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Uncomfortable Truth About Relationships

Oh man. I wasn’t going to post this episode.

In fact, during this conversation, I repeatedly found myself opening up and saying things I was not comfortable sharing.

But since this is The School of Greatness, I knew I had to share all the lessons I am privileged to learn myself, even the ones that aren’t comfortable.

What could I have been talking about that was so scary to share?

Relationships . . . of course.

I met today’s guest, Neil Strauss, after he had already been a NYT bestselling author 7 times.

He is best known for becoming a pick up artist by going underground into the world of that game for 2 years and then writing a book about what he learned.

But by the time I met him, he was happily engaged to his now wife, and those days were behind him.

In this episode, we started by talking about his new book, which counters his former bestseller, revealing the uncomfortable truth about what makes relationships work.

Soon into the conversation, however, the tables turned and we started discussing my experiences in relationships.

Not the kind of thing I was expecting to discuss for thousands of people to hear.

However, I learned so much from just this one conversation with Neil about myself, my relationships, and how to improve my future ones, that I knew I couldn’t keep it to myself.

Here’s the raw, vulnerable truth about relationships, my life, and the lessons Neil Strauss has learned from his own in Episode 242.

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The School of Greatness Podcast


“You shouldn’t be researching science to decide what to do with your heart.”

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • Why our parents’ relationship deeply affects our own perceptions of intimacy
  • How our brain templates are formed in young childhood
  • The power of removing blame from your parents for what isn’t working in your relationships
  • What pathological accommodation is (and how it sabotages relationships)

“Your job is not to make someone happy.”

  • The importance of recognizing your own issues, not your partner’s
  • How you can create a conscious coupling (just like you can create a conscious uncoupling)
  • Plus much more…

Continue Seeking Greatness:

the truth

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Wow, I’m still terrified of this conversation and what we talked about (even though I know it’s true). Did you relate at all?

“If you’re psychologically unhealthy and have issues, no kind of relationship will work for you.”

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In this episode, you will learn:

Show Notes:

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Transcript of this Episode

LEWIS HOWES: This is episode number 242 with the New York Times bestselling author, Neil Strauss.




LEWIS HOWES: Welcome to the School of Greatness. My name is Lewis Howes, former pro athlete turned lifestyle entrepreneur. Each week, we bring you an inspiring person or message to help you discover how to unlock your inner greatness. Thanks for spending some time with me today. Now let the class begin.




LEWIS HOWES: Welcome everyone to the podcast. Very excited about our guest today. Before I dive in, I want to let you know that the book is coming out very, very soon. October 27th, it drops. I already saw photos that people have It in Canada, in Asia bookstores, but it drops in the US and everyone else on October 27th. Greatness is coming at you. So many of you have been posting photos of your receipts to me online for preordering it, you’re tagging me on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook so thank you, thank you, thank you so much for preordering your copy.


We have some big names that we are competing against for the New York Times bestseller list. It’s going to take all of you supporting, buying a copy, buying three copies, giving a couple to your friends in order for us to make that New York Times bestseller list and impact people on a greater way by getting the word out there. So thank you guys so much for buying who have already preordered. If you haven’t yet, please go to That will take you right to the Amazon page. Or you can go to Barnes & Noble. We are ranked 27th overall on Barnes & Noble the other day. The rankings continue to go up and up on both Barnes and Noble and Amazon. So thank you guys for all your support, it means the world to me, and it’s coming out very soon.


Now this is an interesting episode. It’s interesting because I didn’t know that it would go this way. We have Neil Strauss on, and let me tell you what happened here in a second. Neil Strauss is a seven-time New York Times bestselling author. His is books “The Game” and “The Rules of the Game” for which he went undercover in the secret society of pickup artists for two years made him an international celebrity and an accidental hero to men around the world. Both books topped the New York Times bestseller list and were number one on Amazon.


Now, in its follow up book that came out just now, it’s called “The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships.” Neil dives into the world of sex addiction, non-monogamy, infidelity, and intimacy and explores the hidden forces that cause people to choose each other, stay together, and break up. He’s seen the good, the bad, the ugly, and he’s coming to some interesting conclusions about relationships. 


I didn’t know that it would leave this way but he ended up digging in deep in an uncomfortable way about how I show up sometimes in previous relationships. And we talked about some things that make me feel uncomfortable. I don’t really like talking about the things that are my fears in the relationships and the things that hold me back and the things that I need to really look at it because it’s scary, it’s vulnerable, and it can sometimes be overwhelming for me.


I think you’re going to notice me feeling a little uncomfortable talking about some of my flaws and some of the things that I haven’t really uncovered yet, and the things that I’m still learning about. So hopefully, you enjoy my embarrassment, my uncomfortableness, and my opening up to talk about some of the fears in relationships in the past that have held me back and what I’m looking at currently to make sure I move forward in a positive, powerful way in all my relationships.


So make sure to share this with your friends if you have anyone who is in this situation or who’s going through confusion or anything like that, this is lewishowes.coom/242. Share it with your friends. Let’s go ahead and dive in with the one, the only Neil Strauss.




LEWIS HOWES: Welcome everyone back to the School of Greatness podcast. Very excited about our guest, his name is Neil Strauss. What’s up, Neil? 


NEIL STRAUSS: Hey Lewis, thanks for having me on, man.


LEWIS HOWES: Yeah man, I am pumped. You got a book that just came out called “The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships.” For me, the subtitle is perfect because I just went through a relationship that I ended a few months ago and it was kind of back and forth because I was going through some confusion about it, uncertainty. I really just wanted to take some time to think about it and see how I was feeling. Essentially it’s been uncomfortable throughout the whole process. So this is perfect timing for me to talk to you about it because you wrote a book called “The Game” which was a bestseller, and that was all about being a pickup artist. Isn’t that correct? 


NEIL STRAUSS: Yeah, more or less. But I was a journalist and I was writing for the New York Times. My book editor said this is amazing community. I went underground kind of ?? but really, for myself and learning how to not be the guy in friendzone anymore. It got out of hand and I ended up doing “The Game” and becoming the number one pickup artist in that world which is a dubious accomplishment, obviously. 


