Using Al Turtle Logic on Relationship Troubles

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Putting the Biological Dream to Work
By Al Turtle

I have received quite a few questions lately from people who want to know “what to do” in their particular situation.  I had delayed writing back to some of them for several weeks.  This delay of mine surprised me at the time because I am often fairly quick to respond.  On a walk with my dogs, one day, I began to understand what was going on in me. 

As I walked, I kept repeating, “It’s not rocket science,” over and over.  I think my problem was that so often I feel inclined to write the “same answer” to everyone – rather than to write unique answers to each.  I didn’t think my inclination came from laziness, but from a sense that everyone seems to be struggling with the same, or finite set of problems.  Thus so often my suggestions end up seeming repetitive.  But then, that was what I anticipated would happen if I had really solved the puzzle of “what it is that people want when they come together.” 

The current three question areas (and I am summarizing) are:

  1. What do I do when my partner has left me, and when I am giving them all the space they need?  What do I do next?
  2. What do I do when my partner of many years proceeds with divorce even after we have done some marriage counseling?
  3. What do I do in the relationship with my partner after we have found and “stopped” an affair?

First, I want to share four orienting concepts, points that help me start looking at the problems you and I have getting along with others.   

 Things aren’t good enough! It’s not right, yet.

A common sentiment presented to me is, either in a strong or more gentle tone, that “we need to do more,” and “it’s not good enough.”   This sense of “it is not good enough” seems to be able to surface almost at any time in a relationship.   What’s this all about?  I am sure this is the Biological Dream.  I believe all people want “IT” – in their cores, in their sleep, in their unconscious.  I believe it’s needed by us all.  And if you don’t have it , are not in it, or are not heading toward it, you feel bad, discouraged, depressed – and you should! 

I think this sense, this feeling of “not good enough,” is as wonderful as the sense of pain.  Pain warns us of injury.  People who can’t feel pain get badly hurt.  I recall having very cold hands on a winter day, and I cut my finger very deeply without sensing it or knowing it for quite some time, and not until a lot of blood had leaked out of me.  The feeling “it is not good enough” alerts us, and tells us to get to work making it better.

  • I see this often in young couples who have not decided yet to get married (technically), but who have been acting married for some time.  They may sense that something is wrong, but haven’t focused on anything specific.  They may be pointing to a specific annoyance.  They often say that, "the excitement seems to be draining out", or that they are not “in love” anymore.
  • I see this sense of “not good enough” in individuals who are in a long-term marriage and who are feeling lonely, stuck, tired, or depressed.
  • Sometimes a couple will come in, after many years of marriage, speaking of a building sense of distress.  “All has been going good, until 2 years ago when…,” they say.
  • I also see this sense of “we haven’t done enough” in couples who have been through Marriage Therapy, Weekend Couple’s Workshops, or who are in recovery from an affair.
  • Certainly I see it in the couple who anxiously show up after one has announced an interest in divorce.

I see this “awareness of not enough” as a deep longing for what I call the Biological Dream.   When people grasp for that dream, for example during Romantic Love, they are illuminated by it.  They glow!  They feel excited and alive as if a light were shining inside of them and all around them.  When the Biological Dream begins to slip from their grasp, to get further away (as it always will), the excitement becomes dimmer and less bright.  During Marriage Therapy or while repairing a relationship after an affair or other injury, the Biological Dream becomes closer for a while.  As time goes on, as a reminder to keep working, there is commonly a sense of losing that glow again. 

Personally I think that the “awareness of wanting more” is a brilliant invitation to getting to work, or getting back to work on becoming the kind of person you can, to building the relationship of your dreams. Missing out on any part of the Biological Dream can stir a lot of tears.  The invitation is to GET TO WORK!   Build that Dream!  Learn to glow reliably!


Waking Up

Another common trait of all problems related to me is the factor of “surprise.”  It seems very common that looking backward, people in relationship thought all was “going well” for a significant time, when “it wasn’t going well at all.”  This is very common in couples where one person is surprised by what the other does. 

And what is going on?  Well, people aren’t sharing “it all.”  People are withholding information.  To say it crudely, “people lie a lot” and “people are awfully blind about it.”  There are lots and lots of reasons for this.  But the good news is that the “surprise” is all about shifting toward being more candid, more open and more safe with each other. 

I love the phrase “out of the blue.”  People use it to tell me of their partner’s behavior.  “Out of the blue she told me she was getting a divorce.”   “He had an affair and it came out of the blue.”  This situation is simply that one person was experiencing things and somehow they weren’t sharing. 

By the way, sharing means putting it out there and getting it received by the other.  I believe that if your partner didn’t hear it, “you didn’t say it”; and if you didn’t hear it, your partner didn’t say it. Both people are involved in this. This is all about communication – an interpersonal activity. 

I think that the “surprise” is a strong invitation to refresh, or rebuild the communication system between people.  I find it also useful in diagnosing the problems within their system of talking.  And finally I think it is a “wake call” to continue building your communication skills until neither feels any worry about the sharing of everything.


Most relationships do not have room for more than one person

The first time I heard this, I laughed long and hard – until I began to see how often it occurs and causes trouble.  This is often called Emotional Symbiosis.  It is also called the tendency to be “narrow minded” or “self-centered.”  I think our cultures are so full of blindness about this, that I believe that almost always fixing it is the first step in solving interpersonal troubles. 

In terms of the Biological Dream, this is Diversity and Autonomy.   Diversity means that all people see and understand everything differently than everyone else.  It means getting comfortable with “disagreement.”  Autonomy means that all people do things that make sense to them.  It means actively standing up for people’s right to disagree vocally and pleasantly.  Put these two together and you have the phrases “all people make sense and are doing their best all the time.”

In approaching any relationship problems (for example the three listed above), I pull out my first tool – the Diversity Principle.  Both people are doing their best and what makes sense for them at any moment.  Any suggestion by one partner that the other is not doing their best or is not making sense, will be experienced as an attack or a rejection, and thus will continue the growth of problems.  The Diversity Principle gets rid of this habit of thinking and starts the way in solving the problem.

It also gets rid of the habit of blaming or of taking no responsibility – the silly “black hat/white hat” phenomenon.  Whatever is going on, both are partially responsible.  The phrase “You are not to blame for it” seems just as useless as “It is all my fault.”  I suggest you take that word “it” and break it into two pieces.  “I am responsible, to blame, for my part; and you are responsible, to blame, for your part.”  I believe that boundaries are the prime understandings and skills that make it possible for two people to live intimately and happily in one relationship.



What is going on?

I found that after a person gets over their surprise, and after they process the pain that they may feel, the next step is to get a sense of what is going on.  For me and for many hundreds of my clients, the most useful tool to do this is my Map of Relationships.  Based on the Biological Dream, it illustrates the relatively simple paths that people take in trying to find the relationship of their dreams.  When a person comes to me with a problem in their relationship, I use the Map to decide “where they are” and “what are their options.”   I will refer to the Map as I give my reactions to the questions, below.  



The Questions 

Look at question #1:  What do I do when my partner has left me and when I am giving them all the space they need?  What do I do next?   Here are some fun points and questions. (This is not multiple choice.  Look at them all.)

  1. Your partner left you because it made sense to them at the time to leave you.  Do you know what that “sense” was?  You’d better
    • find out what is was/is and
    • find out why you hadn’t known this before and
    • fix the problem so that this blindness doesn’t occur again.
  2. Since they were leaving (Fleeing, see the Lizard), chances are they did not, and perhaps for a long time had not, felt safe with you.  You’d better
    • find out what do you do that scares them
    • make yourself into a “source of safety” to them so that they will “flee” the rest of the world in order to be safe with you
  3. Chances are they became hopeless of obtaining the Biological Dream with you. You’d better
    • find out what they are missing
    • find out how you appear stuck
    • find out what you are not delivering
    • find out all about the passivity in your relationship (yours, theirs, both)
    • learn to work visibly and reliably so they (and you) have hope of reaching the Biological Dream
  4. Remember, they still want the Biological Dream.  You’d better
    • find out what part of their needs are they focusing on
    • find out how they are currently seeking to meet those needs
    • learn the skills to meet those needs yourself, first
    • learn to build Empathy
  5. Chances are that when they left, it surprised you.  That suggests that they didn’t share what was going on in them.  The only reason they would not share with you is that they didn’t feel safe when talking with you.  Chances are that in the past “you were not fun” to talk to.  You’d better
  6. Map of Relationship Analysis:  The chances are that this couple has gotten into the Power Struggle.  It is probable that one partner is considering the Divorce Door.  Both are tired of using painful and dysfunctional tools to make the relationship better.  One is pretty hopeless.
  7. This is not a short fix, but a process of becoming someone new – an adult.  “The journey is longest that is not started.”  But the journey is not endless.


 Look at question #2 (What do I do when my partner of many years proceeds with divorce even after we did some marriage counseling?)  I notice how


  1. Most of the suggestions for Question #1 are just as applicable for Question #2. 
  2. The major difference is the length of the relationship before the “waking up.”  Which suggests
    • a greater depth of “blindness” – much more to be turned up and looked at 
    • a probable great stubbornness of the two – more hopelessness
    • a probable greater depth of passivity – waiting for the other to fix the problem
    • a probable great depth of resentment – get to work.
    • a greater need for support, possibly long-term, in making the changes
  3. Sounds as if the marriage counseling served to bring up old-unaddressed issues, but did not last long enough to make much progress in resolving them. 
  4. I am sorry to say that another possibility is that the marriage counseling you received wasn’t worth a damn! You might want to find another therapist.  Look for one who has proven they can build a great relationship for themselves.  If a therapist argues, fire them.
  5. Map of Relationship Analysis: This couple has just popped out of Door #2 and is back at the Choice Point.  Do they go for a great relationship (Door #1)?  Do they go back into Door #2, which I am coming to call the Land of the Passive?  Do they Divorce and try again with someone else(Door #3).   My preference is Door #1.  My second preference is Door #3.  I don’t think the world is improved by them going back into Door #2.   I salute them for the courage to break out of that numbing place. 



Look at question #3 (What do I do in the relationship with my partner after we have found and stopped their affair?)  I notice

  1. The couple has already gone through a “great awakening” and has made some progress.
  2. A critical point for both is eventually understanding why the one had the affair and what the other did to “push them toward it” and why.  A big hunk of non-sharing has gone on.  I think you want to remove all sense of risk of the same thing happening again.  I heard a quote the other day that I liked, “I never heard of a relationship that was broken up from the outside.”
    • validate and/or PreValidate the fear that will come up in the affaired against partner
    • validate and/or PreValidate the needs and thoughts, the logic, of the one who did the affair. I think it better to focus on the specific “why’s” and not so much on the specific events.
    • lead the way to changes that make another affair both pointless and undesireable
    • don’t leave a stone unturned – get to the bottom of the affair and rebuild
  3. The question implies that “things are not good enough” yet – a very wise feeling.
  4. The suggestions for Question #1 are still right on. Only now
    • advanced work in progress toward the Biological Dream is needed
    • focus on what is missing
      • fun
      • ease of getting connection and space
      • validation
      • invitation – pro-activity
    • focus on frustrations
    • focus on making amends
    • focus on removing all passivity
    • focus on developing both people’s purposes
    • focus on connecting to other growing people
  5. In a wonderful way, an affair is not over until both people are completely trusting that another affair will not happen.   That’s when that feeling of “things are not good enough” will go away.
  6. Map of Relationship Analysis:  This couple sounds as if they are in the University of Life and are struggling.  They have already made the commitment to move forward and are now learning the lessons.  They aren’t yet in Vintage Love and can feel it.

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Note on the title “Turtle Logic”

Of course, one reason I call this “Turtle” is to reasure you, and me, that these are only my best ideas and are not “facts.”  No MasterTalk intended here, if possible.   The other reason has to do with the wonder of having been born with a name like “turtle” and thus connecting to the great power in the core of the universe that native people speak of using the name “turtle.”  Seems to me that when I get to the bottom of how people relate, to that deep core, things become more and more simple – the logic becomes clearer and simpler.



Using Al Turtle Logic on Relationship Troubles — 16 Comments

  1. Hi, I’m curious about applying your logic on a long-distance relationship. I find it challenging, but intriguing. Especially the concept of mirroring while texting. While I am aware that the basic idea is just to do whatever my partner finds validating, I think it would look pretty dumb to type “What I read you saying was [copypaste]”. It’s obvious every message gets read.

    I’ve noticed it’s easy to determine whether to pursue a certain subject via text. I think if your partner isn’t responding to a particular thing, but responds to another subject, you’ll know to drop that first subject as your partner may be intentionally avoiding it for now. I think it’s also easy to do inviting by texting, since probably neither one will feel uncomfortable and both can easily continue discussing on something else.

    Thanks for your awesome content. Take care.

    • Hi Anonymous,
      I’ve found this an wonderful topic. Done lots of writing to people over the years and I have observed Mirroring and Validation and PreValidation in email. So here’s what I have.

