Some couple therapists have referred to their work as flying a helicopter into a hurricane. Perhaps the metaphor is inflated, but couple therapy is certainly an enterprise that can create acute anxiety. Like a pilot, a therapist needs the skills and training that make it possible to stay calm and alert when the going feels treacherous and unexpected turbulence appears seemingly out of nowhere. Interestingly, some Air Force pilots, called “hurricane hunters,” are specially trained to fly into the eye of the hurricane to collect weather data. Maybe that is like what we are trained to do in PACT: instead of fearing and avoiding conflict, we are trained to fly into it with our capacities to collect data and navigate skillfully intact.
Besides this hurricane-related skill set, a couple therapist needs the ability to hang out in uncertainties,...
by Annette Kreuz Smolinski
Licensed clinical psychologist (Spain), Dipl. Psych. ( Germany),
Trainer and supervisor in couple and family therapy, PACT Level II practitioner
The annoying truth is that all couples fight. Conflicts are an absolutely normal phenomenon in human systems, and couples are not an exception to this rule. It is unrealistic to think you could avoid having arguments from time to time.
When you face issues such as the education of your child, the sharing of household chores, finances, sexual relations, and your relationships with relatives, some of your partner’s opinions and preferences will inevitably differ from your own. He or she will not just do what you want. However, when it comes to hot topics, you need compromise and acceptance.
The good news is that conflict avoidance is more dangerous to your relationship than is properly handled conflict, or “fighting fair.” The bad news is that if you fight...
by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
A study by Harvard University researchers that looked at data for more than five million families, and that was recently featured in The New York Times, found that where you live in the United States greatly influences your chances of getting married. The study parsed the data according to political affiliation (blue versus red counties and states), as well as population density (big town versus small town). In a nutshell, if you were brought up in or even have moved to a liberal-thinking, densely populated, metropolitan area, such as New York City or Washington DC, you are less likely to marry than if you lived in a small town, in the deep South, or generally anywhere in a red state.
We also know from Pew Research Center findings that 80% of Conservatives think society benefits when people consider marriage their priority, while 77% of Liberals think other priorities are more beneficial. We only have to think of same-sex marriage,...
by Eva Van Prooyen, M.F.T., PACT faculty, Los Angeles CA
When a betrayal has been discovered in their relationship, couples come to therapy feeling lost, disoriented, confused, and angry. They may even wonder if there is hope. Infidelity strips away happiness and threatens emotional security. It can come in a variety of ways, including contempt, neglect, indifference, violence, lying, and affairs. Information is discovered that forces the deceived partner to reevaluate history. Partners are left asking: Who am I? Who were we? Who are we?
Couples can come through painful infidelity, but only if the perpetrator shows regret, if there is transparency, and if both partners want to get back into the relationship. Under these conditions, a skilled PACT therapist can set up an architecture to work through betrayals.
The first phase is to address the fact that the victim has experienced a trauma that can never be undone, and that it has to run its course.
by Mary Ackerman, MIC, BASS (Cllg); CARE Counselling Hong Kong, PACT Level II practitioner
Philippe and Grace, who have been married for twelve years, are clients in my clinical practice in Hong Kong. He is French Swiss and works in finance, and she is Korean American and works as an auctioneer. They have three daughters. They sought therapy after Grace found out that Philippe had been paying for prostitutes on his overseas travel. He admitted to fathering a child in the Philippines.
When I asked why they had come to therapy, both said, “To save our marriage.”
As I worked with them, I found it helpful to observe the influence of the three domains of PACT: attachment theory, arousal regulation, and neuroscience. An overwhelming sense of anger and fear ran through each session, and these domains helped me understand this challenging couple so I could develop an effective treatment approach.
First, their attachment styles were key....
by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
Our brains are remarkable organs. They take in and use massive amounts of information from inside and outside our bodies and allow us to go through about 90% of our day automatically. We can get from point A to point B while checking our emails, talking to others in the subway, drinking coffee, or doing any number of tasks simultaneously. Our brains are on automation, running our lives, making decisions, and doing what needs to be done, with little thought required. Our automatic brains are cheap to run and extremely fast and efficient. That’s a very good thing when you consider how much that ability would cost if we had to use the very expensive novelty-oriented parts of our brain. If we couldn’t rely on automation, we’d never be able to accomplish much of anything.
The automatic brain is made up of old memories, some of which are explicit, but most of which are implicit, or outside our awareness. This is called procedural...
by Rachel Holland, DClinPsych, PACT faculty, Buckinghamshire, UK
Email: [email protected]
One of the characteristics of secure functioning a PACT therapist communicates is that romantic couples, as the King and Queen of their domain, protect their relationship and each other in public and in private.
I had been working with Peter and Jane for four sessions. They came to therapy for help with intimacy, and our initial work focused on therapeutic alliance and social contracting. Both were outsourcing their arousal regulation away from the relationship to substances.
From the Partner Attachment Inventory (PAI), I knew both Peter and Jane experienced emotional neglect in childhood. They had parents and caregivers who were either unavailable and didn’t protect them sufficiently or behaved in ways that were frightening. More importantly, the couple now had this information about each other and a better understanding about how each operated. They were beginning to...
Despite our conscious narratives, which are formed in the brain’s left hemisphere, much of what we do is driven by fast-acting processes and affect-regulating capacities encoded in the right hemisphere as part of procedural memory. Our early repeated relationship experiences not only create a psychological blueprint for how we view ourselves and others, but also determine how we will operate in future relationships. They also influence the development of brain structures responsible for affect regulation later in life. These memories (when manifest in psychobiological reflexive behaviors\micromovements in the body and face) can either refute or support our conscious narratives. They also influence how we move toward and away from people and how we get people to move toward and away from us,...
Have you noticed the crazy number of articles, blogs, and quizzes circulating on social media right now asking you to question your relationship? Just look at your Facebook feed and you’ll see it’s teeming with titles such as “Should You End Your Relationship?” and “How to Tell if You’re with the Right Person.” These articles seem to prey upon, pander to, and perhaps even inspire our worst thinking—that we chose the wrong person or are in the wrong relationship
You can probably tell my hackles are up a bit because PACT therapists know this is the worst place to start if you want to improve your situation. In fact, the first order of business when a couple comes to a PACT therapist is to take any and all threats to the relationship off the table. Unless someone is actually leaving, it doesn’t make sense to do...
Andrea and Brent (not their real names) have been married for twenty-three years, and have been struggling since their youngest son left for college. Now that their focus is no longer on their children, the distance between them is apparent. In session, they describe a recent conflict around Andrea’s birthday. Brent usually orchestrates lavish celebrations with many guests, while avoiding the quieter interpersonal aspect of the occasion (which she relishes). Andrea’s most recent birthday took place while they were at an event with extended family, and Brent’s attention was focused on another family member. Andrea felt dropped when Brent didn’t even acknowledge the day with her, and he felt guilty and shut down in the wake of Andrea’s disappointment. Describing the week is painful for both of them: Brent anxiously averts his...