Sit, Down, Stay!

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

This addendum to my previous post, Train Your Partner, is intended to clarify another important concept in relationship management. So many of us struggle with how to “parent” or “train” our partner when we feel rejected, dismissed, ignored, or flat out resisted by him or her. We often get angry and attack or withdraw and give up. While both reactions are reasonable they will likely be received as threatening (yes, I know…you were threatened first). Also threatening are complaints, especially in the form of questions:

“Why do you always do this to me?”
“Why can’t you just do what I want for once?”
“What is wrong with you?”
“Why do you always take his/her side?”

…and so on. The problem with questions, particularly of these kind, is they require resources in your partner’s brain and it is likely that your partner’s brain is either mostly...

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Train Your Partner

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

In case you haven’t heard me say this before, we come to relationships basically feral, untrained, and barely parented. Therefore, as romantic partners we must train one another to be in secure-functioning relationship. This IS NOT accomplished by whining, complaining, threatening, withdrawing, or avoiding. Rather we train each other head-on with statements made directly into the eyes. Make sure YOUR eyes are friendly and try some of the following or make up your own:

“Put that [insert distraction here] down and be with me.”
“Try that again and this time say it like you love me.”
“Look at me and tell me that you think I’m terrific.”
“Tell your handsome guy/beautiful gal [that would be you] that you’ll always be mine.”
“Protect me and I’ll protect you.”
“Come here and sit by me.”
“Do this with me.”
“Tell me how wonderful I am.”
...

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Am I An Anchor, Island, or Wave?

stan tatkin typologies Jan 29, 2013

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

So many people get stuck with this issue of “what am I” when it comes diagnostic classifications. Unfortunately I have become part of the problem. In my book, Wired for Love, I introduced what I thought was a friendlier attachment terminology: secure = anchor; avoidant = island; and angry resistant = wave. I was never fully happy with the classification system as laid out in the book because it seemed to perpetuate the human need to classify and be classified as either this or that. So, let’s put this issue to rest and establish the obvious: most of us do not neatly fit into categories or classifications. In Wired for Love terms think of yourself as being “anchor-ish,” or “island-ish,” or “wave-ish.” And this “ish-ness” can be understood to be state-related (temporary) rather than trait-related (permanent), such as “Last night I behaved in a wave-ish...

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Waiting for Inspiration

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

Inspiration should be the guiding incentive for doing interventions, not pressure. Many therapists, including experienced ones, act on pressure rather than from a creative place. Pressure can come in various forms: pressure from the patient, pressure from time, pressure from one’s own need to perform, pressure from a supervisor, etc. Pressure to act may lead the therapist to make mistakes: ill-timed or ill-placed interventions, incorrect assumptions, misattuned moments, or countertransference acting-out.

In contrast, inspiration comes as an “aha’ moment when the therapist has waited a sufficient amount of time to allow for percolation of his or her ideas, impulses, fantasies, etc. Inspiration comes as a result of a convergence of implicit and explicit experience, of both fast and slow thinking (Daniel Kahneman), and of a relaxed body.

Unfortunately for new therapists inspiration usually must take a backseat to pressure as...

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Find Your Mentor Couple

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

One of my mentors, Marion Solomon, introduced me to the brilliant idea of mentor couples. Also known as marriage mentors and sponsor couples, this concept originated in the church setting but is becoming increasingly popular. Basically, a mentor couple is one you admire and and look to for guidance. I was impressed that Matt and Marion Solomon have at least one mentor couple. Tracey and I proudly claim two mentor couples. One of course is Matt and Marion. Their relationship is the epitome of secure-functioning. They protect each other in private and public; they most definitely maintain a secure couple bubble; they tell each other everything; neither would ever threaten the relationship or be threatening to the other; they take one another’s distress seriously and provide prompt relief to each other; they know each other and most definitely have each other’s owners manual; and they are a lighthouse to other couples....

