Why are couples retreats powerful? How do couples begin to get unstuck from their gridlocked and dug-in positions in just a weekend?
The answer is…Generative Conversations.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I was trained in the Developmental Model during my internship. In the Developmental Model, there’s a procedural intervention designed to improve communication called the “I” to I” (Initiator-Inquirer.)
The Gottman Method has a very similar process called Dreams Within Conflict. The object of both of these interventions is to help couples develop a higher order of interpersonal skills. During a couples retreat, these interventions become the “exercise machines” we use to train you to build emotional muscle and restore a deeper connection.
In each intervention, our client-couples are taught two distinct roles. In the Gottman Method, they are called the Speaker and the Listener. In the Developmental Model, they are the Initiator and Inquirer.
Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy employs a similar concept to the Generative Conversation. It is called an enactment. While it lacks the more formal structure found in the Gottman Method and the Developmental Model, it is incredibly powerful as well. I will discuss Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy and enactments in a future post.
In the Developmental Model, the Initiator (Speaker) is taught how to:
In the Gottman Method, the Speaker (Initiator) is taught how to:
In the Gottman Method, the Listener asks questions and allows their partner (the Speaker) to answer in paragraphs with little or no interruptions. The Bader/Pearson Developmental Model operates a bit differently in one respect. It is more forgiving of polite and appropriate interactive exchanges between the couple. In the Developmental Model, the Inquirer (Listener) asks questions and allows their partner to answer in paragraphs, but brief conversation is allowed. THe Gottman Method is a bit stricter about giving the speaker the floor.
The Listener’s (Inquirer’s) job is to:
Science-based couples therapy is 70-90% effective. We blow up the old patterns of sticky stuckness. But this isn’t as easy as it sounds.
We avoid the “who’s gonna have their hand held this time” trap. And we gently blow up the old song and dance that typically happens when the “dream” or gridlocked issue comes up.
Both models clearly define who is the listener, and who has the floor. Each role has specific responsibilities.
One thing is for certain. You’re not gonna talk about this issue the way you usually do.
What makes both of these interventions so profoundly powerful is that in a weekend-long couples retreat, there is ample time for both partners to begin to build the emotional muscle and learn specific skills to regulate their emotional volatility during these powerful, and sometimes tense discussions.
Both of these interventions provide the positive outcome of much clearer boundaries and a more empathic connection between the partner’s vulnerabilities and aspirations.
Why are couples retreats so powerful? Because we have the time and space to clear the decks, go deep, and stay there for a while.
Why are couples retreats so powerful? Because unlike 45-minute weekly therapy with an all-purpose therapist, you leave with a whole new toolbox. When a couple communicates with each other differently during the “I” to “I” or Dreams within Conflict exercise, specific skills are developed.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.