformation of my wife was too significant for me to ignore. She even got off of her medication and hasn’t the slightest thought of returning to it.

Throughout this entry, I have talked a lot about her pain, her woundedness, and her need for healing.

But all of that exists in me, too.

The angry, irritable, and impatient patterns that define my love style? The Vacillator? That’s my dad in me. When I was growing up, anger was the only emotion he allowed others to see. I’ve written plenty about our reconciliation in adulthood, but I realize more and more how much the negative behavior that I learned from him as a child is still ingrained in the man — and yes, the father — I am today. Admittedly, it’s hard for me, approaching this next step of the journey, to even consider digging up old skeletons — especially knowing that he is already gone — but I know I still have the pain to work through, too.

However difficult, the sweetness of this journey — the fruit of this labor — has been too good to ignore.

Now that the clock is ticking, how do I wrap this up?

Put bluntly: we all have baggage to deal with.

It has been said that if “you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

All of us have room to grow.

Jeanette and I are committed to growth. We want to keep growing. We know what the last 20 years of our marriage have looked like, and we know that we want to be intentional about making sure that the next 20 are significantly different.

Significantly better.

All has not been perfect, but all are being made new.

It wasn’t easy. It still isn’t easy, but learning who we are and identifying these negative patterns in the hope that we might break them has been the best work we’ve done together.

How We Love was the catalyst for it all. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It helped us discover who we were before pain and neglect and success and ego and life happened, layered up on top of the little boy and girl buried beneath it all.

Do the work.

Dive in.

What will you find?

How will it change you?

Watch the Video

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