LEWIS HOWES: Right, right. So you were living in that world where you’re learning how to pick girls up and essentially get women to want you, to go on dates with you, and get their number, and things like that. What made you stop doing that, and now you’re happily married. What made you transition from that world to writing about this book, “The Truth,” about relationships?


NEIL STRAUSS: Sure, man. I can get into it, for sure. Obviously, if you spend your whole life picking up anybody or anything—[just send me the cheque?]. [inaudible] pick up anything as kind of—that wasn’t even a funny joke. That was too bad. [inaudible] edit that out, everybody. [inaudible] picking up anything like it’s not—it’s just pathetic. If I was still doing that 10 years later, it would almost be pathetic. But another level, that’s like a deeper level, to discuss about it—maybe it was a backward way of getting into—maybe transition out of that into where I’m at now—let’s talk about your relationship. Are you open to it? Because literally, I’m sure whatever your experience was probably on a similar psychological level similar to mine [inaudible] a bunch of other people’s. 




NEIL STRAUSS: Now you have done that, that whole sound, it means that the pain, people will relate. I feel that.


LEWIS HOWES: I’m open to it, yes.


NEIL STRAUSS: So in some of you, there’s this ambivalence about your relationship, right?


LEWIS HOWES: Say it again?


NEIL STRAUSS: In some of you, you have a lot of ambivalence about your relationship. 


LEWIS HOWES: Yeah. Uncertainty. There’s a lot of love I still experience and miss and appreciate. I feel like I’m sweating now, I’m like being interrogated. But something wasn’t fully—and I think it was based on—we had different visions, I think. I’m really committed to changing the world, for better terms. Changing and transforming people’s lives, creating powerful and inspiring things, and that comes with a specific lifestyle that I think needs a specific container in a relationship. I need to feel like able to be free to grow, to experience life, to connect with people both men and women, and feel like I can be 100% authentic and be myself. I think…


NEIL STRAUSS: May I hop in for a second? By the way, first of all, you’ve got to read the book. It just came out yesterday. I know you haven’t had time. I’m [inaudible] it to you because the entire book is my dilemma with that. It’s like, I get in these relationships and then I feel trapped and I feel like I’m losing experience—and there are reasons for this. Yours may not be the same but we’re going to dive in a little bit deeper. Let me ask you though: what made you feel trapped?


LEWIS HOWES: You know, I just found out about this. I was about to email my ex and tell her like, “Oh my god, I think I figured out why I felt it was like—”


NEIL STRAUSS: No. Dude, dude. Leave her alone.


LEWIS HOWES: I’m going to leave her alone. But I was thinking about—I was like, “Oh my god.” It came to me through a realization. I was actually on a conversation with Kathrine Woodward Thomas. She wrote a book called “Conscious Uncoupling.” The conversation with her, she was like, “Tell me about your dad and your parents. How was their relationship?”


I said, “My dad was miserable my entire childhood. He got in a relationship when he was 18, 19. My mom got pregnant. He had to work three jobs and then had three more of us after that, and never got to fulfil his dream. Always tension, and there was never really a lot of love between them until I was about 16, they got divorced. He was the happiest, freest man, and he was able to go pursue his dreams.He was like, the most loving human being. She was like, “You probably associate how to being in a marriage or a committed relationship with feeling trapped that you can’t go pursue your dreams.” I never thought of it that way until she mentioned that. I was like, “That’s probably exactly what it is because once it starts to feel like it’s holding me back in any way, literally, my body rejects it. I get terrified.


NEIL STRAUSS: Right. And here’s the thing. That whole kind of matrix that you’re locked in is complete illusion. Again, I get it. I swear to god, my entire book is—I’ll take [inaudible] my book. I’ll just tell you what I did and we’ll get back to your story. I think I have another piece that I can add to the puzzle of your intimacy problems. 


LEWIS HOWES: I had no clue we were going to do this, everyone just listening. I have no clue this was happening. But okay, go ahead.


NEIL STRAUSS: It’s not too late to just pull the whole podcast.


LEWIS HOWES: I might just delete it.


NEIL STRAUSS: You know what? There would maybe some healing for your ex if she knows it’s really nothing to do with her, it’s about you.


LEWIS HOWES: Yeah, it is about me, of course. 


NEIL STRAUSS: It’s totally by you, nothing to do with her. 


LEWIS HOWES: That’s the challenge. She’s incredible and I love her to death. That’s the challenge.


NEIL STRAUSS: Right. And that’s why you saying, “Oh, here’s what was wrong with me,” and just continually to engage or doesn’t let her free. And you’re like, “I will let her free or commit to her,” but when you stay in this gray zone, it just drags up her own pain. So here’s what I did. I decided all the things you just said, almost word for word, and then I said, “You know what? Monogamy doesn’t make sense.”


And I’m like [inaudible], talked to all the experts, I talked to Helen Fisher and Chris Ryan. [inaudible] probably both the biggest expert on relationships especially from a scientific [inaudible] point of view. Chris Ryan wrote “Sex at Dawn.” I talked to Stephanie Coontz who wrote [The History of Marriage?]. I talked to everybody. These are the conclusions I drew: [I’m going to say?] they’re not right but these are what science says. 


Helen Fisher says this, that cheating is natural. That we pursue a dual-relationship strategy which is again in relationships, we cheat on the side and we stick around for about eight years and then we do the next one. So it’s zero monogamy with clandestine adultery. She says that’s what’s natural. Not that we should [inaudible], she said that’s what’s natural. Obviously we have.


So Chris Ryan says we were born in groups. These groups, everybody shared. The kids had all the parents, the parents—we all kind of mingled in separate group relationship. ?? A kid had. Instead of having mom and dad, they had 20, 30 loving caregivers. It was a great way to be in a free—sort of alloparenting, it’s called.


Stephanie Coontz says that marriage just changes with the societies and civilization. So it was never about love until about the 18th century when the idea of marrying for love [inaudible] that’s a new idea. I was just marrying for extra field hands and then getting a property. Whatever the [inaudible] is.


So now she says marriage is coming to a place of really forming deep friendships but also sort of a pick and choose where I can design my relationship with these qualities that I want. And do I want to be monogamous or not? Do I want children or not? Do I want to work, do I not wanna work? We can make all these decisions now. So the one thing that I did—in all the science, there is no science that backed up the idea of monogamy being natural.


