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Therapeutic Response to Needed Conflicts

Conflicts in couple relationships hand us the potential for profound, deep, permanent change “on a silver platter”.  Knowing how to respond to this opportunity is the key to effective couples treatment.  Too often couple conflicts make therapists anxious, and they prematurely shut down the most fertile ground for empathy and understanding.  In a previous blog post, I addressed the concept of regulation.  This should be an end-goal for the work; not the first reaction from the therapist.

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Needing Conflicts

The concept of needing conflicts is central to understanding how Neurodynamic Couples Therapy heals.  Some other forms of couples treatment characterize conflict as simply an important avenue for communication and negotiation between partners.  A popular notion of marital health says that couples have to fight in order to work out their differences–i.e., partners who fight together stay together.  Our idea of needing conflicts is quite different from these.

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A Daughter's Dilemma

Mami always told me, “when I’m no longer able to take care of myself, put me in a nursing home…my dignity is very important to me”.  These words and personal preferences were shared, by my now 87 year-old Mother, close to twenty years ago. At the time, Mami was physically healthy, and her mind was clear and strong. Other than never driving or speaking English, she was self-sufficient and a great role model to all her six children. At the young age of  thirty-seven, she managed to raise her four daughters and two boys on her own, after my father passed away. She was as beautiful as she was focused and her sole purpose in life was to be  a loving  parent and ensure that all our needs and necessities were met.  

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Transformation

Some form of transformation is the stated or at least implied promise of most types of psychotherapy, including Neurodynamic Couples Therapy.  The term literally means “changing form”, although Google goes further and says that transformation is some type of extreme, radical change.

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Mutual Empathy

The previous blog post ended with the question “What comes after wondering?”  The answer is mutual empathy.  Wondering and exploring about the meanings of intimate partners’ triggers and the feelings they expose must lead to empathy in order for metabolizing to occur.  I have had occasions when a consultee will say about a couple, “They seem to understand each other, but they’re not getting better.”  They are not feeling their partner’s pain; the work is remaining intellectual.  Without the final step of empathy, the feelings will recycle back into the right brain to be relived another day in another drama.

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