My approach to couples work is curious, compassionate, creative, and connected. I’m a passionate believer in the power of deep listening. I’m particularly influenced by two relationship therapy models - Imago Therapy and Emotion-Focused Therapy. The Imago model posits that we are attracted to partners who hold the negative qualities of our original caregivers, our parents, and the traits in ourselves that we had to disown to survive our childhoods. You might ask, “Why the heck would we want a partner who has the negative characteristics of our parents, the ones that hurt us terribly?” As wild as it might sound, we’re driven to these partnerships so we can heal from the pain of our childhoods. It’s important to note, this part of our attraction is unconscious.
While not always thought of as such, this model makes complex trauma and attachment wounding front and center in the way we heal with our partners - as long as they’re willing to *really* hear us (and vice versa). The Imago Dialogue is the central technique of this approach, and in it, we are heard, reflected, validated, and empathized with - *all the way through* until we have nothing else to express about a particular topic. We learn through practice that we don’t have to diminish ourselves or edit ourselves down to be what someone else wants of us, that all of us and what we think and feel are worthy and welcome. This is a healing elixir to those of us who never received these messages and/or received false stories that we were “not enough”, “wrong”, or “bad” in the relationships that should have been the safest and most welcoming.
In Emotion-Focused Therapy, couples are taught to identify toxic patterns, affectionately known as Demon Dialogues. Do you both attack each other, does one pursue and one withdraw, or do you both withdraw? To dance a different dance, someone has to change their steps, first by recognizing them in the first place. Can we see how our step leads to the next? When we change the steps, we can create enough safety to start rebuilding the bond of love.
And of course, the work of couples therapy would not be complete without the science of sex and sexuality. This is a decades-long interest of mine dating way back to my time in the reproductive health world, through to my work in individual therapy and coaching. I’m particularly influenced by the work of Emily Nagowski and Jack Morin, who investigate what makes our proverbial erotic clocks tick. Questions like “does desire equal pleasure?”, “do I have a responsive or spontaneous desire style?”, “what hits my sexual brakes, and what hits my accelerator?”, “what do my peak sexual experiences and core erotic themes have to teach me?”, are such useful ones to explore within the container of therapy and coaching. If you want to do a deeper dive into the science, their texts, Come as You Are and The Erotic Mind, are wonderful places to start.
Bridging this with my somatic and parts-work training helps couples deepen into this work together. We can build a felt sense of warmth, of presence, of love. We can build safety internally and externally to access our deepest healing, together.