By Annie Chen, LMFT (https://www.changeinsight.net)
PACT Level 2 Therapist
The Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT) centers around a set of principles that are grounded in relationship fairness, mutuality, and safety, what we call secure functioning. Everything I do as a PACT couple therapist is guided by these principles. Time and time again I’ve seen that it’s an effective model for sustaining two people’s needs in a relationship. Secure-functioning principles are also versatile; they can be applied to nearly every type of issue and problem that couples encounter.
I’m often awe-struck at the work that couples do in my office. It makes the difference between joy and misery; between wanting to stay together and wanting to end the relationship.
But like all good models, couple therapy has limits to what it can accomplish. I’d like to identify some caveats and limitations to using this method so that therapy seekers can align...
Welcoming Baby Bomb
The following is an excerpt from Baby Bomb: A Relationship Survival Guide for New Parents, by Kara Hoppe and Stan Tatkin, now available for purchase here.
When Jude was only a few days old, Charlie and I were sitting all cozy on our couch on a winter afternoon, as we’d done many times before—me on my side, Charlie on his. Only now there was a third person, and his place was on me to nurse. Nursing didn’t come easily for Jude and me. It was challenging to learn how to direct his lips to my breast so he could get a good latch. I had to listen for the sound of him swallowing and watch for his little jaw moving, signs that he was nourishing himself. If I didn’t hear swallowing or see his jaw move, it was time to pull him off gently and retry for a better latch. Eventually I came to think of breastfeeding as one latch at a time, and I did that until we became nursing pros. But on this winter day, pros we were not, and nursing was...
PACT Level 2 Therapist
You’ve been betrayed. Or maybe you did the betraying. Either way, your relationship is on life support, and you’re wondering if the only answer is to say goodbye and pull the plug.
Maybe. Maybe the cut is too deep, the hurt too great, the brokenness too extensive.
But maybe a relationship can survive the trauma of betrayal, and even thrive afterward. I believe this because I see it every week in my office.
Betrayal’s Many Faces
Take Mark and Rachel. After 16 years of marriage, Rachel discovered that Mark had been with more than a dozen other women, two being long-term emotional and sexual affairs. Rachel was devastated to learn that her perfect, fairytale story was a figment of her imagination based on partial truth of her actual reality.
Or consider Liz and Dave, a young couple in their early 20s. They’d been together since they were 16, and Liz found herself pregnant. Now, two children and a...
PACT Level 1
In Japanese, the phrase sottaku doji means “simultaneously pecking from inside and outside.” Zen Buddhism uses this as a metaphor for the relationship between teacher and student; the student is pecking from the inside, and the teacher from the outside at the shell of the student’s limited understanding and ability to perceive the true nature of reality.
With a deep bow to the wisdom of that lineage, I suggest we borrow this image to better understand the process of change and transformation in general. Does change occur from the outside in, using external behaviors to alter one’s internal state? Or, does it originate from the inside out, changing one’s mindset to support choosing new behaviors?
Just as in the pecking metaphor, the short answer is both; we need upgraded, more effective behaviors as well as internal meaning-making shifts. And, particularly in the case of successfully...
PACT Level 3 Candidate
In an attempt to understand and treat clients, therapists often use terms, such as codependent, toxic, narcissistic. These words then find their way into pop culture and, like a bad game of telephone, can lose their intended meaning or become distorted.
I’ve had clients come in, claiming that their spouse was a narcissist when after a few sessions we were able to uncover that their spouse was simply under-skilled at communicating empathy.
In another instance, a partner described their mate as bipolar when they were kind and cheery most of the time but struggled to be able to calm themselves down when feeling disconnected from the partner during conflict.
I’ve found people can have a difficult time accurately assessing what behaviors are healthy and unhealthy in their romantic relationships. In our highly individualistic culture, one word gets a particularly bad rap: dependency.
When is dependency...
by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT
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...
PACT Level 3 Candidate
By any chance, are you feeling like a roommate instead of a partner in your relationship? Have you noticed that you and your partner don’t talk to each other when you are both at home except when it comes to discussing bills and logistics? More than a few people feel hurt when their partner does not even acknowledge them. They might complain that their partner doesn’t care about them and doesn’t want to spend any time together. If this sounds familiar, know that you can reconnect with your partner in simple, positive, authentic ways that can begin to repair and reignite your relationship.
Sometimes couples wonder what changed since the honeymoon phase of their relationship or might think they are not in love anymore. As a therapist, I find it helpful to explain that during the early phase of love, often referred to the honeymoon phase, you and your partner spend lots of time together and share new...
Debra Campbell, MS, LMFT, PACT 3 Candidate
“Learning how to communicate better with my partner” is a commonly stated goal of couples in therapy. While not inaccurate, learning how to communicate better is often oversimplified to mean using the right language. In PACT, we are concerned not only about what is said but also how it is said and whether that works for both partners.
Since partners are in each other’s care, we expect them to demonstrate self-awareness as well as expertise in their partner. We stage situations that expose the miscommunications, misappraisals, and misunderstandings that underly a couple’s most challenging interactions. By videotaping and reviewing the sessions, we create greater awareness around the interplay between verbal and nonverbal communication that underly their misunderstandings.
Human communication is highly flawed. We have an assumptive pattern-finding brain that predicts...
by Clinton Power, Grad. Dip Couns/Psych., Ad. Dip Gestalt Therapy
PACT Level 2 Therapist, PACT Ambassador
All couples fight at one time or another. If you think you should never argue, you’re unrealistic. A more productive goal is to learn how to quickly and efficiently resolve your disagreements.
When there's distress in your relationship, you want to move promptly to make things better and reassure each other that you’re in this together and you have each other’s back.
Here are four ways to resolve relationship conflict quickly and reduce relationship distress:
The primitive parts of your brain are quick to identify threats. These threats can be perceived in facial expressions, gestures, postures, certain words or phrases, and tone of voice.
When your primitive brain starts to perceive threat, an increase in your body’s stress response happens, which can lead to defensiveness and further errors in your...
PACT Level 3 Candidate, PACT Ambassador
A couple new to me, Kristin and Dan, are sitting in my office. This is their first session, and from what they have presented thus far, their relationship isn’t on fire. “Why are you two seeking couple counseling now?” is a typical question I ask. There’s a long pause, and finally Kristin looks over at Dan and with a shrug states, “Well, it’s just boring. We used to be madly in love and now, after 15 years, it just feels like the fire is gone.” Dan nods in agreement.
There are many reasons for this. And while partners may blame each other for their lack of excitement, other forces are at play that are not so personal. For example, part of what couples may not realize is that some of the “boring” feelings come from the automated part of the brain.
As we go through our day, our brains are constantly on the go — taking in information, getting us from...