No Pain No Gain

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

Therapy is only useful for changing people who are experiencing sufficient distress. This is not to say that education, consultation, or brief counseling will have no effect. People often benefit from couple counseling for premarital or other short-term work. However, as a matter of therapeutic stance, the PACT therapist assumes the presence of a sufficient level of distress that can only be relieved by pressuring couples to go down the tube of secure functioning. The PACT therapist thus takes a stand for secure-functioning principles. For insecure partners, this requires a big leap of faith.

That leap of faith can be viewed as a metaphor for neuronal action potential (AP) and long-term potentiation (LTP). AP is basically a charge that is sufficient to fire a neuron. LTP is a cellular mechanism related to learning and memory. LTP involves the building up of synaptic strength between neurons, whereby several weak synapses repeatedly fire...

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On Being Found

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

A study by Nagasawa and his colleagues in Japan (2009) some years ago involving dogs and their owners found that if a dog looked into its owner’s eyes by finding the gaze first, the owner’s oxytocin levels went up. (I suspect dopamine might also be increased). However, if the owner’s gaze found the dog’s eyes first, no increase in oxytocin resulted. This finding has continued to “dog” me as I thought about infant attachment studies and adult romantic relationships. What is it about a dog, a baby, or a lover finding our eyes that leads to an increase in dopamine, oxytocin, vasopressin, or other neurochemicals related to the reward system?

During early infancy, when the newborn’s gaze is largely undirected, the catching of the mother’s gaze by the infant leads to a dopaminergic rush—a reward that is evident in the mother’s subsequent inviting vocal tone and facial expression. This...

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Arousal Regulation and Mindfulness for Couples

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

In PACT, we talk about various strategies for emotional and arousal regulation. Auto-regulation is a process of self-management that is internally focused, energy conserving (because it doesn’t involve interactions with people), and somewhat dissociative. It is a non-social strategy in the sense that it does not require another person. For instance, when I manage myself by self-stimulating and self-soothing; others are not required or even wanted. Some people find using mindfulness practices for auto-regulatory purposes to be a better strategy than constantly seeking to be left alone.

Self-regulation, on the other hand, is a pro-social strategy that focuses on self-management. In other words, I manage myself so I can better maintain social engagement with others.

Mindfulness practices can be used effectively for self-regulatory purposes. I suspect this is one of the reasons behind their recent popularity.

In fact, the term...

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Folie à deux

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

As a species, we are more herdlike than we are hermetic. Both tendencies exist in our society, but we tend to be happier and healthier when we herd as a group together than when we isolate ourselves. In fact, it has been established that even individuals without a history of mental illness are more likely to develop symptoms if they experience too much isolation, loneliness, or withdrawal from social connections.

Not only do isolated individuals become sicker both in body and mind than do connected individuals, but the same applies to couples. Couples can become isolates who are cut off from social engagement outside their tiny, exclusive orbit. These couples, I have found in my practice, become crazier and crazier the longer they isolate themselves. Sometimes one partner is crazier than the other; however, when they become socially isolated as a couple, both descend into madness together. This is known as folie à deux,* or shared...

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Partnering Up: Falling From Space (or Grace)

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

Stages of Courtship

I realize this is a rather lax stage theory of courtship, so forgive me in advance for using a rocket analogy to describe how relationships get off the ground. But understand, I’ve had rockets on my mind for several years while thinking about success and failure in courtship.

Helen Fisher, a brilliant biological anthropologist, expert in the neurobiology of courtship and romantic love, and all-around lovely person, has written extensively on courtship. Please read her articles and books for more on this subject. Others have written on this topic. Harville Hendrix (another wonderful person) comes to mind for his early writings on Imago and stages of coupling. And of course John Gottman, another friend and great guy, has talked about the deleterious effects of testosterone on new lovers’ judgment. So, without further delay, I give you my rocket analogy of courtship.

During the first stage (booster) of partnering,...

