Interview with Shane Birkel

Jason:

Thank you so much for joining me today. I’m Jason Polk with Coffee Shop Relationship Advice. And I don’t know if people know this, but Shane Birkel is kind of a big deal. He has a couples therapist podcast, which, Shane, I don’t know how many listeners do you have thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions?

Shane:

Well, total download sounds really impressive. The total downloads is getting close to 400,000, so.

Jason:

Oh, okay.

Shane:

That makes it sound really important. Yeah.

Jason:

Yeah. Well, no, obviously, and thanks for being on here because-

Shane:

Thank you so much, Jason. Thanks for having me.

Jason:

Yeah, because I feel pleasure to have really important people on this podcast because I hope this will increase my YouTube views more than eight. So, that’s my wish. So, anyway, thank you so much, Shane. I really appreciate it.

Shane:

Yeah. I’m excited to be here.

Jason:

Great. And as a lot of my viewers, all three of them, know is that I do work with relationships and Shane, I went to you because you are a couples therapist. You have a lot of influence in the couples therapist world. And I just want to ask you a personal question, if that’s okay?

Shane:

Yeah, absolutely.

Jason:

So, why on earth would you become a couples therapist?

Shane:

I know a lot of people say that they could never do that job, sitting with people who are suffering all the time. And I think, really, I think this is the reason why most people become therapists, and this is why I became a therapist because they feel like there’s so much that’s messed up in their own life, and they’re trying to figure it out and trying to get to the bottom of some of the issues that I was experiencing. I’ll just speak from the first person. So, I definitely feel like in my journey to become a therapist, that I’ve learned so much about myself and grown so much and because of that, it helps me to be present with other people and help them. And I think it’s really gratifying when you know how to do good work and you feel like you’re productive with people. And sometimes it doesn’t feel like that, but oftentimes it feels like at the end of the day, at least if you help someone in their life, that’s a really good feeling, for sure.

Jason:

Awesome. Good for you. See, folks, this is why he has 400,000 downloads. So, Shane on the podcast that I listen to, avidly listen to, I may add, you mentioned that you’ve been trained in a model called Relational Life Therapy. And from your perspective, why is RLT, as it’s been called, so much better than all the other models?

Shane:

Yeah, and I really believe it is. I think the reason that RLT, Relational Life Therapy, is better is because a lot of … I know a lot of really good therapists in my community. I don’t know if you do too. Jason, who I think are wonderful people, but what I imagine, maybe this is just a story I tell myself, is that a lot of people seeking therapy just want a loving, supportive person to listen and reflect with them about what’s going on, maybe a little loving, helpful guidance once in a while.

Shane:

And I think all of these wonderful therapists who I know, can provide that, but I think what I like about RLT and what works well for my personality is permission to be a lot more directive with people, permission to be a lot more blunt with what I see going on in front of me. And particularly, I think it’s helpful with couples because oftentimes there are power struggles going on and I think that directness allows us to get down to the heart of some of the issues and some of the problems of what’s going on with the couples. So, I really like that about Relational Life Therapy. So, not only do we love up those hurt parts of people because that is an important part of it too, but we also challenge the behaviors that are going on that aren’t helpful for the person or the relationship.

Jason:

So, what I’m hearing, Shane, is that you don’t beat around the bush?

Shane:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s right.

Jason:

Awesome.

Shane:

That’s for sure. Yeah. Yeah.

Jason:

So, let me ask you this, Shane, do you consider yourself a relationship expert, guru or Swami?

Shane:

I know that there’s a lot of people who … A lot of therapists will say that we shouldn’t position ourselves as a guru or something like that because we’re just human beings too, and we’re just going along our own path. So, I agree with that as far as, maybe I’m just a guide, but I also struggle with all the things that I try to help my clients with. It’s very real for me, but at the same time, I definitely believe that I’m going to give the people I work with, much better help than somebody who isn’t a relationship expert. So, I believe that, I wouldn’t hesitate to call myself a relationship expert, for sure, because I obviously have tons of training and education and experience and help people with this stuff every day. And so, going to someone who’s a relationship expert is going to be helpful for anyone out there, because they live and breathe this stuff all the time. And I definitely think it positions us, people like you and I, Jason, as experts, for sure.

Jason:

Awesome. And Shane, since you are a relationship expert, I assume that you don’t have any conflict in your own relationship, correct?

Shane:

Yeah. I wish I could say that was true, but yeah, I definitely struggle with a lot of different things in my own relationship. I’ve struggled over the years, my wife often tells me to stop being a therapist, sometimes when I’m talking to her, she gets really annoyed by that. She gets really annoyed by how grandiose I become, because I pretend like I have all the answers when we’re in a stressful situation. So, obviously, that means I’m not performing well in the stressful situation if I’m going into expert mode, meaning I would be detached from my own emotional experience and ability to stay present with her. So, I look at this as a journey, for sure, and I think it’s a lifetime journey for all of us. I think no one will ever get to the point where they’re this Dalai Lama, perfect human being, without any sort of stressors. So, I think it’s a day-to-day practice for me, that I try to live and breathe and I make mistakes every day, but I also try to give myself a lot of patience and acceptance every day, too.

Jason:

Great answer. So, then I assume you don’t say something like, “Hey babe, I think you should listen to one of my podcasts or read one of my blogs, so you know what you’re doing wrong.”?

Shane:

It’s like, we had this difficult situation a couple months ago and it’s like, I’m sitting here, I really want her to apologize to me. And I’m not mature enough to actually just ask for that from her. So, I did a podcast episode with this woman who wrote a book about apologizing, so I was like, “Hey honey, we should listen to this episode number 51 together.” Or whatever, I don’t know what number it was, but about how to apologize well, and kind of a backhanded, subtle way of bringing that into the conversation. She didn’t think it was very funny.