By the way, I’m not going to talk against monogamy, I’m just going to say where I was at this point in my life because honestly, I don’t think I was [inaudible] the right frame of mind because honestly, you shouldn’t be researching science to decide what to do with your heart. 


Anyway. So I found one paper called “The Puzzle of Monogamous Marriage.” The paper was about why monogamy is good for civilization. It lowers the [inaudible] available of single men and reduces crime. So I called them and said, “You think it’s evolutionary natural?” They said, “No way, otherwise [inaudible] to have all these marriage customs and things. [inaudible] just happened naturally.”


So I decided, forget about it. I’m going to go off and I’m going to live how I should be living. So we had a really horrible breakup. Just like yours, I loved her so much that I just said, “I couldn’t do it.” I felt like we had this great conversation. It’s fun, it’s a great interview because I’m really saying things I haven’t even discussed at all [inaudible] I haven’t discussed at all. So it’s great to talk about—she said, “I feel like I found a beautiful bird and I kept it trapped in a cage. And the bird the whole time is just staring out of the window wanting to be freed. I get it, I’m going to set you free.” It was such a beautiful thing to say. 


LEWIS HOWES: She said that to you?


NEIL STRAUSS: She said this to me, it was such a beautiful thing. And then her last line was “but birds die in the wild.” 


LEWIS HOWES: Oh my gosh. 


NEIL STRAUSS: In a loving way, not in sort of a snarky way. So that’s kind of where a lot of the journey begins. I went and tried a lot of open relationships and polyamory and trying and studying a group relationship and all kinds of stuff. 


LEWIS HOWES: Ah, and what did you discover?


NEIL STRAUSS: I discovered that if you’re psychologically unhealthy and have issues, no style of relationship will work for you. So [inaudible] in time right now. It was like insanity. Who was I to think that “okay, this relationship isn’t working with monogamy. I’m going to be polyamorous with three serious girlfriends.” It is now going to work. It was like three times the mess.


LEWIS HOWES: Oh my gosh. Okay. So you’ve been researching this for years, haven’t you? 


NEIL STRAUSS: Yeah, I have, I have. When you’re really learning about these [inaudible], you’re learning it slow. 


LEWIS HOWES: I think I started to connect with you probably two and a half, three years ago when I moved to LA and I came over to your house in Malibu a few times. You would have your radio show and they would replace them like late night games of Cards Against Humanity or something, I forget exactly. We always interesting conversations about this. I think you were engaged or you just were newly married, I can’t remember what it was. But I remember seeing you were the happiest you’ve been in a relationship. How did you get to that point of being like, “Okay, this is “the One.” I’m happy, I’m going to be monogamous, I’m going to be married.” Or is that that not the case?


NEIL STRAUSS: No, great question. And how I got there was by realizing that what I thought was real really wasn’t real. That the freedom was in the commitment. If you think about it—”Okay, if I’m just going to be single or unattached or I’m just going to be able to do whatever I want, that’s like a bird that’s not able to land. It gets exhausting. Really, just going through the [positives?] which you can discuss, by which I was actually able to kind of get rid of my baggage and be intimate in a relationship and not feel trapped, just opened up everything. I know it sounds strange but like the world’s a brighter place in me because my wife’s–and family, now we have a son–is in it. Literally if this book was never published, it wouldn’t even matter because I got this great family because of [inaudible].


Let’s dive in here for a little bit. You talked about your dad, you talked about your relationship. I think that’s very true that obviously it was modeled for you is that you have a relationship and your parents have a relationship and it models that hate. Someone can’t do what they want. And when they’re separated, they’re free and they’re happy. That was model [inaudible] 101. And you talk a lot about your dad. Tell me about—let’s say like, little Lewis aged 12, looking at his mom—just give me a couple of words that describe how you saw your mom at age 12.


LEWIS HOWES: Unhappy, hardworking, exhausted.


NEIL STRAUSS: Right. And here’s the thing. By the way, I’m curious, how did you know your dad was unhappy in the relationship? Did he talk to you about it? How did you know your dad was unhappy?


LEWIS HOWES: I think it was more of the energy that I felt when he would get home, it wasn’t like this positive energy around her. There was always this tension around them. It wasn’t like they were loving constantly or  affectionate. It was very rare when I’d saw that. They would fight, they would yell, they would slammed doors. They would do that type of stuff, so.


NEIL STRAUSS: Isn’t it fascinating—you can tell if I’m wrong on this but isn’t it fascinating that the person who cut it [inaudible] greatness grew up with sort of these defeated people and said, “I’m going to overcome that and be about greatness.”


LEWIS HOWES: You know the interesting thing is my dad—they loved us. They were very loving towards us even though there was this tension. The thing is, he always told me, “Never let anyone hold you back in your dreams. Always go after it.” He always encouraged me to pursue anything I wanted, and he supported that. I think he did that because he knew at 19 he wasn’t able to go after his dreams because he had to start working for us and he had to sacrifice for the family and put his dreams on the shelf.


So for me, I just was like, “Yeah, I’m going after my dreams. I want to do what I want.” My dad is supporting me to do it so I’m going to—he’s telling me that anything is possible, and I believed it. And I created them for myself. I think I just realized if anyone was going to hold me back from my dreams, if it was like holding me back from being my fully expressed self to chase my dreams, that’s what scares me in a relationship. I believe I’m open to being fully committed—


NEIL STRAUSS: Right. So here’s where it is. The whole idea that she’s holding you back is a complete illusion that you’re making up. I think I know where it may come from, which is this: with Ingrid who’s my wife now, I had the same thoughts and I had all these kind of resentment. You build up resentment and the resentment poisons the relationship. Now she does all the same things, and I’m cool with it. Because you have weak boundaries which I would guess—again, I’m just reading [inaudible] you can tell me. But the other piece of the puzzle is this: mom’s unhappy, and when you kind of grew up with a mom—basically the idea is this, and this is true for me too which is if you grew up sort of feeling [soury?] for a parent, which you did for both of your parents, it’s a thing called enmeshment or it’s also called engulfment.


