At the core of every human being is the need to bond to another human being. We are inherently social beings who thrive in the context of love and acceptance and suffer in the desert of rejection and loneliness. The Genesis pronouncement that “man is not made to live alone” describes each of us. Marriage is the relationship that has the greatest potential for companionship, love, eroticism, and deep attachment. It is also the most difficult relationship to do well. Marriage is like an F-16 jet; it is either done (flown) well or it crashes. Each person who gets married (or enters a couple relationship) brings a long list of needs and desires but, unfortunately, also brings wounds and unhealthy coping strategies that were useful in a previous setting, but do not promote a healthy marital bond.
Couples therapy at The Intimacy Center is rooted in attachment theory, which describes landscape couples need to negotiate to develop a deeply connected relationship. This landscape includes recognizing the ongoing couples dance in which both people are trying to create a connection while at the same time maintain their own individual identities. John Gottman’s research identified a common marital dance which he called the pursuer/distancer pattern. From an attachment perspective, the one partner feels abandoned and therefore pursues a solution to the distance in the relationship. The other person feels criticized and therefore withdraws to protect against these feelings of, “I can never do it well enough.”
At The Intimacy Center we apply principles from Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, developed by Susan Johnson. We assist couples in identifying their dysfunctional relationship dances, identifying the deeper emotional experiences that are driving those destructive patterns, and then to express those feelings and needs in ways that create healing and emotional intimacy.
The goal of couples therapy at The Intimacy Center is to promote a securely functioning relationship. Such relationships ensure that both members of the relationship feel secure and cared for within the relationship. These relationships address problems that arise by creating win-win solutions so that each person trusts that the other person consistently has their needs in mind. The relationship functions along the maxim that “suffering shared is suffering divided; joy shared is joy multiplied.” By valuing the relationship above the immediate needs of either of the individuals, these couples find a safe haven to bring their struggles and hurts.
Dr. Tom Olschner has specialized in couples therapy for over 20 years and is currently in his third year of training with Stan Tatkin on the Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy. This couples therapy is rooted in attachment theory but adds the component of arousal regulation between the partners. This is not referring to sexual arousal, but rather to the arousal of the “fight or flight” mechanism within the nervous system. Many couples tell us that they have learned many good communication tools from conferences, books, or other therapy, but that once they are in an argument, all those tools go out the window. This is because when a person is threatened (by abandonment or criticism) he/she reads “DANGER!”, and the adrenaline dump sends that person into fight or flight. This becomes automatically a matter of survival. It is impossible for that person, in that state, to use any of those great tools, such as “active listening.” The couple needs tools to regulate each other. For example, the husband, whose wife is feeling rejected, learns to take her hands in his and say, “You are important to me.” The wife, whose husband is feeling criticized, says ,”Remember, I love you just the way you are. I’m trying to share how I feel.”
Ultimately, couples therapy is about learning to love. It is about placing the needs of the relationship ahead of one’s own needs. It is about risking vulnerability so that your partner has the opportunity to see deeply into your heart and then risk opening his or her own heart. It is about creating emotional, spiritual, and sexual intimacy that keeps the relationship thriving.