Love, Fear, and CMM—A Truly Transformative Trio


We’re SO excited!!

About two things…

  • We’re finally on the cusp of opening the doors to our online relationship program (Yay!)
  • Kim invited us to share about it and its CMM connection with you.

The Extraordinary Relationship Formula® Program

As the title of this article suggests, this program reflects love, fear, and CMM—a trio that we find truly transformative.

The curriculum in our new program is especially designed for people who cherish their relationship but who keep running into the same painful conflicts over and over again—repetitive conflicts that rob them of a fully soul-satisfying connection and can even threaten the relationship itself.

Our step-by-step tutorial-based program provides the core insights and skills needed to finally, once and for all,

  • transform those stubborn patterns of conflict by neutralizing the unwitting enactment of fear that animates and perpetuates them, and
  • restore and deepen the closeness, connection, and intimacy that brought the couple together in the first place—even when just one of them is ready to do the work.

We’ve been teaching this material for more than a dozen years, working with private clients (executives, individuals, couples) and various sized groups in face-to-face settings. Now we’ve put all of our experiences and insights into an online version.

The launch of the online version is planned for late in the first quarter of 2023, but after hearing the following comment from a relatively new client a few days ago, we’re inclined to hurry up!!

“This stuff is really, really incredibly useful. In all the years of counseling, I haven’t had such clarity and effectiveness in such a short time. I think of myself as a courageous person and, in many ways, I am, but I never realized how much fear was influencing me and what it was doing to our relationship… I see those patterns now and am making better choices.” 

A peak behind the curtain: Discoveries that made the difference

Why the central focus on fear—especially if love is the point?

Somewhere in my late 20s, I (Paige) decided it was time to figure out why some of my most important relationships were so darn frustrating, painful, and far less satisfying than I thought they could be.

I read books. I attended self-help workshops. Thankfully, after many dead ends and failed attempts, a new mentor pointed out that while there were indeed some difficult differences between me and certain loved ones, that the core of the friction was my own fear.

The bigger news was that the problem wasn’t what I was afraid of—but that fear itself was distorting my view of those situations, and because of this, I was unwittingly communicating in ways that were backfiring.

Lightbulbs!! That needed lots of unpacking. Some of which I did before Don and I found each other. Most of which unfolded as we fumbled our way through our own stubborn conflicts and traded them for much more productive patterns of communication. The result has been a depth of connection and love that we did not know to even hope for and that we still marvel at today. And our second book.

If you happen to be a fan of high-drama transformative love stories, we managed to write a memoir documenting our own personal journey into more productive and loving patterns of communicating. We hear it reads like a good movie:  Grabbing Lightning: The Messy Quest for an Extraordinary Love



Adding in the Neuro Perspective on Fear

Don and I trusted that we knew the dance of transforming fear and amplifying love for ourselves, but we wanted the academic underpinnings before teaching those steps to others.

Shortly after I began my doctoral journey at Fielding Graduate University, I was told that academic work on love wasn’t possible, but fear was fine.

I considered arguing the point but instead took a deep dive into the neurobiology of fear, which I found infinitely fascinating, despite having to use a dictionary every few sentences to understand the research I was reading!

Getting Barnett on-board—or was it the other way around?!

As part of my don’t-take-forever-to-become-a-PhD plan, I had committed to attend quarterly conferences. At one of these conferences, there was a workshop with the word “communication” in the title, and it was the only one on the schedule that didn’t feel completely irrelevant to me.

As it turned out, this somewhat haphazard choice was either a fortunate fluke or higher guidance. I choose to see it as the latter.

The workshop was being led by Barnett Pearce. As I sat there with about 25 other folks, I had no idea what CMM was and was utterly clueless about what a social constructionist communication theory might be.

Despite that hesitant start, by the end of the first day of that workshop, I was wildly turned on by what I was learning and experiencing. It was as pivotal for me as when I originally discovered the influence of fear.

So, on day two, during the first break, I approached Barnett in the hallway and asked if he’d be my dissertation chair.

