We have a special guest on our show today, on today’s show we go deep on how to apply play theory in relationships and processing trauma from a licensed therapist - Jennifer Lehr. Jennifer specializes in educating couples on the relationship skills they need to build a solid, connected and loving partnership. She has had advanced training in many couples modalities and uses her knowledge to help others. Jennifer has been helping couples for nearly 20 years. She is a regular contributor to her 3 blogs, which are designed to help people improve their lives and relationships: Healing Tips Blog, WeConcile’s Blog and Jennifer’s Blog, as well as other media. Jennifer Lehr also writes and talks about her journey from a difficult relational beginning to creating a beautiful relationship with her husband.

I’m so excited to welcome our guest today and dive deep into the principles of happiness and relationships. 

This Week’s PRO TIP is: Be curious about your partner! 

BONUS TIP: Do yoga!

Come join the conversation and play with us!

WEBSITE https://www.playtheory.org 

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Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/1652343491608927/

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/playtheory4life/ 

Remember that Life is a team sport, so let's play together!

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Neal Hooper: [00:00:00] [00:00:00]We have a very special guest on our show today. On today's show, we're going to go deep on how to apply play theory in relationships. In processing trauma, and we have a licensed therapist today. Jennifer layer, Jennifer specializes in educating couples on the relationship skills. They need to build a solid. 

[00:00:54] Connected and loving partnership. 

[00:01:01] [00:01:00] She has had advanced training in many couples modalities and uses her knowledge to help others. Jennifer has been helping couples for nearly 20 years. She is a regular contributor to her three blogs, which are designed to help people improve their lives and relationships. And those are healing tips, blog. We can Siles blog and Jennifer's blog as well as other media. Jennifer layer also writes and talks about her journey from a difficult relational beginning to creating a beautiful relationship with her husband. 

[00:01:32]And I'm not sure what was going on with the audio when we recorded this on our platform, but it took a hit. So, uh, forgive me for the audio quality. And we're just going to let go of that and a play with it. And roll with it and accept them, build on that, but really excited for you to listen to this episode And with that, let's roll right in to the conversation.  I am very excited to [00:02:00] introduce you to our guests today. Jennifer layer. Has many qualifications as you heard in her bio, but really she is on a mission and we totally agree with the mission she is on.

[00:02:14] Let me pull up your one pager here. I love this says. Jennifer layer is on a mission to create a world filled with connection instead of conflict. That is awesome. And something here at the happiness playbook, we are very passionate about. I think everyone, these days could use a little more connection and less conflict.

[00:02:38] So we're very excited that Jennifer is joining us today to help us learn how to do that. Jennifer, welcome to the show.

[00:02:45] Jennifer Lehr: [00:02:45] Oh, thanks for having me. I'm happy to be here.

[00:02:49]Neal Hooper: [00:02:49] I just want to dive in here cause you have a lot of value to add and I'm excited for our audience to learn more about you and in what your message is in some of the [00:03:00] principles that you teach others. So maybe a great place to start is just with a little background. So what's your story, Jennifer?

[00:03:07] Jennifer Lehr: [00:03:07] Oh, I have a long story. So my story is I grew up in a family that was had a lot of conflict, a lot of anger and bad communication and connection skills. So I went out into the world not very developed in those areas and through the course of my life and relationships, I started working on all that because.

[00:03:30] I wanted a good life and it wasn't going to happen the way it, the way I came out. So, I eventually became a therapist and did a lot of my own personal work as well as worked with people, a lot of trainings. And then I also decided that realize that couples needed a lot more resources than they have.

[00:03:49] And I started, I created an educational system for couples called we concile, which we're now currently turning into an app.

[00:03:57] Neal Hooper: [00:03:57] Wow.

[00:03:59] Jennifer Lehr: [00:03:59] that's the short [00:04:00] version of the story.

[00:04:01] Neal Hooper: [00:04:01] That's awesome though. It's so interesting. Cause we all, if we look deep enough, we all have baggage. Right. And I love that you bring that up. And also, that there's hope for us to get tools to overcome that that natural tendency, I think, to. To fall back on the conflict.

[00:04:20] Right. Which is something we're really good at. I'm just curious. And I'm kinda, coming out of left field here with this question, but you've had 20 years of therapy and you have seen a lot of people you're on the front lines for this, a battle for emotional wellbeing and mental health.

[00:04:38] And I'm sure you have. So many stories, but I'm just curious, what are some of the most common forms of baggage that people are bringing in to their lives and relationships? What are the biggest perpetrators.

[00:04:52]Jennifer Lehr: [00:04:52] People have wounds, we all have wounds places where we didn't get what we needed. And so we come into a relationship with [00:05:00] another wounded person and we don't understand each other's wounds. We're usually hungry for connection, but we don't know what to do when there's.

[00:05:08] A conflict or disagreement or we come at things from different angles because we're hungry and we don't know, we often don't have the space for the other person to really listen to what's going on for them because of our own, we're filled up with our own stuff.

[00:05:25] Neal Hooper: [00:05:25] wow. Is such a good way to put it wounds. I love that visual because I think that is a great thing. We view it as that the person is hurting, when someone's acting out or even acting out in a inappropriate way or a malicious way, it's because they're hurting. And I think that's a great perspective to take going into that.

[00:05:48] So there's a lot of tie-ins to the play three principles that we talk about and your message. And we'll kind of sprinkle those throughout. But you have a great message and kind of [00:06:00] framework around attachment. Theory. And so I just want you to dive into that and help us understand a little bit more about attachment theory and really the process and system you've used there.

[00:06:13] Jennifer Lehr: [00:06:13] Okay. So there's attachment theory and then there's attachment types, but we're going to talk about attachment theory. The types are you can Google attachment types and you get, avoidant there's like disorganized secure anxious. But we're going to talk about attachment theory and attachment theory is the mammalian need to connect.

[00:06:31] So mammals need to connect, and that means translate it into human terms. Am I important to you? Am I valuable to you? Do you care about how I feel? Am I safe with you? Am I enough for you? W the deep feeling level of what we need is my partner accessible. Interested curious. So it's about the deep emotional need.

[00:06:56]The human attachment means that we feel safe. [00:07:00] If we're sick, we want to be safe and secure in our relationships. And that's what secure attachment is.

[00:07:08] Neal Hooper: [00:07:08] And that's helpful to understand because in any relationship and correct me if I'm Wrong here, but that could be in a marriage. Could that also apply to a parent child relationship? Is that any relationship?

[00:07:23] Jennifer Lehr: [00:07:23] All close relationships that re that have vulnerability and, intimacy, vulnerability, that kind of thing. Yeah.

[00:07:31] Neal Hooper: [00:07:31] Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. So those are, and remind me again, what are the things we need to have that attachment? Within the relationship again, it's safety.

[00:07:41] Jennifer Lehr: [00:07:41] well, there's a whole, we want to feel safe. We want to know where we're at and we want to know where valued. We want to know that we're enough. There's it's the list could go on, but those primary, yeah.

[00:07:54] Neal Hooper: [00:07:54] that's so good. And we're a huge here in having this playbook about a [00:08:00] principal. Which is lookout word and everything you're saying there it's really easy to not feel those things in a relationship when we're looking inward and we're thinking of our needs. And it's always, you got to mention the caveat that you're only able to serve to the degree that you have, engaged in self care and maintain your own wellbeing.

[00:08:21]But really it's that looking outward and in those intimate relationships, Creating that, helping people answer that question affirmatively, I do feel safe. I do feel needed. I do feel important. So what are so style, a little deeper there and how, when you see a couple or any. Two people right there, their relationship is just in the dumps and how do you help them work through that and go from not having those things, to feeling that connection and attachment.

[00:08:55]Jennifer Lehr: [00:08:55] Every therapist would work somewhat differently and it also depends on what your [00:09:00] training is, what modality you're sort of drawing on, but you want to get the couple to first identify how they keep getting stuck. So, When you when your tone got sharp with me, I left the house and slammed the door and then you cried.

[00:09:16] And then I got mad and yelled. In other words, what's actually happening. What are the behaviors you want to identify that because people have to take responsibility for what they're doing, because you can't create safety with that kind of behavior going on, and you have to create safety to get down into the deep, vulnerable feelings.

[00:09:35] And that is. When you had that tone, it reminded me of how my mother used to talk to me and that made me bristle and I, made me feel like I wasn't important. So you have to get into the story and into the deep feelings and you can't communicate that with bad behavior going on.

