As of the last week of August of 2011 PsychologyToday.com has selected me to be one of the psychologists who post expert-opinions on their website. My first post on the blog is an article explaining three of the main elements that make couples therapy effective.
“From Thin-Skinned to Win-Win“–a title suggested by Kent Powell, my web marketing friend–explains that the first level of intervention is behavioral. Marriage is a high-skilled activity. A first task of a therapist is to coach clients in behvarioral skills of collaboartive communication, cooperative conflict resolution, emotional self-regulation (ability to stay calm versus to pop off in anger in sensitive situations), and dissemination of positive energy via appreciation, affection, and good humor.
This coaching in new skills is enough for many couples to let go of their less effective old habits and launch instead a lifelong positive relationship. That’s why the website based on my book The Power of Two, PowerOfTwoMarriage.com, is so helpful for many couples. For these marriage partners, coaching on the website gives them the boost they need to live relatively happily ever after without needing the help of a marriage therapist.
Skills coaching alone however, while it may be a helpful first alternative, does not suffice for couples who also need the second and third levels of therapist interventions.
If one or both spouses grew up in a family that was seriously dysfunctional, or, as is increasingly frequent, in a single parent family, their platform of marriage readiness may need significant additional shoring up. These couples need to look at their own families of origin to understand how they got to where they are today. They also need to look at how each of their individual sensitivities and skill glitches have a tendency to hook their partner’s sensitivities and skill glitches so that they can identify and then modify their negative interactions circles. Or maybe a better term is negative spirals, as all too often the circles of interlocking sensititivities lead to escalating emotions and increasingly hurtful interactions.
Sometimes these emotional escalations come from sources that couples have difficulty consciously identifying. This is where the third level of therapy interventions becomes vital, the level of identifying and clearing subconscious “landmines,” that is, the thoughts, feelings and situations that trigger especially intense negative emotional reactions.
For further details, please check out my new blog post at on psychologytoday.com.