What happens is when people get needy in relationships, you start to withdraw because it feels oppressive. Especially what will happen is you’ll often get in a relationship with someone and feel a need to maybe take care of them or to help them. There’s sort of that power relationship there. As soon as they become dependent, you start to withdraw and be like, “God, they’re too needy.” My question for you is I think the challenge is not just—well, you hit it on both sides, you’re really a great case for someone who wants to be loving and wants to help others and wants to connect.


LEWIS HOWES: I’m all about intimacy and connection and love and creating the most magical, powerful relationship possible. I believe I can I believe I bring a lot to a relationship. I believe I’m so vulnerable and open and willing to service and support and want to be there. But I also want to make sure that I’m taking care of myself and it’s not holding me back in any way when I’m doing that. Or it’s not–


NEIL STRAUSS: And listen, listen to your words. Listen to your words. “Serve and support.” That’s the enmeshed thinking. You don’t have to serve. You don’t have to serve the person. That’s the thing that maybe deals the resentment. So let me ask you this: this is going to happen, I’m going to put this on. It’s interesting, right? 


LEWIS HOWES: I’m terrified to put this out already. 


NEIL STRAUSS: Here’s the thought. I’m going to take a step back and just tell people a little bit of the context to where it’s coming from, and then we’ll dive back in if it helps. Which is this. Your templates are created in your childhood. Obviously, you’re born, and your brain is just—you just got this brain. It’s got some a little bit of architecture in. But the real architecture of your brain is formed by your early experiences. I think this research is wrong but it’s the popular research. I don’t think it’s correct, I think it’s different. But about 700 neural connections the second your brain is forming in childhood. And a three-year-old has twice as many neural connections as you and I.


So it’s all these things are being wired in there. And then from 3 to 17, there’s a process called “pruning” and the things that aren’t used are removed. That becomes the box of thinking that you live in. What did you need to do to survive your family and what didn’t you need to survive growing up in your family? No matter who you are listening, all human beings are imperfect, therefore all parents are imperfect, therefore that you can remove any sort of blame for your parents—this is no blame, they did the best they could—and really look at that, you can start to understand yourself. Most of my books take a year, this one took five years because that’s how hard it was to see myself.


So my thought is you’re going to replicate this relationship with everybody. You have the choice. She wasn’t keeping you tied up physically, right? 




NEIL STRAUSS: You have the choice to do anything you want at any time. So how is she keeping you from that or were you making up something like, “Oh, I can’t do this because it will hurt her. Or she won’t like—” 


LEWIS HOWES: I mean, I don’t want to get into it too much [inaudible].


NEIL STRAUSS: You don’t have to, you don’t have to. 


LEWIS HOWES: Here’s the thing— 


NEIL STRAUSS: By the way, I’m only talking from being on the other side of it. Again, before I serve the jury of that, in this book, I was exactly all the stuff you’re saying. So everything I’m saying I’ve only learned in the last year. It’s not like I’m an expert. I just went through this myself to get to a place where I’m happy. So let me just unpack a few things.


LEWIS HOWES: You’ve been through my suffering already is what you’re saying.


NEIL STRAUSS: Yeah, yeah. But my illusory self-inflicted suffering—so hear a few things. You have to make her happy. You couldn’t cheer up mom, can I make her happy? First of all, you can’t make anybody happy. Your job is not to make people happy. You don’t make anyone mad, sad, happy, anything. That’s a choice they make. So the responsibility for you making her happy leads to resentment.


Again, look at your mom. Next thing is—also, her neediness. She needs me to be there, and there’s that neediness. We talked about it earlier, when you get that neediness, it makes you kind of withdraw. That neediness is kind of a turnoff. You want to help, but when it gets too needy, it starts to feel stifling and uncomfortable. But here’s the thing: it still was a request. You still had the opportunity to say no. But there’s a word called—again, I learned this because I do it—honestly, this is the only interview that’s really about the book that I’ve done. I’ve done a dog and pony show today where I’m doing a satellite TV interview and trying to give tips. At the end of the interview, I just hated myself because it’s like, I just don’t want to—I like talking about real things. I don’t like sort of having five bullet points and trying to say that on the TV show. This is a conversation. 


LEWIS HOWES: I’m like, fidgeting over here. 


NEIL STRAUSS: That’s great. That’s why the book’s called The uncomfortable book about relationships. It’s uncomfortable. 


LEWIS HOWES: That was the second thing, what was the third thing? Sorry, I cut you off. 


NEIL STRAUSS: Oh, I don’t know. I think I’m on the fourth or fifth thing. Here’s what’s fascinating. I think it’s so hard to see yourself. I bet a lot of your listeners are actually hearing some of these ideas but—let’s say you also choose partners who are kind of the opposite. Like because of where you are psychologically, you’re going to choose somebody who is more needy. That’s the dynamic you’re going to get into. So she has her side of it but her side of it doesn’t matter. You could just change yourself, and that’s good enough. 


LEWIS HOWES: And I just want to say she’s [inaudible] so needy. I think there were just certain things that she wanted that she really, really wanted. But it wasn’t like she was so needy all the time. 


NEIL STRAUSS: Right. See, there you are taking care of her feelings. So sweet. Right? You look it—”ah, it’s fascinating.” Because even then, you think, “Oh god, I’m not thinking about myself. I don’t want her to be upset or feel like we’re saying that—


LEWIS HOWES: I mean, I’m 100% [inaudible] for her is what I’m saying. It’s not like I was wrong or bad, it’s just— 


NEIL STRAUSS: We’re not calling her needy but you were saying she needed you to be there. 


LEWIS HOWES: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.


NEIL STRAUSS: So there’s a thing called—and I experienced it—called pathological accommodation. It’s the idea that it [inaudible] your own interest. You go along what somebody wants because they want it. So you put them before you in a way. That builds up resentment and becomes this poison in the relationship. 


LEWIS HOWES: That’s what happened.


NEIL STRAUSS: So what all your listeners are probably thinking—and they may not be but what I am—is. I cannot do it, dude. Maybe just get on the Kindle right now or something when we’re done talking. But I’ll send it to you. It’s like a white Bible [inaudible] game. It’s a black Bible so it has a beautiful [inaudible]. I’ll send it to you.


LEWIS HOWES: [inaudible] so I’m excited. 


NEIL STRAUSS: Okay. Oh yeah, thank you. Great. Perfect. So what would’ve happened if you just said no?


