One of the reasons many couples can't solve conflict in their relationship is because they often get stuck thinking that their argument is really about the topic at hand (i.e. money, sex, parenting, work, inlaws, etc.). And as long as they believe that, then they will stay perpetually stuck. What I've learned in my experience as a therapist is that the problem isn't about the topic, but rather the problem is the negative pattern of interaction that the couple has created over time in their relationship as they try to work through problems.
I'm obviously not the first to come to this conclusion, but this point has become more clear to me day by day in my work. I think that many of us counselors are guilty of sometimes just focusing on better communication techniques (which are super important), rather than helping a couple understand their underlying destructive pattern of interaction. My work in Restoration Therapy really helped me understand how guilty I was of this, and it helped provide me with a new framework to use in relationships with the Pain and Peace Cycle which I have talked about in many podcast episodes.
When a couple can become aware of and understand their destructive pattern of interaction (their Pain Cycle), and they can construct and practice a new positive pattern of interaction (their Peace Cycle), then they are ultimately able to create a safe connection, which will lead to the solving of issues if that was their primary goal (because sometimes the goal is just to connect).
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This is a very short podcast episode, but it's a really important one.
One of the most important tasks I have in the counseling room is to help people to discern between what their feelings and coping behaviors are. In fact, I spend a lot of time helping people understand their feelings, and what coping behaviors they often lead to. When a person understands this level of awareness, they are often able to do deeper work and gain not only the insight they desired, but achieve the transformational change they were seeking.
But one of the things I started to learn during my training under Terry Hargrave in Restoration Therapy, is that not only the feelings that I thought were feelings....were really feelings. For example, I always classified anxiety and anger and depression for example as feelings. You would find me saying things like "I'm feeling really anxious right now", or "I woke up feeling depressed today." And people I work with in my office would often say the same thing.
Terry Hargrave helped me really begin to understand that those things that I thought were feelings, were really coping behaviors. For example, I wasn't feeling anxious, I was becoming anxious (I was doing anxiety if you will), because underneath the surface I was feeling inadequate.
Now if someone comes into my office saying they feel anxious, or feel angry, or feel depressed for example, I will run with that for the time being as I'm trying to understand them. But my work as a therapist (especially if I'm going to be a therapist who can help them), is to really help them distinguish between feeling and action. I don't want to get caught chasing what I think is a feeling, and is really a coping behavior. Then I end up just focused on the behavior and trying to provide more tools for someone to work on that behavior. Instead, what I want to do is address the core underlying feelings of that behavior. When I can help someone do that, then I'm that much closer to really helping them get on the pathway to healing.
There are other coping behaviors often disguised as feelings, but I see anxiety and anger and depression come up the most.
So in this episode I took a little bit of time to talk about this, and why I think it's an important distinction. <
People and Resources Mentioned in this Episode