[00:09:56] Neal Hooper: [00:09:56] Okay, this is so good because [00:10:00] you have to let go right of the bad behavior. You have to let go of  those disruptive emotions just long enough to then get present, right? Is that, am I hearing you correctly? Cause you have to play that observational role and kind of process, what's going on and what the causes are for those emotions.

[00:10:19] Is that fair to say?

[00:10:21] Jennifer Lehr: [00:10:21] Yes. So present being present moment to moment awareness is very important. Because you have to be in your body and in yourself to really even be able to connect with the deeper emotional feelings. And you also have to be clear in order to say, Oh, I did this and that. Wasn't okay. I did that it wasn't.

[00:10:40] Okay. So if you're not present you're you tend to be spinning. You could be caught and you're not, you could be in the past spinning. You could be, but you're spinning more with anxiety or something's going on. That's keeping you out of right here right now. What's going on. And I can think of an example.

[00:10:58] I can think of a couple. I worked within [00:11:00] the w the woman in the couple. Was just furious with her partner for good reason, but she was furious. And so she was coming at him like a train, but she wasn't aware of herself. She didn't even see that she was pushing him away with her velocity of anger.

[00:11:15] And so she had to be, or I had to stop her slower down, get her to breathe and get her to identify. I know you're really angry, but what's going on. And underneath was this horrible feeling that. He didn't care about her and that's what was driving the behavior, but she had to be put into the present helped into the present moment.

[00:11:35] So she could connect with that. Okay.

[00:11:37] Neal Hooper: [00:11:37] Oh, that's so good. And really hard to do. And so you mentioned a few things just now. Deep breaths obviously are helpful. What other approaches or tactics do you teach people to get present so that they can play that observational role?

[00:11:52]Jennifer Lehr: [00:11:52] Well, we can sell it. I use what's called the lenses. So there's a body awareness lens, a thinking lens, a feeling [00:12:00] lens sensation, image lens there's 12 lenses and these are portals into experience. So I'll give you an example. I've talked about this before about my husband and.

[00:12:11] We are in some kind of disagreement. And I asked him, what is going on for you right now? And he said, my stomach feels really tight and cold. And I said, Oh, what's that about? What does that remind you of? And he said, that reminds me when I was a little kid and my dad was having a temper tantrum. I said, Oh so that, that moment of tuning into the body opened up a story that informed him and me of how he was being impacted by our disagreement. So, which was useful.

[00:12:43]Neal Hooper: [00:12:43] I read and my wife actually has finished the book, but it's called the body keeps the score.

[00:12:50] Jennifer Lehr: [00:12:50] Yeah. I've heard, I've read it. I've heard of it

[00:12:52] Neal Hooper: [00:12:52] okay. And I think the concept, again, I, it didn't get very far into it, but is that you can actually tap into and [00:13:00] understand traumas or things from your past and how they've affected you, but you can actually feel those or identify those based on how it's manifest, even physically in your body.

[00:13:11] And so like the story you mentioned there is there any thoughts to that? Have you found that to be true?

[00:13:17] Jennifer Lehr: [00:13:17] Oh, yeah, the body it's all in the body. Cause we're physiological, being and all our experiences are stored in the body and in how we're wired. So here's another example. So I'm thinking of a person who goes into an altered state when big due to trauma and You can use EMDR eye movement desensitization. Which is a form of therapy where you start working with either a light or a pattern going back and forth, and you start integrating the memory from one side of the brain, into both sides of the brain, and that enables the body to metabolize. And that's one way there's other ways to metabolize trauma.

[00:13:55] So one way the body can start metabolizing trauma instead of having it be [00:14:00] caught somewhere. Where you have no control over it. And it just sort of jumps out and grabs your psyche and causes you to behave in ways that are destructive.

[00:14:10] Neal Hooper: [00:14:10] Wow. That is kind of the first step in play theory with the four principles they're actually in order. And we start with be present because if you're not present, it's kind of , a non-starter and it's hard to really. Except in build, let, go and play and look outward if you're not present.

[00:14:29] And if you're just distracted and giving into all these emotions inside, I love, it sounds similar that, that's the first step is let's get present. What's observed and learn

[00:14:39] Jennifer Lehr: [00:14:39] Yep. Yeah.

[00:14:41] Neal Hooper: [00:14:41] very cool. Now you have what you call the relationship roadmap. And I would love for you to share a little bit more about what that is and and the approach you take

[00:14:55]Jennifer Lehr: [00:14:55] If you're a couple and you want to sort of start Harmonizing [00:15:00] better together, that sort of rhymed you want to, so the first step would be, or the first question I would have is have you talked about your goals?

[00:15:10] What is each of your purposes and your purpose? Do you have a purpose for your relationship? Like if somebody wants to travel and the other person wants to live in a little house with a fence, in a yard those two goals in life might not fit together. So the first step is who are we together?

[00:15:28]Sometimes couples get together and they don't even go there. They just get together and they're married and all of a sudden they find out that one person wants to go to grad school and the other person wants that person to make money so they can buy a new, new thing. So.

[00:15:41]So that's the first step. Have you talked about your dreams, your goals, and are you on the same page? The second step is what we already talked about. When you get into a fight, what is your pattern, each of your patterns and start deconstructing that, Oh, you did that when I did that, then I did that [00:16:00] and that means you're also.

[00:16:03] Becoming a team against the pattern, which is called externalizing. The problem instead of you getting caught in the problem and you're BA I'm bad and you're pointing fingers at each other. You go, Oh, the pattern is the problem and we have to break it. So let's step two and that's not easy to do because we tend to blame

[00:16:20] Neal Hooper: [00:16:20] Well, and that's really hard because we're so used to pitting ourselves against each other, but what you're really doing is letting go of, that perspective and that that angle, I had a mentor, so I'm kind of jumping around here, but he had a disagreement.

[00:16:36]He had a disagreement with his wife and they were sitting across from each other on a table and they were having this disagreement and I'll never forget. He said after a while it was not dealing any fruit. It was not being very effective. And so he wrote the problem on a piece of paper, put it on the table and then went on and sat next to her.

[00:17:00] [00:17:00] And so they were looking at the problem. So I think that's a great visual of exactly what you're sharing.

[00:17:04] Jennifer Lehr: [00:17:04] Externalized it. So then the third step is getting into attachment language. Now we touched on this attachment language. Isn't, I'm so mad at you that you forgot my BR that you went to your mother's house when it was my birthday, whatever some issue, attachment language is.

[00:17:22] When you forgot my birthday, it made me feel like you didn't value me. And it really hurt me. And I love you. So I need you to value me and not forget my birthday. So it's getting down into what's really going on. So you have to develop an ability to talk about your attachment needs and your attachment fears.

[00:17:41] I'm afraid, blah, blah, blah. But, and I need to know that you will consider what I want to, I need to know that what I want is important to you. I'm afraid. You'll forget me. I'm afraid I'm not good enough. I'm afraid you don't value me. I need you to do these things. So you have to start developing language because when you're [00:18:00] in a disagreement of some kind, right.

[00:18:02] There's almost always a level of attachment language that could be spoken that would help the people connect better, and understand each other better. So that would be step three.

[00:18:14] Neal Hooper: [00:18:14] Awesome. And what role does validation play in? Step three.

[00:18:19]Jennifer Lehr: [00:18:19] It's really important to listen and tend means you're actually. Your health, helping the person express themselves. You're curious. You want to hear what they have to say? You're not like, okay, let's just move on. I got things to say, you're like, wait, I want to understand you, let me give, allow me the privilege of stepping into your world. So that's that's, really important to be able to do that.

[00:18:46] Neal Hooper: [00:18:46] That's great. And that ties in perfectly to accept and build. Which is another way people see that one in the improv community is yes. And right. But you're taking sounds like you're taking where they are and you're not [00:19:00] just validating and accepting them. You're building on it and you're helping them feel comfortable to extract more.

[00:19:07] Jennifer Lehr: [00:19:07] Right. Exactly. And there's specific steps that that you can learn in order to do that but that's what you're doing. You're, reassuring them. You're often repeating, you're asking, clarifying questions, all of that, to help them elicit, to help elicit a larger who are you in response?

[00:19:23] Yeah.

[00:19:24] Neal Hooper: [00:19:24] I love that. I love step three. That's a great one.