LEWIS HOWES: She would’ve reacted in the way she wanted to react whatever they would have been. She could have been hurt, she could have been frustrated, she may have been upset or sad or—maybe she [inaudible] said, “Well, this is what I need and I can’t be in a relationship unless this is something you give me.” Or she would’ve handled it anyway she wanted to have handled it. But for me, there was a fear of her not being happy and reacting in a way where it wouldn’t work out or she wouldn’t want to be with me or I don’t know, any of those type of fears. 


NEIL STRAUSS: I really felt so emotional hearing you say that’s really where it all is. That trying to protect her from having—your fear of her response trying to protect her from those things ended up being worse for the relationship than just letting her have a response. The saddest thing is you don’t even know what it was. You don’t even know what it would’ve been. And you never gave her the chance to do what was right for herself. 


So maybe instead of emailing her saying that’s what it’s all about, you can apologize for assuming you knew how she’d react to that now that you have her reaction. Don’t do that. But what I’m saying is it’s another way to [inaudible].  By the way, it’s just one example. I’m sure there are many other examples of this. But if you did it just across the board, they just said, “Hey, I’ll come with you on the Sundays when I can come with you, and I won’t come on the Sundays when there are other things that I want to do. How much [inaudible] would you like I’m at?” ?? and did it. Don’t [inaudible] resentment and that kind of hurt the relationship versus—


By the way, what would be interesting is if you really just did what was true to yourself throughout in a compassionate way. Let’s say you took care of yourself and you took care of your needs, she could’ve a.) had an upset reaction but then later come around and said, “Okay, maybe that expectation’s not real.” She might’ve said, “Cool.” She might’ve gotten emotionally upset, and she might’ve broken up with you. That’s okay because it means the relationship wasn’t meant to be. You would’ve saved a lot of pain and time.


LEWIS HOWES: Yeah. I feel like each relationship that I get in I learned so many new lessons about myself and about all these things. But it’s just interesting to be able to look at, dive deeper and deeper on the “why” and “how.” I love what you just said. I think it’s  important to focus on being who we are, being 100% authentic to who we are, not worrying about hurting someone else as long as we’re coming from compassion. But being true to ourselves in what we want and need. I think it will work itself out the way it needs to when we come from that place. 


NEIL STRAUSS: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I’ll give you a simple example of maybe even on the reverse side of what you experienced which is—when my last book was out and I think my relationship was pretty new, my girlfriend didn’t want to come to the signings or something. Or didn’t want to come to one of the signings. I’m like, “You’re not supporting me. I worked so hard on this book. You’re not coming, you’re not supporting me. I made up a whole story about how she wasn’t supporting me.” Who cares, she didn’t want to come to the signing, why do I need her to be there?


Now I have a new book out and we have babies so she’s staying home. I’m like, “Well, that’s good. If she wants to come, great, the invitation’s open.” If we can choose to get a babysitter for those days, we can. If not, it’s fine. But I imposed a whole story on it [inaudible] oh, someone doesn’t want to come to an event that’s occurring, turn into “she doesn’t support me, she doesn’t care.” This relationship sucks. “Shouldn’t we just go?” from 0 to 60. When did you realize that like, “Okay, you were going to commit 100% to your wife?


NEIL STRAUSS: Here’s what happened. This is why it’s so tough. I basically had all the insights. I started to realize, “Okay, here’s what’s going on, here’s what’s happening—” I’ll come out and say it. “You’ve been so intimate and vulnerable, I shall do the same.” Again, it’s in the book anyway. So I cheated on Ingrid who’s my wife now. I felt horrible. I thought I was a good guy. I really loved her, I wanted to be with her. And I cheated on her, and I just couldn’t understand why would I do that to someone, why would I hurt somebody like that who loves me.


Why would I break her heart. Why ruin my future and why would I—outside my ethics system and outside my morals, and just for sex that wasn’t even that good anyway? So I was talking with a friend and he was saying, “You know what? If sex—it was more important [inaudible] that, maybe you’re a sex addict.” And we had a lot of conversations about it. I said, “You know what? I’m just going to check into the sex addiction rehab. I don’t know if [inaudible] but certainly, the need for sex was stronger than the need for integrity and honesty and everything else.”


So I actually checked in to rehab which is very ironic as the guy who wrote “The Game,” I understand. There, I started to sort of learn about okay, what are the forces unknown, unconscious, hidden forces operating on me that maybe made this decision [inaudible]? Having a depressed, controlling mother and parents in a bad relationship—that sounds familiar. A very meek dad who kind of gave up everything for—it’s so similar, it’s insane—and start to learn about that. But here’s the crazy part: so I learned all about the fears of intimacy I have, the fears of being controlled, the fears of being smothered. The idea that I kind of have to take care of someone that I resent them for a choice I made. 


But here’s the crazy thing: when I told you that story earlier about her and I broke up because I thought monogamy wasn’t natural, that happened after I learned everything about myself. Like I learned it all, and I still did it. The thing is, this stuff is so strong that the knowledge is not enough. It’s like when somebody says, “Oh, I’m going to stop dating jerks,” or “I’m going to stop dating people like this.” And then you’re like, “Wait. You’re in another relationship with the same person again—a new version of the same person.


So I went to some super deep—that I highly recommend everybody kind of—healing trauma, emotional work that really purged, that really sort of let’s just say weakened those connections we’re talking about in the box, those stories that we built up. So I went through some really, really heavy—yeah, well, first thing was humility. I do accept that. A smarter thing, [inaudible] I know nothing because I’m just messing everything up. And just say, “I know nothing, I let go. All my logic is not going to help me.” The second thing is just not blaming it on anyone else. “Well, she’s doing this, she’s doing that. I had to just accept all the responsibility.”


Then the third thing was to just treat—this thing I took out of the book and I’ll say it here: “Whether we think of them as trauma, like a psychologist may say, they’re just variables that made you you.” I think of all that stuff as like a—all that bad [messaging?] you got growing up as a sort of like a cancerous ball attached to the heart by an elastic band. If you get rid of that, you can actually see reality and get out of your story and be in a pretty accepting, happy place.


