Abraham Lincoln said, “I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.” And Viktor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but the last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
My guest today is Dr. Jordan Peterson. He is a Canadian Professor of Psychology, known for teaching mythology to lawyers, doctors, and business people, and for helping his clinical clients manage depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia.
His lectures have been viewed by hundreds of millions of people online. Jordan has published over 100 scientific papers that have transformed our modern understanding of personality. His previous book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, was a New York Times bestseller and mega-hit around the world. He’s now back with a new book titled Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.
This interview ended up going an hour longer than we planned — almost two and a half hours in total! The entire conversation with Jordan was too captivating to cut it short.
In part one of this two-part post, we’ll dive into the first half of the episode and learn about Jordan’s marriage of 50 years, and how to start opening yourself up to what you want in life. Jordan also has some surprising things to teach us about marriage, discipline, resentment, and memory.
I’m telling you, this episode is eye-opening, even for those of you who, like me, have already heard him speak or read his books. There’s so much I learned in our conversation that I’ve never heard him say before.
Let’s jump straight in!
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, a clinical psychologist, and the author of the multi-million copy bestseller 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, #1 for nonfiction in 2018 in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, Brazil and Norway, and slated for translation into 50 languages.
With his students and colleagues, Dr. Peterson has published more than a hundred scientific papers, advancing the modern understanding of creativity, competence, and personality, while his now-classic book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (released in June 2018 as a now bestselling author-read audiobook) transformed the psychology of religion. He was nominated for five consecutive years as one of Ontario’s Best University Lecturers and is one of only three professors rated as “life-changing” in the U of T’s underground student handbook of course ratings.
Dr. Peterson recently came out with his new book Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life, and I suggest you pick up a copy! This book is full of wisdom on how to bring order to the chaos of our daily lives.
I’ve had the honor of interviewing Dr. Peterson in the past (Episodes #664 and #665), and it was a joy to have him back on the show! Our conversation was so insightful that I had to split it into two parts, so make sure to check back on Wednesday to hear the rest of his wisdom.
It’s easy to romanticize successful long-term relationships. So often, we think successful relationships and marriages are ones in which we’re comfortable all the time, but that’s not true. According to Jordan, successful relationships are all about creating a space where the boundaries are clearly defined, and each partner can trust the other to be completely open about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
“[My wife and I] do our best not to lie to each other about anything. We have fights when they’re necessary because we don’t hide things in the fog. If we’re having a dispute, we do our level best to get to the bottom of it, to find out what in the world’s causing it, who needs to change and why, and how, and when, and then how we can progress forward into the future without having that issue doghouse or drag behind us. That means a fair bit of confrontation. Less so over the years as we’ve settled more things [with] everything out in the open.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson
I love his last point: the idea that having everything out in the open is what builds trust. The longer you’re in a relationship and the quicker you settle disputes it would seem, the fewer issues you may have to contend with in the future.
Another reason why Jordan says his marriage continues to be so rewarding and fulfilling even after so many decades together: they keep the romance alive by continuing to date each other, making it a point to schedule as many as three special dates per week. (In his newest book, Jordan includes an entire chapter about romance called ‘Plan and Work Diligently to Maintain the Romance in Your Relationship’.
Jordan also explains that relationships require effort, preparation, and cooperation, and describes what that looks like in his own marriage:
“We both want it to work. That’s another thing, we’re committed to it and not interested in finding another relationship. So far we’ve been fortunate in that it’s worked. We have fun together. We love our kids. We’ve had joint projects together, renovating houses, traveling, raising our children, now our grandchildren. [Out] of all that, the most important thing as far as I’m concerned is not to lie to your partner.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson
Carl Jung, the psychoanalyst, spoke about marriage as a ‘vow’, perhaps as a reminder that marriage is a commitment to stay together and support your partner no matter what. That means sticking around even when they’re sick, irritating, frustrating, or when things from their past—like generational or childhood trauma—cause them to think or behave in ways that might be challenging, or that might affect the dynamic of your relationship.
This is what Jordan says is one of the advantages of marriage: it seems to be easier for us to reveal ourselves completely, wounds and all, when we’re with a partner who has made that official, on-paper commitment to stick with us unconditionally. For those of us who have a lot of personal growth ahead of us, being able to be open about our challenges, experiences, and difficult feelings can help a lot with healing past traumas and can make a huge impact on personal growth.
