Ep. 034: Terry Real


Show Notes

Susan says it’s an honor and a privilege to have Terry on the show. She has followed his career path and deeply appreciate his insight. This is an interesting time to have this conversation because of the Kavanagh hearings going on in the United States. Susan is very interested in the intersection of gender and peace and it seems that the patriarchy really has to be challenged in order for peace to be secure. The title of this interview is “Building Peace: From the Intimate to the Global”. Susan would like Terry to make links between the intimate level and what is going on at the global level. 

Terry: It’s dead easy. The work that I do is teaching men and women how to live relational lives. This kind of therapy is called Relational Life Therapy, my institute is The Relational Life Institute, I’m about living relationally. What does that mean? Here’s how I teach it and here is the link. Living relationally is synonymous with living ecologically. D.H. Lawrence: “I am not a mechanism and I am not ill because the various parts are not working correctly. I am ill because of deep wounds of the soul… ” Full poem:

And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill. I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time, only time can help and patience, and a certain difficult repentance long, difficult repentance, realization of life’s mistake, and the freeing oneself from the endless repetition of the mistake which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.

What is this mistake? It is the mistake of patriarchy. It is the essential mistake of patriarchy. And here is what patriarchy is. Patriarchy is dominion. When patriarchal God made Adam and Eve and all the creeping things on earth, he gave Adam (and presumably Eve, too) dominion. They were to be lords as he was Lord. This was a really, really bad idea. “Dominion over” is what Riane Eisler, the author of The Chalice and the Blade calls the difference between “power over” and “power with.” It’s what the Greeks called hubris; believing that you are above nature. The essential mistake of patriarchy is that, as a man, and patriarchy is masculinity writ large, you are to be in control. You are above nature. You are lord and master, whether you are above the nature of your child, above the nature of your own vulnerabilities, or nature as embodied by your wife, or mother nature. We’ll take care of it, we’re in charge. We can do it. We are the doctors, give us the paddles, where is the patient.

Susan: I have come to believe there is a global epidemic of codependency among women around the planet. She references an interesting conversation she had with Dr. Scilla Elworthy on a previous episode. Women are doing a lot at the grassroots level and getting a lot done. And yet, I think many women are afraid of changing this balance between men and women. (Terry: As they should be.) But why?

Terry: One of the things I say is that leading men and women into intimacy, into health, into healthy relationships with themselves – this is what I mean living relationally, with connection and authenticity to themselves, their own feelings, sensations, wants, needs, thoughts, connection to self-esteem, connection to others, to a community larger than themselves, a spirit or purpose larger than themselves and the planet, you must lead them out of patriarchy, because you can not be above and connected at the same time.  That is to say in the personal/domestic realm, the masculine imperative to be invulnerable, to be strong, to be in charge sets them up to be defensive, and shut down, and not nice. Moving into a more democratic model in your living room and your bedroom is a big shift for a lot of couples, particularly all over the world. Step out of North America and Europe -- 50 years of the women’s movement has had an impact, even though its not perfect -- but when you visit places that hasn’t had 50 years of this movement, you see the difference. It’s not subtle.

Susan: So, why should women be afraid?

Terry: Whenever I have a woman who fears that standing up to power, speaking truth to power will have repercussions, I never dismiss or pathologize those concerns. Because, guess what, they do. Look at what is happening with Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford currently.

(Susan elaborates on this reference. Brett Kavanagh is currently a nominee for the Supreme Court of the United States. Dr. Cristine Ford has accused him of sexual assault while they were in high school. He is adamantly denying the charges.)

Terry: We are in interesting times, aren’t we? For those of us in the United States, when Barack and Michelle Obama were in the White House, they were a post-patriarchal family. They were where we are headed. They were lovely, and he was a great family man. I have plucked out of the old traditional model a few kernels because it’s not completely, monolithically negative. I have re-purposed them. I talk to men about becoming “family men”. I talk to men about the difference between being a boy and being a man. Being a boy is about ‘what is the world going to give me, what am I going to get.’ Being a “man” is about ‘what is the world asking of me right now, what do I need to give’. The global equivalent of being a family man would be being a good steward. Not lords of the earth. . .  .

Susan: Like being a parent. A very, effective global parent.

