[Jon Dabach] 00:00
Today on the relationship survival show, I’m joined by Melissa Fulgleri, Melissa is a therapist, Professor, author and entrepreneur providing individual couples and family therapy to millennials working to overcome depression, anxiety and trauma. She also helps people return to themselves in order to live and love more authentically, you’re listening to the relationship revival podcast with Jon Dabach, also known as Mr. Spirituality.
[Jon Dabach] 00:24
That’s me. I’m your host giving you insights and guidance from over 10 years in the field of this amazing journey we call romance on this show, I go over everything you need to know about how to get into a relationship, how to get the most out of a relationship, and sometimes even how to gracefully end a relationship without pulling your hair out and going crazy. And occasionally, I’m even joined by new and old friends who are also relationship experts to bring you guidance and wisdom with new perspectives. Thanks for stopping by. I’m talking today with Melissa. Hey, how you doing? Melissa?
[Melissa Fulgieri] 01:00
I’m great. How are you? I’m happy to be here.
[Jon Dabach] 01:03
Thank you so much. We’re happy to have you. Melissa, why don’t you take us through your past as a practitioner, as a professor, I know you’re an entrepreneur kind of give us give some background to everybody so we can understand where you’re coming at, in the world of couples counseling.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 01:23
Yeah, sure. So I was one of those lucky few who really knew from an early age what I wanted to do, um, meaning that I hourly, high school.
[Jon Dabach] 01:36
No kidding. In high school, you knew what you wanted to do.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 01:38
So I let me amend that statement. I guess in high school, I knew that I was most interested in psychology. As soon as I sort of took Psych 101. I was like, Yep, this is pretty much it. Like this is the thing that I’m passionate about. And I didn’t exactly know what I would do with it.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 01:59
But I knew that I want to that’s where I wanted to live professionally for sure. So then I started sort of researching a little bit about like, well, what you can do with this type of degree. And so I learned about social work. I had been studying abroad overseas, and I ended up doing some work in Ghana, in West Africa. And I ended up getting this Social Justice Award. And this is embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t even know what the term social justice meant. I was like, oh, that’s nice that I got this award.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 02:33
And then when I started learning about what social justice man, I thought, oh, this is just a perfect. This is a perfect goal, a perfect sort of purpose for me, because I I’m already very socially justice minded. So to be able to put language to what I was already really driven by was really nice. And so that’s what led me to social work. It’s what led me to get a master’s in social work. And
[Jon Dabach] 03:00
It’s back up for a sec, what kind of work you did in Ghana that sounds really interesting.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 03:04
I was really interested, I was doing a lot of work as a research assistant with HIV AIDS and a lot of work in New York with the men who have sex with Men population and researching how their sexual activity either led to or put them more at risk at HIV transmission.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 03:28
And then that work took me to Ghana, where I created a documentary with a couple of girlfriends around the stigmatization of HIV transmission. And that ultimately led me to really think about, you know, these big worldly concepts, you know, and you know, and understand or learn a little bit more about the nuance of it and see how you could really just speak to a very complex issue in a way that resonated with people.
[Jon Dabach] 04:01
That’s great. And that kind of led you to more micro work working with people one on one. So what was the jump there?
[Melissa Fulgieri] 04:08
The jump, there was really around the craft of therapy, like one of the things that I liked the most about being a therapist is it’s never like a checkbox, you can never just get really good at it. And then you’re done. Just because of the way the field works. You have to keep learning, you have to keep training, you have to keep humbling yourself because humans change and the research changes isn’t so we also have to change with it. And so I just really loved that I could get as good as possible at something and still have so much further to go. And I just, you know, I was one of those
[Jon Dabach] 04:47
Like that. So a lot of people wouldn’t like that a lot of people would say I want to be the best at something. Did you have a perfectionist mindset growing up or was that always something you were like? I don’t think that’s possible.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 04:59
I’m Pretty growth oriented. It’s um,
[Jon Dabach] 05:03
So that makes sense. Yeah,
[Melissa Fulgieri] 05:04
I’m like, I’m extremely competitive, but I’m competitive with myself the most I would say I, you know, like, when when I’m gunning for a promotion, obviously, you know, my competitiveness does come out for sure. But I don’t know, I’ve always been sort of like, the harsh hardship, my own harshest critic. And so I find that there’s enough competition to go around just in my own psyche. So it’s, yeah, those people. Yeah, yeah.