[00:19:27] Jennifer Lehr: [00:19:27] And then step four is what I talked about. The lenses. It is getting into understanding a moment to moment. Your experience. So let's suppose there's a couple and one of the, let's say the woman, cause I'll go, stereotypical says, well, what are you feeling, Neil? And Neil says I don't know.

[00:19:49] And 

[00:19:49] Neal Hooper: [00:19:49] Yeah, that sounds great.

[00:19:53] Jennifer Lehr: [00:19:53] the person into the feeling and the way you do that is through the lenses. What are your thoughts doing? What are your [00:20:00] emotions? What is your body doing? What's happening? Is your, where is your heart beating? Is your stomach tight? Do you feel, what is it starting to help people get into their direct experience to understand what's going on?

[00:20:12] So when someone says, what are you feeling? They don't say they don't shrug and say, I don't know. They could say. I'm having this image of my mom chasing my father with the knife. And that really scares me. And, they could have some, and then you're like, Oh, you're having a real, something is really happening here.

[00:20:28] So you're not feeling you just are, you're being hit by stuff and you don't even know how to verbalize it. It just gives dialogue and language to experience when people often just go, I don't know, because they haven't learned to scan the body, the mind, the emotions and figure out what's going on.

[00:20:46] Neal Hooper: [00:20:46] wow. That is awesome. Very clear framework. I love the steps and it's a very clear how that would help you come together. Really understand [00:21:00] what's going on and then move forward. So I love that there's tons of be present, accept, and build, and a lot of let, go and play too. 

[00:21:08] Jennifer Lehr: [00:21:08] And there are other steps too, but those are the first four.

[00:21:11] Neal Hooper: [00:21:11] I'm so sorry. I'm jumping the gun here, please. Oh, there's more. Let's keep going.

[00:21:16] Jennifer Lehr: [00:21:16] the next step for, and these are, at this point they can start, they can move around but you have to be aware of these different we'll call them building blocks of connection, areas where you actually need to have some professor proficiency, but one of the steps is.

[00:21:31]How you've been impacted by your past. And, I worked with many people and I asked him how he w you know, what was your childhood like? Oh, it was great. Big red flag. Maybe a big red flag and yeah, there are people with great childhoods, but there's also a lot of people who didn't have great childhoods and they don't know it because that memory has been pushed away.

[00:21:52]And I can think of a particular situation where I was in a parking lot and there was a mother and a little boy who was, [00:22:00] let's say he was. Four. He was little and she was screaming at the top of her lungs at him and he was wailing and I just thought, Oh God, this poor kid. So what's going to happen to him when he's older, when he's trying to have a relationship, where are what's?

[00:22:16] Where, what will he have done with his feelings? He might not have any feelings by then. He might have got rid of them, not safe to have feelings. I whale. And my mom just screams at me. I mean, who knows what his story would have been, but I call these survival skills, survival strategies. So if you're an adult and when you feel a certain way, you might act a certain way because you learned how to do that to survive as a kid, but you don't, there's no link.

[00:22:44] You don't know, Oh, I'm doing that because I learned that as a kid, because whenever I had a feeling that I got slapped or whatever, So you so unpacking the impact of the past can have a huge it can really help, people [00:23:00] understand, Oh, that's why I do this. And I don't have to do it this way.

[00:23:03] There are better ways of responding of being.

[00:23:07] Neal Hooper: [00:23:07] That is so good. And again, awareness and that presence and observations the first step. Cause you can't let go of something you're not aware of. And that's a big one. I imagine that's it was just, that takes a lot of work sometimes to get that out of people.

[00:23:21] Jennifer Lehr: [00:23:21] Well it's really? Yeah, because you can't just rip someone open. You have to slowly, build a relationship and start understanding who they are and start opening little doorways and having them start going, Oh, are little lights go on and eventually more and more opens and they get a clear picture of who they were, what they experienced, how it impacted them.

[00:23:44] And what they're so carrying around that doesn't work.

[00:23:48]And we could keep going, but that's the basic that's the basic, I mean, there's, you go deeper and you refine and refine as you go on and you do more connecting of. The surface feeling what's under it. How does it [00:24:00] affect your cycle changing, and learning how to communicate differently, because you become more aware of the nuances of your experience.

[00:24:09] Neal Hooper: [00:24:09] wow. Okay. That's huge. And I love the framework again. I think it's very thorough and again, really tying into the relationship piece, but also just being able to it's a function and move forward with confidence and feeling good about yourself. So I think there's a ton of value there and obviously as high level, and I'm sure there's a lot more that goes into each one of those steps, but thank you for sharing that.

[00:24:35]We would love for us to all just be experts right. At this relationship in life thing. And the truth is, especially in relationships, I'll take that angle because that's kind of what we're discussing here. But there is trauma that happens. There are mistakes that are made and trust is lost.

[00:24:56] And I know that's another area of expertise for you is actually [00:25:00] rebuilding trust and intimacy in your relationship after there's been an event of betrayal or some kind of loss of trust. And so I'd love for you to dive a little deeper into that and help us understand how we can do that.

[00:25:12]Jennifer Lehr: [00:25:12] Many kinds of betrayal. One of the common ones. Cost courses infidelity, but there are many kinds of betrayal, emotional betrayals just different kinds. So when you have two people and there's been a big betrayal and we'll use infidelity in this example, the party who, who will call the perpetrator, just for lack of a better word, the perpetrator needs to be able to.

[00:25:38] Have empathy and not just, I'm sorry I did that, but my heart is breaking because I broke your heart a very deep level of, Oh wow. I really hurt you. And that hurts me. They have to be able to get to that level of empathy. Often the person who cheated [00:26:00] or was the perpetrator.

[00:26:00] However we want to call it is defensive? And that's a roadblock you'll you won't get anywhere and it's not possible. So that's the first thing that has to happen 

[00:26:10]Neal Hooper: [00:26:10] And just real quick on that note, it's that looking inward that is preventing any progress from happening. And I love that you pointed that out because that level of empathy, that level of looking outward. Is incredibly humbling. And I would say, very rare even, is that fair to say

[00:26:32] Jennifer Lehr: [00:26:32] Yeah, it's hard if people don't get there right away generally. And there's a lot of shame when you've hurt someone it's shameful and there's a lot of defensiveness. People don't want to feel shame. They'll, it was your fault. I mean, people throw the blame around because who wants to feel shame and.

[00:26:48] It's a hard, it's the hardest feeling. So, yeah. So then you, so then the next thing the person who was betrayed, they're not going to forgive right away, but they would need to [00:27:00] have it as a goal. I would like to trust you again. I would like to forgive you someday.

[00:27:05] Obviously it's not going to happen in three seconds, but it has to be a goal. If they have no intention of ever forgiving or one trust person, again. That's also a game stopper. There's nowhere to get. So there's those two big pieces eventually, and this is way down the line. You have to look at the dynamics of the relationship.

[00:27:23] That allowed this to occur because I can think of a relationship I had years ago where my boyfriend cheated on me and I just wasn't tuned in enough to, I wasn't tuned in enough. And had I been, I might've said this guy really isn't fully there for me and I need to get rid of him, but I wasn't tuned in,  I was young.

[00:27:43] And so really knowing. That there's always a S a whole picture. It's not, I mean, someone might have an addiction, a sexual addiction that could cause it, but generally both parties have a role, but you can't get to that until way later, because first you have to deal with the [00:28:00] injury and rebuilding trust.

[00:28:02]Neal Hooper: [00:28:02] You kind of alluded to this and I just want to clarify. Obviously infidelity there's a whole spectrum there of what that could mean. And on one end you have, the act of going out and cheating on your significant other, and somewhere in between, there's probably online activities.

[00:28:22]Catching a partner, viewing pornography, for example could have a huge impact depending on their perspective. Is it is it the same process, even at those earlier stages?

[00:28:33]If there's that loss of trust or betrayal.

[00:28:36]Jennifer Lehr: [00:28:36] I think it is. I mean, obviously different people have different tolerances for many different things and different people have different wounds. And for some people, the partner using pornography is that non-issue and for other peoples it's devastating. But regardless if there is a wounded party who feels betrayed, the process has to be what I outlined earlier, because that person needs to know that [00:29:00] it won't happen again, that their feelings are valued, that they can, that, that they won't ever have to.

[00:29:06] Yet. Nobody wants to go through trauma more than once.

[00:29:09]Neal Hooper: [00:29:09] Yeah, that makes sense. Okay. Thank you for those those clarifying points. 

