The Use of PACT Principles in Non-Romantic Dyads

Yvonne Oke, LMFT

PACT Level 2

One of my favorite things about the PACT model is the ability to be creative. As a marriage and family therapist, I have the opportunity to work with not only romantic dyads but also dyads that consist of family members, friends, and coworkers. As I began to learn about the PACT model, I wondered what secure functioning would look like in dyads of other structures. My use of some of the PACT principles and interventions in other dyads proved helpful in allowing my clients to create relationships that felt safe and secure.

Of course, secure functioning looks different in relationships that are not romantic. The expectation to meet the needs of others is not the same as those of our most important relationship. However, I have found that every relationship has a set of rules and expectations for how to stay connected, and PACT can help people identify what those rules need to be.

As we all know, people can unknowingly let others down, which leads to unsafe relationships. To maintain a healthy connection, we must be clear about our expectations for one another, learn how to communicate them effectively, and learn what it means to show up for those we care about.

What Dyads Can Benefit from Secure Functioning?

I have utilized parts of the PACT model with adult sibling, parent-child, and friend dyads. In each of these dyads my clients have presented with a need for increased safety and communication in their relationships. I have found PACT beneficial for helping these systems identify what secure functioning would look like for them and then using interventions to guide them into more honest and open communication.

After intake I begin to have conversations with my non-romantic clients about their expectations for one another and explore what secure functioning would look like for this system. During their exploration, I seek to understand the role that each person plays in the other’s life. I ask corralling questions. 

Are you responsible for the happiness of your mother?

Do you believe it’s important to protect your brother in public and in private?

Do you defend your brother in front of your partner or your parents?

When you injure your friend, do you make amends right away?

These questions help my clients explore their role in caretaking for their therapy partner and open the door for creating a system that works for both parties. Often times my clients have not thought about their responsibility in taking care of this relationship, and certainly not about the importance of mutual decision-making and corrective repair with their loved one. Like most couples, these dyads seek professional support after an injury or the recognition of dissatisfaction in their relationship. I have found that exploration around the history of the relationship is easier when we know what the ideals around a healthy relationship would be. That way we can identify when an expectation had not been met and then work on repair and a plan of action moving forward. 

It is important to note that the expectations must be different for certain dyads, specifically parent-child relationships. True mutuality cannot happen, even in a healthy parent-adult child dyad. Although the roles begin to shift as a child enters adulthood, the child will still expect their parent to carry the emotional load and responsibility in the relationship. When we explore secure functioning in this system, we do set expectations for a structurally healthy adult-child and parent dynamic based on the understanding of attachment in parent-child relationships.

What Interventions Have Been Helpful?

I have found many PACT interventions helpful in supporting my clients in better communication and a deeper understanding of each other. I have come to favor a few in particular.

PACT Interviewing

When I began learning about the PACT model, watching Stan Tatkin interview was fascinating. I now find cross-tracking, cross-questioning, cross-commenting, redirecting, and confronting incredibly useful skills when working with dyads of all natures. Supporting my clients in communicating with each other, paying attention to each other, and learning how to pay attention to themselves has proven valuable in helping them improve their relationships. In all dyads it can be difficult for the therapist to stay out of the relationship and encourage individuals to communicate directly with one another. The PACT interview model allows me to remain a separate part of the system while supporting dyads to restructure it.

Corralling Questions

As I mentioned before, corralling questions have been very useful in supporting my dyads and identifying what secure functioning looks like — so has holding them accountable once they identify their expectations for a healthy relationship. Taking note of their beliefs around caretaking, communication, and repair, for example, allows me to hold them accountable when they fall short on their mutually agreed upon expectation. Corralling questions look and function the same as they do with couples: a direct question or statement down the middle designed to expose when an individual is not holding up their end of the agreement.

Shared Principals of Governance

I also find social contracts useful in supporting my clients to be clear about their expectations for their loved one, not to passively agree to expectations that don't work for them. Understanding boundaries that are necessary in non-romantic dyads can be challenging for the parent-child, sibling, and friend relationships, especially if the system has been functioning in an unhealthy way for some time. Shared principles of governance allow dyads to create a clear structure for how best to show up for each other and how to hold each other accountable when their needs are being unmet.  Many times, I have seen a mismatch of expectations, which has led to increased hurt between people overtime, and if we have unhealthy ways of communicating then the problem is never truly addressed. Utilizing this intervention has helped me to support my clients in identifying a clear set of behaviors for how to be a friend, sibling, and parent-child for their loved one.

Learning about the PACT model has changed the way that I address therapy in general, and I have found it so beneficial to play around with some of the skills that I'm learning with all of my clients. The approach to the work, meaning how to participate in the therapeutic relationship, has been transformative for me as a therapist. I've also seen it be transformative for my dyads as they learn how to show up in their lives and their systems. The expectations may be different, but the strategies for how to guide people to healthy relationships can be the same.


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