[Jon Dabach] 05:36
Okay. Yeah, the growth oriented mindset. Yeah. So it’s exciting, because it’s like, you’ll, you’ll never reach that, you know, climax. You know, there’s just a constant lifelong trajectory there for you.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 05:46
Yeah, for sure. And I, and I, you know, I was the type of friend who was like the advice giver. And so I always found it really natural to connect with people on a really deep level. And really, I just really enjoyed conversation. I was a theater kid. And so I really enjoyed sort of, like empathy and connection.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 06:08
And, you know, connecting to an audience’s is not totally dissimilar than connecting with a client, right? You’re, you’re connecting on a very emotional, visceral level. And so it was just a really perfect fit for me very early on. And then I am someone who likes to wear a lot of different hats. And so, you know, my career has really allowed me to do that in a lot of, you know, different ways.
[Jon Dabach] 06:37
That’s great. So what do you what are you doing these days? What’s your practice actually look like?
[Melissa Fulgieri] 06:42
Yeah, so it’s so funny, because I was, I was trained. And, you know, the first sort of theory I learned about was feminist theory, and how women have a tendency to self-silence. And so I had, you know, worked with these really badass women that I really looked up to. And so I started going on this trajectory of, you know, women’s empowerment. And then I started learning more about relationships.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 07:07
And I wrote a book for couples. In the last year, that was a really wonderful experience for me. But today, I what I would say, which is most interesting is that my practice is about 70% individual men these days, and I still see a lot of couples, but I’m noticing that there is sort of this interesting groundswell of more men prioritizing their mental health and this really incredible way. And so that’s currently what I’m focused on.
[Jon Dabach] 07:39
And how are the clients coming to you? Because that’s interesting with your feminist background, that you’re attracting 70% of your caseload as these men, what do you think the magnet is there that’s pulling them into you?
[Melissa Fulgieri] 07:53
I mean, that your guess is as good as mine. But I think it’s, it’s perhaps, you know, I have a real compassion for all humans. And I think that in the past few years, you know, there’s been a real reckoning with men around how they behave, how they show up in the world, how they show up in their homes.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 08:15
And, you know, I’ve had so many men come through my door, and basically say to me, like, I not only want to learn how to treat the people in my life better, but I also think I need to learn how to treat myself better. And, you know, I think that that’s a really powerful thing that for whatever reason, I’m well placed to support with maybe because I, I work from a very humanist approach, I work from a very client centered and self-compassionate approach.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 08:44
So the way that I work is to really have compassion for yourself at the same time as holding accountability. You know, I don’t think our culture really likes to do both. I think we like to say like, this person is a horrible person, and this person is a good person. And that’s just not humans. Humans are very imperfect. And we’re, we’re multifaceted. And so I think social workers, therapists really understand that. And so many of us are well suited to help sit in that nuance of human behavior.
[Jon Dabach] 09:22
I think that’s a good point. You know, that there’s these kind of these shades of gray, we always talk about that people exist in one issue I found with the men who are coming to me, and I’d love to hear your take about it. Is this finding that happy medium, so most of the men I see aren’t?
[Jon Dabach] 09:44
I wouldn’t say most but I’d say there’s it’s not like an overwhelming majority where people have that toxic masculinity. It’s more I find like people have this tendency of not understanding how to lead as a man and their relationship. I’m talking about cisgender heteronormative relationships right now exclusively, because that’s most of the clients I see just happen to fit in that bucket.
[Jon Dabach] 10:06
And so it’s interesting to see how like, oftentimes I’ll hear their wives or their girlfriends talk about how they, they want a stronger masculine presence in the relationship. And yet, the man doesn’t know what that means without crossing some kind of an aggressive line, because they’ve been told their whole, you know, the whole last 20 years to break down their walls to be more vulnerable to be more empathetic. And so it’s confusing. What’s your kind of take on how you would approach something like that?