[00:29:13] Jennifer Lehr: [00:29:13] It's just to be aware that infidelity and betrayal is a tsunami in the relationship and you will have a new relationship. You will not be able to keep the same relationship if you repair it. You actually have to create a whole new relationship because the old one is over and it's that way it can be good because you could end up with something that is much better than what you started with, but it's not an easy process at all.

[00:29:40] Neal Hooper: [00:29:40] wow. And that's the ultimate, let go and play in my opinion, because that is. And we've chatted about this earlier in the conversation. That's going to be really hard to not hold onto what you had and to just kind of start over clean. But that's a very important part of the process.

[00:29:56]You mentioned something earlier and [00:30:00] that I thought was interesting about needing to and you might have to remind me the wording here, but yeah. Kind of your new identity as a couple versus your identity as an individual. And is that a fair way of putting it

[00:30:16]That, that when you come together, you gotta figure out what your new identity is.

[00:30:20]As a couple rather.

[00:30:21]Jennifer Lehr: [00:30:21] I would just send you that when you take two individuals and they let's suppose we're formed and we have ideas about ourselves in our lives. And you put them together that, so in that context you do have to figure out what, who are we as a couple? This is a little different than when I'm talking about repairing and fidelity, because in that case, the relationship and the ways you were is over, because it allowed something to happen.

[00:30:47]Neal Hooper: [00:30:47] When you mentioned it earlier, I was thinking when my wife and I got married, it was funny because. As a single person, you make friends and you're just factoring in how you and that individual gel, but then [00:31:00] after you get married and you're trying to make friends, it kind of creates this whole new dynamic and you have to think through, okay, us as a couple now are going to gel very differently than I did as an individual with certain people.

[00:31:11] And so I just thought that was a good thing to keep in mind. 

[00:31:14] Jennifer Lehr: [00:31:14] Yeah, well, I think to have a healthy relationship, you have to work out of, like, I have friends that  my husband knows them, but he's not really friends with them the way I are. And he has friends that I know, but I don't, I'm not really close to them the way he is. And then we have friends that we know together that work, and that just part of, there's no, what is it?

[00:31:31]The Venn diagram with the overlap

[00:31:34] Neal Hooper: [00:31:34] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:31:35] Jennifer Lehr: [00:31:35] and different people have different overlaps, according to what they need. And, you do run into a problem if one wants a complete overlap and the other one wants to circle to very barely touch, right? But that's that's part of figuring out how to be a couple, how to be the specific couple that you are to the best ability.

[00:31:53] Yeah.

[00:31:54] Neal Hooper: [00:31:54] wow. That is awesome. You've shared so many good nuggets and I [00:32:00] just so grateful for your expertise and. I would love to know in your experience again you've had a lot of experience. You've worked with a lot of people.

[00:32:08] What's like, what's been the. The best victory, I guess, for a couple that's come and worked with you or maybe that's come from that most dire circumstance and then had a big win. I don't know if you have any stories like that off the top of your head, you could share.

[00:32:22]Jennifer Lehr: [00:32:22] I would say my relationship is the best victory because my first marriage was extremely difficult and I'm in my second marriage. And we did in, I mean, we had, the first six months is generally bliss, which it was, and then you start hitting the, the problems. And we did some therapy together.

[00:32:40] I think I did every other week for a year or two with him, but I was writing, we can sell. So I was learning a lot and I was writing and he was reading and editing and we had a lot to talk about because of that process. And it enabled us to. Really work, understand each other work through huge like differences.

[00:32:58]Like I understand why he [00:33:00] reacts the way he reacts sometimes because of the conversations we've had and he understands why I get upset the way I, so there's a much it's like the weaving of the two cloth, the two cloths get woven together with understanding and story and a bit bility too.

[00:33:15] To connect in a deep hole, deep way where both people, their whole selves are coming in and that's, I'm just using me for an example because I think we have a particularly good relationship. And so that's why I'm bringing that up.

[00:33:30]Neal Hooper: [00:33:30] I like to brag about my marriage as well when I get the chance to, so that's awesome. Well, thank you so much for sharing all of these wonderful concepts with our listeners. And we're so excited to to share this before we get to our last question, the pro tip that they can take and apply.

[00:33:50] I just want to know if our listeners want more Jennifer, they want they want to learn more about what you're doing. Where do we send them?

[00:34:00] [00:34:00] Jennifer Lehr: [00:34:00] You can sell.com w E C O N C I L E like reconcile, but we can style. That's the website. I have a blog with a lot of articles on relationship in different subjects. I also, Jennifer Lear mft.com where I do more personal writing. I have a free quiz or relationship quality quiz. We consult.com/quiz. I'm on Instagram and Facebook at wee concile.

[00:34:24]Those are. Yeah that's probably the best way to

[00:34:27] Neal Hooper: [00:34:27] That is awesome. Okay. So you heard it here. She's got a free quiz, so make sure you go check that out. We'll put it in the show notes, the link for that. So you can go and and again, for this quiz, what are they learning about themselves when they take this.

[00:34:41]Jennifer Lehr: [00:34:41] It's just 10 questions. So I made it short. But they're going to learn how they score. In a couple of different areas, including hope about the relationship, sexuality conflict understanding of each other, blah, blah. There's like, I think six, probably six categories. I'm not sure. And [00:35:00] yeah.

[00:35:00] And so then they get actually a score that says, okay, you're doing good or okay. You better jump on this before it's too late. So

[00:35:07] Neal Hooper: [00:35:07] Okay. Awesome. That sounds very valuable. Thank you so much for offering that to our listeners. And and again, thank you so much for taking the time to share with us. Now for the last question, what is one pro tip for applying and developing the skill of happiness that you would share with our audience?

[00:35:28] Jennifer Lehr: [00:35:28] Oh, my there's so many tips. So, I'm gonna, this is an odd tip, but I'm gonna throw it in there. Because it seems disconnected, but it's not. So I've practiced yoga for how many years. More approaching 30 years now which is a long time and what it taught me, you're on the mat and that's your little universe and you notice, Oh, I don't like this isn't fun.

[00:35:55] Or that person's doing it better than me or. Oh, I don't like that [00:36:00] teacher she's ganja yet. And you start witnessing a lot of yourself because you're stuck in this spot . And it's a really good way to to develop, present centered awareness which you need. If you're working on a relationship, now I could give other tips.

[00:36:16] That's a very sort of general how to develop presence, centered awareness. But it's a really good one, a good method to do that. In terms of relationships you want, if you're not curious about your partner, you want to look at the blocks to your curiosity. So your partner's upset and you're mad at them for being upset.

[00:36:36] Can you be curious? Why are they upset and why do I not want to be curious about this what's going on? So that would be a good thing to just take us. Self-inquiry.

[00:36:48] Neal Hooper: [00:36:48] wow. What a great question to ask, because that is huge and that applies to couples, but also if you're. On a date with someone I'm assuming [00:37:00] that applies as well there. So that is awesome. Jennifer, thank you so much. You've been so gracious with your time and your knowledge and we are so enlightened and better off for having had you with us.

[00:37:13] So thank you so much

[00:37:14]wow. That is good stuff. Whether you are in a relationship or marriage or you're in the dating scene. And you're just trying to find out how to connect with people. Today's show armed you with a lot of very concrete applications of play theory in relational setting. So I hope that this week you will move forward, that you will become introspective. And remember the pro tip that she shared. 

[00:37:40]To be curious about your partner. And again, that applies in friendships as well as relationships. 

[00:37:48]So take that one to the bank. 

[00:37:50]Thank you so much for joining us today on the happiness playbook. Remember to look outward, to let go and play this small stuff and accept and [00:38:00] build upon the hardships and become a better you and to build a better relationship. 

[00:38:06]Thanks for tuning in and as always, I just wanted to remind you 

[00:38:10] that happiness is a skill and life is a team sport and we are so glad to be on your team. Catch you next week. 

You do not want to miss today’s episode...Clair Mellenthin is a very accomplished spreader of light. She is first and foremost a mother, a wife, a sister, and a friend. She has three rambunctious kids who she refers to as “her insanity makers and her sanity savers”.  She is married to her best friend and partner in all she does. Aside from those important details, she is a best selling author and has written several books and courses, she’s a world-renowned play therapist, and above all has touched thousands of lives for the better.

This Week’s PRO TIP is: Carry out a playful event or activity for your family (eg. Nerf gun battle with your family, ice cream party, spontaneously play). Don’t put it off, just start practicing PLAY! “Do or do not, there is no try” - (not baby) Yoda

Come join the conversation and play with us!

