Us

Getting Past You & Me to Build a More Loving Relationship

About the Book

NEW YORK TIMES, WALL STREET JOURNAL, AND USA TODAY BESTSELLER • Stop working on yourself as an individual and start working on your relationship as a couple, with the help of the renowned family therapist and author of The New Rules of Marriage
 
“This book is a road map for all of us who seek true intimacy.”—GWYNETH PALTROW, founder and CEO of goop

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Wall Street Journal

Not much is harder than figuring out how to love your partner in all their messy humanness—and there’s also not much that’s more important. 

At a time when toxic individualism is rending our society at every level, bestselling author and renowned marriage counselor Terrence Real sees how it poisons intimate relationships in his therapy practice, where he works with couples on the brink of disaster. The good news: Warmer, closer, more passionate relationships are possible if you have the right tools. 

In his transformative new book Us, Real brilliantly observes how our winner-takes-all culture infiltrates families with devastating results: repetitive fights that go nowhere, or a distant relationship in which partners end up living “alone together.” With deft insight, humor, and charm, Real guides you to transform your relationship into one that’s based on compassion, collaboration, and closeness. 

Us
is a groundbreaking guide to a new science-backed skillset—one that will allow you to get past your knee-jerk reactions and tap into your wiser, more collaborative self. With a novelist’s flair, Real shares the stories of couples whose relationships have been saved by these skills and pans out to the culture that reinforces our dysfunction. If you and your partner are backed into separate corners of “you” and “me,” this book will show the way back to “us.” With Us, your true relationship can begin.
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Praise for Us

“A beautiful and important book, particularly for the moment we are in.”—Bruce Springsteen, from the foreword
 
“It’s cliche to say Dr. Terry Real’s new book, Us: Getting Past You and Me to Build a More Loving Relationship, changed the way I view every relationship in my life. But it’s true.”—Katie Couric Media

“[An] enveloping and insightful book . . . Real is a natural storyteller, pointed, jovial, and funny. If you’re struggling in your relationship and are open to hard truths, delivered with compassion and zero wasted time, Real is the ticket.”Esquire (Best Wellness Books)

“When I need advice, I call Terry Real. His decades of clinical experience, research, and wisdom are invaluable to my patients, colleagues, and friends. Us brings his advice to life. It is the book that we all need to read to create more thriving and intimate connections.”—Esther Perel, New York Times bestselling author and podcast host of Where Should We Begin

“Terry Real is a wise, honest, and charming guide. This book is a road map for all of us who seek true intimacy. Real’s approach teaches us how to step outside of the culture of individualism and embrace our interconnectedness. We can use it to heal a single relationship and to shift our collective culture.”—Gwyneth Paltrow, founder and CEO of goop

“Terry Real’s work is nothing short of miraculous. In Us, he delves into the dynamics of modern relationships with precision and wisdom, offering practical tools to create true closeness with others. His work has quite simply changed my life. Read this book. It could well changes yours.”—Bradley Cooper

“This is a stunning book. With page-turning flair and brilliant insights, Terry Real exposes the hyper-individualism that ruins relationships—and shows us many effective ways to move from ‘me’ to ‘we.’ A masterpiece from a master psychotherapist.”—Rick Hanson, Ph.D, New York Times bestselling author of Resilient

“Love has the power to hurt but it also has the power to heal, and Terry Real shows us how in this revolutionary guide to happy, thriving couplehood. Chock-full of wisdom, research, and innovative teachings, Us is the book every human should read in order to truly understand not just their partners, but themselves.”—Lori Gottlieb, New York Times bestselling author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

“This is a wonderful, wise, and witty book, consistent with cutting edge science and filled with soul and practical advice that can inspire us to discover who we can become together.”—Daniel J. Siegel, MD, New York Times bestselling author, Brainstorm and IntraConnected

“Share this book with your partner and then talk about what it brings up. It may be one of the most painful but also important conversations of your life.”—Richard Schwartz, PhD, developer of the Internal Family Systems model of psychotherapy

“Original and stirring . . . [Real’s] approachable take on healing relationships will enlighten.”—Publishers Weekly
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Excerpt

Us

Remembering Love

Before you pick up that verbal knife, before you brick yourself in even further, let me remind you that you love this person. And therein lies the rub, my friend. Do you remember, really, in that heated moment when fear or righteous anger courses through your veins, that you love this person? Do you remember it when your body shuts down and, for the life of you, you can barely squeak out a word or two? The sobering answer, if you’re dead honest with yourself, is that you do not. In that heated moment, the sweetness between you, the sense of the two of you as a team facing the world together, the sense of us, is nearly impossible to locate.

The good news is that the love is still there. The bad news is that it’s stored in parts of your brain, body, and nervous system that, in those flash moments, you no longer inhabit. Your endocrine system is on high alert, pumping stimulants into your bloodstream. Your autonomic nervous system—far below your consciousness—is in fight-or-flight, spurring you on or shutting you down. The higher functions of your brain (the prefrontal cortex, the reins) have gone completely offline, while the more primitive parts of your brain (the limbic system, particularly the amygdalae) have decisively taken over.

