Very often when couples present for couples therapy they are in a heightened state of conflict and this may have been the over-riding state of their relationship for years. They have experienced a lot of hurt and pain over this time and are scared to show vulnerability in any way. In other words they have on their protective chain mail protecting and hiding their softness and gentleness from each other.
In this model of couples therapy it is not the therapists decision as to whether the couple should continue to work on their relationship or not, this is entirely the couple’s decision.
I recently asked my 3 grown-up children what they enjoyed most when they were growing up. Son No 1 said “I really liked how we would have those family days on the weekend. We always did fun stuff together.”
Son No 2 said, “I always liked the times we sat around the dinner table and just talked about all sorts of things. In fact I still really enjoy that.”
Baby Daughter said, “I have always loved our family vacations. It’s always so exciting to go somewhere new together. I like the excitement of knowing we are going and then talking about it for months and planning how we are going to have fun together. Those vacations felt like the lasted for months because of how much we talked about it before we went.”
During our training workshops and during supervision with other therapists we often get asked a lot of the same questions. We will begin looking at these questions in our blog/news posts over the next several months. Here is the first one: "How do you respond when you’re going through the Oral History Interview and there isn’t much positive affect? How much do you validate or speak back that this is really troubling for you?"
The first three levels of the Sound Relationship House – Build Love Maps, Share Fondness and Admiration, and Turn Towards Instead of Away – serve as the foundation for The Positive Perspective. These levels form the strong foundation on which your Sound Relationship can flourish.
One of my clients isn’t so sure.
According to Dr John Gottman, interactive behavior matters a great deal. He discovered that the “masters” of relationships (couples that stayed together happily) were much gentler with one another than the “disasters”of relationships. The ratio of the number of seconds of positive-to-negative emotions during conflict for the disasters averaged 0.8, and for the masters averaged 5.0. There was far more positive than negative affect even during a conflict discussion for the masters. That 5-to-1 ratio of positive to negative emotions in a conflict discussion jumped out of the pages of his statistical analyses. Thus he saw what he called “the triumph of negative over positive affect,” which determined the influence functions in his math model of relationships.
I sometimes hear clinicians saying, “I’m not sure that the Oral History Interview is a useful way to begin couples therapy”; or “Couples don’t want to talk about their history, they want to get straight into resolving conflict”. This is certainly not my experience. The Oral History Interview generally helps the couple to put their current issues into a larger perspective. I often hear couples say, “You know as we talk about this I’m realising that we have had a pretty good relationship”; or “Things between us have generally been good”. Of course there are also those who say things like “I’m really not sure why we stayed together.”
The term ‘Marriage Sabbatical’ was first coined by Cheryl Jarvis in her book The Marriage Sabbatical. The idea is that individuals in long term relationships be able to support each other to take time away from their daily routines to nurture their own creative, intellectual, or spiritual strengths in order to become fully expressed human beings.
According to research conducted by neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, there are seven distinct “emotional command systems” believed to be present in each person’s brain. Each command system coordinates the emotional, behavioral, and physical responses needed for certain functions related to survival, including rest, procreation, and self-defense.
John Gottman has given these systems descriptive labels to help us understand how each one functions. As he explains in The Relationship Cure, acknowledging emotional similarities and differences in your relationships is an important part of bidding and responding to bids for emotional connection.
Tom and Evette presented for therapy 8 weeks after Tom had discovered that Evette had been involved with another man from her workplace. At the time of their presentation Evette has refused to discuss the affair with Tom, simply saying that “It’s over, stop going on about it.” Tom is understandably angry and hostile towards Evette. He is frustrated that Evette will not discuss the affair saying frequently, “I have a right to know!” Tom has hundreds of questions that he wants answers to while Evette is “scared” to talk about it because she is sure talking about it will make things worse.
As most couples begin to address the consequences of an affair their relationship does not feel safe and trust is completely destroyed. It is therefore critical that therapists working with these clients create a safe, trusting environment for them firstly in the therapy room and eventually in their own homes.
Marathon Therapy is fast becoming one of the most popular and successful approaches to helping couples through relationship crisis. It is an approach that I would recommend for all couples presenting with significant relationship distress. Marathon Therapy usually consists of 2 to 5 consecutive days of intense, structured, evidence based couples therapy. Marathon Couples' Therapy is a specific type of therapy that is short-term and intensive. Its purpose is to move couples quickly through their current crisis or specific perpetual issue. It is not meant as an on-going, long-term couples' therapy.
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