WEBSITE https://www.playtheory.org 

Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/playtheory/

Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/1652343491608927/

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/playtheory4life/ 

Remember that Life is a team sport, so let's play together!

LINKS From Show


Neal Hooper: [00:00:00] [00:00:00]

[00:00:31] you do not want to miss today's episode. Claire Mellenthin is a very accomplished spreader of light. She is first and foremost, a mother, a wife, a sister, and a friend. She has three rambunctious kids who she refers to as both her insanity makers and her sanity savers. 

[00:00:54]She is married to her best friend and partner in all she does. Aside from those [00:01:00] very important details. She is a best selling author and has written several books in courses. She's a world renowned play therapist. And above all has touched thousands of lives for the better. I cannot wait for you to dive into this game changing conversation. It really did change my life and I'm so grateful that she was willing to come on our show. 

[00:01:25] And speak our language and enlightened us. So let's go.  

[00:01:30] I am so excited for our guests today. And I have been wanting to have Claire on the show for a while now, because she has such a unique perspective about so many things that we hold dear here on the happiness playbook.

[00:01:47] She is an expert in many areas, but she really has. Double down on play and using that in therapy to help families, children, [00:02:00] and individuals really get the most out of their life and manage conflict and communication and so many things. So there's a lot to cover here, but Claire, we are honored to have you on the happiness playbook.

[00:02:14] Welcome to the show.

[00:02:16] Clair Mellenthin: [00:02:16] Thanks so much for having me. I'm so happy to be here.

[00:02:20] Neal Hooper: [00:02:20] We are so happy to have you, and you know, there's a lot to unpack here, so I want to just dive right in and a good place to start is, what amazing projects are you working on? You're up to so many cool things. So just help us understand what you're doing, what you're passionate about and how did you get here?

[00:02:39]Clair Mellenthin: [00:02:39] I'm so excited. I have some amazing projects that are brewing. My latest book that I'm co-editing with some amazing play therapists is about to be in final production with our publishing company Rutledge. And that is un-group play therapy and contemporary.

[00:02:57] Life of just what we're experiencing and then [00:03:00] how clinicians can help children and families in a group therapy setting while we're harnessing the power of play to work through trauma, family, navigating family's circumstances, school hospital, like all of these things that impact families and children's and just everyday life and being able to really. Hone in and harness how play and playing together can help promote healing and connection and repair relationships. And this has been one of my little brain tiles. That's been brained for the last couple of years. So it's so exciting to be in the final stages of production and that should be out this fall.

[00:03:39]Yeah, I'm so excited. And then my other. A huge thing that's happening is we're putting together, I'm headlining a conference in a couple of months called the attachment summit. And this is, we've invited some of the biggest and brightest Names in the field and we're all coming together to talk about how we can [00:04:00] repair and understand attachment and create healthy bonds of communication and connection and families harnessing attachment centered play therapy, which is the model of that I've developed over the last several years, but really looking at how we can use play.

[00:04:15] To promote healing and repair and family relationships, especially between the parent and child. And so this has like the culmination of my life's work at this point. And coming together with some of, like with some of the names and humans have really created such a huge difference in our understanding of how the brain works.

[00:04:35] So like Dan Siegel and Sue Johnson and Daniel Hughes, and several other people are part of this. And it really is just one of the most exciting things I've ever been able to do. So I'm really looking forward to some of these things that are coming up in that both of these, AR will be open and available to the public.

[00:04:51]And. Even though they're geared for therapists. I think parents can get so much from really beginning to understand, what [00:05:00] happens internally, what's happening in the brain and what they can do in their own homes to incorporate some of these ideas to have healthy, happy homes and safe places for their children to grow up in.

[00:05:11] Neal Hooper: [00:05:11] Wow. That is awesome, Claire and that is so exciting. We're definitely going to get information in the show notes for anyone listening that wants to participate and sign up. And, view any of these things. And obviously your book, when that comes out will be a huge resource that we're excited about.

[00:05:30] So you are up to so many good things. You're just scratching the surface. That's just what Claire's working on now. But you got to look at our website, which we'll also put in the show notes. There's a lot to unpack there and you've just been such a force for good and really leveraging play, which obviously at the happiness playbook, we use play theory to foster connection and growth and development. And so it's something we're passionate about. I want to just take a second though and let you expound on what exactly is play [00:06:00] therapy. How would you describe that to someone who's never heard of it before?

[00:06:03] Clair Mellenthin: [00:06:03] That's a great question. So what play therapy is we are using the child's natural language, which has play in a therapeutic modality. And, the belief behind this is children, especially when they're young. They use play to make sense of the world around them. Like they, they play out, family life, they play out school life.

[00:06:28] They play out, all of the things that they're exposed to because that's how they're going to learn and grow. And it's what makes sense in their brains. And so if we can go down to the child's level and engage with them through play. That's where these connections are going to be made. And when we can then bring in the parent, and use play, and within these different therapeutic modalities, we can really improve family functioning, child, emotional and behavioral distress even mental illness, [00:07:00] that can come about through trauma or developmental disorders.

[00:07:03] It's through the use of play and really being trained in how to use this therapeutically, that we can make the biggest strides and in helping children and families.

[00:07:12] Neal Hooper: [00:07:12] Wow, that is so cool. And I, we have so many angles that we're going to take as throughout this conversation. And so I don't want to jump the gun here, but, I think, and we talked about this in a previous call children. Use play like that is their language, I think is you even said that, right.

[00:07:31] That is the language of children is play. But I would go out on a limb there and say, just because adults forget how to play or they get bad at it. I think it can. The concepts and the principles are still very effective at any age. Is that fair to say?

[00:07:49] Clair Mellenthin: [00:07:49] Absolutely. I use play therapy and expressive arts across the lifespan and with every client that comes in to see me in some capacity or another. [00:08:00] And I think that you nailed it on the head, of, as we grow up, we're socialized out of playing, but so much of what we experienced. There's no words to adequately articulate what that experience means to us, but when we can create it outside of us, like through Sandtray through art, through me, as that, whatever medium that we're using and make it a tangible thing that we can see in process that helps the words come.

[00:08:27]And that is important at any stage of the lifespan, and I think. So often as adults, we forget how important play really is because we get so busy and, it's frowned upon and considered weird if we're out, engaging in childlike play and we're in our forties, unless we're playing with a child and then it's appropriate, but the power of play, I think, is still so very critical.

[00:08:50] And it's, what's missing in so many adults life, which is where we have this out of balance. Conflict , that happens with us.

[00:08:59]Neal Hooper: [00:08:59] That is [00:09:00] huge. And I think that has led to a lot of. Issues. And again, I we're going to keep unpacking, play in how it benefits everyone from all walks of life here. But I think as we, it's an expression too, it's a way to express herself and get out emotions. And when we don't do that and you can bottle things up and it causes all kinds of problems and I'm not.

[00:09:26] The expert here, that's just based on things I've studied and researched, but I want to dive a little deeper into what are some of the core elements of play therapy or maybe walk us through a little bit of the journey you help take people on , to improve their situation through play therapy.

[00:09:45]Clair Mellenthin: [00:09:45] With play therapy has been used really for throughout the last century. And it has ebbed and flowed, in, in pop culture and, and the regular understanding of everybody. But play therapy has actually been around [00:10:00] for a really long time. And so all those many moons ago, it started in Europe with some of the more famous psychoanalysts that people are familiar with. Freud had a daughter named Anna and she was one of the first, known psychoanalysts that started working with children for, I did actually some work with children as well. But she started looking at how children played and noticing.

[00:10:24] The different quality of play and how that was based upon the child's functioning level, in a sense. And then it has spread throughout that time, during, the world Wars, Bowlby came in into the scene of through the attachment lens, but also looking at and observing how children had been exposed to significant trauma or prolonged separation or hospitalization.

[00:10:46]Sorry, what we had back then was like a silence where children who had developmental or neurological disorders were removed from their homes and sent to live in a silence, far away from their families. And looking at, and beginning to understand that children [00:11:00] aren't blink States.

[00:11:01] Right. Like the world impacts them and what they experience stays with them. And what we've found over time is that, when that's unprocessed and unacknowledged, that's what leads to so many distresses and dysfunction and adult life and their ability to navigate the world around them and relationships.

[00:11:23] And to make sense of, even having any type of words to articulate, what the experience has been. And so, you fast forward several years and, coming from Carl Rogers, like person centered therapy, that was adopted into the use of kids of really allowing it to be.

