Building Capacity to Know and Be Known in PACT Therapy

for couples renee d doe Feb 17, 2022

Renee D. Doe, PhD, LMFT, LPC

PACT Level 1 Therapist

            The idea of secure functioning is a main focus of PACT therapy. This focus hones in on creating and maintaining a safe container, where both parties operate in a two-person attachment system free of deception, abusive behaviors, and any other injurious actions that interfere with healthy functioning and fairness within the relationship. At heart, this idea is what could be called salutogenic because it focuses on the capacity you have to construct a healthy life instead of making the management of risk and relational conflict the primary focus.

            The injuries that are brought into the relationship can and do impact the relationship. In moving toward the cultivation of secure functioning in relationships, PACT therapy also creates space for some of the challenges and difficulties that you may have had within your life prior to entering the relationship. To be clear, secure functioning supports a shared sense of caring for one’s partner and interactive regulations, which can provide a corrective emotional experience in the relationship. The expectation is for you as partners to be sensitive and attuned to each other so that each of you can have the opportunity to give and receive this experience.

            The concept of salutogenesis fits within a PACT framework and supports the work of building capacity for secure functioning within the relationship and, according to Hammond and Niedermann (2010), a clearer sense of coherence for the individual partner, where sense of coherence is based on integrating the comprehensibility, manageability, and meaningfulness of a situation or experience.

            Because humans are designed for connection, this hardwiring is an inherent salutogenic strength. It is this strength that supports the building of our capacity for more authentic relationships. Connection helps us feel seen and known as well as allows us to see and know the other. In an ideal world, the experience of being seen and known would be a natural outgrowth of our natural propensity for connection. However, because life as we know it is not always ideal, connection of this kind can be frightening. It can be difficult. It can be tied to deeply painful experiences. Healthy connection is not automatically accessible.

            In our romantic relationships, just like in our families of origin, we can find ourselves stuck in patterns that are painful. These patterns allow for the re-experiencing of past unresolved pain, whether we are aware of it or not. These experiences can make the process of connection, knowing, and being known much more challenging. The good news is, that just as our romantic partners (or family members) can carry enough influence to activate unresolved pain, they also can carry enough influence to help us heal.

            In our romantic partnerships, being seen and known by someone who loves us and has our best interest at heart can go a long way in moving us toward repairing emotional injuries. The PACT goal of secure functioning contributes to our sense of coherence, which allows us to access more of ourselves. Sense of coherence is foundational to the idea of salutogenesis. It relies on our insight around what gives meaning to us, who has the resources, and how much understanding we need for any given situation. When we have access to more of ourselves, we can use that strength to build greater capacity to know and be known.

            Building this sense of coherence is informed by three kinds of experiences: consistency, load balance, and participation in shaping outcomes (Benz et al., 2014; Braun-Lewensohn, 2013; Lindstrom & Eriksson, 2005). Consistency is constructed by internalized messages, the type of structure, and the types of experiences we have had- especially in our childhood. Load balance is outlined by the level of external stressors experienced and what resources could be accessed in childhood to help navigate what happened to us. Participation in shaping outcomes is exactly how it sounds: the agency to make decisions about our own lives. These experiences are referred to as generalized resistance resources (Benz et al., 2014; Idan et al., 2013).

            In your relationship, you and your partner could begin to support the building of each other’s sense of coherence by engaging in any of these three types of experiences. For example, embracing consistency could look like honoring your word on a regular basis and if that is not possible, communicating what keeps you from doing that. Load balance can be used to build structure in the relationship — in the here and now. To do this, you and your partner could utilize shared guiding principles to build guardrails around your relationship. You can identify and create couple boundaries that are both internal (what happens between the two of you) and external (how you manage your relationships with anyone outside of your relationship). This also helps shape future outcomes. When challenges emerge, you as partners could become an external resource for each other in the form of support.

            Knowing and being known requires vulnerability. Vulnerability can be scary. Once you allow someone to see into you and know you, you have no control over how they handle what they learn. However, when you have emotional safety in the relationship, it helps to protect the couple bubble and make vulnerability more accessible. When the couple bubble is safe, you can create the conditions needed for deeper connection. Conversely, deepening the connection allows for greater vulnerability, more trust, and emotional safety. This contributes to a healthy load balance. It also helps you actively shape future outcomes in the relationship. It’s similar to the way we think about our bank accounts. Every time you invite your partner into your vulnerability and there is a mutual positive exchange, you make a deposit. The deposits accrue over time to allow for greater connection.

            Another part of the process of building capacity includes acceptance of the other as is. Secure functioning requires acceptance so that your partner can be all they are authentically meant to be rather than the person you want to shape them to be. This actively supports the process of building our sense of coherence. You don’t have to make this process happen.

            Oftentimes, when we, as people, identify an issue we would like to address, we take steps to push toward the change much like what we do when we are attempting to be productive and achieve a stated goal. In this case, pushing to make something happen can actually hinder the organic unfolding that moves at the speed of our nervous systems and not at the speed of our logic or linear thought processes. We simply need to get out of the way and just allow it. In doing so, we create space for positive change. That means no “Mary Shellying” folks (as tempting as it can be)! We all know that the results Dr. Frankenstein achieved were far from the imagined perfection he had in his mind.

            The same could be said for our attempts to “fix” our partner. It can interrupt the process of them building their own sense of coherence and by default, keep you from secure functioning. There is truth to the old adage: whatever we resist persists.

            Salutogenesis is all about the capacity to create health. Healthy relationships, just like our physical health, are on a continuum. Secure functioning in your relationship gives you access to knowing and being known. For the most part, barring the types of experiences that cause our human organism to move toward protection rather than connection, we can have access to most everything we need to move our relationships in a direction that is mutually desired and beneficial. And, if we don’t have what we need, we can cultivate the capacity to have it. 


Benz, C., Bull, T., Mittlemark, M., & Vaandrager, L. (2014). Culture in salutogenesis: The
scholarship of Aaron Antonovsky. Global Health Promotion, 21(4), 16-23.

Braun-Lewensohn, O. (2013). Coping resources and stress reactions among three cultural groups one year after a natural disaster. Journal of Clinical Social Work.

Hammond, A & Niedermann, K. (2010). Patient education and self management. In Krysia Dziedzic and Alison Hammond (Eds.) Rheumatology (pp. 77-97). London, England: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.

Idan, O., Eriksson, M., & Al-Yagon, M. (2013). The salutogenic model: The role of generalized resistance resources. In: Mittlemark, M. et al. (eds.). The handbook of salutogenesis. Springer.

Lindström, B., & Eriksson, M. (2005). Salutogenesis. Journal of Epidemiol Community Health, 59, 440-442.


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