Terry: Yes. The shift from a dominion model to a collaborative model or the shift from a patriarchal model to the democratic model, is that you move out of the hubris, the pride, the delusion that you are above nature, and you realize that you are standing above the system, whatever the system is, whether it’s your marriage, or your family or the planet. You’re not standing above this system; you’re in it, dumbcoff, wake up. You are a subcomponent part and you have to move inside the system effectively with the humility and clear perception of where you are in system.  The delusion of dominance is  lethal. Let me say that again, because I conclude many of my talks this way, we will move beyond patriarchy or we will die. It is really that simple.

Susan: Continuing on the fear theme, there are obstacles for both men and women about creating this social change. Women, you say, should be afraid.

Terry: Yes, and then the question becomes: “how do you want to position yourself in relationship to that fear?” If you step beyond patriarchal rolls, you will encounter a pushback. (Susan agrees) I’ll give you an example from my personal life. Patriarchy in my little family. We were in the Dominican Republic with our kids when they were little. My children, like many of the children there, adopted cornrows in their hair (this is a traditional style of braiding in Africa and the Caribbean, with braids very close to the scalp). He has two boys and they both decided to get their hair braided, one in a rock-and-roll-esque style, and the other with his entire head in his favorite colors, pink and gold. So then it was time for them to go back to school and we had a discussion which I tell parents is raising their children to be “gender literate,” just like “culturally literate.” We said: “Look, you guys can express yourselves and show up and show off this cool thing. And, you may get grief for it. You may get made fun of. There might be a negative reaction to you. Maybe not, maybe. Or, you could undo it and no one will bug you, you can go under the radar, but you will have to give up a part of who you are. So, what do you guys want to do?” And they both said, yeah, we want to do it. And then, that morning, as one boy steps his foot in the car on the way to school, he goes “I can’t do it, I can’t do it.”  We had to cut them out in order for him to take it out quickly. The lesson of this was that I want them to make an informed choice, understanding all the consequences. Same thing when a woman is thinking about coming forward with a story that could jeopardize her. You know, Anita Hill was not treated very kindly. This is not about promising a rose garden. This is resistance, this is serious-- there is a lot on the line here. There are lives on the line. There are billions of dollars on the line.

Susan: There is potential for a lot of loneliness. There is the potential for not having economic support. These things are very real for a lot of women.

Terry: Yes, they are very real. I have a woman who is Latina and not from the U.S. She has a boyfriend who goes after her children. However, the boyfriend is also bringing in a paycheck so this woman is at the mercy of the state and has been for years. If she chooses to stand up to this boyfriend to protect her children, her children won’t eat very well. But if she doesn’t stand up to him, she has to watch him excoriate her little boys.

Susan: I don’t know if this is true in other places, but, in the United States, women actually have, or will have in the 21st century, control over the majority of economic assets. (Terry: “Isnt’ that marvelous.”) I don’t know if they are actually managing it, or it’s in name only, I don’t know those statistics, but at the end of the day, making sure we can support ourselves is absolutely key to being able to walk away, because you can’t negotiate if you can’t walk away.

Terry: That is exactly right. Whenever I have a woman who is in trouble in a couple, my first move is to empower the woman. And, whenever I’m dealing with a man in trouble, my first move is to empower the woman. Women’s voice is the voice that will be the wedge into patriarchy. Men will catch up, but women who are leading the charge.

Susan: Given the fear and all the negative consequences, why should women step up and speak truth to power even though they are fearful? Obviously, more women have been doing this. But why should we?

Terry: Because there are also negative consequences to not doing it. (Laughing) Look if you want rosiness from me, I don’t have it. I talk real politic. Pick your poison... Just like my two little boys who wanted to keep their braids in, life is better when we speak up, life it better even tho there may be tough consequences. You have congruence inside your skin.

Susan: So, the big secret I think out there is the level of global codependency of men on women. I think this is also a global pandemic. I think men really need the support of women and don’t like to admit it. 

Terry: I think that’s great and that  a lot of domestic violence is fueled because most batterers are love addicts.

Susan: Could you explain that? Because I think that is close to what we’re talking about here.