[00:11:40] Child led and what's referred to as child centered play and really empowering the child to be their own storyteller, to bring their stories and their experiences. And then we use toys and we use play therapy. I always tell people like these coy is like a vocabulary word for [00:12:00] a child and what they choose to bring into their play actually has meaning and importance.

[00:12:07] And when we can allow permission for the child to be an expert in their story, so to speak, they can begin to make sense of the world around them. The things that they've experienced, the emotions that they feel, even if they're not able to cognitively or linguistically, have verbal vocabulary words, or storytelling around it.

[00:12:28] They can make sense to start processing through this with, a trained therapist and those things that, that can help them to find reconciliation, to find hope and healing, to find an ability to integrate these different parts of their life into a coherent story. That makes sense.

[00:12:47] Neal Hooper: [00:12:47] Wow. And that is so interesting. Cause you don't really think about when you see a child playing. You may not even be. Looking into it that, from that perspective. And I'm just [00:13:00] curious, what's an example of that, where the toy actually has meaning that they're choosing to, to play with. Can you just give us an example?

[00:13:09] Clair Mellenthin: [00:13:09] Sure. An easy example as this is, I think globally for most of the parents is, in those patients. School kindergarten ages when your Sheldon starts playing house. And all of a sudden you hear your words coming out of their mouth for better, for worse, whatever that is. Right.

[00:13:30] And this is your title, like making sense of family life and parent roles and the dynamics between parents and how parents. Yeah, their own kids, and so we see this when they're playing house, when they're playing doctor, when they're playing school, this is actually your child processing their different experiences throughout the day and throughout their lifetime.

[00:13:55]What we've seen in the pandemic when there has been the absence of school is [00:14:00] kids have been playing zoom calls. Or in family life, playing house, you see this more and more frequently. It's like, hold on penny. I have to get on a call and they pretend to get on the laptop. Right. And they're making sense.

[00:14:12] And this is making sense of what is happening in their life.

[00:14:16] Neal Hooper: [00:14:16] Yes, that literally just happened to me  it was just last week. My older daughter looked at her sister and said, I got to go to work and then went into the closet. Cause that's where I'm working out of a room, and it was just so interesting to see that, but it is so cool because They are adapting, that's like you said, that's an example of their environment impacting their psychology and their imagination.

[00:14:45] And as things change around them, you can see that play out even as they're playing. And I'm curious obviously the pandemic has changed so much of the way we go about our day-to-day lives. Is that a concerning [00:15:00] trend with the children and their ability to play and interact with others.

[00:15:05] I'm just curious on your thoughts. Real quick on that.

[00:15:09]Clair Mellenthin: [00:15:09] The answer is it can be, and not necessarily how's that. I think so much of how our kids are making meaning and adapting and connecting really has a lot to do with how we are as the adults. You see this, for example, a mass green, right?

[00:15:25] Like it's a normal, natural, no big deal thing. Like, Oh, that's just what we do then it's a normal, natural, no big deal to the kids. But when there's that like, ah, this is so wrong. It's so suffocating me, coming from the adults, we see that being reenacted, right? The kids behaviors and emotional responses to that as well.

[00:15:43]One of my little kiddos that comes to see me, it's actually a really cute, but he's a little four year old and he's always brought his stuff, like one of his stuffed animals with them to play therapy. And the last couple of times his stuffed animals were in a mask. Like Kevin he's like, well, we just have to keep everybody safe.

[00:15:59] I'm [00:16:00] like, yep, you're right. We just have to keep everybody safe. And this is the most important person in his world. And so his little stuffed animal, like his cute mom made his most important toy, a mask too, which I just thought was such a beautiful way to create that connection and really valuing the child and their worries.

[00:16:21] And. As well as like that empowerment of, what we can be safe. Like we can still live our life. We can still go outside and, because you have asthma and your lungs sometimes not work very well. These are the things that we can do to keep us safe so that we can do all these fun things.

[00:16:39] And I just thought it was such a great way for the parent to create that holding space around that too, of like the world doesn't have to be big and scary, even in the middle of a global pandemic.

[00:16:51]Neal Hooper: [00:16:51] As a parent myself, it's really hard to not. Let your opinions or thoughts become [00:17:00] more important than the, the psychological state or the emotional wellbeing of your children. Regardless of how you feel about masks or the situation, being able to help your child feel like.

[00:17:13] Like, it's not, something's not wrong that that it's and it's okay. That it's safe. That can have a huge impact. Is that fair to say?

[00:17:21] Clair Mellenthin: [00:17:21] Absolutely. Yeah. And I think that a lot of times we don't recognize how important and how deeply in tune our our children are with what comes out of our math. And what meaning our kids make from that, I mean, earlier in the spring when this, really felt super scary, but just if anything, to look back on, I'm like, Oh, we were freaking out.

[00:17:40] Cause I was 35 cases in Utah instead of how many thousands of cases that we've had now, 

[00:17:45] Neal Hooper: [00:17:45] it's

[00:17:45] Clair Mellenthin: [00:17:45] But I know for me, even as a parent, I got mad at one of my kids for, going out with a group of friends and I was like, you can't do that. Cause I was scared and stress and watching that translate into the world is scary and I can't [00:18:00] leave really took some, a lot of repair around that.

[00:18:03]And that's what the big kid, right? That's what the teenager let alone with the younger children. And so I think that. I think that is just so important for us as parents, that we are really being mindful about the language that we're using in our home. And know that, our words actually really do matter.

[00:18:20] Even if you don't think your kids are listening or they're brushing you off or they're, rolling their eyes, like whatever you're old, you don't know what you're talking about. I worked in actions do matter and our kids are paying attention. And I think that, that's not something to be scared about as a parent, but I think it's something to be really mindful about.

[00:18:37] Neal Hooper: [00:18:37] Yes. And one of them. Principals. We're really passionate about here at the happiness playbook is accepted and build. And I think it really ties into the conversation we're having, as a parent, especially, but I think, this applies much broader than just that parent child relationship.

[00:18:55] And so, but just, accepting where they're at and. [00:19:00] Building upon that and not trying to impose your perspective or your emotions even onto them, I think is huge. And the other principle that, obviously applies to a lot of different things, but is look outward. We talk about that a lot here on the podcast and, just keep them in mind, when you're feeling big things and wanting to react away, especially if it's a charged emotional topic, and again, I love that you said don't let that scare you because I think every parent at some point, or at multiple points in, On a daily basis, in some cases are so worried about traumatizing their kids. I know I have that thought in the back of my head all the time is like, Oh my gosh, did I just traumatize my kid?

[00:19:45]My, my messing them up. And, it's, I don't think it's helpful to dwell on that energy either, but it is important to recognize and be proactive in how you're translating the world and what's going on for them. And in trying to do that in a healthy way.

[00:20:00] [00:20:00] Clair Mellenthin: [00:20:00] I love that. And I think that comes into, so much of my approach, in my own life, as well as in, in my clinical work is. It's okay to mess up. Like we are all going to make mistakes. We are all going to say something. That's like, ah, how did that come out of my mouth?

[00:20:17]And that repair piece that coming back to rebuild, I really love that analogy of that. I think it's so important, for us to be modeling that for our kids. Cause it, it teaches them that, you know what, it's okay to make a mistake it's we can rebuild and repair. And when we can be accountable as the adult to have, what I messed up, I am so sorry.

[00:20:39] I lost my temper. I'm so sorry. I yelled at you. I didn't mean to say that word and actually sincerely apologize. I think that's something that as adults we've really have a hard time doing that on a regular basis, but it's so important to do because what we're modeling for our kids is that there's room for [00:21:00] you to grow in here too.

[00:21:01] And there's room for you to make mistakes and we can repair and we can keep coming back and circling back and connecting and just because a mistake happened, it doesn't mean that we're broken beyond repair too.

[00:21:16] Neal Hooper: [00:21:16] Oh, Claire, this is really important, what you're saying here. And I hope any parents that are listening to this right now are really marinating in this principle and topic because I think there in lies so much opportunity to really help foster and develop and grow. Children. And it's really hard to not let that perfectionism creep into your parenting and you want to be, respected and viewed as the authoritative figure.

[00:21:45] I know I'm speaking for myself. And maybe others, when I say that, But to be able to, and we call it, let go and play right. On the show, but to be able to let go of those imperfections, and again, accept and build on [00:22:00] them too. Right. Because it happened and what.

