Marriage Conversations for Connection

couples counselingMy last post regarding couples counseling discussed the three demon dialogues described by Susan Johnson in her book Created for Connection. The three patterns of conflict most common in couples counseling are called find the bad guy, the protest polka, and freeze and flee. Each dialogue is a unique pattern of couple interaction driven by the partners need for attachment. When a partner feels disconnected from their spouse their “attachment alarm” goes off. The resulting sense of losing their partner leads to a “primal panic”. Most people respond to this primal panic in one of two ways. They become demanding or clingy in a desperate effort to reconnect with their loved one or they shutdown and pull away in an attempt to manage the overwhelming loss.

Fortunately, couples counseling restores connection in marriages that are stuck in one of the three demon dialogues. As I wrote about in this post creating a “secure base” is one of the first steps to restoring the connection that allows for a new dance. Couples counseling focuses on establishing this secure base by fostering dialogue that consists of Accessibility, Responsiveness, and Engagement of the partners.

Couples Counseling Fosters Accessibility

An accessible partner is one that is “there” when reached for. When feeling alone, scared, and vulnerable we reach out to our loved ones in an attempt to gain comfort and safety. When a partner is accessible they remain present for their spouse and provide empathy, validation, and compassion. Although this reaching may come across as anger the responsive spouse views the “reach” as a need driven by hurt and fear. An accessible spouse sends an implied message of “you are not alone”, “I am here for you” and “we will get through this together”.

Couples Counseling Fosters Responsiveness

A responsive partner is “moved” by the reach of the other. Sometimes, we are overwhelmed by another’s emotion and we instinctively hide from it, stuff it down, or deny it. This appears as cold, unresponsive, and distant to a partner in pain. A responsive partner is able to “feel” the other with a deep understanding of the hurt, loss, and fear. Understanding ones partner in this way creates a sense of moving toward each other. The reaching out has worked and the hurting partner experiences re-connection.

Couples Counseling Fosters Engagement

An engaged partner is “moved” by the emotion and pain of his/her partner and stays “in” it. They are able to maintain the connection with the partner throughout the difficult time. They do not run away from the powerful emotions, downplay them, or seek to minimize them. An engaged partner is able to feel the emotion while experiencing a safe connection with self and the other.

Start the Conversation

You can begin these A.R.E. conversations with your partner today. Although it takes practice ,as you work you will experience more connection. Couples counseling can also be effective when learning to be accessible, responsive and engaged. If you would like to overcome the power of the demon dialogues you can start the process today by calling 217-231-1413.

Reference:

Johnson, S. & Sanderfer, K (2016). Created for connection: The “hold me tight” guide for Christian couples. New York, NY: Little Brown and Company.

 

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Marriage Counseling

Marriage counseling for couples that have experienced disconnection, infidelity, conflict, or separation is one of the most important services I have the privilege of providing. Often time’s couples come to me not knowing exactly what went wrong in their relationship. Not only that, they struggle to figure out how to make things better. I am honored to walk with them as they discover the three key strategies for healing a hurting marriage

Marriage Counseling – Creating a Secure Base

The first task of marriage counseling is creating a space in which both partners feel safe, heard, and respected no matter the circumstance. It is crucial that this sense of safety be created between the counselor and the couple, as well as between the couple themselves. John Bowlby says, “From the cradle to the grave, we all need a secure base”. Early in life primary caregivers function as this secure base. Parents create an environment in which children are safe to explore the world, while knowing that they can return to the protection and nurture of their parents when needed. The marriage relationship serves a similar function for couples. Ideally it serves as a context in which both partners exercise dependence on one another for the nurture and love we all need. This context, however, also allows autonomy for both partners to express themselves through work, play, and individual preferences. My first goal, then, in marriage counseling is to make the counseling relationship a safe place in which the marriage relationship can develop into a secure base for the couple.

Marriage Counseling

Marriage Counseling – Expanding Emotional Experience

Susan Johnson describes emotion as “the music in the dance of adult intimacy”. Emotion is the beat that drives the interactions between couples. Many couples are stuck in a painful dance that creates greater and greater distance, rather than deeper intimacy and safety. They are not aware of the role that emotional experience plays in this dance and therefore have a hard time changing the steps. My second goal in marriage counseling is to enhance and expand both partners emotional experience in the relationship. This process entails a deliberate exploration, validation, and acceptance of the internal experience of both partners. A deeper experience and expression of the emotional music of the relationship will allow the partners to experience one another in new and more connected ways. These new experiences create a new “melody” for the relationship, which allows for healing to begin.

Marriage Counseling – Choreographing a New Dance

If emotion is “the music in the dance of adult intimacy” then interactions are the dance steps. Susan Johnson describes the distressed couples dance as “rigidly organized interactions”. She argues that it is the rigid nature of interactions, driven by emotions, triggered from unmet attachment needs that lead to distress in a marriage. My third goal in marriage counseling is to choreograph a new interactional dance. This new dance takes into account the new “melody” created by enhancing and expanding the emotional experience of the couple. The new dance allows a wife to experience her “uncaring” husband as hurt and scared. It enables a husband to experience his “critical” wife as overwhelmed and lonely. The new melody and new dance steps are slowly practiced and rehearsed in a way that enhances safety and respects individual experience.

