Through courageous, caring and persistent pausing,
backing up and slowing the process down, the capacity and the willingness to practice somatic regulation increases. The process is greatly facilitated by the therapist demonstrating (and practicing) abdominal breathing, becoming aware of tense muscles and releasing them and helping the couple members to do so as well. All of this supports the capacity to practice compassionate speaking of difficult truths that even long- term couple members have never known about each other or about themselves.|
With practice both couple members and the therapist grow in their mutual capacity for forbearance in the dynamics of each couple treatment. Forbearance is a term rarely used term in modern life. It means bearing the experience of powerful and destructive impulses, but not acting them out. Forbearance grows with relational interventions such as well timed and judiciously used self-revelations on the part of the therapist. Normalizing the impulses of defensive reactivity, but without condoning them is central to AEDPfC. In fact when the therapist empathizes with primitive impulses this reduces shame and thereby helps to build earned secure attachment (Siegel, 1999).
The capacity to be reflective about oneself and the experience of the other comes to replace reflexive acting-out behavior. This shift comes to life first within-sessions and then in the couple's lived-life between sessions (Mars, 2011).
In AEDPfC, professional training is oriented strongly to the development of particular brain centers that have to do with tracking internal experience. The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) (Wallen, 2007) is central to decision-making about who is perceived and chosen as a friend and or as a foe. The OFC has been called the senior executive of the social emotional brain (Schore, 2002)
The OFC helps therapists to find the capacity to choose to focus on what is truly likeable and loveable about each couple member and to evoke, recognize and amplify these qualities. We can then help each couple member to become more love-ABLE in relationship to the other by building on each of their strengths through their becoming more mindful and choiceful. This applies to what each couple member pays attention to internally and then to what they put into action relationally. Learning to voluntarily pay attention to, remember and feel gratitude for the most lovable aspects of the partner is hugely important in increasing bonding, peace and pleasure in couple members' lives together. While the whole brain and body are required for this evolving capacity, the OFC is a major player. For example tracking and interpreting facial expression and voice prosody or the "song of speech" are some of
the talents of the trained OFC.
A second key brain area in the AEDP for Couples model is the anterior cingulate. We can best imagine the anterior cingulate as a spotlight that directs a beam of consciousness to illuminate precisely the somatic experience of which we choose to perceive more clearly. By cultivating the capacity to use the anterior cingulate with more deliberation, the therapist becomes progressively more able to somatically track moment-to-moment, not just emotion, but all seven channels of experience (Mars 2011, 2015). These channels are: sensation, emotion, energy, movement, auditory, visual and imaginal.
The ease with which the therapist can change channels and bridge to couple members in the somatic channel through which that couple member is perceiving, receiving or expressing is an essential part of the model (Mars 2011). For example, typically avoidantly attached partners have less access to a full range of emotions. By the therapist re-focusing on sensation of muscle tension, or on imagery or on the visual channel with that more avoidant couple member, the foundation is built to move toward more feeling function. It is vital to stay clear of stigmatizing the couple member for what has been a source of shame and perceived failure over the course of the relationship. Cultivating this whole body capacity of bridging to the somatic strengths
of each couple member is central to how the therapist grows as well.
The internal working model introduced by
John Bowlby (1969) determines the style
of connection or disconnection that each
couple member has learned as a relational
survival strategy. The internal working model
also determines the channels of experience
through which he or she can perceive, receive
and express. Each of us therapists has certain
channels that are well regulated and that
are accurate in perception. We also have
other channels of experience that have been "crimped" and diminished from conscious
awareness by what Bowlby termed defensive
Stretching Defensive Exclusion
Early in life, implicit learning through tens of thousands of repetitions of relational exchanges with our caregivers has created within us a highly specific capacity to be able to perceive only in specific ways. Fortunately due to brain plasticity these capacities can be expanded. For example, if in the family of origin, there is a history of excessive verbal violence, derision, contempt or sarcasm, the infant may have been trained through implicit learning to block out the auditory channel of voice prosody. Then later in life an automatic crimping or hyper-reactivity in the auditory channel can complicate the capacity to hear voice prosody with correct meaning. Hyper-reactivity to the auditory channel regarding vocal tone and volume often brings patterns of inflammatory responses, which reduce relational safety and block productive conversation. Part of the function of couple members speaking directly to each other in AEDPfC with the careful attention and guidance of the therapist is to stretch the rules of the internal working model through having corrective experiences that create "safe surprises" (Bromberg, 2006) that surprise both couple members! When affect is kept
within the window of tolerance (Siegel, 1999)
and couple members are perceiving, receiving and expressing what feels most true to their own experience, their capacity grows to be able to know and develop trust that the partner's voice tone, facial coloration, gesture and eye brightness are saying something even
more trustworthy as a verifiable truth (Mars,
2011) than the words alone. Experiences of recognition and being known and accurately seen and heard contribute to earned secure attachment.
Reception of the Seven Channels of Experience
Reception is the process of deeply receiving and allowing one's self to be affected by and to regulate the experience of what has been taken in. Letting in and receiving the expressions of the life partner by conscious choice is a profound act of individuated relational attunement. Most notably when the energetic field of each couple member is perceived and received, this can be an area of great potential benefit. The energetic field is shown through increasing brightness or dulling in one or both eyes. The energetic field is also shown through the subtle vibratory quality that is contained within the voice. We can not only hear, but sense how our bodies vibrate with our own voice or the voice of another. In this way we can increase our capacity to track energetically. The energetic channel also helps us to track the earliest signs of dorsal vagal response (Porges, 2011). Noticing early signs of slumping posture, foggy eyes, dropping energy, yawning and a loss of the capacity to focus attention in either couple member helps us to know that he or she is beginning to dysregulate. The moment when either couple member has moved outside the window of affect tolerance in the direction of torpor, we can know that unresolved relational or other trauma has been triggered. This marks a spot
for digging for the buried therapeutic treasure
of specific historical wounding or loss. One of the hallmarks of AEDPfC is working deeply with one partner with the other couple member present.
