Note from Ellyn: A member of our Advanced training group recently shared some observations with me about two of my very favorite topics: the Developmental Model of Couples Therapy and Tennis! I asked her to write them up and I am pleased to post them for you here. And how could I resist Sally’s poem? Such a clever way to capture the puzzle of these ideas, while solving puzzles of rhyme and rhythm at the same time. Whatever your hobby or avocation might be, I bet you can find similar wisdom in your experience.
On an advanced call someone asked Ellyn about how she decides to stay with a particular intervention like the Initiator-Inquirer, or come out of it and do something else. In her calm and thoughtful way, she replied, “That’s the art of couples therapy.” That struck a chord about how I get stuck – both in therapy sessions and on the tennis court.
If I focus too much on a skill or intervention without the Developmental Model framework in mind and where each person and the couple is developmentally, I can get lost in “teaching the skill.” I lose sight of the big picture. Similarly, if I focus on the theory without the appropriate skills and interventions, we’ll go nowhere fast.
On the courts, if I focus too much on using a particular shot, I lose sight of what the best play might be at any given time. Great shot, bad idea.
If I just focus on the big picture or strategy for winning, I get caught in over-thinking, get much too tense and hard on myself and my shots go to hell in a handbasket. Good idea, bad execution!
What I think would be preferable both in sessions and on the tennis court is holding both: keeping the big picture of the Developmental Model or tennis, learning and practicing skills, having a session/game plan. And then once I get on the court or go into a session with a couple, I need to trust myself to adjust accordingly. When I can trust the muscle memory of what I’ve been learning and practicing, it’s easier for me to relax into whatever is needed at that moment..
When I mess up, if I can see it as part of the process, I can learn, reset and move forward.
The mental/emotional aspects of tennis have taught me a lot more than I like to admit about myself. I used to think I was easy going and level headed. Ha-ha, wrong! I am, until the pressure is on, I make a bad shot, someone makes a bad call and then, not so much.
The saying “would you rather be right or happy” seems apt here. When I get caught in the trance of being right, my impersonation of a jerk is very convincing! I may win my point or be right but it’s a hollow victory as I don’t feel very good about myself. I’ve had to learn alot about keeping my focus, calming my own reactivity and being the kind of player I aspire to be.
The same is true for me as I learn and practice the Developmental Model. I’m calm and confident as long as the couple stays out of their negative pattern. But when they head in that direction, my anxiety, impatience, and irritation with them goes up, and off I go into fixing, teaching, lecturing. Ooops.
I’ve been thinking about how I could bring the sports /activities that clients do into my work, as an analogy for the process involved in couples work; both the motivation and inspiration to envision how they want to be, and to go through the growing pains of learning to be with themselves and each other differently. Maybe you have some suggestions, too. I know Ellyn enjoys seeing comments from readers and we both hope you’ll share your ideas in the commenting section below.
The Art of Therapy – and of Tennis
How do I dare
The two of these?
Read on if you please.
On a call Ellyn mentioned the art of couples work.
That helps to keep her out of the muck and murk.
Of where couples are stuck and often drowning.
By developmental challenges that keep them frowning.
The art of the DM helps couples move forward differently
And learn to navigate stormy developmental weather.
It’s taking me time to get the DM ‘in my bones’ as an art,
I often feel lost and frustrated as I dodge and dart,
I wonder if I’m being helpful at all,
And dream of serving coffee at a shopping mall.
So I try to handle my doubt and frustration,
And ask, where are they in their differentiation?
And where am I as well,
In growing edge hell?
Can’t think clearly when I’m feeling lost,
Feels like messing up brings a big cost.
Need to take a pause and get myself back,
In order to shift them to another track.
Is it time for a developmental assist?
Ah! Is that what I may have missed?
What stage of development are they in?
Is there any level of differentiation?
How far along on the self/other continuum?
Are they just not ready for the I-I,
Far too reactive to even try?
Oh my, what’s my next move?
When nothing is going smoothly.
Slow it down, for what are they longing?
Maybe some space, or that feeling of belonging?
Alot of complex, moving parts,
And thus, the skill plus the art.
I go through similar struggles on a tennis court,
When I lose focus, it leaves me short.
I need a big picture that guides the play,
To handle whatever shot comes my way.
Get curious about what will work best,
When my emotions are put to the test.
It’s so easy to react like a big jerk,
And get into negative murk,
Like taking an opponent’s good shot personally,
How’s that for a great losing strategy?
Need to stay calm and play my best game,
Be the player I want to be, call no names.
Or when they get out of sorts and start to yelp,
Understanding their upset just might help.
Rather than engaging in a fight,
Or insisting that my call was right,
Let it go, reset and back to play,
Or sort it out in a better way.
My role as a therapist is different, for sure,
Yet my reactivity calls for a similar cure.
Calm myself down, know its okay to stumble and fall,
Go for learning with both couples and the ball.
Am pondering how I can bring the analogy to couples I see,
As the struggles of differences create anxiety
And the glow of the honeymoon starts to fade,
Different aspects of self come out of the shade,
Protective ways of reacting start to emerge.
From an emotional type of surge.
On the court or in relationships.
What’s similar to where one trips?
Give up, withdraw, wall-off or pout?
Throw a racquet, scream and shout,
Get hostile, passive aggressive, start to cheat,
Shut down, sulk and shuffle feet.
Fear rejection and just stay quiet,
Or get into the ‘being right’ riot?
What happens to playing well as a team?
When the threat of differences beams.
There’s growing edge lessons in DM and tennis too!!
For me, getting into art is tough, that is true.
When I remember process not perfection in both,
It does help with my developmental growth.
Getting to the art in both is the goal for me,
May it one day, become reality.