Little hinges are the standard stimulus-response pattern which eases a couple into their preferred pattern of engagement. A positive “little hinge” might be the skill of using softened start ups, accepting influence, and the habit of complaining instead of criticizing.
A negative example would be the Protest Polka, Demon Dance, other bad communication habits that a couple is trapped in. The conversational door always swings into the roach motel, and you get into an unhinged argument that neither of you can ever seem to escape. The hinges are the way you swing, the way you roll. It only takes a second to swing into a positive or negative space. Door number one… productive and useful discussion…door number two…all hell breaks loose.
You say this… and I say that.
Your issues. More specifically, your perpetual issues. Dr. John Gottman tells us that 69% of problems in marriage are fundamentally unsolvable. They concern deep fundamental differences that call out for careful management with mutual respect, good will, and humor. These are what I consider to be the “Big Doors.”
Couples therapists call them “content.” And we therapists are advised to try to stay out of content. It tends to drags us through the doors of conflict, with both of you expecting us to take your side against your outrageously unreasonable partner. The only problem is, of course, content is what you both care about most.
Little Hinges swing big doors.
W. Clement Stone
Amateur “all purpose” couples therapists sometimes take this caveat about content too far, frustrating their new clients, and weakening the therapeutic bond from the start. Or else they have so little structure in their sessions that they let the couple rage about content, fighting about it openly. Either extreme is problematic.
One of the points my Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT) trainer George Faller made to me in my recent training was that couples need to tell their story. Empathy and validation with the feelings under the story are the best way to get to discussing the couples doors and little hinges.
When a couple begins to see that there are opportunities for connection if they try different little hinges, the doors can swing into more spacious and welcoming spaces. That’s what George says the therapist’s job entails; holding a space for new possibility. I imagine skillful couples therapy is like taking the door of the hinges, cleaning off the dirt and grime of perhaps years of fretful mishandling, and helping the couple to rehang the old door with beautiful new little hinges.
Corrective emotional experiences are the beautiful new little hinges for these old doors. When you can truly see where your partner is coming from, you also have a chance to be “gotten” as well.
Little hinges swing big doors. Empathy and mutual understanding are the best ways to swing the heavy doors of perpetual problems.
Call us for more information 844-926-8753 to reach me, Daniel Dashnaw, use option 2.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. using EFT, Gottman Method, and the Developmental Model.