Jason:

Yeah. Tell me about it, Shane, and thanks for outing yourself because my wife says similar things to me, “Jason, can you stop being a therapist? Stop all that therapist talk please.”

Shane:

Yeah. Right.

Jason:

And yeah, no, thank you. And just like you, there are so many times where, even though I consider myself a relationship expert, that I have not taken the high road, but that’s our practice. Continue to try our best, continue to show up, continue, and this is, I stole it from Terry Real, to have an active relationship to our relationship, that’s our work. So, thank you for being human.

Shane:

Yeah. I like that. Yeah. Totally. Yeah. I like that concept. Yeah, it’s a daily practice. When we make mistakes, when we struggle, it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with us, it means that we’re human and that’s our work. The obligation that we have, I believe, is to be more accountable for it, to notice it more, to be present with it, but not to judge ourselves for it. And it’s a day to day, minute by minute practice sometimes.

Jason:

Yeah. Great stuff. Well, Shane, how about, let’s end on this question and we talked a little bit about what you shouldn’t be telling your partner as a relationship therapist. What are good things to tell your partner? What are things that when you say it … Or something that your partner likes to hear, and maybe I’m getting a little too personal, but however you want to answer that.

Shane:

No. No problem. So, to start with something general, I think that gratitude is huge. Expressing gratitude. I think most people, when they’re really stressed and they come to see us for couples therapy, just feel unappreciated, unseen, unheard. And so, I think making that a daily practice for couples is so helpful, just saying one, it could be more, but at least one thing that you’re really grateful for about the other person, just noticing really small stuff that happens every day. Even just for yourself, reminding yourself why you’re choosing to be with this person, what are the things that you’re grateful for? Because if you can’t think of any, then you have to question, “Why am I with this person to begin with?” And most of us can definitely begin to think of things when we start thinking really thinking deeply into that.

Shane:

And so, starting with that gratitude, I also want to say that something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is that I think accountability is super helpful. Even if you don’t feel like you need to be, or even if you don’t feel like it’s fair. And so, what I mean by that is, if my wife says something like, “Hey, I can’t believe you didn’t take the trash out yesterday. What’s wrong with you? You never do anything around here.” It would be really easy for me to go into defensiveness and say, “Well, actually I did take the trash out and I don’t like the way you’re talking to me.” And deflect, minimize, defend, all this stuff, but what’s so much more helpful is for me to take a deep breath and say something that’s actually accountable in the situation, to speak to what … Because it’s really to make it about her pain, not about me defending myself.

Shane:

And so, in that moment to choose something, the smallest little thing that might be true about what she’s saying, “I’m so sorry. You’re right. I can be really forgetful sometimes and it took me longer to take the trash out than it should have.” And so, that is a huge relationship move, that can be so, so helpful. It can completely shift things for some couples when they begin to learn how to do this. So, the situation stops feeling really oppositional and it moves into something where we’re working with each other and we’re ducking under the wave and able to make the other person feel seen and heard and understood.

Jason:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). A hundred percent. Shane, do you ever tell your wife that … Point out the things that you do do in a moment like, “Hey babe, did you see me duck your intense wave right there?”

Shane:

Yeah, right. That’s such a man thing to do. Like if my wife unloads the dishwasher five times, it’s just expected, and then I do it once and I’m like, “Did you see, I unloaded the dishwasher, can you give me some appreciation for that?” It’s like, that is a total man thing to do, and I definitely do that sometimes.

Jason:

Yeah. Okay. And then, I assume, another not so good thing is telling your partner what they should be grateful for? For example, “Gosh, you’re really lucky that I’m doing all this work.”

Shane:

Yeah. Right, right. I will say that it’s definitely good to ask for what you want, because some people feel a lot more motivated by words of affirmation like that. And so, in a healthy way, the way you said it was kind of funny, it might be kind of sideways, but in a healthy way to express, “You know honey, I know this is my stuff, I know these are my issues, but it makes me feel really good and really supported when you give me positive feedback about some of the things I’m doing.” So, it’s definitely possible to ask for that, but you have to own it and you have to say, “Can you do this for me? I would really appreciate that.”

Jason:

Yeah. Rad. That’s great stuff and obviously not easy to do.

Shane:

Yeah. For sure.

Jason:

Real quick, I said it was the last question, but another one came up. So, what do you say when someone says, “Well, I shouldn’t have to ask for that, they should just do that. They should just know to do that.”?

Shane:

Where did you learn that people should know exactly what you want?

Jason:

Nice.

Shane:

That’s what I would say. I would say, why are you bringing these assumptions to the conversation? We all come from very different families, we all come from very different upbringings and people’s expectations are completely different. And what you think someone should just know, is completely different than what the next person is going to think someone should just know. And so, it’s so, so important that we learn how to express these things to each other. And then, if I have more time, I might start teaching them about how vulnerable it is to actually ask for what you want. And to validate that for them, like, it would be much easier if your partner just did what you wanted, but they don’t. So, you have a choice, you can either leave them and find someone who can read your mind and do exactly what you want, or I can teach you how to be vulnerable and move into the fear of asking and be able to learn constructive ways for both of you to say what you need or want in the situation.

Jason:

Yeah. Well said, I’m not going to say anything more to muddy the waters. That was great.

Shane:

Yeah. Thanks, thanks.

Jason:

But, Shane, thank you so much for being on Coffee Shop Relationship Advice. I really appreciate it. I really appreciate your time and your expertise and I think this is going to help a lot of people. I got something.

Shane:

Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, Jason. I really appreciate it. This was a lot of fun.

Jason:

Yeah. Awesome. Well, I’ll see you next time, Shane. Take care.

Shane:

All right. Take care.

 

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