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Couples Therapy using Relationship Science

How does it all work?

For a long time we knew that being happily married meant healthier outcomes for the individuals within the marriage.

But until more recently we didn’t understand why or how.

That presents quite a problem. If we know that eating healthy means a healthier body but we don’t know how our body works or what to eat, then we don’t have enough information to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The same is true in relationships.

We need to know relationship mechanics and how intimate relationship work, how they serve us, and how we can foster these skills and interactions in our own relationships.

I (Kim) draw on two of the leading experts in the field of intimate relationships: John & Julie Gottman and Sue Johnson.

The Success of the Gottman Love Lab

John and Julie have spent 40 years observing couples and following their stories to determine what makes relationships satisfying and what ultimately leads to separation.

They began this work 40 years ago, using what has now been affectionately (pun intended) called the “Love Lab.” Couples come for 24 hours of observation in the now-famous studio apartment.

It’s like your typical Airbnb, fully furnished with all the needs for a comfortable night away. And, of course, it wouldn’t be an Airbnb without the mounted cameras. (Just kidding.)

Of course, couples, aware of the videotaping process, allow Gottman and his team to code how couples interact. With that information and follow-up interviews, he tracks which relationships and their unique patterns of interaction are sustainable and which are not.

He defines these as the “Masters versus Disasters” of relationships.

Gottman can now predict the divorce potential of a couple with over 90% accuracy by observing just 15 minutes of a conflict discussion. 

Knowing what we’re trying to do here.

Gottman’s work provides hope because if you can pinpoint what works and what doesn’t in long-term relationships, you can learn how to make your own marriage work.

And this is about more than just determining whether couples will stay together – it’s about improving their levels of satisfaction within their relationships.

Through this research, John and Julie (believe me – they are as cute as you would expect from a couple who have spent their career studying and developing effective couples work) have helped us understand the DNA of a healthy relationship.

Because of their work we can finally define relationship skills that are needed to build a strong friendship, maintain fondness & admiration, communicate effectively, and minimize conflict.

And when heads are cool and we’re living life, these skills are invaluable to maintaining a satisfying relationship.

But what about when heads aren’t cool?

I’m so glad you asked. Because as I welcome conflict into my doors I have seen my share of knock-down-drag-out conflicts. I have been in the presence of couples who are deeply hurt by each other. That are left with little hope or energy to move forward.

Here’s a Neurological 101 lesson in conflict. Most of us have heard of fight-or-flight—right? When we sense a threat either fight the threat or run away from it. Our brains go into panic mode and our only focus is survival.

There is research that also shows that when this happens our vision and our hearing narrow. Our capacity for empathy and problem-solving diminish.

That’s because we’re operating in our panic brain, not our problem-solving brain. The literal blood flow isn’t getting there.

NO ONE is accessing their skills in that state, so what do we do then?!

A brief lesson on attachment would be helpful here.

Sue Johnson is the MOTHER of adult attachment research and therapy.

What it says, in brief, is that we all need the assurance of a secure bond with a few select others. While that is often a caregiver in childhood, it usually transfers into a partner in adulthood.

And we don’t just sort of need that secure bond. We need it to survive like we need air, water, and food.

And here’s the deal—our brain responds to relationship “threats” the same way it responds to physical threats. That means if your relationship doesn’t feel strong, safe, or secure, you will go into panic.

You will do everything you can to regain stability in your connection again, and you will do it like your life depends on it, because it does!

The problem is—none of us use the most effective ways of going about it. Generally we either attack-and-defend or withdraw—in other words ‘fight or flight’. And that leaves couples at a painful crossroads. They are in a panic trying to save their relationship connection but everything they are doing makes it worse.

Sue’s work not only proves the deep need we have for this attachment relationship, but she also provides a better way towards reconnection. By reaching for each other when hurt, afraid, or insecure, couples can move through conflict with a stronger trust and confidence in their connection.

Drawing from the experts.

Taking stock of all of this, I draw heavily on Gottman and Johnson’s work.

I help couples learn skills we know it takes to make intimate relationships more satisfying.

And when a storm is brewing and tensions peak, I step into the world of Emotionally-Focused Therapy to help couples regain stability in their most precious bond.

These experts give us a roadmap for the journey.

The journey can be frustrating and difficult.

It will require patience and courage.

It will require grace and vulnerability.

It may leave you winded and bewildered at times.

But when you embark on it, you’ll better understand yourselves, each other, and this thing called intimacy.

I know starting couples counseling can feel intimidating. You wouldn’t want anyone to see what happens behind your closed doors. But take heart. I’ve seen it. I’ve heard it. And I’ve been behind those closed doors.

Reach out today at (715) 725-0820. Let me be your guide so you can practice what we know works and learn to reach for each other at the most desperate of times.