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Struggle for Couples

The Struggle for Couples

Separation and divorce* is often preceded by long stretches of isolation, bitter quarrels, toxic parental-modelling, and an exhaustive inner struggle on the question of whether to leave or stay in the relationship. Those who remain in estranged, chronically stressed, or high conflict relationships without effective intervention are likelier to suffer from high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, and an earlier onset of heart disease, among other maladies. In addition to the enduring psychological stress, couples in these relationships are at risk of imparting the same dysfunctional behaviours onto generations after them.

A couple sitting despondently over a vast and cold cityscape.

*Currently the divorce rate in BC, Canada is nearly 40%.

Gottman Therapy

What is Gottman Method Therapy? Gottman Method Therapy is a research-based relationship therapy that diagnoses caustic behaviours and seeks to promote friendship, the creation of shared meaning, and the management of conflict. Interventions focus on increasing emotional intimacy, promoting rituals of connection, and lancing behaviours and attitudes such as defensiveness, criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and emotional distancing.

Gottman Assessment:

Through an extensive assessment process, GMT seeks to identify and remedy dysfunctional patterns within the relationship. 

The first session includes what is known as the “Oral History Interview” where couples unfold the story of their relationship and share insights about their philosophies on intimate relationships. Following this, the therapist invites the couple to discuss a recurring disagreement in their relationship, so that the therapist can observe and assess their approach to conflict management.  

Between the first and the second session, couples undergo a series of formal online assessments called the “Gottman Checkup” which assesses them on the following:

  • Friendship and Intimacy

  • Trust and Commitment

  • Meta-Emotional Differences

  • Conflict Management

  • Individual Concerns

In the second session each partner undergoes an individual 45 minute interview where the therapist gleans relevant background information about each partner's family upbringing, romantic relationship histories, and gauge their level of commitment to the relationship. This interview is the individual’s opportunity to disclose their thoughts on the relationship one on one with the therapist.

In the third session the results of the Gottman Checkup assessments are broken down and explained through the theory of the "Sound Relationship House," which is an analogy for outlining the elements of a functional relationship. Hereon, a treatment approach is outlined and agreed upon between the couple and the therapist.

 

NOTE: Throughout this session, the individual’s test results are NOT disclosed, but rather, if one partner identifies a critical problem in the relationship, where the other does not, it is brought up as “a problem in the relationship” and NOT a “problem in the individual.”

Gottman Intervention:

Treatment involves both in-session and between-session interventions. In session, interventions take the form of coached discussions on conflict issues and introduces techniques on how to:

  • self regulate during diffuse physiological arousal (flooding)

  • approach conflict issues with a softened startup 

  • listen without engaging in argument 

  • practice validation, irrespective of disagreement

  • avoid the four horsemen of the apocalypse (defensiveness, contempt, criticism, and stonewalling) and learn their antidotes

  • process long-held regrettable incidents

   

Between sessions, couples are encouraged to practise what they learn in session, as well as incorporate new practices (such as a weekly State of the Union) in an effort to build (a.) positive mindset, (b.) air grievances, and (c.) prevent harbouring new resentments.

Textile and ephemeral art: a heart woven from yarn on a chain linkfence.

Additionally, couples are encouraged to learn about each other through creating new rituals of connection and practising intentional conversations which help facilitate intimacy and understanding. Strategies for conflict management are also encouraged and reviewed in session. For example, couples practise softened startup, physiological self soothing, and taking breaks when conflict becomes escalated. 

For couples wanting to break these caustic practices, extinguish cognitive dissonance, and turn towards a life of shared meaning and connection, couples counselling can be effective. Book a FREE 20 minute telephone consultation here.

Stuggle for Singles

The Struggle for Recent Singles

As ultra-social animals who, for millennia, have depended on tribal communities to survive, the end of a relationship triggers deeply rooted anxieties around survival. While unrequited love carries its own host of negative emotions, the division of friends, family, and territory also threatens our evolved sense of security and identity. This is why (for many) breaking up, or being broken up with, has all the markers of trauma, leaving us numb and dissociated, anxious and hyper-vigilant, obsessive and depressed, or simply enraged. 

A single figure sitting on a culvert, overlooking a gray and desolate wasteland. Photo by Rifky Nur Setyadi
LI Anchor

What is Lifespan Integration (LI) Therapy and how can it relieve breakup and betrayal trauma? Used in this context, Lifespan Integration Therapy is an effective approach to helping people understand and process traumas and regrettable incidents that have occurred within their relationships and breakups. 

By reading aloud a chronological timeline of the relationship, a regrettable incident (such as a domestic fight), or a trauma, the client re-experiences the targeted memory almost as if they were watching a movie inside of their head. After several renditions of one timeline, the client is invited to re-experience salient emotions and thoughts within the memory and address what they needed at the time they occurred. This allows them to re-experience and recode the memory with new insights, awareness, and meanings that were absent before. 

“Affairs are like an abscess under the skin.

The only way to heal them is to open them up and clean the infection out.”

-Julie Gottman Phd.

Anne's Story

Anne has several disturbing memories about her ex partner, Patrick. Primarily, she recalls the day she saw him caressing the cheek of another woman in a cafe. As a timid woman, who had always dismissed the possibility of Patrick cheating, Anne never brought this incident to his attention. Years later, after Patrick left Anne for that same woman, Anne is tortured by recurring thoughts of self-disgust, anger towards Patrick, and heartbreak for Patrick. Her goals in therapy are to (a.) move on from her attachment to Patrick, (b.) reduce anger towards herself regarding her passivity in the relationship, and (c.) learn to trust again. 

A portrait of a women in a parka is blurred as she looks from side to side. Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona

In LI therapy, Anne does several repetitions of her relationship timeline of Patrick, as well as a PTSD protocol that addresses the infidelity. Throughout multiple repetitions of these timelines, Anne’s memory of the relationship and the infidelity increases in resolution. Anne begins remembering new things that give her more perspective on the relationship such as: frequent fights, Patrick’s aversive behaviour, and how seldom he complimented her or turned toward her bids for attention. She also identifies patterns in her own behaviour, namely her inability to assert her boundaries, and her need for placating others. 

 

Throughout multiple repetitions of the relationship timeline, Anne reprocesses her relationship by re-experiencing each memory and becomes aware of outmoded thought patterns, which had contributed to her avoiding the question of infidelity in the first place. She is also able to put the ruminations of the relationship to bed, now that she has a more cohesive perspective on them and has been desensitised to them through repetitive visualisation exposure. With this retooled perspective on her life and the relationship, Anne is able to forgive herself and Patrick*, and find the confidence to move forward in another relationship using newly learned knowledge about herself. 

For individuals wanting to move forward with their lives, process past betrayals, and build an informed direction forward, lifespan integration can help. Book a FREE 20 minute telephone consultation here.

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