Terry: Well, the wound in  love addiction is ususally some form of abandonment. So these men, there are some women but 99% of these crimes are committed by men,  so these men get triggered by distance taking or independence from the the women. It feels like abandonment. They can’t tell the difference between distancing and abandonment. What trauma-triggering is, is reliving a traumatic experience. It’s not simply a memory. If you’re a combat vet and you’re walking down Main Street and you hear a car backfire and you spin around like you have a gun in your hand, you’re not remembering the sounds and feelings on combat, you’re reliving it. Your body is in it. That’s how traums works. You’re flooded. You’re in it. Your body is in it. Anyway, what happens is, these men have histories of severe emotional abandonment. When the woman pulls away in any distance, it triggers this childhood abandonment. It’s very frightening. They have about 10 seconds worth of tolerance for these early childhood vulnerable feelings and they defend against them by flying up into grandiosity. They go from inadequacy, helplessness, shame into righteous indignation, dominance, and control.  And they act out. What is devilish about this, is that the flight from shame into grandiosity does work – it acts like self medication, you feel better. It’s just disastrous. But you feel better, in the moment.

Susan: Can you explain the phenomena of “strong man rule” around the world? What’s going on here? What do you think about this? For example, why did so many women vote for Trump?

Terry: There are two parts to this question. First, the rise of “strong man” around the world. I’m writing an article for the Psychotherapy Networker and the first line of the article is “masculinity is currently at war with itself.” There are two versions of masculinity right now around the globe. The first, is a new, ecological, collaborative, democratic model of masculinity. If you want to see that model, look at millennials guys in the United States. This exists in other cultures as well I’m sure. This model was epitomized by the Obama family. Barack Obama really modeled a progressive man. He has a strong wife. He was a family man. He was thoughtful. He didn’t “shoot from the hip.” He wasn’t a bully. He also wasn’t a cowboy like both of the Bush presidents. He understood ecology, was petrified about global warming, and ready to ante up within the limits of American politics which of course is is controlled by corporate interests, my best bet within the limits of what he could realistically do. He was an advocate of the Paris Agreement. And then second form of masculinity looks a lot like Donald Trump and others around the world. This month’s article in The Atlantic is devoted to the question of “is democracy currently at risk?” I fear for our country if the midterm elections don’t change the House, if not the Senate. If Trump and the Republicans feel like they have a mandate, I fear for democratic institutions in this country.

Susan: I fear for our children and what they will inherit.

Terry: So, you can live a non-patriarchal, relational life in your living room, or you can live a non-patriarchal, ecological life on the planet.

Susan: He might not appreciate me saying this, but my son is 23. He is dating and is heterosexual, but he doesn’t necessarily call himself that. He was using a dating site, you don’t have to identify whether you are interested in men or women on this dating site. In his self-description, he said that he is a person who is comfortable with a range of feelings, and he is. He is a very masculine guy. He’s a mountaineer. He’s a tall white guy, he’s gorgeous, but he really believes in being a highly emotionally intelligent man. Well, the only people who responded to him on this dating site were gay men. He said, “I don’t know, Mom. I think I need to change my dating profile” Women don’t seem to want a sensitive, emotionally intelligent guy. I need to be the “mountain man”, the Marlboro Man,  and this is a millennial kid.

Terry: I’ll tell you what I would say to him (laughing). (Susan: What?) Try it! The issue is in the early dating phase, he might lean a little more onto the “masculine” side of things for his image and profile for the purpose of attracting women. Women like strong men romantically. That’s kind of an open secret. There’s a lot of surrender for a lot of women in sexuality. My friend, Esther Perel says “We like between the sheets what we fight in the streets.” (Laughter) Your son is the new man that I am interested in for moving this world forward. I don’t want a soft, uber sensitive , I want a balanced man, a whole man. Just like feminism wants whole women. When feminism first came on board, there was a lot of hysteria about either masculinization or androgenization of our daughters. Then we saw the same commercials where women could “bring home the bacon” (or make money for the family) and still be a porn queen in the bedroom. I want wholeness. I get a lot of criticism where people say “oh, Terry Real, he’s about feminizing men.” Go screw yourself! There wasn’t much good that came out of 9/11, but for me personally, I was heartened to see pictures of burly policemen and first-responders and firemen in each others arms and crying and comforting each other. I don’t want to be around when you call in a sissy. These are strong men. I like to talk about strong, big-hearted men.

Susan: So let me ask you something. You work with couples at the higher end of the financial strata where this is one of their final steps before signing divorce papers or whatever.

Terry: I have a two day intervention with most couples and, at the end of the two days, you’re either on different footing, or you’re calling a lawyer. This is always the last shot. People come in from all over the world to do this.

Susan: I know the pyschologist Gay Hendricks, author of Conscious Loving and The Big Leap, quotes a study where, at the high end there was significantly less satisfaction among men and women. For example, if you have a really powerful guy, it's harder for their to be partnership. I know a lot of women who are powerful and wealthy, and they are on their own.