“[To be married] means you’ll have someone there when you’re not well, and so will your partner. You’ll have someone to share all the positive things of life with. Human beings are complicated and have such dark corners and unresolved problems in their life. Sometimes those stem back generations and are twisted and bent in all sorts of ways. It’s very difficult to reveal [yourself] except to someone who can’t run away.” –Dr. Jordan Peterson
When we think of jealousy and insecurity in a relationship, the first thing we think of is usually the infamous wandering eye, or the idea that your partner might not be as faithful and monogamous as you’re relying on them to be.
But there’s another kind of jealousy we should look out for — one that can sneak up on us. It’s the jealousy you might feel when your partner seems to be finding more success in life than you.
Jordan has something to say about that:
“[Jealousy in this situation] is not helpful. You should be pleased! The optimal situation is to be pleased when your partner is successful. I don’t think competition between people who are in a monogamous relationship is useful. You’re on the same team.” –Dr. Jordan Peterson
If you’re feeling jealous about your partner’s success, it’s important to ask yourself if you might be comparing your own personal life journey to theirs, and struggling with some feelings of insecurity about your worth or skills.
If you find that your jealousy really is caused by some insecurity, it’s important to talk about that with your partner. Say outright, “I feel jealous,” and go from there. It might not be easy, but that’s okay. These can be incredibly difficult conversations to have.
The fact that these important, open-hearted conversations can be so challenging is also why Jordan believes we should all be taught how to communicate — and more importantly, negotiate — properly.
For those of you who are married or in long-term relationships: Have you ever felt like you’re the one who always does the dishes or the laundry? Do you feel like you’re dealing with big challenges alone, like supporting aging parents, raising a child, or managing the finances?
If you’re keeping those feelings to yourself right now, you’re not alone. It’s common in long-term relationships. It’s also normal to feel nervous when it comes to sharing these feelings with your partner — especially if you’re worried about how they might react.
Jordan says that being a great negotiator can help. That means figuring out how to articulate your wishes and needs to your partner in a clear, positive manner, and then inviting them to strategize with you so you can find solutions that are mutually beneficial, and that ensure both of you will get your needs met.
“People fool themselves into thinking that it’s okay what they’re doing. ‘I’m sacrificing myself for the children and that’s okay. I’m sacrificing myself for my husband’s career and that’s okay. I’m working at a job I can’t stand because I need to support my wife and children and that’s okay.’ Sometimes that is okay, but it has to be out in the open, talked about, negotiated, and discussed. You can be a slave or a tyrant or you can negotiate. Those are your options. We default to slavery and tyranny because that doesn’t require any cognitive effort, and then we pretend that everything’s all right. Then it blows up in our faces and we end up divorced.” –Dr. Jordan Peterson
“A slave, a tyrant, or a negotiator.” That might be difficult to hear, but when you secretly feel like you’re always sacrificing your own happiness and goals to make sure your partner is happy, over time you really can start to feel like a slave. Likewise, if your partner has expressed that they feel as if they’re always sacrificing themselves for you and you aren’t getting your needs met, you may start to feel like a tyrant.
But you can also feel like a negotiator, and that can be empowering.
The idea of “slave, tyrant, negotiator” is such an illustrative and succinct way Jordan helps us understand the roles we choose in our marriages and long-term relationships, and how we can work to build a foundation for success: become a good negotiator.
Jordan and his wife Tammy endured the trauma of having one of their children, Mikhaila, go through a serious illness for years. In the podcast episode, Jordan reflects on how his family maintained their resilience through it all, attributing it to the fact that he and his wife worked out long ago — together — what values they would commit to when raising their children, and what discipline or child-rearing philosophies they would apply.
“We had to ignore [my son] a lot because he wasn’t dying. He was great, he rode through that like a master. If [my wife and I] hadn’t sorted out our child-rearing philosophy, it would’ve sunk us for sure. The serious illness of a child is an unbelievable stressor, but we sailed through that as well as could be hoped. Of course, there’s the odd regret. When you have a sick child, you have this terrible conundrum all the time of how hard do you push them? Sometimes we pushed harder than we should have, but at least we did that together.” –Dr. Jordan Peterson
I can’t even begin to imagine the difficulty they endured while seeing their daughter go through such tough times. However, I imagine it would have been much more difficult if, in addition to supporting their child through her journey, they were also at odds with one another as partners because they couldn’t agree on how to parent through trauma. We can learn from this: Before starting a family, talk about what values are important to you to instill in your children, and what parenting philosophies you’ll adhere to. More importantly, keep talking about it.