[Melissa Fulgieri] 10:41
So I talk a lot about the patriarchy and how women are some of the best foot soldiers of the patriarchy, meaning that women also have this idea of what a man is supposed to be. But that’s not been created in our own minds. It gets created by society that says, Men should provide they should pay on the first day.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 11:05
And if they don’t, they’re a deadbeat, and they should have a certain job, right? When women are dating, the the thing that a woman asks, maybe it’s the first question, maybe it’s the third question, but it’s certainly Top Five is what does the man do for work, right, and that’s based on societal premise that the man is the provider, which we’re obviously shifting now. But we have a long way to go.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 11:28
And so men are taught from day one, that they should be the provider and the provider is also strong. But the provider is also stoic. The provider shouldn’t cry, the provider shouldn’t be vulnerable. And yet we’re giving men these mixed messages around will be this but also be that in the same way, we’re giving women mixed messages around be this but also be that you, it’s very difficult to do both.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 11:56
And did we often shame women when they step outside their gender role, in the same way we shame men when they step outside their gender roles. And so it’s not surprising to me that all the genders are really confused, because we’re given all of these different requirements on who and how we should be, when in reality, we’re all very different people.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 12:24
And so you can find a man out there who, you know, loves to cry, and that was really beaten out of them. Whereas you can find a woman out there who doesn’t have motion that most emotionality as other women and that she was shamed for. And so I think, really no one wins under this. Under the patriarchy.
[Jon Dabach] 12:48
Yeah. Yeah, it’s difficult. I, you know, sometimes when I see that face of just exhaustion on a male client, I’ll kind of reassure them and say, it’s never been more difficult to understand what it means to be a man in modern history, and they kind of go, Yeah, it’s like that. That’s the relief, like someone gets it. But now you now the process of building it back up and defining it and understanding it’s different in every relationship to is kind of that tip toe, you know, process of discovery that we all go through.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 13:27
Right? Right. And holding both of that, right, because yes, I can both say it is quite difficult to be a man, but I’m also a woman who has been harmed by men in big and small ways through throughout my entire life, right. And so both of those things have to coexist.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 13:44
And we can’t, you know, like, I think social media loves to paint with a broad brush, and pretends like those two things can’t coexist, but you can both be struggling and also have been, you know, part of you can both be the oppressor and the oppressed. That’s what intersectionality is. Right? And our society doesn’t feel super comfortable with those concepts yet.
[Jon Dabach] 14:12
Yeah. How when you’re dealing with these male clients on an individual level, is their frustration more externally outside of the relationship, like the societal pressures they’re feeling? Or is it within their own marriage or relationship from the women in their lives?
[Melissa Fulgieri] 14:30
I think it’s the same thing. Right. So I think, you know, part of my work is, I believe the personal is political. I believe macro is the micro and it’s really not that different. It’s just trickling down. And so, you know, to use your example around, there’s a huge conversation around consent, right? And there are so many women out there who are like, I just want a man to throw me against the wall and like, not, you know, ask basically is what they’re saying. I want them to take Charge, right?
[Melissa Fulgieri] 15:01
But then there’s this other concurrent argument, very important argument around consent. That’s like, maybe you shouldn’t just throw people against the wall. Maybe you should just, you know, maybe you should ask about that. And, you know, I hear from men a lot around like, well, which is it? Which is it? And my answer to them is always, it’s both. And you’re never going to be able to guess you always want to have a conversation.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 15:28
But that conversation requires vulnerability. And we shame vulnerability out of each other. Doesn’t matter what gender you are all the time, right? And so if a man says, hey, do you want me to throw you against the wall? Oftentimes, a woman will say something like, you should know. Right? Or, oh, you ruined it. Right? And so it, it is a lose, lose a lot of the time, and this is natural
[Jon Dabach] 15:55
Men come to you and go, what am I supposed to do?
[Melissa Fulgieri] 15:59
And I say to them, you’re supposed to ask, and if a woman shames you for it, that’s about her. That’s not about you, right? Because you have evolved past this place of like, well, then you then you as the woman need to be skilled up around what consent looks like. Right? But you know, if you can see that as sort of, you know, not your fault and not her fault, but the patriarchy is fault. It no one’s to blame, necessarily. It’s about how we how we’re both oppressed under this system.
