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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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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