Terry: Just like your son probably doesn’t need to put the pedal down too hard on those feminine characteristics – being emotional, feelingfull – maybe that shouldn’t be in his add, he can show up and be those things and that’s what will keep the young woman, but step out of the role and there are consequences on both sides.

Susan: Do you think that the closer you get to this high level of power the more difficult it is to be partners with a woman? (Example of Les Moonves, the President of CBS, who stuck his tongue down women’s throats and pushed women against walls.) So bizarre that someone who had that much power would behave like that. Is someone like that capable of an equal partnership with a woman?

Terry: Ah, no. They’re not. I’ll answer in a tricky way. The they that they are now is not capable of having a partnership with a woman. However, the they that they could be might. There’s quite a distance between who they are now and who they might be if they worked at it. Who they are now could be very far from who they could be if they worked at it. Do people have this transformative potential? Yes, they really do. I can’t go into detail, but I work with men who are living the Greek tragedy and who have really lost everything. There are consequences. The #MeToo movement is the first time women have organized in large numbers worldwide, god bless technology,  to hold people accountable and to name names. If I can be abstract for a moment, you were asking what patriarchy was, I said the mistake of dominion. Another name could be traditional gender roles. This essentially is an accommodating, resentful woman, coupled with an outwardly grandiose, inwardly shame-based man. I like to say that an outwardly accommodating, inwardly resentful woman, coupled with an outwardly dominant, inwardly insecure man is America’s power couple. (laughs)

Susan: Well, let me ask you. Is it the global power couple? I think this maybe globally pretty cookie cutter.

Tery: Yeah, I think it is. You ask if these “Captains of the Universe” can have relationships. And you know, they can. The problem is that narcissism is gratified with that level of power and money so your chick gives you a hard time you just eject her and go for a younger model who is more compliant. A lot of these guys are on their second or third young wife. My friend, Carol Gilligan, lived in this high-end apartment with a gym in the basement and she says that all of these young women coupled with men twenty or thirty years their senior were down their on the treadmills working out. Anyway, is that the global power couple? Yeah.

Susan: So I have two more questions for you because don’t want to overextend your time. One of them is that, I think women, the more we step up and step into our leadership, the more I think things are going to change in spite of the fear. You know, there are a lot of examples of women out their in the world doing amazing things.

Terry: Listen, I just want to be clear, because I feel like I got cornered. I am not supporting women in not speaking up. I’m all about empowering women to speak up. Marvelous things happen when you speak up, even though you encounter resistance. It is well worth it. I want to write a memoir about my marriage and call it “A Fight Worth Having.” So, that’s what I mean. I don’t want women to not speak up because I’m empathic towards their fear. I want them to feel the fear and do it anyways. Let me be clear.

Susan: One thing I noticed, and I’m going to get a little graphic here, at the level of our genital differences, I think a lot of deference is paid to the male genitals, like, if the allegation is true that Kavanaugh was shoving his genitals in a woman’s face, it’s kind of metaphoric. One of the things I notice about women, and maybe this has something to do with the two thousands years of the church diminishing the sexuality of women, but women are super powerful. Who is it, Audre Lorde who talks about the connection between the power of the erotic. The more women are connecting to this side of themselves, the more powerful they are getting, it’s a different kind of power and super important to creating a new type of world

Terry: Let me be a little more serious about Carol Gilligan because her work is one of the key pillars of a movement in Israel called Women Wage Peace. This is a group of mostly Israeli and Palestinian women together, starting in the desert and signing a contract for peace, then bringing it in march to the Capital (of the United States). To quote Carol, it In A Different Voice. Women have a different voice. Women slip more easily into an ecological, collaborative model. The shift from being accommodating and compliant to being collaborative, which means that you own your voice and speak up, is not an easy shift for women. However, to move out of a dominance model and into a collaborative model is a bear for men. It’s really hard-- they don’t get it. It pounded into you that the world is either one-up or one-down, winner or loser, dominator or dominated. One of the things is that people say men are afraid of intimacy, but they are not. Men don’t know what intimacy is. Men are afraid of subjugation. You can not be intimate from the one up, one down model. That’s why leading men into intimacy means leading them out of patriarchy, which is only one up or one down, that’s all it is. So leading men into same-as and healthy self-esteem that isnt earned, and then leadeing them into connection, is leading them out of patriarchy. So, it’s the same process whether its with a therapist with a couple, whehter it’s you in your bedroom, or you in your head. The play of patriarchy goes on inside your skull as the play of grandisity or shame.  Any hierarchy. Gilligan calls patriarchy the interplay of binary and hierarchy. The binary of -- this is male, this is female, and the hierarchy of this is male, it’s privileged and this is female, it’s devalued. Simple as that. What plays out in your head is shame or grandiosity, you’re either better than or less than, masculine or feminine. The way out of this mess is same-as, not better than or less than. You are one of God’s creatures. You have worth because you are here. You don’t have to earn it.