[Jon Dabach] 16:38
Now you’re sitting when you’re talking about consent, honestly, it’s not something that comes up as often for me, because in a marriage, they don’t really talk about it as much as a lot of
[Melissa Fulgieri] 16:50
What we absolutely should, though.
[Jon Dabach] 16:54
It’s just, it just doesn’t come up so much. My practice. My question was, you know, for you is, are you seeing a lot of individuals who are not in a couple? Are you seeing individuals who are dating? Or is this is this a conversation that comes up in marriages quite often?
[Melissa Fulgieri] 17:10
Yeah, it comes up, I see folks who are dating, I see folks who are married, I see folks who are non-monogamous and married. I see folks who are in multiple relationship configurations. And so yeah, it’s really, you know, what’s so funny about your question is like, I think a lot of people have this view that like, once you get married, you’re supposed to know your spouse.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 17:36
I’ve been with my spouse for 11 years, we’re still having conversations where I’m like, Holy shit, what I didn’t know that about you. That’s what you think about that thing? Like, where have I been? You know, so I do still think that young marriage requires us to read contract constantly.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 17:58
And part of that is about consent. But it’s also about like, Hey, I know, I used to be the one who cooks and used to be the one who loves the dishwasher. But I got to tell you, I can’t do that anymore. Let’s, let’s figure it out differently. And a lot of people don’t initially see the benefit of a conversation like that, for whatever reason.
[Jon Dabach] 18:23
Well, people get used to staying in their lane, and it’s uncomfortable to change. But the other person, I always, you know, if the other person is saying something, and they’re actually being brave enough to request change, because that takes some courage. You know, there’s room there to have a conversation. And we’re not. I mean, I make the mistake all the time where I shut things down, or I’ll blurt things out. Yeah, it happens. But then, you know, how’s the recovery process?
[Jon Dabach] 18:48
Like, when do you go back and say, hey, so I kind of overreacted. Let’s take that conversation back again, which actually leads to, you know, what your book is about, which is really about communication. Right? Yeah. Yeah. So you, your book is called the couples therapy activity book? Who is this for? First of all?
[Melissa Fulgieri] 19:09
So it is for a couple that has been on a few dates. And it’s a couple that has been on 5000 dates. So it doesn’t matter if you’re married, if you’re not if you’re in a domestic partnership, if you’re, you know, it, it also honestly, because I I, for many years, worked as a family therapist, you know, for me, a relationship is a relationship is a relationship. And so, so much of the book can also be extrapolated to any relationship. You know, so this is primarily a book for couples to build intimacy, and it can also be used with other relationships in your life, both personal and professional.
[Jon Dabach] 19:55
And I have to say, I got a sneak peek of the book. I love the layout. It’s so for easy to read, it almost looks like and I’m sure this is intentional. It looks like a recipe book, totally some instances where it’s like what’s needed, you know, a couple pieces of paper a dash diagram.
[Jon Dabach] 20:11
Yeah. So it’s super digestible. And I love that because there are, there are so many people who are readers and like to just digest conversation in sync similar people who listen to podcasts where they just want to hear the stream of consciousness and kind of absorb it.
[Jon Dabach] 20:27
But then there are people where it’s like, I need a note card worth of practical, actionable advice, so that I can know what I’m doing for the next 20 minutes or 25 minutes. And we actually accomplish a goal. And I think your book speaks to that type of mindset, where it’s like, I want something to do, where I’ll feel not just learn in my mind, but actually feel like something is happening.
[Jon Dabach] 20:50
And I talk to my clients all the time that, you know, the journey from the head to the heart is the longest and toughest road we go through. And, and having these experiential exercises seems super helpful. I think therapists I mean, we, we all have our bag of tricks, you know, when we’re dealing with with clients, but I think therapists would kind of also have benefit from this because they can assign these types of activities to their clients, whether they’re in a session or as a homework assignment to take.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 21:17
Sure, for sure. Yeah, and there’s a lot in there. You know, I pulled from Guttmann method, which is very, you know, like one of the gold standards of couple’s work I pulled from Emotionally Focused Therapy. So, you know, it’s, it’s certainly, you know, thank you for making that point, it can certainly be utilized by practitioners for sure.
