Us Book Summary - Us Book explained in key points
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Us summary

Terrence Real

Getting Past You and Me to Build a More Loving Relationship

4.7 (330 ratings)
20 mins
4 key ideas
Audio & text

What is Us about?

Us (2022) is for anyone whose once-loving relationship has devolved into point-scoring and power struggles. It offers a science-based skill set, illustrated with rich and detailed examples, to help you and your partner heal your toxic individualism and your relationship. 

About the Author

Terrence Real is a family therapist, speaker, author, and pioneer of the Relational Life Therapy methodology. His powerful, practical advice for couples seeking improved trust, intimacy, and communication has been featured on The Today Show, Good Morning America, and Oprah as well as in the New York Times.

Table of Contents

    Us
    summarized in 4 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 4

    You can overcome toxic emotional habits.

    If you’re in a relationship, this scenario might be familiar. It begins with something trivial – think a dish left unwashed in the sink. You ask your partner why they haven’t cleaned it; they reply, maybe a little snappily, that they haven’t gotten around to it yet. All of a sudden, you’re both feeling tense. Defensive. Things escalate. Now, much bigger emotions are coursing through you: rage, hatred, contempt. You’re both yelling, dredging up old disagreements and hurling insults. Or, you’re giving each other the silent treatment with stony eyes. You’ve forgotten that the person you’re fighting with is the same person who laughs at your jokes and holds you when you're sad. Your rational brain has left the building, and all your worst emotional habits have kicked in and taken over.

    Why does this happen? The field of interpersonal neurobiology, which looks at the individual’s brain cognition in the context of her relationships with others, has some answers. The reason you and your partner are so good at driving each other crazy is that people in close relationships tend to coregulate. That means when your partner's levels of the stress hormone cortisol spike, your cortisol levels are apt to rise too. Similarly, when your partner is relaxed, you’re likely to feel relaxed too. 

    That’s part of the picture. But what about all those toxic emotional reactions that come into play when you and your partner disagree? That, too, has a lot to do with your relationships with others. You learned your stress reactions – whether they’re to yell, lie, or retreat into silence — in the context of your earliest relationships. For most of us, that means we absorbed the stress responses that were modeled by our families, and especially by our parents.

    When things are going smoothly, most of us are wise adults. We think with our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for measured, complex cognition. We’re rational, flexible, warm, forgiving. We know that one dirty dish isn’t the end of the world. But when we’re under stress, another region of our brain, the amygdala, takes charge and stimulates a fight-or-flight response. In fight-or-flight situations, we’re only concerned with self-preservation – we feel we don’t have time to think things through, so we act on instinct. This is when the adaptive child emerges. Your adaptive child is a creature of emotional habit, using all the stress responses you learned when you were young. Whether this adaptive child is cruelly domineering, a people-pleasing doormat, or something in between, they are always rigid in their thought patterns and behaviors.

    Sometimes, when you and your partner fight, your wise adult selves leave the room, leaving two adaptive children. All of a sudden, your worst habits and most destructive emotional impulses are triggered. But there is some good news. Just because your adaptive child automatically takes over doesn’t mean it always has to be like this. Scientists used to assume that the neural pathways of our brains were set in stone. These pathways calcified into habits, behaviors, and traits – in other words, our basic characteristics. If you were a person with a bad temper, that trait was yours for life. Now, scientists know that – through the process known as neuroplasticity – neural pathways can rewire and reform. In other words, we are capable of phenomenal change. 

    Let’s go back to that dirty dish. When the fight spun out of control, you and your partner weren’t acting as wise adults. Wise adults know preserving the relationship – the “us” – is more important than individual point-scoring. Instead, you were two “I”s battling it out. 

    Here’s what you need to know: when one “I” wins, the loser is always “us.” But it is possible to break free from toxic behaviors, to approach conflicts as wise adults, to stop thinking in terms of “I” – and reframe your relationship in terms of “us.” 

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    Who should read Us

    • Couples who find themselves having the same fight over and over again
    • Partners whose disagreements turn melodramatic within minutes
    • Anyone dealing with a breach of trust in a close relationship

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