So what I did was I just kept stretching with every therapy possible. I kept stretching that elastic band till eventually, it just sort of—I wouldn’t say snap, but it got so weak that it has no pull over me. I’ll give you examples of what I’m talking about because it’s hard—everyone thinks that therapy is talk therapy, I don’t believe talk therapy is very, very useful. For most people, it’s only an hour, there’s no real treatment program, you’re just coming in and talking about what happened. I find talk therapy not useful because most of your beliefs and your trauma and the things that happened to you growing up—


LEWIS HOWES: I was just going to say it’s more physical than it is just in your [head?].


NEIL STRAUSS: Exactly. It’s physical, it emotional—when you’re a child, you don’t have language. Things are not happening logically, and there are a lot of therapies that work on the emotional parts of it. If the therapy doesn’t involve you having feelings, it’s probably not working on the deep level where you grip onto things. There’s something called “somatic experiencing.” It’s almost like if you think of—someone dies in a house with unfinished business, they haunt the house, their business is finished. That’s like maybe the stuff in your body. That’s a lot of whatever the stored-up pain and sadness and anxiety.


Again, seeing parents fight is not a good feeling to have. That’s all locked in there. So they do things that kind of unlock that and release it after all those time. So that was good. There’s a lot of programs where you sort of really unpack the stuff and do a lot of let’s say heavy emotional work through this stuff. It’s life-changing. There’s a moment that you can step outside of your own head, outside of your box, and see the world as it is, not as you think it is. Like, “It was a beautiful place, I just need to get back there.”


I’ll tell you the last little piece of it, which is this: so when we got back in the relationship and I really showed and improved and in every way that I’ve changed—again, the burden is on me to earn back trust, not for it to be given. When I really earned that trust back, she saw that I was really a different person in the relationship and in my life. It got her interested in this stuff because let’s face it, she chose me so there’s something equally wrong with her. Just cause I’d say the same about her, correct. [inaudible] in Ingrid’s case, it wasn’t emotion out there, just her dad who literally was not there. Period. Just [inaudible] since she was a certain age. So there’s a lot of abandonment fears for that.


Again, it’s no surprise. [inaudible] puzzle pieces because I think we’re interlocking puzzle pieces sometimes. So her dad cheated on her mom. Of course she ends up with this cheater. [inaudible] the cheater then I can heal my childhood wounds. So she had to do her own work on her abandonment and do everything else. So she got to the same place. I think it’s a great relationship


Listen, every relationship’s going to have issues and problems. You keep shopping for a relationships with no problems, you’re going to be shopping till you die. So if you go decide you can both recognize your own problems—not each other’s, just your own—it’s up to your partner to recognize their own. But if you get lucky enough that you can communicate about yourself and your issues and they can communicate about theirs and both work on them, then you can get to have —I guess if that were unconscious uncoupling, you can have a very conscious coupling. 


LEWIS HOWES: I like that. Now how long were you with her until you guys broke up? 


NEIL STRAUSS: We’re probably together like a year till we broke up, and then went apart a year, and now since then I think we’ve been together three years and now married. Yeah, married with a baby now. The coolest thing about all this stuff is all the stuff I learned about what’s healthy parenting and not healthy parenting has made me so much more conscious and better of a father that I would’ve been otherwise. 


LEWIS HOWES: Yeah, wow. What did you do in that year apart, were you guys still hanging out at all, were you fully focused on yourself, were you off dating other girls? What did you learn about that year?


NEIL STRAUSS: That was when I tried the open relationship and the polyamory and the sex [inaudible] and—I was like, “I’m going to be so free.” I had this vision. I had this vision, man. I swear, I’m not just saying it just because I think maybe you’ve led the way with [inaudible]. So I had this great idea. This great idea that I’m going to get all my friends together to feel the same way. [inaudible] women I’ve dated and they’ve dated and we’re going to live together in sort of like a—we’re going to create a new kind of lifestyle where we lived together with no relationship attachments, total freedom.


We built this kind of designer’s lifestyle. We had yoga, we did yoga in the morning, we had someone come in teach [inaudible] communication which is a great way to talk with each other. We always did a lot of sort of—we started growing our own stuff—just really living, traveling, and just really enjoying life and being in this kind of free situation. I really had this paradise in my head of this is the way to do it, we’re going to be like Chris Ryan’s book, “Sex At Dawn” and do this thing. However—you knew this was coming, right?


LEWIS HOWES: Of course.


NEIL STRAUSS: Less than a week into it, someone’s jealous partner tried to kill me with an axe. 


LEWIS HOWES: Oh my gosh, what?


NEIL STRAUSS: So my free love commune almost turned into the Manson Family. 


LEWIS HOWES: Oh my gosh. With an axe?


NEIL STRAUSS: Yeah, we had an axe where we’re chopping these coconuts. He got in a jealous rage and it was pretty scary.


LEWIS HOWES: Oh my gosh, man. So it didn’t last, did the fantasy end there or what?


NEIL STRAUSS: What happened was he and that person left. 


LEWIS HOWES: You kicked them off the island. 


NEIL STRAUSS: Yeah, yeah which is funny. Now it’s not a free love commune, it’s a total dictatorship. It’s ridiculous, the things we do. So what happened from there—it was kind of working, we said, “We could do this.” But the thing is, it’s a lot of work to just manage everything. We had meetings in the morning where we discussed our feelings and what’s going on. It was a full-time job just managing it. For the super nerds, here’s a little formula that I can help you with. And if anyone can figure it out before I tell you what it is, I’ll be impressed, I’d be really [inaudible]. So it’s nxn-1/2.


LEWIS HOWES: I have no clue.


NEIL STRAUSS: So what is “n?” 


LEWIS HOWES: I have no clue.


NEIL STRAUSS: So “n” is the number of people in a relationship, and the sum is how many relationships you’re having. 


LEWIS HOWES: Oh my gosh.


NEIL STRAUSS: So in other words, I thought four people—if I was with three women, that’s three relationships. But it’s really—let’s see—three minus [inaudible] there’s four of us [inaudible]—I’m messing up the math. 4×3/2. Six relationships. So three people has really six relationships. So in the house, I think there were ten people, so whatever that is, that’s how many relationships you’re actually having. It’s such a skill to keep that many going. 


LEWIS HOWES: That’s a lot of energy and a lot of work. 


NEIL STRAUSS: That’s exactly what it was. 


