Archive for October, 2010

Couples counseling that is effective looks to identify the reciprocity in a couple’s sequences or cycles of behavior and then to empower the couple to interrupt this reciprocal functioning. Dr. Murray Bowen and Dr. Michael Kerr (1988), pioneers in the field of marriage and family therapy, frequently noticed that “[couples] functioned in reciprocal relation to one another….It was if one person gained or ‘borrowed’ strength in relationship to the other person having lost or given up strength. The functioning of one person, therefore, could not be adequately understood out of the context of the functioning of the people closely involved with him” (p. 7).*

Thus, the ability to think in opposites is helpful when one is working to shift a negative dynamic in a couple’s pattern of behavior. There are many examples of reciprocity in a couples relationship, some of which include overfunctioning/underfunctioning, pursuing/withdrawing; spending/saving;  or liberal parenting style/strict parenting style. In the case of overfunctioning/underfunctioning reciprocity, for example, the overfunctioner is, in actuality, defining the underfunctioning of the other person and vice-versa. This is disempowerment at its best! It is usually the overfunctioning partner who is in more discomfort and, therefore, the therapist will work first with this person to decrease the overfunctioning. The underfunctioning partner has a “cushier,” more comfortable position and may not be as motivated toward change.  Can you think of any more examples of reciprocal or opposite positions in your own couples dynamic? The key is to remember that a couple may be exaggerating their “automatic” behavior in reaction to their partner’s mirror opposite “automatic” behavior. Thus, polarization is the outcome over time in the old adage “opposites attract.” While attraction to an “opposite” may be true initially, the very thing that may have once attracted begins to repel.  

The work is often to identify the partner who is in the most emotional pain as the person to begin to work with in decreasing their “go to” position and perhaps taking on the opposite behavior.  The person who is working to decrease his/her automatic functioning in response to his/her partner may be pressured to “change back” by the other partner in the early stages of efforts to change. The strength of a couples system to try to hold on to its equilibrium, even if the equilibrium is not useful, is fierce! The couples dynamic is stuck, and, even though not useful, may be difficult to change!  The therapist coaches the change partner to just “hold on” to the change and, eventually, the other partner may begin to respond by toning down their behavior in the opposite direction. This is the beginning of a true shift in a “stuck” dynamic. To learn more about reciprocity and couples counseling with Dr. Cunningham, call 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation. You may also visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com

*Kerr, M.E. & Bowen, M. (1988). Family evaluation. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

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Thoughts on Distance in Relationships after Seeing Social Network.

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 Oftentimes, I get calls from potential clients who say their partner finally agreed to “come along” to therapy even though they insist they are not the one that “needs” it. Most of the time, people who rail on about how the other person needs the help are anxious and frightened to look at their part in a relationship problem. They are afraid that if they admit to even a small part in the relational problem, their partner will use it “against them” and they will be even more unhappy. A competent therapist can see that both people are free to state their truths without being “clobbered” by the other person. Anne Morrow Lindbergh had it right when she said, “If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others.” Relationship counseling should provide a safe, holding environment so that each partner can feel confident that if they are called upon to self-examine and then to change an aspect of their behavior, the benefits will far outweigh the costs of admitting fallibility. In my practice, clients are routinely called upon to look at their own part in the relational dance, to have the courage to make changes in their way of coming toward their partner, and to look at ways they are being frightened and moving “away” rather than moving in the relationship as an effective partner. To be able to look within and then to be able to look at your part takes courage. Relationship counseling is definitely not for sissies! To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of relationship counseling, click on “model of practice” at her web site: http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or feel free to call for a complimentary phone consultation. Relationship counseling is a proven way to begin to heal the attachment wounds that may be impacting your couplehood. The longer you wait to call, the more work will need to be done. Call now and get started on a path of healing and love.

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Technology has allowed us to connect with more people who live farther away than ever before in history. Is this a blessing or is it a problem? Is technology a way that we can maintain the appropriate amount of distance that we need emotionally before we begin to feel emotionally crowded and then have to cut off? Can technology like Facebook actually wreck a relationship? Has technology ruined a relationship for you? While these questions are not addressed in the movie SOCIAL NETWORK, this is what came to mind for me as I watched the film unfold. I have had clients come to my practice with the misery of discovering something about their relationship with an important other by reading about it on Facebook. 

As the youngest billionnaire, Zuckerman has already become an icon in the 21st century world of communication. Facebook is an amazing social tool. The genius of its creators will long be honored as a marker of the early part of this century. Nevertheless, I wonder if your participation on Facebook has allowed you more than the mere ability to stay connected with old friends and make new ones. Think about it. Is it easier to be friends on a screen? Would you connect with “all” your friends on your list if given the choice and if you had the time? Do you have some Facebook friends that are fine for “The Wall,” but who you could never spend an afternoon chilling with?  Did you change your status to single on Facebook before you informed your former partner that you were doing so? Have you posted pictures of yourself with someone who was already attached and/or married?

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of practice, which addresses the emotional connections most important in your lives and how to manage our competing needs for connectedness and distance, go to http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call for a complimentary phone consultation.

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One of my clients complains that it is almost predictable that when she and her husband have had a weekend that has been unusually close and harmonious, he will invariable start a fight or put up walls to push her away. She recalls how wonderfully he surprised her with a phenomenal anniversary staycation. She was so impressed with his efforts, so touched by his many acts of tenderness and affection-indeed, the weekend was full of positive and unforgettable memories. Then, BOOM! He started a fight with her over some trivial issue that neither of them could remember in session. When one thinks about this phenomenon, it seems contradictory that problems would develop right after good times. Yet I hear similar stories frequently in my practice! So what gives?

I believe that safe and secure bonds make for an intimacy that can stand the test of time. One area of unsafety for one partner may set up a mirror opposite area of unsafety for the other partner. For example, I have a married client who is pursuer. She is always going after her partner for “more.” He becomes reactive to her hot pursuit and then distances even more. And herein lies their troublesome sequence, which escalates the second one partner either makes a further move “toward” or the other partner makes a further move “away.” In terms of unsafety, the pursuer has fears of being “left,” of being unimportant, unneeded, and maybe even being abandoned. The distancer has fears of being swallowed up by the relationship demands, feeling incorporated into the being of his wife, and of losing self. He begins to wonder where he stops and she begins. As Harriet Lerner insightfully notes, “Many of our problems…occur when we choose between having a relationship and having a self.”

There is hope for couples who get “stuck” in this unhelpful sequence. To be able to know how to remain, at times, separate from an intimate other while, at other times, remaining connected to an intimate other is, from my theoretical practice perspective, the stuff of healthy relationship dynamics that can stand the test of time. The effort to master this challenging but rewarding relational dance takes time and a commitment to practicing theory between sessions. Please visit me at my web site to learn more about my model of practice and get some free tips just for stopping: Just go to http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com/ and look around!
I welcome the opportunity to talk to you!

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 Alcoholism & Substance Abuse in Diverse Populations – Second Edition

I am excited to report that the academic textbook for which I wrote a chapter is finally released. Edited by my former dissertation chair and her husband, I am proud to have written chapter 13 entitled: A Family Systems Treatment for the Impaired Physician. The book, edited by Gary W. Lawson and Ann W. Lawson, is entitled Alcoholism and Substance Abuse in Diverse Populations, second edition. To learn more about me and my model of practice, visit me at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call for a complimentary phone consultation at 619 9906203.

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