Stacey (not her real name) is a couple therapist. During supervision, she discussed the case of Bill and Carol (not their real names). Stacey reported feeling ‘stuck’ with Bill.
“He keeps saying he wants to repair his relationship and will do anything Carol needs. Then we agree to homework like arranging a date or making time to hang out after dinner to chat, using Open-ended questions, but every session, he says he didn’t do it and when I ask why not, he just shrugs and looks away. I feel infuriated, and it’s all I can do to contain myself. “
You may recognise the therapist’s response as countertransference. We all experience it at different times.
What is Countertransference?
The holiday season can be a wonderful opportunity to take time out from the stressors of daily life, the pressures of work, the never-ending list of tasks and duties and to connect with your partner, children, family and friends. The holiday season is much anticipated and highly valued by many. It is the end of one year and beginning of another. A time for reflection on the past, a time for planning for the future and importantly a time to be present with the important people in your world. The holiday season can often be rich with rituals that bring people together, sharing experiences, traditions and connections.
It is also true that the holiday season can be a very difficult time where relationships can become strained and disconnected, where expectations and ideals are not discussed or shared, where miscommunication and tension can arise.
Sometimes we can feel in a perpetual conflict cycle in our relationships and lives, continuously reinforced when we turn on the news or open up social media. We are constantly presented with polar opposite perspectives and asked to take a side. This polarity creates deeper chasms in views and does very little to help build understanding of difference or encourage a curiosity of exploration and tolerance. We miss out on the depth and rich complexity when we narrow down our perspectives and actively exclude other views and opinions.
In relationship and in life there are fewer absolutes than what we imagine.
‘More relationships die by ice than fire’
(John Gottman, Level 3 training workshop, 2013)
In the complex realm of human relationships, where emotions run deep and passions ignite, it is no secret that conflicts and disagreements can arise. Dr. John Gottman once said, "More relationships die by ice than by fire." This thought-provoking quote encapsulates the idea that it is not the explosive, dramatic moments that primarily cause relationships to crumble, but rather the slow erosion that occurs over time.
The Fire and Ice Metaphor:
When we think of relationships dying by fire, we often envision dramatic arguments, intense fights, or betrayal that ultimately lead to the demise of the connection. These fiery moments can be explosive and painful, leaving scars that are difficult to heal.
I love this quote: “Confronting infidelity is really coping with betrayal. It’s all about holding the other person accountable for that betrayal and honoring yourself in the process.”
How do I do this?
Of all the difficult situations people face in relationships, betrayal may be the worst. The person we count on the most is the one who has hurt us. The feelings of sadness, anger, shock, and helplessness grip our hearts to the point of paralysis. People that have been betrayed often feel inadequate and wonder why their partner chose someone else over them. To confront infidelity and cope with betrayal, you need to honor yourself by communicating your feelings and ensuring that those feelings are heard and validated. You need to believe that your partner is truly remorseful for the betrayal. You also need to honor yourself and hold your partner accountable by communicating what you need for repair.
It’s difficult to communicate your feelings after a betrayal. Even after time has passed, talking about the incident can trigger old pain. At the same time, you may feel internal pressure to process and get things off your chest. If you hold these feelings in too long, they could come out in unexpected and volatile ways, or they could stay locked in and lead to depression. You need to be heard. You honour yourself when you share your pain, your sadness, your fears, and even your anger. With that said, sharing your feelings is not the same thing as attacking your partner. Avoid blaming “you” statements and focus on what’s going on inside of you. Dr. Gottman suggests that couples complain without blame (“I feel…”) and state a positive need (“I need…).
Love is a beautiful and complex journey that often requires effort, understanding, and continuous growth. Relationships are built on a foundation of trust, intimacy, and effective communication. However, even the strongest relationships can encounter challenges along the way. That's where Drs John and Julie Gottman's Art and Science of Love Workshop for couples come into play. This transformative workshop offers couples the tools and insights necessary to nurture and strengthen their bond.
Understanding the Workshop:
The Art and Science of Love Workshop is a two-day immersive experience designed to provide couples with the necessary skills to build a strong, loving, and long-lasting relationship. This workshop combines decades of research and clinical expertise to provide an evidence-based approach to relationship building.
Key Workshop Components:
As a Gottman therapist, the goal is to help couples build and maintain a strong, healthy relationship. The Gottman Method is a research-based approach to couples therapy that focuses on building a strong emotional connection between partners. A Gottman therapist is trained to use this method to help couples improve their communication, increase their understanding of each other, and strengthen their emotional bond. Here are some of the key things that a Gottman therapist does:
1. Builds a strong therapeutic alliance
One of the most important things that a Gottman therapist does is to build a strong therapeutic alliance with the couple. This means creating a safe and supportive environment where the couple feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. The therapist works to establish trust and rapport with each partner, and to create a sense of mutual respect and understanding. This is essential for creating a foundation for effective therapy.
The way a conversation begins often sets the tone for its trajectory. When conflicts or sensitive topics are approached with criticism, blame, or harsh language, it tends to trigger defensiveness and escalates the conflict. On the other hand, a gentle start-up allows for a more productive and positive exchange.
Here are some key elements of a Gottman gentle start-up:
John Gottman's concept of "accepting influence" refers to the ability of each partner in a relationship to value and consider the opinions, perspectives, and needs of their partner. It involves being open to being influenced by the other person's ideas and being willing to compromise or make joint decisions.
In a strong and thriving relationship, both partners have influence and input. Accepting influence means recognizing the value and validity of the partner's thoughts, desires, and preferences. It requires being willing to listen, understand, and seriously consider their perspective, even if it differs from one's own.
Gottman Method Couples Therapy is an evidence-based approach for working with distressed couples. This approach, developed by renowned relationship experts John and Julie Gottman, is designed to help couples increase trust, build understanding, and improve communication in their relationships.
The foundation of the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy is based on many years of research from the Gottman’s research centre known as the Love Lab. Through their work, they have identified the key components that can predict the success or failure of a relationship. They have divided these components into three main areas: friendship and connection, conflict management and creating shared meaning. Through their research, they have developed strategies to help couples in each of those areas.