LEWIS HOWES: So you tried all these things, and then a year goes by and you realize what, that none of this works, and monogamy is the way to go?




LEWIS HOWES: Okay, what happened next?


NEIL STRAUSS: What happened was I realized the problem wasn’t relationships, the problem was me. So that was the first thing. Was realizing, “Okay, the problem’s not her trying to control me and keep me from being free, the problem isn’t monogamy, the problem is solely me. The way I think and everything else.” [inaudible] all the work that I was telling you about. The other thing is when I really was sort of trying to reconnect with [inaudible] because I was also open to whatever happens. I’m letting go of the outcome. If it’s right, it will happen. If not, at least I’m a healthier person. So I did the work for me not for her, I think that’s an important distinction. Because even in a relationship—


LEWIS HOWES: Were you in contact with her all that year or was it here and there? Were you guys seeing each other or was it completely disconnected? 


NEIL STRAUSS: Almost completely disconnected. And any connection was a bad idea. One thing I can say is [inaudible] but I really feel this is true. I don’t know, I haven’t read about [inaudible]. You gotta set somebody free. I think the best way to sort of, uncouple—I don’t know what the philosophy on it is—is to be firm about it. To make a decision then really be firm about it. To say, not to waffle back and forth and let it drag on for years. And then together, say, “We’re going to communicate for a week or for two weeks. Whenever you want, whatever you need, I’m there for you to help you through this stuff.


After that, no matter what happens, we’re not going to communicate until both of us are actually really over it and can actually be friends and have no emotional attachment or pain. In other words, I can see you with a new partner and not feel sadness or jealousy or regret.” So I think you have to—everytime you communicate with someone once you’ve broken up, you reset the clock on your recovery and their recovery. 


LEWIS HOWES: Wow. I remember you saying this actually in your little star dungeon room you have with beanbags in your house in Malibu. I think I remember you saying that because you guys were talking about how you got back together or something. I remember saying you had that one week period where you can talk about anything, you can be there for each other, but then you’ve got to cut it off. I thought that was brilliant. You’re a much better man than me. 


NEIL STRAUSS: Yeah, but you need a friend or someone else to talk to because of course you have a pain and you feel like the person who caused it—or even if you caused it, [inaudible] this person, they feel like they can cure it to make you feel better a little bit. And it becomes addictive. 


LEWIS HOWES: So we should [inaudible] off with another relationship, were you even aware what she was doing or what then?


NEIL STRAUSS: Yeah, I wasn’t aware. I stayed strong, I reached out to Facebook. I think she unfriended me anyway. But I didn’t check Facebook or anything like that or do by curious contact by asking friends what she’s doing. I did a little bit of that actually now that I think about it. And pretty much—[inaudible].


LEWIS HOWES: [inaudible].


NEIL STRAUSS: Yeah. But she had some awesome relationships with really cool guys. [inaudible]. There was a point where I got weak and I really wanted to get back together with her kind of halfway through this. A friend who is friends with her showed me her Facebook photo or something. She was with this guy who was like, the most good looking guy I’ve ever seen in my life. He was like an underwear model—wish I can remember his name. [inaudible]. Face like James Dean and like a body rippling with muscles everywhere. I’m like, “Okay, guess it’s done.” I definitely don’t have a lot of ripples. not where I want them. 


LEWIS HOWES: So did you kind of let go fully then or did that give you more—were you kind of like sad more than or what was it feeling?


NEIL STRAUSS: No. I thought, “You know what? I hope this guy isn’t ambivalent like me. I hope this guy doesn’t have questions about [inaudible] monogamy like me.” I just thought, “You know what? I’m probably not ready anyway.” But to answer your question—it’s funny, there’s been a lot of articles about this book. They’re all like, “player chooses monogamy.”


It’s a convenient cultural narrative, but my belief really is they’re just these false distinctions of choosing monogamy or non-monogamy or this or that. They’re just false distinctions. We just made a commitment to be in a relationship and do whatever’s right for the three entities which are me, her, and the relationship. So whatever serves all three [inaudible]. [inaudible] made a rule—if you decide before you start your career, “I’m always going to do this in my career,” now you just feel like you changed, you grow, things happen. So all we do is just make the commitment every moment to be true to those three things and do what’s right for them.


LEWIS HOWES: So you let her go, you moved on, but then why are you later—did you decide to reach back out, or how did you get back together? What happened? And how did she trust you again?


NEIL STRAUSS: Yeah, no. I just realized that I really, really blew it. Like I realized that I really, really blew it. We just sort of met—her brother’s having a wedding and I basically kind got invited to that. So when I showed up, I just knew this was my chance to see her again. This is my last chance. I brought all these sort of little gifts to show her that I changed. For example, I cut off everything from my past as far as the person I was and maybe the unhealthy people I was hanging out with. So just a new phone numbers, new email addresses. I gave her sort of like just [inaudible] prove that she could trust me. God, we had this discussion. It wasn’t like, “Oh, we got back together, it was great.”


But how did we get back together, it was actually pretty uncomfortable. She had a lot of trust issues, obviously, and a lot of fears. That’s when she started doing some of the work I’ve done. It’s great, and we got to this place. The coolest thing about this place is my biggest fears got proved wrong. Which is that I thought overtime, passion and sex fade in a relationship. It just gets old. What happened actually is it gets old if you turn that person into your parent. You turn her into mom. You can’t [inaudible]. Then you don’t wanna have sex with your mom. Or whatever. Maybe she turns you into dad who’s always—whatever her dad was doing emotionally—he’s emotionally withdrawing. She doesn’t want to have sex with dad. I found that as we let go of our parental stories about each other and get closer, we’d be closer emotionally without fear. We keep having the best sex of our lives each time we have.


LEWIS HOWES: First off, I’m glad to hear this is all happening so congratulations on everything. 


NEIL STRAUSS: It’s great, man. I swear to god—if I just haven’t done this—maybe I’d been married by the way, miserable, resentful, cheating, scarred my kids. Or I just would’ve been single forever and blaming it on everybody else. It’s just amazing. It’s amazing.


LEWIS HOWES: How did you know that she was “the One” or the one that you wanted to marry or that this was it? How did you know it was her?