In AEDPfC the therapist identifies key markers of triggers and recognizes opportunities to "slide back in time" (Mars, 2011) to treat underlying and unresolved trauma with healing portrayals (Fosha 2000). Healing portrayals metaphorically are the psychic surgery (Pando-Mars, 2016) processes in AEDPfC. When the field of safety between the couple members is strengthened and the bond with the therapist is strong and stable,
healing portrayals can be used productively.
It is profound to register what happens when couple members bear witness to each other's deep healing work. Having two attuned, kind and understanding witnesses to what has been often been held in unbearable aloneness can create a lasting corrective relational experience. The combined somatic awareness of the therapist and the other couple member creates a recognition that connects in the specific neural networks that need a healing completion. To keep within the limited scope of this article, a brief description of healing portrayals follows. The first of the four main types of portrayals is reunion, in which a younger subpart is met, seen and heard by the wiser older self. Redo portrayals offer a new experience of completion in a traumatic memory, in which what needed to happen then is created vividly now by accessing all six of the other channels of experience (sensation, emotion, energy, movement, auditory and visual) in the imaginal channel. Rescue portrayals involve the wiser older self coming to the aid of an abandoned and mistreated younger aspect of self and then finally taking him/her out of the situation in an imaginally and somatically rich way. Anger portrayals bring the unconscious impulses of aggression that have often been misdirected at the partner to the true historical target with the support of the therapist and the partner's kind attentive presence. Our goals with healing portrayals are to generate a more internally coherent experience of self in relation to the self and the partner in a fresh and conscious way.
Guiding the Process of Treatment
In AEDPfC we follow subtle somatic green, yellow (Russell, 2015), and red signal affects that give cues about when to move forward, when to slow down and when to stop and regulate to reestablish safety. In AEDP for Couples the experience of deep respect and justice are guiding principles in the work. It is profoundly unjust for an individual to live a life in which their early-life deprivations, shocks and traumas pre-determine their future life experience in perpetuity. It is within the work of AEDPfC for couple members to co-create the justice that they are each able to love and be loved in a way that touches the hearts of each other and of the people around them, evoking self-at-best in
an expanding virtuous circle. The benefits of
couple members becoming more somatically
present, reflective and well regulated of course
extends to the children who are living in the
evolving field that the couple co-generates.
Effects of AEDPfC on Children
"In AEDPfC we follow subtle somatic green, yellow,
and red signal affects that give cues about when to
move forward, when to slow down and when to stop
and regulate to reestablish safety."|
In my clinical experience and as described in the reports of supervisees and other practitioners of AEDPfC, when couple members are being more peaceful, respectful, self-reflective and interconnected with their partners, the children spontaneously show benefits. Behaviors in heir children that have been driven by anxiety and uncertainty such as arguing with siblings and testing of limits ease up. As parents in couple treatment come to accept the differences in each other through becoming more individuated, self-reflective and mutually honoring, children and especially teenagers can trust more deeply that their own differences will be honored and respected.
As parents come on line by using responsibly owned "I-statements" in discussions with their children, the calming effect of being heard and known can take the place of inflammation and pushing away as a way for the young person to declare him or herself as different from his or her parents.
Consider that key factors that indicate secure attachment include: more capacity to self- soothe and be soothed by another, a broader window of affect tolerance, greater self- reflective capacity, patterns of basic relational attunement and the regular practice of following a dis-attunement with repair. Since these patterns are what the parents have been cultivating in treatment, taking these ways of being somatically and relationally mindful and responsive home to the kids could be the
most nutritious kind of take-out!
Since the mid-1970s, David
Mars, PhD has been developing
innovative techniques of
integrating the body into
individual, couple and group
therapy to deepen the somatically attuned experience of patients. He has cultivated a deep awareness of the expressions of the heart, breathing, muscles, and nervous system through two decades of integrating biofeedback into couples treatment. He is
Senior Faculty at the AEDP Institute, the developer of AEDP for Couples and leads trainings nationally and internationally on that topic with Karen Pando-Mars, LMFT his wife of thirty-one years.
Adler, J (2002) Offering from the conscious body: the discipline of authentic movement. Inner Traditions: Vermont.
Bowlby J. (1969) Attachment and loss volume one. Basic Books: New York.
Bromberg, P.M. (2006) Awakening the dreamer: clinical journeys.
The Analytic Press: New Jersey
Fisher, H. (2004) Why we love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. Henry Holt and Company: New York.
Fosha, D. (2000) The transforming power of affect. Norton: New York.
Fosha, D. (2003). Dyadic regulation and experiential work with emotion and relatedness in trauma and disordered attachment. In M. F. Solomon & D. J. Siegel (Eds.). Healing Trauma: Attachment,
Mind, Body, and Brain. New York: Norton.
Gendlin, E.T. (1982) Focusing ed. 1. Random House, New York.
Mars, D.S. (2011) AEDP for couples: from stuckness and reactivity to the felt experience of love. Transformance Journal: Volume 2, Issue 1
Mars, D.S. (2015) AEDP for couples: Transforming Potential Divorce into Falling Freshly in Love in the Thirtieth Year of Marriage. Transformance Journal: Volume 2, Issue 1
Schore (2002) Dysregulation of the right brain: A Fundamental Mechanism of Traumatic Attachment and the Psychopathogenesis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Australian and Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 2002, 36, 9-30.
Siegel D.J. (2015) The developing mind: how relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are. Guilford Press: New York.
Wallen, D.J. (2007) Attachment in psychotherapy. Guildford Press: New York.