      LDR – long distance relationships are very difficult mostly cuz the essence of building a relationship involves/requires so much data. People who try to communicate by text only are at a significant disadvantage. Terribly small bandwidth, as we say. During the Romantic Phase, so much is about the fantasies you have about each other that being at a long distance or using text can help generate the dreams of each other. Your partner says a little phrase and you interpret an enormous amount of drama into it. Things get wild fast and deep miscommunications grow. The drop into the Power Struggle can happen before you get to know enough to help you weather the challenges. For that reason and others I really feel for those trying to do a relationship over great distances. If you notice my ideas of finding a partner, they involve hours of time in each other’s physical presence.

      But that is not always possible. So we come back to email. Let me speak of Mirroring – separate from Validation and PreValidation. The point of Mirroring is to train people into the habits of making both people “feel heard”, and over time make this reliable. It’s most useful face-to-face or on the phone/Skype etc. One of it’s most critical lessons is to handle differences in speed of communication – i.e. if you talk too fast for your partner to hear, Mirroring will teach you to slow down enough and teach your partner to speak up when you are talking too quickly, etc. Another lesson of Mirroring is to teach you when to interrupt and when not to interrupt. Very very important.

      Email doesn’t bring those issues to the surface. People write as fast as they want and as much as they want. No one is interrupting, plus the computer kinda mirrors back what is written. It’s easy so get the delusion that you can talk that fast in your partner’s presence. No one learns to say “that’s to much.” Also the receiver can fake listening by printing and reading over time. I typically get an email from someone, print it out, carry it around, mark it up, think about it for days before writing back. Truth is I’d much prefer to speak with you, Anonymous, than read a message.

      The real center of communicating is sharing ourselves, and feeling understood. That involves listening but a lot more. That’s the world of validation and PreValidation and is much much easier face-to-face. When you write to me, I perceive many opportunities to “get you”, and understand you, that I can’t make happen cus you are on to another subject. Or there are things you write that aren’t clear to me, that could be clear if we were together and I could ask, “Hey what do you mean by that?” The reader has to do a lot of guessing that wouldn’t be necessary in a face-to-face.

      Your example of what to do if your partner isn’t responding seems a good example of how poor this type of communication. I’ve found that silence has an vast array of meanings and many of them are quite dangerous to a relationship.

      This all may not be very cohesive, but I think you can guess I prefer to use writing as a way to prepare for or schedule a face-to-face and then as a way to assist the last face-to-face.

      I wouldn’t waste time on Mirroring in email. The copy/paste stuff seems relatively useless. But I would work on Validating, and PreValidating.

      I like your idea that “inviting” is easy by text. I like inviting people, but Mirroring taught me to learn my partner’s comfort level for invitation. If she can handle three invites in an email, I better not invite her 5 times. Of course I may be curious 50 times. (I’m the Clinger.) Have to handle that.

      Good luck and good connecting!

  2. Well, sounds as if you have a puzzle before you. Unfortunately, I'd need a whole lot more data to be able to respond. I believe all the ideas you need to reconnect with this gal can be found around this website. Go for it and dig out what you need. Or share more about your situation.
    Seems to me this is the way I started out, “observing a disaster” and “wondering what to do about it.”

  3. My girlfriend broke up with me – we lived together, things got boring ie i didnt show affection/lack of romance. How do I go about getting her back? I've gone no contact for 3 weeks and she's out there hitting on guys. We were together for 2.5 years. I know how girls are emotional and right now she's rationalising that it was the right decision. What has to trigger in her mind that it was a good relationship we just needed to work things out?

  4. Hi Al
    I wish I had discovered your site a good year ago, instead of which I have been wandering around the internet finding all those people who want to take your money. I have found good advice but I don't seem to be getting anywhere with my husband.
    He has found someone else, and if I hadn't become suspicious he would never have told me – he is a great fan of misinformation and lying. He has even bought her a house. He says he is leaving but when, I don't know. I have made a lot of changes in myself, which are the right ones according to your website. But, he is not a 'talker'. He will either ignore me or just get angry and storm off. If I write him a letter, he will read it but not say anything. I am hurting, I know he is hurting but how do I apply your techniques when he refuses to respond? I don't want to lose him – not after 33 years – but he has always, even with work problems, had single vision and doesn't look at the other things going on around him.
    Al, I just want my husband to realise that we can work through this, but don't know how any more. What can I do to get him to open up to me?

  5. Good question. I think the answer is a) in the awareness that every wise thing people learn is always surrounded at the time by pain (Sophocles said something like wisdom comes thru suffering, so this is not a new idea) and b) from the application of good boundary skills to the situation where the suffering is not yours. That I have an article on written by a friend of mine.

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