NEIL STRAUSS: I guess, it’s funny. I mean all those questions are really like, logical questions. And they’re also like, “well, how do I know if there’s another one?” The first thing I did was I got rid of the words “what if.” I removed them from my vocabulary. No more saying “what if.” “What if” is a really unhealthy way to go about. “What if there’s someone else? How do I know? What if that’s wrong?” I changed it to “I will accept it if…” “I’ll accept it if it doesn’t last forever. I’ll accept it if I’m wrong about this.” Suddenly, life becomes easier. 


LEWIS HOWES: So you’re not putting this like, “I’m going to be married for the rest of my life. It has to happen. If it’s for some reason for years it’s not working and you guys can’t shift, you’re open to whatever an option.”


NEIL STRAUSS: Yeah, whatever’s right for her, me, and the relationship. That’s the other kind of logical fallacy is you start to build it up in your head. “Oh, I can’t be with my ex. I need to break up for me.” That is fiction. If you do what’s right for you, and all of you guys, in each moment and continue on like that for each moment, it’s even more likely to last. 


LEWIS HOWES: I love this. I feel like we should talk for another three hours but I want to leave at that and ask you a couple final questions because I’m excited to dive into this book. Hopefully, if I get the courage to post this, people will get a lot of value out of this. At least, if anyone did, I’d feel like I’m getting value out of it. So I appreciate you letting me go through a little therapy right now. 


NEIL STRAUSS: Thanks for being so open about everything. That’s like a risky, brave thing. 


LEWIS HOWES: It’s very risky and I’m terrified. But I think that’s the reason why a lot of people like this podcast is because I go there and my guest go there and so I think I’d be doing—I want to be doing what I speak into the people should be doing in their lives if I don’t post this. Just curious to see how the people are going to react. 


So I want to ask a couple final questions. I want to make sure everyone gets this book, it’s called “The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships.” We’ll have it linked up here in the show notes. But you can get it anywhere—Barnes and Noble and Amazon, things like that.


Final two questions. This is what I ask all my guests at the end. You’ve written a number of New York Time’s bestselling books, you’ve been a writer for a long time. If for some reason all your writing had vanished and you had one piece of paper to write down three truths about life that you’ve learned—and this was the only thing you got to leave behind for people to read of yours are these three simple truths, what would you say those three truths are?


NEIL STRAUSS: Probably I know nothing, you know nothing, we know nothing. 


LEWIS HOWES: There you go. That’s all three. Okay, perfect. Before I ask the final question, I want to acknowledge you, Neil, for coming on and sharing and allowing me to go there—putting me in the container of feeling safe enough to share, and trusting you for kind of guiding me through this. But also, for going through incredible suffering and pain that you have. I know the pain you’ve been through internally and emotionally through all this. I feel it, I get it because I feel like I’ve lived part of that myself. Maybe not at the level that you have but I can only imagine the type of pain you’ve gone through to get to this point. I acknowledge you for sticking in it, sticking it through, doing the work on urself, and coming to this place because it sounds like it’s one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever been in your life happily married, with your new son, and I couldn’t be happier for you. So I acknowledge you for doing the work and sharing it with all of us. 


NEIL STRAUSS: Yeah, thank you for saying that. That’s very [inaudible] and very perceptive and empathic.


LEWIS HOWES: My final question is, what’s your definition of greatness?


NEIL STRAUSS: It’s interesting, the questions. I really should listen to your podcast before [inaudible] prepared for these three questions. I really want to give it—but honestly, again, for me personally, greatness sounds like an external standard. So it’s just a.) knowing yourself and then b.) knowing yourself, always being true to yourself. So greatness comes from within and you’re the only judge of that greatness. 


LEWIS HOWES: I like that. Neil Strauss, thanks so much for coming on to share, man. I really appreciate it. 


NEIL STRAUSS: Great. Thanks for a great conversation. 




LEWIS HOWES: There you have it, guys. I hope you enjoyed this conversation. Again, not the most comfortable one for me, but I’m already believing that you guys are going to be getting a lot out of this. Hopefully, my pain and my discomfort and my confusion and all the things that I go through give you guys some insights and allows you to connect to anything that’s maybe confusing or that you’re not sure about in relationships with you as well. So thank you guys for listening and for bearing with me through the discomfort and the [inaudible]. I really appreciate your support here. Make sure to share this out, with your friends, anyone you may think enjoy this or get something out of this. And make sure to pick up a copy of Neil’s book to learn more. It’s called “The Truth.” Make sure to check it out over on Amazon or bookstores near you.


Again, my book is coming out. October 27th. Make sure to preorder a copy. Buy a few copies for your friends and give them away. It would mean the world to me. This is my dream, I’ve had this dream for eight years to come out with this type of book, and it’s finally coming true. Please help me by spreading the message of greatness to the world by buying a copy and letting your friends know as well. I appreciate you guys so very much. I’m going to be going on a tour as well, make sure to check out Come see me in person, give me a hug, give me a high five, let me know what you enjoy about the podcast and which one you’re inspired by the most.


So thank you guys again so much. You know what time it is, it’s time to go out there and do something great.


LEWIS HOWES: There you have it, guys. I hope you enjoyed this conversation. Again, not the most comfortable one for me, but I’m already believing that you guys are going to be getting a lot out of this. Hopefully, my pain and my discomfort and my confusion and all the things that I go through give you guys some insights and allows you to connect to anything that’s maybe confusing or that you’re not sure about in relationships with you as well. So thank you guys for listening and for bearing with me through the discomfort and the [inaudible]. I really appreciate your support here. Make sure to share this out, with your friends, anyone you may think enjoy this or get something out of this. And make sure to pick up a copy of Neil’s book to learn more. It’s called “The Truth.” Make sure to check it out over on Amazon or bookstores near you.


Again, my book is coming out. October 27th. Make sure to preorder a copy. Buy a few copies for your friends and give them away. It would mean the world to me. This is my dream, I’ve had this dream for eight years to come out with this type of book, and it’s finally coming true. Please help me by spreading the message of greatness to the world by buying a copy and letting your friends know as well. I appreciate you guys so very much. I’m going to be going on a tour as well, make sure to check out Come see me in person, give me a hug, give me a high five, let me know what you enjoy about the podcast and which one you’re inspired by the most.


So thank you guys again so much. You know what time it is, it’s time to go out there and do something great.

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