[Jon Dabach] 21:38
Yeah, absolutely. Are you using it with your own clients is like a little, you know, way for them to kind of have a roadmap of what to do sometimes.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 21:46
Absolutely. I mean, a lot of my stuff, a lot of this stuff, as I, as I noticed, is cited from, you know, other, it’s evidence based, right? So it’s therapeutic modalities that are already in existence. So, so much of the book, if not all of the book is stuff that I’ve used in my practice, and use with other social workers, you know, because I, as I said, I also teach so it’s, it’s all been utilized in the real world for sure.
[Jon Dabach] 22:16
What’s your Is there a favorite exercise you could share? That you kind of go to time and time again, with your clients where you’re like, this is this is the place I would start? Or this is like, you know, maybe there’s, you know, something you would do in a specific situation, whether it’s recovering from a loss of trust or something, I’d love to, I’d love people who are listening to this, who don’t have the benefit of seeing this like right in front of them like I do you know what one of these exercises sounds like? Yeah, I’m excited about it.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 22:47
Well, I really like this. It’s like on page two, and three, what love is and what love isn’t, you know, and it’s basically asking you, yourself, not with your partner to reflect on all of the ways that you feel love, and the way that you in the past haven’t felt love.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 23:09
And the reason why I started with those two exercises is because I think people, you know, it seems like such a dumb sort of concept. But, you know, most people when they’re dating, or when they’re looking for love, they’re really looking for someone to slot into their lifestyle, or they’re looking for like, Okay, I really want to get married. So let me find a husband, or I really want to get married.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 23:36
So let me find a partner. And when in reality, a lot of times people will find themselves in a relationship that actually didn’t fit for them, because they were looking for the thing as opposed to thinking about the experience of what they wanted the relationship to feel like. And so those first two exercises are really asking you to think about what do you value? How do you feel love because it’s quite specific? Right?
[Melissa Fulgieri] 24:05
Some people really value really consists, you know, consistency, and they want to, you know, have these long, intimate conversations with their partner. Some people don’t value that they value a partner to you know, really prioritize exercise or certain activities with and so, for me, it’s less about judging what you want and need and more about just really thinking about what do I value? And then how do I use that knowledge to build the relationship that really feeds me?
[Jon Dabach] 24:40
Yeah, it’s just as important to do this exercise for your partner as it is for yourself. Because sometimes, I don’t think anybody is ever in the in their childhood as a teenager, were never told to sit down and think, what is the perfect relationship look like for you?
[Jon Dabach] 24:56
And without actually having that concrete in your mind? I I always tell my couples, the goalpost just keeps moving. Because it’s like, okay, well, I got that. But that’s not what I want, you know, sit down that so that if it actually happens, you can recognize that you have what you want. Because sometimes it just happens. And you’re like, I feel happy. And I don’t know why. And then there’s one fight and you’re like, oh, wait, what happened in it’s totally, totally fine.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 25:22
And by the way, like, many of us didn’t have great models, you know, so we’re sort of having to build what we want out of thin air. And that’s extremely scary, because we know what we don’t want. Sure. But maybe we don’t know what we do, or we know what we do. But we don’t know what we don’t want. So it really depends on each person, where what baggage they’re bringing to the relationship
[Jon Dabach] 25:47
Based on their own history, why do you think this is so difficult? Why do you think people look at relationships and feel they’re difficult, or they’re hard to kind of navigate?
[Melissa Fulgieri] 25:57
I think because people are really only willing to meet themselves as deeply, or meet someone else as deeply as they’ve met themselves. You know, like, I think relationships are really confronting, they trigger us all the time, right? And so I think, you know, like you said, the goalpost is always moving, but we’re always moving to because we’re changing, you know, we’re changing, we’re either learning more about ourselves, or we’re going deeper and deeper into struggle, or denial, or whatever that is.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 26:28
And so it is, I think, one of the hardest things to be human, but then it’s probably in my mind, the second hardest thing to be human in relation to another person. I can’t think of anything harder.