The couple begins to draw closer to one another in trust and love. They begin to experience that returning home can be an experience of returning to a “secure base”

Read more about my approach to counseling HERE

Begin the Journey to deeper connection by calling me at  217-231-1413

References:

Johnson, S. M. (2004). The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (2nd ed.). NY, New York: Routledge.

Does Counseling Help?

CounselingAt times counseling seems like a secret and mysterious thing. Counselors rarely talk about what happens in a session. People are hesitant to tell others if they have been in counseling. Some counseling professionals use big words, with abstract meanings that add to the mystery.

Thankfully there has been a lot of research done to understand exactly what makes counseling effective for 75% to 80% of the people who experience it (Levy, Ablon & Kachele, 2012). Much of the research focused on what those in counseling find most helpful. They attribute 40% of change to outside factors like internal resources and life circumstances. 30% of change is attributed to the counselor/counselee relationship, 15% to hope or expectations of change, and 15% to technique or interventions (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2014). So, if you have ever wondered how going to counseling would help here are four things that give counseling the power to change.

The Counseling Relationship

Carl Rogers described empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence as the three most important factors in the counseling relationship (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2014).  Empathy is the feeling you get when someone truly understands you. They seem to have experienced what you have experienced and are feeling it with you in that very moment. Unconditional positive regard is the radical acceptance of you just as you are. In counseling it is the opportunity to share the deepest parts of your self and to have them accepted no matter how dark or scary. Congruence is the ability of your counselor to be authentic while providing clear, sensitive, and helpful feedback (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2014).

Hope and expectation

Those that experience the most benefit from counseling are those that have hope and expectation that it can work. They are fully engaged in the counseling process and understand that although counseling will be uncomfortable it is worth the effort. Motivation is another factor that leads to increased benefit. Willingness to self-disclose, confront problems, take risks, and try new things are all important factors in the counseling process.

Counseling Technique

Specific techniques implemented by the counselor are another important part of counseling success. A counselor must be able to create an environment of safety and trust for the client. It is also important that the counselor have a variety of interventions to choose from depending on the unique circumstances each client is facing. In my practice I use techniques like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Emotion Focused Couples Therapy (EFT). I adapt each of these techniques to address the specific needs of the individual or family.

Counseling with Presence

The best description I have found of how counseling works was given by Henri Nouwen in his book “Wounded Healer” he says,

“The emptiness of the past and the future can ever be filled with words, but only by the presence of a human being.”

Counseling is about sharing your story in the presence of an empathic, accepting, and authentic human being. It is in sharing this experience that one can begin to feel more human, more loved, and more connected to God, themselves, and others.

If you would like to begin this journey to connection call me at 217-231-1413

References:

Levy, R. A., Ablon, J. S., & Kachele, H. (Eds.). (2012). Psychodynamic psychotherapy research. New York, NY: Humana Press.

Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L. W. (2014). Theories of counseling and psychotherapy (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

How to create a great marriage

A great marriage

How do you create a great marriage? At the end of couples counseling sessions I often ask, “what is one thing you could do to serve your spouse this week?”  If a great marriage is something that is created, I believe serving your spouse is the first act of creation.

What are some ways we can serve our spouses?

5 Ways to Connect With Your Spouse

5 way to connect withConnection with our children is crucial, however research also shows that the relationship between a child’s parents is also very important for childhood outcomes. Beyond that having a connection with your spouse just makes married life more enjoyable and rewarding. Here are five simple ways to connect with your spouse

Plan a Date night:

Be intentional about taking time for just the two of you. It does not have to be extravagant but it has to be time in which you are solely focused on your spouse. Spend time walking, eating, laughing and enjoying one another’s company. Remind yourselves of why you got together, tell stories of your early days so that you can be reminded of why you connected in the first place.

Talk about emotions:

It is tempting to talk about work, the kids, or other family business. Talking about emotions develops trust, vulnerability, and connection. Providing empathy for the feelings expressed shows understanding and understanding leads to intimacy.

Turn off The TV

The TV is a killer of connection. Spend the last few minutes of the night sharing your experience of the day rather than flipping channels. This time of reviewing the day is a small dose of connection that can hold you together until your next date night.

Go to Church Together

Worship, Pray, and read the bible together. Share questions and doubts about faith. Serve those less fortunate and pass the faith on to your children.

Listen to Understand

Listen to understand what is happening inside your spouse. It is tempting to listen to fix, or correct or argue. But, seeking to understand demonstrates a desire to know your spouse deeply.  Check out the video below that hilariously illustrates this concept

THE NAIL

What do you think?  How do you connect with your Spouse?