I’m guessing that came out of nowhere for him. But he listened patiently as I explained why I thought the neurobiology of fear (which I referred to as the lizard-brain doing its thing) and CMM would make a perfect pairing for my research.

To Barnett’s credit, he challenged this assertion calmly and respectfully. (Of course, he did. He’s Barnett. But I didn’t know that at the time!) Essentially, he told me that he didn’t see the need for the neuro part to study what I was calling “conversations-gone-bad at work.”

His reply felt like the proverbial balloon popping. But I still managed to explain:

“Because when looking at what goes wrong in communication between humans, you’re missing a big piece if you don’t consider the condition of the instrument (ie: the neurobiological self) that’s doing the communicating!”

That must have been a coherent enough answer, because what felt like an initial “no” became a “yes.”

With Barnett’s generous guidance, I completed my research on “The Enactment of Fear in Conversations-Gone-Bad at Work” with findings that were more validating and optimistic than my dissertation committee or I expected. Phew!

At the end of my “final oral review,” I thought Barnett was ready to dub me a PhD, but instead of approaching me, he asked Don to join him at the front of the room.  Barnett has an announcement to make. Don had unwittingly “earned a one-of-a-kind doctorate in PPT… Pushing Paige Through.” An honor he definitely deserved.


Aspects of CMM central to our approach

Remember a moment ago when I said: “I was wildly turned on by what I was learning and experiencing” in my first CMM workshop? The gateway heuristic that got me hooked on CMM was the serpentine model, and it remains one of three CMM elements that are central in our work.

  1. Serpentine model
    That first morning of that workshop, Barnett asked us to partner-up and practice using this heuristic to diagram a conversation. At first, my partner and I, both CMM newbies, were totally confused. But as we drew our boxes and arrows to show various turns in a conversation, it hit me. I was looking at the perfect platform for illustrating the surreptitious presence and enactment of fear that causes a conversation to go bad. It worked beautifully for this purpose in my research’s tutorial and is still a transformative tool with clients.
  2. Unwanted Repetitive Patterns (URPs)
    We often ask people if they can relate to the phrase: “I love you, but… you’re driving me crazy!” And they usually respond with an uncomfortable giggle or groan because persistent conflicts in a relationship are no joke. A shift occurs when we identify these frustrations as examples of common, yet painful “unwanted repetitive patterns.” The reframing itself helps, but the real transformation happens when they learn how to identify and then neutralize the specific enactments of fear that create and sustain those love-killing patterns.
  3. Communication as a creative act
    This one is more subtle—perhaps because it’s a contextual mindset shift—but it’s important nonetheless. First, we make the distinction that communication—whether an affectionate acknowledgment or a blustering blame-fest—is not simply about transmitting thoughts and feelings to your partner. Instead, it is a creative act that literally makes the quality of their relationship, for better or worse. With this perspective in place, clients better understand the importance of our tutorial about fear (we call it Lizard-Brain 101) and how fear begets fear, and love begets love.

Gratitude and a gift

Writing this, both Don and I are grateful, again, for the forces that had me stumble into that CMM workshop—and into the warm, generous world of Barnett and Kim that we later entered. What a blessing.

We’re also grateful to have this opportunity to share a bit of our journey since then, especially with this community of like-hearted folks who are doing what each can to help make “better social worlds.”

For us “better social worlds” is all about helping people experience less and less fear so there can be more and more love in the world.

If you’d like a closer look at our approach, we put together a little gift for you. Think of it as a guide or mini-training:

From Conflict to Connection:
4 H
idden Mistakes to Avoid BEFORE You Bring Up a Touchy Topic (and what to do instead!)

Thanks for listening. Blessings all around.


Paige & Don

About the authors

Dr. Paige and Don Marrs specialize in giving clients the insights and skills for finally eliminating the stubborn arguments and painful disconnects that rob them of the deep love at the heart of their relationship.

Paige holds two masters and a doctorate, with concentrated training in communication, relationship dynamics, adult development, interpersonal neurobiology.

Paige and Don—together for 34+ years (married AND as creative partners)—are more smitten with each other than the day they joined their lives. They recently moved from their home in Los Angeles to Ashland, Oregon, and are loving it.

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