[Jon Dabach] 26:42
And is the is the joy of seeing people have transformations. In this work, what keeps you going? Or is there something else there? That also motivates you?
[Melissa Fulgieri] 26:54
I mean, it’s so beautiful to watch two people really learn more about each other and be able to go, Oh, my God, I had no idea that when you said that, what you actually we’re afraid of was this, like, there’s nothing better to me, there’s nothing more delicious than watching two people meet each other in a space that’s curious and compassionate. Whereas previously, they were, you know, ready to grenade up and sort of, you know, go apeshit on one another. And so I love that. And I just love
[Jon Dabach] 27:31
Those aha moments that
[Melissa Fulgieri] 27:32
They have. It’s so beautiful. And it’s so it’s so lovely to bear witness to. So yeah, I think that’s what keeps me going. But selfishly, you know, I know we’re we don’t, we don’t like therapist to say stuff like this, but I just really enjoy it. Like, I like to do it. It feeds me as well. You know, I’m an extrovert. I’m someone who’s happier when I’m in conversation with someone. And so I can’t think of a better way to spend my day than just being in conversation with people around the things that I think really matter.
[Jon Dabach] 28:10
As someone who gives advice and wisdom and guidance, who do you turn to? When you need some guidance when you need some advice? Because you’ve been doing it your whole life? It sounds like you’re talking about how you were a kid, you were the advice giver? What do you do when you need?
[Melissa Fulgieri] 28:24
Well, that is the eternal question. That have you been in my therapy sessions now? So I mean, like, the
[Jon Dabach] 28:34
Short answer is, I don’t know.
[Melissa Fulgieri] 28:37
Well, no, I mean, my therapist, you know, I am a big believer and being a consumer of therapy, so that, you know, I have a wonderful social support network. I, you know, as I mentioned, my husband and I’ve had the same few girlfriends since I was a little girl, like, you know, I have family clothes. But then I also have an incredible toolbox, you know, that I pull from and that I keep putting tools in and taking old tools out that don’t, that don’t fit me anymore. So I would say both like, you know, community and also, I have a very strong drive to take care of myself.
[Jon Dabach] 29:20
That’s great. That’s a very healthy drive to have. That’s yeah, it’s always nice to hear people kind of self-realize that even therapists because sometimes,
[Melissa Fulgieri] 29:31
Especially therapists, we can’t be you know, we have to be taking care of ourselves as a professional imperative.
[Jon Dabach] 29:38
Yeah, I always make the comparison is like, you know, the misuse if they, if they don’t take care of their hands, they’re useless. So you always see Miss Misuses? I don’t know if that’s the plural, you know, massaging their forearms because that’s, it’s like if you don’t do that, at the very minimum, then you’re really well, do you have any big hopes or plans for the future?
[Melissa Fulgieri] 30:00
Um I hope to keep writing more I am I am an avid traveler so I hope to start planning some retreats, wellness retreats for people Yeah, what else? Probably more teaching given therapy and all sorts of stuff we’ll see.
[Jon Dabach] 30:20
Awesome well let’s tell people the name of the book again is couples therapy activity book by Melissa fool Jerry. Is that right? Or full theory? Sorry. Yeah. Well Jerry by Melissa Jerry couples therapy activity book. You can get it now on Amazon. Is there any other place they should be looking out for it? Or is that the main Barnes
[Melissa Fulgieri] 30:38
And Noble target all the places we find books these days?
[Jon Dabach] 30:44
Gotcha. Well, wonderful. Thank you so much. I’ll also in the show notes, leave your own personal website because it is a little bit difficult to spell its Melissa f u l g i e r i i.com. In case you want to look up more about Melissa, thank you so much for coming on the show.
[Jon Dabach] 31:01
I really appreciate your time. If you’re interested in learning how to get the absolute most out of your romantic relationships then you’re in luck because I have put together a free workshop or masterclass if you will about three secrets that people in happy relationships have discovered. You can view the workshop and mister spirituality.com/three secrets again, it’s completely free. Just go there and watch it. It’ll help you on your journey give you some wisdom. Some things to think about. The website again is mrspirituality.com/three secrets. That’s Mr. spirituality.com/the Number three, the word secrets. It’s all yours. Enjoy.