What is the role of positivity in couple therapy? Jefferson Singer & Karen Skerrett shared highlights from their recent book, Positive Couple Therapy: Using we-stories to build resilience (Routledge Press; www.we-stories.com) with the Imago audience at their annual conference held in Washington DC from Oct. 29th through Nov. 1, 2014.
All couple therapies, from Integrative Cognitive Behavioral to Emotionally Focused point to trust as the key to building positive relationships. Every approach, including Imago Couple Therapy, emphasizes relational consciousness as the necessary platform for trust. By acknowledging the primacy of the relationship in their lives, partners go a long way toward reassuring each other that they are both ‘all in’. Singer & Skerrett suggest that couples can build this trust by shifting their focus away from thinking about what each partner takes from and gives to the other and instead turn their attention to what each can do for the third entity in the room- the relationship-, the ‘we’. Deep trusting relationships are about what partners are building together-something that is synergistic and more than the sum of individual concerns. Authentic we-ness means that two “I’s” live inside the “We” and that there is respect for each of these separate individuals to grow independently and together . The book is based on research and clinical work that has shown that the ‘we’ consists of seven elements that therapists can help partners cultivate as the basis of their trust in one another. The elements are : security, empathy, respect, acceptance. pleasure, humor and shared meaning and vision (SERAPHS) and we like to think of them as the higher angels of our nature.
To achieve even a few of these elements of SERAPHS and build a powerful ‘we’ is an aspiration and dynamic process, not a fixed reality even for the healthiest of couples. Therapists have a powerful role in helping couples develop stories that reflect more and more of this ‘couple first’ focus and then to coach them in regularly scanning their daily lives for evidence of the ways it shows up. It may be as simple and profound as pointing out to a disconnected, hurting couple who had a hard time finding anything positive about their relationship that the husband never failed to bring two coffees into the session-one for himself and one for his wife. Helping couples reorient to the small ways each are committed to building on this aspiration is what allows the deep and abiding trust to take hold and grow.