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Picking the Right Partner

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

“I always seem to pick the wrong person for long-term relationships. There’s something wrong with my ‘picker.’ I should just give up.”

Many times I have heard this kind of gripe from patients, acquaintances, and friends. While I understand why someone might think his or her “picker” is broken or defective, in truth, it belies a misunderstanding of the human pair-bonding process. Let’s review.

The initial pair-bonding process is psychobiological. You, as you think of yourself right now, are not the same person you were when you first met the love of your life. You were on infatuation “drugs” throughout that initial courtship period. Your body, your lower (and faster) brain, and your neuroendocrine system (endogenous drugs) ran that show. The thing is, nature cares more about procreation and mixing of the gene pool than it does about the success of long-term relationships.

So if you do...

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Daily Rekindling of Love

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

Romantic love is an addiction. Although we "feel" romantic love, the feeling is largely the result of a particular brain circuitry and neurochemical cocktail more closely related to the addiction or reward circuit.

Successful long term couples understand how to maintain their "addiction" to one another through daily techniques that result in mutual amplification of positive feeling. In other words, partners are able to rekindle their reward circuitry, the very same neural network that contributed to their initial romantic excitement with one another. There are three practicals ways to do this, two of which are well-known and the third not-so-well-known.

1. The Lovers' Gaze (aka primary intersubjectivity)
2. Joint attention to a third object, person, idea, activity, etc. (aka secondary intersubjectivity)
3. Conversion of Personal Positive Feeling for Mutual Amplification

The Lovers' Gaze

Arguably, it is with the eyes, or more specifically, the...

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Scratching the Right Itch

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

Do you ever have an itch on your back you can't scratch yourself? Do you ever ask your partner to scratch that itch only to be frustrated when he or she continually misses the "right spot?" Missing the spot once or twice is forgivable. But what about missing it all the time? Now that's cause for suspicion, isn't it? I mean, how big is a person's back? How could someone possibly miss that spot?!

Well, lots of partners complain of missing the right spot. He buys roses when she loves tulips. She buys low-fat milk when he explicitly tells her he only drinks non-fat. He always tells her that she is sexy when she'd prefer hearing she's smart. She compliments him on what a good father he is when he wants to hear that he's a great husband.

There are countless ways partners can scratch the wrong itch and send a message that either they don't care or they don't know the target. "See! There's nothing I can do to satisfy you!" Paul screams at Cheryl...

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Tortoises and Hares

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

Quite different from Airplanes and Submarines are Tortoises and Hares. While the former points to arousal preference for either high sympathetic or low parasympathetic states, the latter refers to mental processing speed, or "RPMs" as I like to call it. There are Hare and Tortoise partners in my office quite often. The Hare will run circles around the Tortoise partner, especially during periods of distress. It's important to note that the Tortoise is never fast and the Hare is never slow, distress notwithstanding. However, when partners become aroused during conflict it becomes evident that the Hare has the advantage and must be cautioned against disorienting or steamrolling his/her partner.

A Hare must be careful not to induce mutual dysregulation within the couple system by losing and befuddling his or her slower partner. Moving too fast, both verbally and non-verbally, can appear threatening and even predatory. The tortoise must help his...

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Airplanes and Submarines

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,
stantatkin.com

Airplanes and submarines are quite different from one another. They both travel up and down, with sea level often as their starting point. However, their atmospheres are quite different as is the speed with which they travel. Different as well are their perspectives. One views and explores the vast world above, while the other views and explores the vast world below. To the airplane, the world of the submarine may be confusing and even threatening. Equally strange perhaps is the submarine's understanding of the airplane's world.

Airplanes are fast and nimble. They can climb the heights, spin atop the world, go upside down and right side up, and still land safely and gracefully on the ground. Free and unencumbered by the view and restrictions of ground-level life, airplanes can be above it all, in the heavens with the gods. Occasionally they can become too confident, too full of themselves, and be struck down by weather or other natural...

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