[00:22:03] That's okay. But now I need to build, and I love the word repair that you're using there. Because again, going back to the am I ruining my child. There's no such thing as a perfect parent, but your ability to really. Just accept what happened, take ownership and then make it right. And try to repair that. I love that.

[00:22:23] And I've seen just the times I have chosen to do that with my children. It's just been such a positive experience. And in the long-term, as you said, I love. This idea of you're modeling a behavior that I think all parents want their children to have, which is, we're all gonna make mistakes.

[00:22:40] That's okay. Get back up, make it right and move forward and don't spend so much time dwelling on it. And I love that you brought that up. Thank you.

[00:22:49] Clair Mellenthin: [00:22:49] Oh, absolutely. I believe in it.

[00:22:53] Neal Hooper: [00:22:53] When you're there on the front lines making this happen and teaching it and seeing the results firsthand. So I can only imagine the [00:23:00] stories you must have working with children and parents and adults too, and all these principles. While we're on the subject of parent child relationships and how to approach that.

[00:23:12] We talked about a few things already, but I'm curious, what other expert advice or tips would you give parents on how to leverage the power of play? To help their children become their best selves.

[00:23:28] Clair Mellenthin: [00:23:28] Oh, this is my favorite thing to talk about because not only can play help a child become. Their best self, right? It doesn't mean they're the best at it, but their best self in it. And what play is also doing is says actually, it's a critical attachment meek in family life and in parent child relationships.

[00:23:51] And what that means is that we can actually create healthier, emotionally safer relationships when we are [00:24:00] playing together. And what happens, just neurologically if I nerd out for just a second but when we're playing together, when we're engaged in that spontaneous, joyful experience, and we're being silly and goofy and engaging, and you're not thinking about the report that's due to your boss or what you're going to make for dinner, and you're actually present with your child in that moment of delight.

[00:24:24] We have these huge burst of oxytocin that happened in our brain and oxytocin's job. That's really, its only job is to create neurological bonds of connection between the two people in that moment. And so what you're literally doing is you're creating new neural pathways in your brain and in your child is amazing and overwhelming to think about that.

[00:24:50] But our brains are these amazing. Amazing organisms. And there's so much power in that, but what we're also doing is [00:25:00] we're creating space to truly see one another and for a child to experience their parents just delighting in them for who they are as they are, where they are. There is nothing more powerful that you can do.

[00:25:17]To help build a sense of self and a sense of worth and a sense of belonging, then giving permission to let go and be in these moments together. And we know as your child gets older, it's harder and harder to find the time. And sometimes willingness of the child to do that,  we laugh and we're like, okay, there's forced family fun.

[00:25:39]With a lot of eye-rolling and like, I don't want to be with you. Cause I have a house full of teenagers who they would much rather go play with their friends and they have less permission to go do that because that part of their development is so critical to you and there's that and in there, and we also have to create space for this to happen.

[00:25:59] Not [00:26:00] just a parent child, but we also have to do that between partners. So my husband and I, what we find is when we have stopped giving that space to really be together and to play and to be spontaneous and silly and just laugh together, what we find as we are at much higher levels of friction. And there's a disconnect and we're like ships passing through the night as like I missing you.

[00:26:25] And like, literally I am missing you. That happens across the lifespan.

[00:26:30]Neal Hooper: [00:26:30] There is so much good in all of what you just shared and. It's something so important I love. And you use the same verbiage we do, right. Be present. It's simple, but it can be challenging. Right. And I think a lot of, just like you said, not letting your brain wander over into your professional life or the stresses of adulthood.

[00:26:53]And the busy-ness I love, you mentioned that earlier, the busy-ness often is what takes us out of  our [00:27:00] practice of play. And if we allow that busy-ness to creep in, we're missing each other, that is such a powerful visual. It's like you are in the same room, but you're not connecting. And that oxytocin getting into the psychology. I love that you shared that because that really helps us understand what's happening at a neurological level, but we can feel it. At an emotional level too, when we have those moments. As a parent, when you really do, let go of all the worries and you just get present with your child and there's the laughter and the imaginations are running wild.

[00:27:38] It's just, it's magic. That's how I would describe it. And I love how you pointed out exactly what's happening and why that's important with the oxytocin in that bond that's happening there because I think that's what most parents want is a bond. And I think that pays dividends later in life too at the later stages.

[00:27:57] Is that fair to say 

[00:27:58] Clair Mellenthin: [00:27:58] yeah, it [00:28:00] hugely, because, you think about like our whole goal as a parent, is to raise a child who is going to ultimately become a healthy, successful member of society. And who can launch and make it work in their world. And when we've created a foundation of health of security, And connection in our home.

[00:28:18] That also means when they launch and they leave, there's a place for them to come back to maybe not like physically, like we don't want them to move into our basement, but in the heart. And in that connection, there's a place to come back to. And so you can have those conversations cause their safety in there of like, mom, I lost, I don't know what to do or.

[00:28:40]My mom's favorite is we have really had lots of conversations that she laughs about when I'm like, I'm sorry, I was such a Brown when I was a teenager.

[00:28:51] But that, there's this moment, there's this, there's a built in security and safety for those emotional connections to last throughout the lifespan, [00:29:00] which is what we also want. Right? Like, It's so painful to be the adult who launched and because you launched, there's been that emotional consequences and there's not a safe place to come home to.

[00:29:15]And that can be devastating and so crippling and, again, as a parent, really thinking about like, why am I doing what I'm doing is so important. Cause it's natural and normal and we want to like bubble, wrap our kids and make them not have to go through hard things in life. And it's it's so painful when they are, and we feel so helpless to do something different.

[00:29:36] And I think, a lot of the behaviors and a lot of the ways that we parent is actually rooted in good intent, but it can have the opposite or Well, maybe opposite. I don't know. It can have

[00:29:49] Neal Hooper: [00:29:49] Unintended,

[00:29:50] Clair Mellenthin: [00:29:50] an unintended consequence to it. Yeah. Like if our message is the world is scary and you can't go explore and you can never leave home.

[00:29:57] And if you do, you're abandoning me, right? Like these [00:30:00] messages, they do get played out and then they become internalized versus, like that example of, Hey, the world is safe. We can make a mask for your Teddy bear shirt. He can wear my wedding. You can wear one. And we can still like. It's okay for us to be present in the world, even if it feels scary, like we got this, like that kind of messaging and empowering is so very different.

[00:30:23]And I think it's, again, it's like that idea of allowing for mistakes to happen, allowing your kids to have a voice and an opinion, even if you don't agree with it or appreciate it as that maybe But that again, we have to be mindful about who are we trying to help these kids become?

[00:30:41]Neal Hooper: [00:30:41] I love that question so much because it gets, it just cuts to the core. And I think informed so much of what you do and how you do it. So I know there are I tend to be. More on the playful side, it it comes naturally to me. Not always, there are definitely days. That's not the case. [00:31:00] And sometimes to my wife's chagrin or disdain when it's bedtime and I'm getting, kids riled up and that's not the moment to do that, but that aside I want to know your opinion on, parents that maybe it doesn't come naturally,  I'm not saying I'm perfect at it either, but just maybe for those where it's not natural or it just is uncomfortable to really let go and play.

[00:31:25]And leave those worries behind. We talked about being present and I'm sure mindfulness really helps with that. But do you have any other tips for that, that demographic who might fall into that category?

[00:31:36] Clair Mellenthin: [00:31:36] Yeah, adults who, who experienced that way. And part of this is it's you don't know what you don't know. If you haven't been taught it. I mean, some of this, goes back into our own childhoods and like how our parents engaged with us or, the family circumstances of how much, playfulness was allowed.

[00:31:57] And I think sometimes, there's personality, parts [00:32:00] of this. You may tend to be a little bit more serious or you might not really understand like, well why do I need to go do that? Like emotionally, even though it's like, intellectually like, okay, I'm being told to do this, but it doesn't really make sense emotionally.

[00:32:11]And the things that I would suggest for parents, is be curious about what's coming up for you in those moments to be curious about. For those of you who were raised in non playful homes, cause that happens right. And sometimes it just is what it is. But to be curious about what would it mean for me, if I let go and took the risk to be vulnerable and present with my child, what would it mean for me to sit down and shut off my phone and have a tea party? What would it mean for me to. Allow, a mess and to be okay with that. And sometimes, as adults, we may need some extra support and help and guidance and doing that. And I think that this is where it's so important to [00:33:00] make sure that you have a good support system in place and your own safe places especially when some of this may be rooted in your own childhood and in your own past experiences and relationships.