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Be Attractive, Not Scary

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

Having a “couple bubble” helps maintain a safe and secure ecosystem that keeps intruding, destructive elements away. The world inside the couple bubble should be more safe, more secure, more encouraging, and less stressful than the world outside the bubble. That means not only protection from the outside but also from inside. Many couples fail to understand that the primary attachment system, aka the adult romantic relationship, operates on attraction and not on fear, threat, or guilt. We usually come by our partners by way of attraction and it is by attraction that we keep our partners (and ourselves) happy.

If each partner is unable to find multiple ways to cajole, persuade, seduce, influence, or otherwise get each other to come home, come to bed, go someplace, or do something, he or she will most certainly resort to the use of fear, threat, or guilt — a penny-wise, pound-foolish stratagem.

Practice now and find...

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Attraction to Psychological Approaches

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

I’m an avid lover of theory, all kinds of theory—psychoanalytic, systems, humanistic-existential, and so on. I think my appreciation of theories grows as I age, as does my appreciation of people, relationships, music, art, and politics. As I grow older and hopefully wiser as a clinician and educator, my appreciation increases for the various approaches to psychotherapy available today, just as the illusion decreases that my particular approach to couple therapy is better than the other ones out there. In the couples arena, I greatly admire the work of Sue Johnson, Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson, David Schnarch, John and Julie Gottman, Esther Perel, Dan Wile, Harville Hendrix, Marion Solomon, Terry Real, Rob Fisher, and many others. These are not only master therapists, but enormously creative producers of inspiration to couple therapists worldwide.

Having developed an approach myself—in part, a result of having been...

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A Moment of Clarification on Mindfulness

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

Last weekend I had the pleasure of presenting at the UCLA conference on How People Change: Relationships and Neuroplasticity in Psychotherapy. I was among some of the best of the best: Dan Siegel, Irvin Yalom, Peter Levine, Bruce Perry, Mary Pipher, Bonnie Goldstein, Pat Ogden, John Norcross, Russell Meares, Margaret Wilkinson, Dan Hughes, Jessica Benjamin, and Allan Schore.

I must admit, it was difficult to maintain my cool in the presence of so many I admire. As a result I apparently misspoke.

Participants heard me say that mindfulness practice is ill-advised because it reduces empathy. Clearly this notion disturbed the mindfulness meditators in the audience, and I can understand their dismay because it is not what I believe or intended to say. I would like to correct any mistaken impressions posthaste.

Having myself been a long-time Vipassana meditator and even once a teacher/facilitator of Vipassana (mindfulness) practice, I am an...

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Each Romantic Partnership is Unique

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

Much like a fingerprint, every romantic partnership is unique. The intersubjective, phenomenological system formed between two separate nervous systems can never be exactly replicated, nor is it likely to be fully understood by the participants.

If the notion of human cloning seems unimaginable, the cloning of a relationship is ridiculously inconceivable. The process of human pair-bonding is enormously complex, mysterious, and perplexing. Two individuals create what I imagine to be similar to Thomas Ogden’s “intersubjective analytic third,” whereby two people give birth to a distinctly novel third entity that is their relationship.

Although the notion of unique pairings may seem intuitively obvious, it is sometimes denied or dismissed by couples and couple therapists. For instance, one-person psychological approaches tend to focus on the individual in a dyadic relationship as if that individual were elementally static and...

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Security Questions Require Security Answers

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

Many of you who know my work or take my training have heard me talk about the difference between security questions/security answers and reality questions/reality answers. However, I do not think I have written about this specifically so here we go….

Many people become confused when considering how to respond to matters of relationship insecurity, especially during periods emotionally dominated by fear, ambivalence, or doubt. Bids for affirmation or reassurance can therefore be met with either a secure (reassuring) response or a reality (dice roll) response. For some, the “reality” principle seems a more “secure” option. That may in fact hold some subjective truth, particularly for those who themselves feel fearful, ambivalent, or doubtful (“I can’t reassure you because I, too, feel insecure about us”). And I suppose there are good arguments against providing a secure response when a reality...

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