I’m excited to introduce you all to Quentin Hafner today. Quentin is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice in Orange County, CA where he specializes in couples therapy for new parents making the transition to parenthood. Quentin loves working with couples who have young children and are striving to navigate this difficult life-state transition. He lives in Orange County with his wife Hillery, and their son Levi. He’s a talented writer and a thoughtful man. He’s also energetic and funny. It’s an engaging combination. I was most impressed with his compassion though. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the way he understands relationships and emotions. I imagine his respectful approach could probably convince anyone to try therapy. He answers a lot of questions that you all have been emailing me about during this interview and I’m sure you won’t regret taking the time to read and/or listen to what he had to say.
I’m going to include a few written highlights from the interview below, but I recommend downloading or listening to the whole interview HERE. It’s about 33 minutes long and definitely worth your time.
Quentin: Nearly 70% of all divorces will happen within the first 10 years of marriage when the average American family has two kids ages 5 and 2. And that’s pretty astonishing. This is supposed to be the happiest time of our lives, where we’re a budding family, but statistically most couples don’t feel that way. Most are just hanging on for dear life and that’s really sad to me. I want to help change that for our world.
Christine: So what are some common themes you see in this phase of life?
Quentin: Most couples come see me because they’ve tried everything that they know on their own and it’s not working. They just feel exhausted and confused and usually by the time they come and see me, they’re just really angry with each other. Most couples die a very slow death. It’s kind of a death of a thousand pin pricks.
But I am mostly an eternal optimist and a hopeless romantic. I wouldn’t do this kind of work unless I thought things could really change for people.
Christine: So you mentioned most people who come to you are really angry. In my experience anger seems to be a secondary emotion, a reaction to feeling hurt or disappointed. Can you talk about why emotional honesty and recognizing that primary emotion would be important in a relationship?
Quentin: Yeah, that is something I do spend a lot of time helping couples understand. Sometimes there’s a dissonance between what people know about their emotions verses how people think they’re behaving. A lot of people will tell me, “Yes, I know that anger is a secondary emotion and I’m really feeling hurt, but I TOLD him I was feeling hurt!” And so I like to help people understand that they’re not in that vulnerable place. Even though they think they are, their partner is not experiencing them in that vulnerable place. And if their partner is not experiencing them as vulnerable then their partner is not going to feel safe enough to open up to them.
Most couples come in really angry and are in trouble because they don’t feel safe enough to really be vulnerable.
Christine: It seems like men are often reluctant to go to therapy though.
Quentin: It’s true, 70% of therapy is initiated by women and that’s the same for divorce, 70% of all divorces are initiated by women as well. Women are more vocal about their complaints, but that doesn’t mean that men are any more satisfied in their marriages. Men just don’t talk about it as much and they’re just as miserable as the women. They are not any less emotional than women, and it’s not the most difficult thing in the world to tap into, but they need to feel safe enough to know that they’re going to be understood and heard and that they’re not going to be attacked or criticized.
A lot of the wives I work with will protest and beg and plead for their husbands to open up and then as soon as their husbands open up then they will shame them or they’ll attack them or judge them and the men will say, “You know what, it’s not worth it,” and then women will feel alone in the relationship. I like to tell couples that their relationship has been co-created between the two of them and that neither of them is at fault. It’s kind of a 50-50 thing.
Christine: How would you suggest creating a safe space for their husbands to open up or access their deeper vulnerabilities?
Quentin: What comes to my mind is if I gathered 1000 men right now, they would all tell me a similar story about how they experience their wives as unrelenting in their nagging, and paradoxically for women to create a safe environment for their men, they have to give up a little bit. They have to start relenting. They have to start learning a different strategy. And that becomes a really delicate dance because what women feel is “If I give up asking for what I want then he’ll never do it.” What seems to be more true is that men want to feel safe. They want to be known and understood, but they don’t want to be criticized or attacked to get to that place and if they do feel that, they’ll just go underground.