Counseling for Couples

There are many counseling for couples models and counselors and therapists to choose from, and there is some significant discussion about whether or not couples counseling even works.

I base my ideas about counseling for couples on my experiences as a domestic violence educator.

I believe that people can change. I have made changes, I have watched folks resurrect themselves like the Phoenix, from the ashes of their own lives and move on to productive, normal, existences.

So I know change is possible, and I believe that the most economical model out there for couples to follow is the Gottman model called The Art and Science of Love.

Counseling for Couples With the Gottman Model

I have woven the Gottman model into my domestic violence work because of his work in the domestic violence field with Neil Jacobsen,Ph.D. which I found very intriguing.

Gottman and Jacobsen addressed something which I believe is very important in domestic violence counseling, which is also addressed in the Gottman counseling for couples model, called Diffuse Physiological Arousal, which means they look at how the fight or flight syndrome impacts marital conflict.

Because of that information on flooding which I use with both my anger management and domestic violence guys, I took a look at the Gottman model, and tried it with some clients, adding in something that I believe is a very valuable concept, Heartmath or heart rate variability biofeedback training.

My clients, who could be communicating intensely about any of the usual marital conflict hotspots, money, vacations, parenting, or sex, would switch to fond memories and laughter when we would begin a Gottman exercise called Finding Your Partner's Love Map.

That particular process would give me an opportunity to teach about how thoughts change physiology, which is a basic tenet of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but I add in something from the Heartmath training, about thoughts of appreciation versus thoughts of resentment or victimhood.

The Heartmath heart rate variability biofeedback tool is a powerful tool for helping clients get used to the idea that they can manage what is usually an unconscious physiological process, and learning how to regulate physiology (heart rate variability coherence) can leave folks feeling good very consistently without having won the lottery for example, and if one can feel good consistently by doing the Quick Coherence and Heartmath breathing, then perhaps one can exert significant control over ones thinking, and repeat thoughts of appreciation for the attributes you appreciate in your partner. The key is to remember what you appreciate more frequently, and that will change your physiology, and if your partner is also repeating that pattern, you will be able to come to discussions of what the Gottman's call gridlocked issues, and move into a solution which reflects today's realities for the folks in the relationship.

Tomorrow may require another negotiation, done again from a place of appreciation, and soon couples get it that they can regulate their thinking and feelings and negotiate a solution, which may be for only a short period, from a place of appreciation, rather than fear or deprivation.

The Gottman model is not a one pony trick though, it is a series of exercises which couples do together, and can repeat frequently, so again couples learn that their relationship is alive and vibrant and dynamic. There are exercises on communication and listening, for example.

So the seeds are planted and and nurtured and the harvest is appreciation. 

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