Susan: So my last question for you, Dr. Riane Eisler was on this show, and she talked about the link between nation’s where families typically embrace more democratic roles and cultures that do not support militarism.  She doesn’t use the word “patriarchy,” but essentially that you’d see more patriarchal family systems where the state is very militaristic. I’ve been making the argument that getting gender right is the pathway to planetary peace. Does that make sense to you? And why does it make sense to you?

Terry: Yes, because of what I said before: we will shift beyond patriarchy or, as a species, we will probably expire. Combining that with the fact that women can slip into an ecological model more easily because they are used to collaboration. A collaborative model is more feminine. As women find their voice and step into power-- look, to go back to Brett Kavanaugh, the issue here is really with the two women Republicans (meaning Republican Senator. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

Susan: You mean if they are going to vote to put him on the Supreme Court or not?

Terry: Exactly. As women come into more power, they will bring a different perspective. Even this is new because, you know, there were “strong men” that really happened to be women, like Margaret Thatcher. Right? All over the world. (Meaning that there have been women that rule like strong men do). Women participate in patriarchy. I’m sorry to say ladies, women are, up to their eyeballs, complicit in patriarchy. Whether its mothers tearfully and pridefully sending their sons off to war, or women voting for Trump. This is interesting because there are cracks in the cement. I had some clients, blood red from Texas, who were emphatic Trump supporters, conservative to the max, and they are in my office because she was saying he was neglectful of their relationship and he was cut off and it felt like living with a stranger and every time she tried to get close to him, he turned into a rock. And I listened to this couple and I said to myself “feminism is in the heartland.” So you know, I have faith in the democratic model, even though we’re getting beat up over it now. We are against the ropes around the world right now. I’ve been watching listening to George Soro recently and it’s heartbreaking. He’s just saying that project after project for democracy is getting defeated or rolled back.

Susan: Hopefully, it’s the last gasp, Terry, and things are really going to shift. 

Terry: I hope! Well, I have faith in millennials. For all their flaws, millenial men are the most gender democratic men on the planet. They expect a dual-career family and need it, because of decreased resources, and the privileges to come from it. Unlike baby boomers, they have a more collaborative marriage. And the research indicates clearly that egalitarian marriages breed happier, more satisfied partners that hierarchical marriages do.

Susan: There you go. Well, we’re out of time, but maybe that's a good thing to end on. That there is more joy happiness for every body in a gender democratic/partnership world.

Terry: I talk about the joy of a relational joy, which is the joy of being connected, being in the flow of relationality it whether that’s with a partner, with nature, with God, with yourself, with your kids- to be in a state of flow and connection. This is the only joy we humans feel. One of the reasons the type of therapy I do works so quickly and so profoundly is because I put people in the jetstream of relationality. It’s so pleasurable and so much better to live there, so it’s self-reinforcing because it’s how we are designed to be.

Susan: Thank you so much for your time; it's been wonderful.

Terry: Thank you so much. It’s been terrific.


Terry Real is a nationally recognized family therapist, author, and teacher. He is particularly known for his groundbreaking work on men and male psychology as well as his work on gender and couples; he has been in private practice for over twenty-five years. Terry has appeared often as the relationship expert for Good Morning America and ABC News. His work has been featured in numerous academic articles as well as media venues such as Oprah, 20/20, The Today Show, CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Psychology Today and many others.

In 1997 he published the national bestseller: I Don't Want To Talk About It, the first book ever written on the topic of male depression. That was followed by How Can I Get Through To You? an exploration of the role of patriarchy in relationships and most recently, The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Know to Make Love Work, a practical guide for couples and couples therapists.

Terry founded The Relational Life Institute, in Arlington, Massachusetts, dedicated to working with the general population to help women reclaim their voices and men open their hearts. The Institute offers a training program for therapists as well as workshops and trainings throughout the US and Canada.

Contact Terry

You can find details on how to contact Terry on his website: https://www.terryreal.com/