[00:33:12] I think not being afraid to look at that and seek out help and support when you need it. Especially, for the parents who are being the change makers and so many parents out there, you are the ones who are making the family change and saying, you know what? I don't want to repeat what I experienced and I am going to do something different and it's like, Going out on a journey without a map.

[00:33:38] And you're trying to like bushwhack your way of creating something different. You're breaking the chain of abuse or, the intergenerational transmission of some of the trauma that you've been exposed to. And I think in those circumstances, and to one degree or another, all of us are being change-makers as parents, cause we're really changing the next generation [00:34:00] as we learn more and understand more about brain behavior, the relationship.

[00:34:04] But I think, especially when it's the harder scarier parts of things that we're trying to change to not be afraid to seek out some extra help and support so that you're not alone in the journey of doing that.

[00:34:18] Neal Hooper: [00:34:18] That was beautiful. And. Happiness is a skill. I think playfulness is a skill too, and it takes practice. I love everything you shared. Thank you so much. So we talked about the parent child elements, and that was so good. I love that you mentioned, a partner or a significant other and the role that play has for a relationship in that regard.

[00:34:40] And so I would love to shift gears a little bit and dive deeper there too, because. And I love what you shared too, that you can feel that it's that same disconnect, right. If you're not taking time to, to be playful and present and in connect on that level with a significant other I think it has a similar impact.

[00:34:59] Is that fair to say

[00:35:00] [00:35:00] Clair Mellenthin: [00:35:00] Yeah, it is. It's so interesting when you can sit back and think about, when's the last time, like we just did something fun together. When's the last time we just laughed together. And if it's been a moment, like a little season in your relationship, it usually, you can feel it because you start to feel disconnected.

[00:35:21] You start to feel more lonely, I think, in, in your partnership. And it's easier for the little things become big things because you don't have the safety of connection present in that moment with you. And so. One of the things, with adults, whether it's friendships or romantic relationships but as to allow for playfulness to be part of the relationship and sometimes in adulthood, that's more. A traditionally structured activity, like, okay, like, let's go take a fun cooking class together, or let's go on a hike together. Let's but the idea is we're doing it together and we're [00:36:00] creating these new novel experiences. And sometimes especially after a rough patch or you're in the middle of some repair work, having something new to focus on.

[00:36:11] And connecting can be some of the most important parts of healing. So you're not staying stuck in the things that have happened before. And it's like we're finding each other all over again and remembering like, Oh yeah, this is why I liked you. This is why we decided to be together, and.

[00:36:31] And remembering what it feels like, to see the sparkle and the twinkle in your partner's eyes, or to hear that belly laugh when it's just like that spontaneous, just joy in that moment. And those same neurological neuro biological factors are coming into play then where it's like, even if it's just these glimpses, we're having these moments of connection again.

[00:36:52] And this is where we can start to repair my build. When we feel like our house of cards got knocked down a little bit, or maybe we're, we're missing something in our [00:37:00] foundation. And those, of the listeners who aren't in a relationship right now, clay is still so critical for connection and to build friendships and a community.

[00:37:09]And I think that, this is where getting outside of yourself. In the sense really can make such a big difference in how you're feeling about your life, how you're feeling about yourself, as well as what you can contribute, and bringing joy and connection in somebody else's life.

[00:37:28] Neal Hooper: [00:37:28] Wow. And it really is so universally applicable, isn't it play is just enhances enhances every interaction and the concepts there. And we teach, let, go and play as a principle. And I'm putting you on the spot now. But I'm just curious in your opinion, what are the things that we're letting go of that allow us to play?

[00:37:54] Clair Mellenthin: [00:37:54] So it's letting go of your defense mechanisms and that fear of vulnerability [00:38:00] and showing up. That allows us to really connect in and play in for a lot of humans. That is not a comfortable thing. It's actually terrifying. Right. And this is where things like, for some people it's so interesting, like where they can do a lot of theater work and they can be this big boisterous, brave, vulnerable person on stage.

[00:38:22] Where they can let parts of themselves come out. And then as soon as they're off the stage, they revert back to, a more protective stance in their everyday life. But you know, the same process is happening, but I think finding your Avenue for them, outlet of what feels safe enough, what feels good enough?

[00:38:42] What feels playful enough? Is going to vary from person to person, and yet we all need it so much. And so desperately.

[00:38:52] Neal Hooper: [00:38:52] Oh, these are just man. I am. I'm just trying to, I'm [00:39:00] seeing if I can block out the next three hours. my calendar, I don't know about you, but well, we can keep going. This is so good. Claire. This has been so amazing and you've already shared so many amazing, tangible concepts with us. We do ask every guest that comes on , one last question, and that is what pro tip can you share with us about applying any of the principles we've discussed?

[00:39:30] Clair Mellenthin: [00:39:30] I think part of this. Comes from Yoda, right? Like there is no try, just do, and I, butchered that, but that part of starting to include and bringing play into your life yes. To start it and, go so by every member in your family and Nerf gun and go have a battle, like start it right where it doesn't have to be.

[00:39:57]Like, okay, I'll wait until we go on our family [00:40:00] vacation and then we'll go play in the ocean. No, like you start it now and get permission for it to happen now. And that is scary. And it's vulnerable to do that, especially if it hasn't been part of what has been present. Right. But I think in these small little ways, you just have to dip your toe in first. And so, having an ice cream party night, one night for dessert, where you just bust out, like, as okay, here's five different kinds of ice cream, and we're going to have all these toppings and we're just going to go play in this, right? Like it's just these spontaneous,  fun moments together.

[00:40:39] And every home and every family and every person that's going to like differently, for some families, it's gonna look like playing a board game for some families, it's gonna look like taking a hike for some families is going to, be a full-out Nerf battle.

[00:40:52] And but what's happening is you're allowing yourself to be present in that moment with the people you care most about. And for those of you who [00:41:00] are listening, who aren't in that life spot right now, like that's not part of your life or you're single, or, you're in more of like just the adult world.

[00:41:08] And outside of family life, what I would encourage you to do is actually something similar, find something that looks interesting and signup, yeah. Something new that you haven't done, or something that you used to love to do that you've forgotten. Even in the midst of this pandemic that we have, there are so many places, even if it's remotely where you can find connection with other people.

[00:41:31] And I think that's really what. We're all yearning for and looking for, and this is just an Avenue to do it.

[00:41:37]Neal Hooper: [00:41:37] that is so important. And I love what you're sharing. And getting really clear about what quote unquote play might look like because we hear play. And we might have, I have an idea, we're going outdoors and we're throwing a ball, but I love the example of an ice cream party, right.

[00:41:54] Just that spontaneity, that presence that that. Just being together [00:42:00] intentionally is a great way to foster that same connection. And that is at its core, a version of play as well. I'm grateful that you brought that into it. Claire, thank you so much. This has been amazing. We want to make sure our audience can find you.

[00:42:16] How do we connect with you? Where do we go to get more of this amazing concept, the play therapy and Claire

[00:42:26] Clair Mellenthin: [00:42:26] So you can always find me online. My website is just Claire Mellon, team.com and you're welcome to follow me on social media. I have several platforms that I'm on. And those of you who are local to salt Lake city, I'm just over at Westside family therapy. And so you can always find me locally as well.

[00:42:43] Neal Hooper: [00:42:43] That is awesome. And we will definitely put all of the social links in the show notes and the website and all that. Goodness. Claire. It has been an absolute delight. I mean that, thank you so much for coming on, taking time out of your day to share all of this goodness with us [00:43:00] and help us develop that coveted skill of happiness.

[00:43:04] Thank you so much.

[00:43:06] Clair Mellenthin: [00:43:06] Thanks so much for having me. It's been a pleasure.

[00:43:09]  Neal Hooper: [00:43:10] Wow. Isn't Claire just delightful. This conversation with Claire was, as I mentioned, just the total paradigm shift for me and my life. And I hope it inspired you as well. This week prioritize, play. Whether it's your children. If you're a parent. Friends family members, or even strangers who might need a spark of light in their day. 

[00:43:35] Be present and spontaneous with those around you and leverage the power of play to connect with everyone in your sphere of influence. 

[00:43:47]Practice happiness this week and never forget that happiness is a skill and life is a team sport. Catch you next week.  

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