Likewise, Jordan’s parenting philosophy is a great reminder that disciplining a child isn’t necessarily about punishing them when we don’t like their behavior. Discipline is about raising a child to become disciplined: in other words, strong and resilient.
Jordan’s experiences with his son Julian, years ago when Julian was just three years old, is a great example of this idea:
“It was hard to get [Julian] to do what he didn’t want to do. [I’d make him] sit on the steps, and if he wouldn’t because he was stubborn, well, I’d bring him over and put him [back] on the steps. He’d be angry because he got interfered with, he didn’t get to do what he wanted to do. He’d sit on the steps, but be mad as hell on the way there, arms pumping up and down, overcome with anger. The rule was ‘son, as soon as you get yourself under control and you can act like a civilized human, then you come and tell me and that’s it, you’re done [having to be on the steps]’. But it had to be real.” –Dr. Jordan Peterson
Jordan expected Julian to be compliant and get himself under control, which wasn’t easy — for him or Julian! But when it was hard for Julian, Jordan made sure to endure those difficulties alongside him. Meanwhile, Julian was able to prove to himself what he was capable of. He was able to integrate that self-control into his identity, as well as that trust in his father, and ultimately grow into a truly disciplined man.
Not to mention that all through Mikaela’s illness, Julian’s ability to stay resilient, patient, and communicate his experiences clearly was a great benefit to him and the entire family.
As some of you might know, I grew up practicing Christian Science. There’s a line in the New Testament I really appreciate where Christ says: “If you have a problem with your brother, fix that first, and go pray later.” There’s a lot happening in that line, but one of the most important things this quote teaches us is that holding onto a grudge against someone you care about breeds resentment, which affects every area in our lives. Jordan agrees:
“[Resentment] is horrible, toxic, it’s so destructive — but it’s so informative. If you’re resentful, you’re either being oppressed and not standing up for yourself or you’re whiny and should grow up. Both of those things are useful to realize you’re resentful and want to do something about it.”–Dr. Jordan Peterson
In other words, resentfulness can actually be a gateway to self-improvement!
As for trauma, Jordan believes getting mental health support to help you process trauma is important. However, he also warns both mental health professionals and their clients that sometimes when there is a crisis, well-meaning professionals can, unfortunately, rush in to discuss the trauma while it’s still happening. He believes this is a bad idea.
“People are traumatized because something horrible happened and dwelling on it in the moment makes it worse. It’s not like anybody has a solution. [Imagine] someone’s shot up your kid’s school—[having a therapist say to them,] ‘Here’s how you should understand this, it [will make it] all better,’ is a terrible idea! No, it won’t!”– Dr. Jordan Peterson
Having been a victim of sexual abuse at age five myself, Jordan’s advice here resonates with me and would have definitely been true for me at the time. It’s also advice I think we should all consider when speaking with close friends or family about their own trauma.
Jordan exemplifies this idea further and provides some examples of how we can all process our own traumas through the story of a patient who was abused by her brother when she was only five.
“She was 27 when she came to see me. The first thing I did was point out her brother was only two years older than her and to think about the seven-year-olds she knows. For a five-year-old, a seven-year-old is an adult, but for an adult, a seven and a five-year-old are clearly both children. It made her feel less vulnerable at the moment, because what our brain wants in relationship to a traumatic memory is an indication that you’re no longer vulnerable to the same problem. That’s what memory is for. You remember something bad and you process it so that you change your interpretation, or your behavior, or the situation so that it isn’t going to happen in the future.” –Dr. Jordan Peterson
What I find most enlightening about this quote is the idea that memory has a purpose. It’s not just there to make an objective record of the world, it’s also there to make a functional map of the world that you can apply to the future. It’s there to help us make sense of our past. Spending time with your memories can help you pinpoint things you want more of or less of in your life.
This interview was so insightful, it was hard to stop talking — we went over our planned end time by nearly an hour! I hope you enjoy part one as much as I did, and that you’re excited to wrap it all up in part two! And don’t forget to listen to the episode in its entirety to get the full scoop, and to share the episode with someone who needs to hear it. You could change someone’s life!
If you enjoyed this episode, let us know on Instagram! Tag Jordan, @jordan.b.peterson, and me, @lewishowes, with a screenshot of the episode and your greatest takeaways! Remember, this is just part one! Check out part two [here] to learn even more from Jordan.
You should also check out his website www.jordanbpeterson.com to connect with him and listen to his world-class podcast.
let us know your thoughts