Perhaps most important of all, I apply over 20 years of experience in mediating, facilitating groups, serving on professional association boards, and teaching about conflict resolution, not to mention being married, enjoying 4 children and six grand children, and blending two families together. Throughout it all and throughout my therapy practice, I strive to find love in myself and those around me. I think of my office as the room where love grows.
From Systems Centered Therapy
People are easy to get along with until two or more of us get together. Because we are all unique, differences will invariably arise. It is the way we manage those differences that determines the quality of our relationships. As a lawyer, professor, counselor, and coach, I’ve spent over twenty-five years helping people manage their myriad differences.
One thing I’ve learned is that each of our relationships (including our relationships with ourselves) evolves through phases of development. During one phase, usually the first phase of any new relationship, we avoid or ignore our differences. This is what I call the “avoidance” phase, so named because our self-focus or our employment of various strategies constitutes avoidance of our differences. You probably are already conscious about this phase: you might think of it as the “honeymoon” period where everyone is on his or her best behavior.
Generally, the next phase that occurs is what I call “dissatisfaction.” During this phase, we recognize our displeasure about the differences we are experiencing with others. We have urges to confront these differences and change the other person. “The other person is the problem, of course,” we say to ourselves. If only they would do or be as we want, then everything would be just fine.
Following this phase, we are sometimes able to enter the phase of “letting go” where our focus turns inwardly and we address the barriers that keep us from warmly and effectively relating with ourselves and others.
Finally, after progressing through the transitional phase of letting go, during which we develop a sense of connection and intimacy, we then reach community or “integration,” the final phase, where we are able to integrate our differences and love, work, and play with one another at an optimal level.
These phases have been known by various names for more than sixty years. However, only relatively recently has the state of the art progressed to the point that we may systematically address all the barriers arising to relationship development in each phase. And what I’ve learned is that the way we recognize and transition between phases is just as important as the phases themselves. With this knowledge and practical experience, each of us can learn to manage our differences in a way that we attain the most satisfying relationships possible.
From Emotionally Focused Therapy
Invariably couples enter therapy to improve how they manage their differences: it’s usually not the differences that are the problem but how the partners communicate about those differences. Most people don’t realize the full extent of levels on which they’re actually communicating. The actual verbal communication is often angry or accusatory on one side and defensive or hostile on the other, but there are more tender emotions also at play including hurt, sadness, fear, desperation, and loneliness—as well as dysfunctional thinking processes, and deep-seated unconscious and unaddressed “attachment” needs, i.e., “do I matter to my partner, does he/she have my back, can I count on him/her to ‘be there’ for me?” on the one hand, and “does my partner accept me, think I’m good enough, desire me, on the other?” Couples often don’t see how those levels are, in turn, a part of a repetitive, dysfunctional cycle of communication. EFT surfaces and addresses all of these levels, identifies the components and flow of the dysfunctional cycles, and empowers couples to change their patterns, with particular focus, as the name implies, on the emotional components of the communication. The end result is deeper emotional and physical intimacy and more graceful problem solving.
From the Science of Brain States
Our brains have several rather primitive states. Most of us have heard of the primitive survival modes of “fight” and “flight, the two brain states underlain by fears. When we’re in those states, we seek to get away or to attack, neither of which brings us closer to our partners. In fact, if one partner is in fight/flight, such a state is most likely to produce a similar version of the fight/flight survival response in our partner. On the other hand, if we can search below the fight/flight behavior, we will discover the reciprocal state of longing and the state of care-giving. So when we access our longings and communicate them along with the attendant emotions such as sadness, loneliness, and hurt, we most often trigger in our partners a desire to offer care and soothing.