At those times, the brain is in a state in which the prefrontal cortex is neither connected to nor soothing the subcortical system. Without that soothing and connection, we lose a pause between what we feel and what we do. These more primitive parts of our bodies and brains care only about our personal survival; they have no interest in maintaining the vulnerability of intimacy. Us evaporates and becomes you and me, adversaries in a cold world of I win, you lose.

Us is the seat of closeness. You and me is the seat of adversarial contest. You and me is great when you are confronting a tiger, but less so when you are confronting your spouse, your boss, or your child. In those fraught moments, what makes it so hard to keep a cool head is a million or so years of evolution, plus one other powerful force: trauma. Trauma pulls you into survival mode, in which you are clenching your fists for the fight or clamping your jaws shut like a fortress. And the more trauma you sustained as a child, the more compelling you and me becomes.

If you are thinking, Well, gosh, I didn’t have much trauma growing up, my answer is maybe. We’ll talk about it later. But before you make up your mind, why not settle into my discussion of childhood trauma? Because sometimes it doesn’t take much. Depending on your constitution and a host of other variables, it may take only a slight tap on the egg to produce fissures that can last a lifetime.

 

What’s Your Trauma?

When I’m working with a couple, I have one important question in my mind. It’s not What are the stressors? Stressors—like the pandemic, money woes, mismatched sex drives, kids, and in-laws—are all important, but a well-functioning couple can handle a reasonable amount of stress. The critical question I think about is not even What is the dynamic, the choreography, between you? That’s also an important question, but it’s not the most essential. The central question I ask myself during a therapy session is simply this one: Which part of you am I talking to? 

Am I talking to the mature part of you, the one who’s present in the here and now? This is the part I call the Wise Adult. That’s the part that cares about us. Or am I speaking to a triggered part of you, to your adversarial you and me consciousness? The triggered part of you sees things through the prism of the past. I believe there’s no such thing as overreacting; it’s just that what someone is reacting to may no longer be what’s in front of them. One of the blessings that partners in intimate relationships bestow upon each other is the simple and healing gift of their presence. But in order to be present with your partner, you must yourself be in the present, not saturated by your past.

The phrase trauma memory is really a misnomer. You don’t remember trauma; you relive it. The combat vet who hears a car backfire and suddenly spins around like he’s gripping a rifle is not thinking, Now I’m walking down Main Street remembering combat. In that flash moment, the vet is viscerally back at war. The past superimposes itself onto the present, fundamentally confusing the mind. When our trauma is triggered, we might physically spring into fight-or-flight mode. Faced with an overwhelming shock—infidelity, for example—I’ve seen patients gasp and head for the door before they came to in my hallway. 

But most of us do not reenact the experience of the trauma itself. Instead, we act out the coping strategy that we evolved to deal with it. You were emotionally abandoned throughout your childhood, and so you’ve grown into a charming seducer, expert at securing others’ attention. Or you were intruded upon as a child, and now you operate behind walls; you are adept at keeping people out. I speak of this compensating part of us as the Adaptive Child.

One of my great mentors, Pia Mellody, spoke of the Adaptive Child as a “kid in grown-up’s clothing.” The Adaptive Child is a child’s version of an adult, the you that you cobbled together in the absence of healthy parenting. Here’s a chart detailing the traits of the Adaptive Child, as distinct from the Wise Adult.

 

Adaptive Child   Wise Adult

Black & White    Nuanced

Perfectionistic    Realistic

Relentless         Forgiving

Rigid                 Flexible

Harsh                Warm

Hard                 Yielding

Certain              Humble

Tight in body      Relaxed in body

 

I’d like you to notice a few things as you look at this chart. First of all, see how tight, certain, and black and white the Adaptive Child is? One of my clients said that her Adaptive Child was like a little fundamentalist who lived inside her. This is in contrast to the flexibility, humility, and appreciation of nuance that are characteristic of the Wise Adult—qualities you may also recognize, from the literature on adult development, as those associated with emotional maturity.

Goop Press Series

Us
Intuitive Fasting
The Hormone Shift
Gut Feelings
Eating from Our Roots
A Map to Your Soul

About the Author

Terrence Real
Terrence Real is the bestselling author of I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression and How Can I Get Through to You?: Reconnecting Men and Women. He has been a practicing family therapist for more than 20 years and has lectured and held workshops across the country. In March 2002, Real founded the Relational Life Institute. His work has been featured on Today and Good Morning America, as well as in The New York Times, Psychology Today, Esquire, and numerous academic publications. More by Terrence Real
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About the Author

Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is the recipient of twenty Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, a Tony Award, and a Kennedy Center Honor. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Born to Run, and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. He lives in New Jersey with his family. More by Bruce Springsteen
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