By Chelsea Wakefield, PhD, LCSW
Chelsea Wakefield is an Associate Professor and Director of the Couples Center at the Psychiatric Research Institute of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, where she writes, teaches and provides couples therapy.She is the author of three books, is a popular keynote speaker, workshop, and retreat leader, and the creator of the Luminous Woman® Weekend. You can find out more about her offerings at www.chelseawakefield.com. Her most recent book, The Labyrinth of Love, is now available from your local bookstore or online book-sellers.
One of the aspects of the Developmental Model that sets it apart from other models of couples therapy, is its strong emphasis on both personal and interpersonal growth as essential for a successful relationship. Dr. Ellyn Bader and Pete Pearson have harvested the jewels of earlier psychotherapy models, incorporated the importance of attachment theory and integrated the recent findings of interpersonal neurobiology. They have created a model where atherapist can assess where a couple’s developmental growth stalled out, and offered a framework with exercises and interventions that help partners with both differentiation and safe connection. Their model helps troubled couples move out of the traps created by the ineffective things partners do to cope and then begin to self-define. Their communication protocol helps couples create safety and deepen understanding, while fostering personal development.
Research on successful couples has identified “what works” to create and sustain a successful relationship, but therapists often get stuck in how to get couples to actually do those things. One of the problems with therapiesthat over-emphasize becoming a safe person for the other, is that we cannot rely on our partners to always be attuned and responsive to us in ideal ways. Another conundrum of an emphasis on creating a perpetually safe bond is that growth itself is inherently destabilizing. This can lead to a situation where the relationship itself limits the growth of the individuals, causing one or both of the partners to feel stagnated or bored – a couple’s sexual relationship will lose its sizzle in a relationship where there is too much “perfect attunement.” Many of the problems that keep couples stuck resolve when they begin to engage in a process of mutual growth. As they do, they actually transcend old problems of relating rather than trying to solve them.
My recently released book, The Labyrinth of Love – The Path to a Soulful Relationship, outlines six crucial love capacities that partners need to develop that will open a path to the kind of relationship many people are longing for today. While so many people are in search of a “soulmate,” this book emphasizes that we don’t “find” soulmates, we become them. I offer a Roadmap to a Conscious Relationship, tracing the normal evolution of most couple’s lives and outlining the path forward. We begin in an idealized Enchantment, but inevitably find ourselves in Disenchantment. At that point, a couple can either move into the Struggle and Anguish phase or into a process of Personal and Interpersonal growth, which will take them into the longed for land of Conscious Relationship.
The experience of disillusionment, or “disenchantment,” is normal in all love relationships. As our lives begin to become more inter-dependent, our early attachment patterns and fears become activated. We are inevitably surprised (and sometimes alarmed) by aspects of our partner that are not exactly as we had hoped or projected them to be. This is actually where the real relationship begins and couples who shift to a context of relationshipas a path of growth rather than a solution to their deepest longings, can begin to walk a path of possibility working with the raw materials of their innate potential. However, it is a sad fact of modern life that so few of us receive any useful information about how to move forward in this process. When disenchantment descends, most couples get stuck in power struggles and self-protective strategies, and all the “misbegotten solutions” that only make things worse. Many of them simply give up or resign themselves to a couple life of sadness and disappointment.
We find our way out of the swamplands of love, by developing the Six Love Capacities I outline in my book – Commitment, Courage, Curiosity, Communication, Compassion and Creativity:
COMMITMENT – many people think of making a commitment to a person, but we also need to commit to a process, and to remaining engaged and present.
COURAGE – it takes courage to enter a process of personal and interpersonal growth. It takes courage to face our own necessary areas of growth, our “shadow dimensions” as well as some of those disillusioning aspects of our all too human partner. Courage is a paradoxical and interesting thing – it is an aspect of a deepening character. It takes courage to self-reveal and self-define, aspects that are emphasized in the Developmental Model. We must also expand our perspectives and live into values beyond short-term gratification or the immediate satisfaction of personal desires.
CURIOSITY – Ellyn has been known to say that we need to move “from furious to curious,” and if there is one thing I emphasize with my couples, it is the need to ask more sincere questions, questions that begin with things like, “I wonder why this is so upsetting or important to my partner?” Or, “I wonder why I get so stirred up about this?” This one shift will make a huge difference in the relationship. It will lead to a deeper understanding of both our own inner workings and the history and experience of this important person that we are trying to make a life with.
COMMUNICATION – when we have turned to curiosity, we can begin to inquire into our partner’s experience. We also develop the courage to self-reveal and initiate honest, meaningful, productive conversations, grappling with our inevitable differences of perspective and personhood. Here is where Bader & Pearson’s INITIATOR-INQUIRER exercise will help our clients to move to differentiate, exercise courage, and move into a deeper understanding of each other. This will inevitably move the couple into the next love capacity.
COMPASSION – the Dalai Lama once stated that if you want to be happy, you must practice compassion. What is wonderful about good communication, is that it creates safety, opens our hearts and with it we move into compassion.The scary interpretations we once attached to actions we did not understand begin to shift. As we exercise curiosity, and look out of our partner’s eyes, we come to understand the underlying material that drives them. As we self-define and reveal ourselves in clear, courageous, and undefended ways, our partners are invited into the same deep understanding. Compassion flows two ways – towards the other and towards ourselves. What is interesting about self-compassion is that it seems to boost accountability. With more compassion, when our partners disappoint us, we can respond with grace, courage, and creativity, working towards solutions rather than blaming and shaming or armoring up for war.
CREATIVITY – when we engage all of the dimensions listed above, we find that we can access one of the most powerful dimensions of a soulful relationship, where two partners engage in the co-creation of a relationship that isuniquely suited to the two to them. When we have done our personal and interpersonal work, we are no longer limited by old wounds and scripts handed to us by others. We actually grow beyond many of the problems that once overwhelmed us, and the solutions to the more paradoxical aspects of relationship come from a transcendent place.
The Labyrinth of Love offers a depth-psychology perspective on a growing relationship, along with many helpful exercises and case histories that outline how various couples applied the principles and practices described to move them out of the quagmires of love. This love labyrinth has no dead-ends, only a journey into the realization of what so many seekers are longing for today – a meaningful, soulful relationship.