We’ve never wanted more from our romantic relationships but both men and women—in different ways and for different reasons—lack the skills to meet our new ambitions. What do men and women want from each other? Why are relationships so fraught? And how can we be more effective as clinicians? The nature of marriage has changed and therapists must meet challenges unique to our new landscape.
Terry Real’s Relational Life Therapy ™ deals with the most stuck, most intractable cases by dealing squarely with issues of character. His Relationship Bootcamp begins with this slogan: “Other Workshops Teach You Skills: We Deal With the Part of You That Won’t Use Them.” WHAT you do matters less than WHICH PART OF YOU is at the wheel—the mature, present part of you, or an immature, triggered part of you. “We teach individuals in couples how to be relational—changing each individual’s character as we change the relationship between them.”
Why has depression been seen as a “woman’s disease”? Depression is not unwomanly, but many feel it as unmanly—setting up what Real calls, “compound depression.” Men, he says, feel ashamed of feeling ashamed, depressed about being depressed,” causing them to hide it, and causing those around them—even medical professionals—to shy away from confronting the condition. Even more important, however, is the fact that many men express depression differently than women. Real will speak of “covert depression” which lies at the core of many of men’s typical “bad behaviors.” like drinking, workaholism, withdrawal, and anger.
All couples and couples therapies struggle with issues of mixed loyalties. At any given moment, do I choose my own fulfillment as an individual or do I yield to the needs of the relationship? Is it a zero-sum game in which one partner wins and one loses – and if not, how else can we think about it? This keynote address introduces a model integrating both attachment and differentiation in couples therapy through the idea of enlightened self-interest – taking care of yourself by taking care of the relationship – as well as a model of healthy sacrifice, which is missing in our contemporary, Narcissistic culture.
Research confirms our clinical experience. We can teach partners all manner of skills but in moments of triggering, emotional flooding, skills go out the window. Why? Because we are no longer in our adult selves. Our thinking brain has shut down and the limbic system has taken over. An inner child part has seized the wheel. This workshop introduces a model of working with the traumatized parts of the partners we treat by empowering individuals to come into conscious relationship with those parts—loving, understanding, and ultimately containing them.
At no other time in history have men been so awash in mixed cultural messages and in such a state of transition, confusion, reactivity, and trouble. Despite being basically good hearted, many men continue to make a hash of their relationships. We therapists can help, but not before rethinking some of the sacred cows of therapeutic practice. Men need action and leadership from us, challenging them while still loving the little boy inside them and offering guidance and tools to their inner grown-up.
The secret to helping couples have a powerful, transformative experience in therapy is to get them to deeply explore---while in each other’s presence---their own character structure and family-of-origin trauma. For the therapist, this process involves six steps: arriving at the couple’s relational diagnosis, helping them articulate their repeating loops, getting the backstory of their childhood adaptation, imaginatively reparenting each inner child, loving confrontation, and helping