Conscious Un-coupling VS. Conscious Coupling

Buzz, Love

The stir about this approach to splitting up brings many possibilities...some of them GOOD!

If a couple comes to the decision that it's best that they "uncouple" while meeting their responsibilities as co-parents, I'm all for it! In my experience as a counselor for over twenty years, I have worked with children, adolescents, and adults who have been affected by many years of insults, defending their positions, protecting their hearts, and experiencing the death of their dreams for marriage. Usually couples with these kind of problems try marriage counseling as a last resort. 

Dr. Sue Johnson's latest work, Love Sense, provides invaluable help in understanding 'what love is all about'. Based on over twenty years of research this highly successful approach to relationships enables us to pinpoint our particular styles in attempting to get our needs met while desperately trying to understand what our partner needs, wants, and expects.

Dr. Johnson’s couples therapy and educational program, Hold Me Tight, gives couples information on how to handle emotional, mental, and physiological reactions that trigger emotions like fear, hurt, dissapointment, rejection, judgement, and criticism. It also covers the basics of understanding the pattern that has developed in order to gain insight into how we have developed our own coping mechanisms which override our primary emotion. As layers are peeled and memories surface we realize that all we want is to be heard and to express our real thoughts with a secure connection to the person on whom we are interdependent.

Dr. Johnson reveals original attachment theory findings by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, as well as recent research data from "hundreds of studies which have been published bearing out his assertions" confirming our need to be connected. Why is it that we must have this 'proof'? Many times we plead, "I tried to tell you. You didn’t hear me."

The fact is, not many of us were taught to express our feelings clearly and confidently. Relatively recent findings from research have given us scientific data and the language to support our longing for being in a healthy relationship with those who mean the most to us. Without this insight, we refrain from speaking our truth for fear of losing the relationship which we deem necessary for our survival.

We learned from our early models either effective ways to create strong relationships or defensive mechanisms in reaction to hurtful and frightening experiences. If we have been fortunate enough to develop a secure attachment style, we are confident that the closeness and comfort we seek will be there for us.

We are not afraid to approach caregivers or partners for an empathetic and supportive response. When attempts to accurately communicate our needs to those whose acceptance we crave are misread, rejected, or dismissed, we consciously or unconsciously find ways to protect ourselves.

Those who develop avoidant or anxious attachment styles are perpetually consumed with an underlying fear of being rejected, abandoned, or deceived.  As Emotionally Focused Therapy explains, our defaults to relentlessly pursue for assurance or our shutting down become established in a negative pattern of interacting. We repeat the pattern with no resolution, and end up not even recognizing what is truly causing the upset —that is, our need to know that the position we hold in our love’s life is primary, that they will be there for us.

The invasion of technology into our personal worlds has created tremendous challenges to the health and well-being of relationships. Behind the screen or device, we can minimize the risk of being rejected, dismissed, or sent back to powerlessness and the feeling of being treated like a child.  Social media may temporarily shield us from the discomfort of potential isolation and reduce the vulnerability of approaching another while we lose the ability to express ourselves in face-to-face, eye-to-eye, human interaction.

On the contrary, the ease with which we can make contact and create illusions of relationship are becoming a source of pain as partners find their lovers communicating what appears to be, and sometimes is, connectedness with someone else. If we are to build comfort and safety in our relationships, we must risk being real. Unless we are in the physical presence of each other, how else can our loved one know us? How else can we make sense of the reactions we have, or get? The waypoints made available to us through Emotionally Focused Therapy enable us to venture out to make our relationships healthy.  

While pondering the new term "conscious uncoupling" that is trending around the article on the split of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, I immediately thought…why not "conscious coupling"? It didn’t even show up when googled! Isn’t that what we are doing with Emotionally Focused Therapy?… intentionally and strategically building our relationship?

My collaborator, Susan Boyd, Director of Marketing & Business Development who works with YourTango Experts helping them bring their work to the world, mentioned that she kept thinking "unconscious uncoupling".  I believe this is exactly what happens as the damage in our relationships go unrepaired and the rawness of open wounds demand protection. We stop being willing to continue with the same hurtful and damaging cycle and the walls are built—wide, tall, and strong.

The resulting disconnection results in tremendous despair that becomes unbearable. Finally, a couple will seek marriage counseling before divorce because they have given up, they don't know what else to do. In my practice, there is often a tremendous sense of relief when couples, parents, or educators can finally make sense of the behaviors that have become so uncomfortable. I believe that when we cannot express our deepest needs, fears, longings, hurts, and desires verbally—our behaviors will speak "loud and clear!"

In Dr. Johnson's Hold Me Tight, couples can follow an easily understandable explanation of universal needs for connection, "from cradle to grave," the paths of couples who have found their way back to the safety and security of relationship with each other, and the ways in which they continue to navigate the waters through wind and rain that challenge them as they strive to maintain their course.

The greatest assurance in a securely attached relationship is to know that in the midst of the storms that arise, there is a navigation system operating. When visibility is down, their radar indicates that if they just stay on course using the information they have, they can weather the storm. Their relationship is seaworthy, and the forecast bright. The confidence in their ability to grow together makes taking the risk of the adventure well worth the trip!

Angie practices in Newport News, Virginia and provides individual, couples, and family therapy. Her experience as an educator and Advanced Trainer with the Children's Success Foundation in the work of Howard Glasser’s Nurtured Heart Approach™ provides the positive, strength-based style with which she consults, teaches, and counsels.  Her training in Emotionally Focused Therapy,™ and with Dr. Carol McCall in The Empowerment of Listening,™ as well as over thirty years of experience in education and business, enables her to address many issues to support wholehearted living. She can be reached at 757-596-7938 or by email at: