If you've ever wondered why arguments with your mate seem like déjà vu all over again, it's probably because you're having the same tiff for the umpteenth time, says Tara Bennett-Goleman. And you might not even know what you're fighting about because the real conflict has its roots in your childhood. "The emotional patterns you learn as a child reverberate throughout your life," she explains over tea at the Algonquin Hotel in New York. "That's such a common frustration."
Sitting next to Tara in one of the famed hotel's club chairs—in fact, leaning into her every word—is Daniel Goleman, her husband of more than 20 years, who rose to fame with his book Emotional Intelligence. Tara's first book, Emotional Alchemy, is a culmination of 15 years of work helping her therapy patients become aware of the negative emotional patterns—schemas—that drive their lives. Consider this couple's résumés, full of honors for their work in psychology, or just look at their body language—the way they turn toward each other like plants toward light—and you wonder what they know about marital discord. Tara, with her long, dark hair, flowing clothes, and brilliant eyes, seems delighted by her husband's rapt attention, while he—compact, intent, disarmingly enthusiastic, a gray-haired man with a young man's mien—looks as if he can't quite fathom his good fortune.
So do these two psychology Jedis ever get peeved—or worse, have a nasty spat—themselves?
"When we were first married, we had a lot of fights. Big fights," Daniel insists. "And we don't fight much anymore. I think it's because of the schema work we've been doing."
"It has completely changed things," Tara says. "Once you understand your emotional patterns, you take things much less personally. You start to see the whole thing as fascinating."
"One schema I tend to have is being a perfectionist, so I work much harder and longer than I need to," Daniel says. "And the schema Tara has is abandonment. So I'm in my office working that extra hour, two hours—really longer than I need to. And what she sees is not that I'm working, she sees the closed office door—we both work at home—so she's feeling abandoned. The repetitive argument was that I'd work a long day, and then we'd have a fight. I'd be thinking, 'Gee, she doesn't support me in my work. She's so unsupportive.' And she'd be thinking, 'He's so uncaring and unavailable.' Once we started to see the schemas, one or the other of us would be able to cool down and maybe say, 'You know, we should take a time-out.' And then after we both cooled down, we could talk about what was going on. And that has been extraordinarily useful in our relationship."
"Once you find a way to identify your patterns, you start to deconstruct your fights," Tara says. "What are the issues?"
"The real issues," Daniel says.
"You start to be much more understanding, not only of your partner but of yourself," Tara says. "The habits we bring to a relationship come from our past experiences and disappointments. We're trying to get those needs met in our current relationship, so we place a lot of expectations on our partner. In a way, too many."
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