John Gottman and Bob Navarra gave a useful workshop about working with couples in recovery from addiction, in Seattle yesterday. Here are some of the take-aways:
- "Mastery, Not Perfection" A wonderful thing to say to anyone learning a new skill ,is the "perfect" thing to say to recovering addicts, who are likely to be perfectionists. (I often remind them that "the ideal is the enemy of the real.")
- Recovery destabilizes the family system, and can replace alcohol as the "organizer" in the relationship. Couples and families need to discuss what happened when the partner was using, how things are different now, what everyone feels about it, and what both partners need now. New recovery is a perfect time to break up the alcoholic "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Feel" rules and and replace them with open, differentiated expression and mutual support. (This was frowned upon in the bad old days of recovery work, leading to this joke I heard 25 years ago: "What's a 'slip' in Al-Anon? . . .A moment of compassion.")
- Gottman and Navarra's approach looks at 3 recoveries: the addict, the spouse, and the relationship. It emphasizes the centrality of the relationship, not just the addict staying clean. It looks at current and historical Family of Origin influences on the individuals and their relationship. It helps each partner learn to care for self and the other in "co-existing recoveries."
- Couples learn to "create shared meaning; help each other to make life dreams come true; manage conflict; take a positive perspective; turn towards each other; share fondness and admiration; and build Love Maps." (Love Maps is a Gottman tool for couples that have them know each other, from favorite colors to worst traumas.)
- Gottman ran through his "4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse", the actions that predict divorce: Criticism (he teaches whining rather than blaming–"I'm unhappy" vs. "You're a jerk".) Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling. I had forgotten that he sees Stonewalling as a response to a Dorsal Vagal shut down reaction: flooding. He teaches people to self-soothe so that their physiology can handle the conflict.
- If trust is the number one predictor of marital happiness, how do you build it? Teach attunement. Let the answer to "Are you there for me?" be "Absolutely" and be able to show it by listening, comforting, and showing up, even during conflict.
- Great acronym: ATTUNE: Awareness, Turning toward, Tolerance, Understanding, Non-Defensive Responding, Empathy. Gottman says that "Bonding created by turning toward any negative affect and fully processing conflict and failures to connect . . .has the power to create trust."
- Never avoid conflict: process it and it's gone. Avoid it and it sticks around forever.
- Gottman showed us part of his "Recovery Kit" for post-fight or post "regrettable incident". It's swell. For $2, you could have a great tool for helping your clients out of fights, and to send home with them, when they understand the simple but effective steps. (it's Gottman's, so it's impeccably researched). Here's the order form from Gottman: http://www.gottman.com/57329/579672/Books-DVDs-and-Workshops/Recovery-Kit.html.
- Navarra spoke about breathing exercises for self-soothing, and how couples can talk about recovery with each other. They both spoke about the importance of positive affect: Gottman, about using humor; Navarra, about bringing up what's working, what's good, and what each person likes. He spoke about the couples' needs to note their shifting identities as couples, and as a result of recovery; shifting boundaries and being choiceful about what they are, and importance of discussing new rituals of connection, old family scripts, and what they want now.
- A nice workshop (despite some A/V and organizational issues).
- John Gottman is the godfather of couple research and couple therapy. You can find out about his great books, DVD's, handouts, and workshops at his Relationship Research Institute: www.rrinstitute.org My husband and I read a Gottman book to each other on our honeymoon.
- Bob Navarra's research about couples, addiction, and recovery is lovely, and a great antidote to the idea that the addict has a separate recovery from his or her family system. His website is www.robertnavarra.net He's got a Gottman blog and a recovering couples' blog on his site.
Robin, I really appreciate your sharing the significant ‘takeaways’ from the recent Gottman/Navarra workshop. I wish I could afford to attend a lot more workshops!
I especially like the statement: “Bonding created by turning toward any negative affect and fully processing conflict and failures to connect . . .has the power to create trust.”
It reminds me of another quote I discovered a few years ago: “At every moment the bond between people is being built, maintained, damaged or repaired. If a relationship is not being built, maintained, or repaired, it is being damaged by default. . . the state of the bond is difficult to detect directly, but manner and emotions continuously reveal it.”
– pg. 37, “Violent Emotions: Shame and Rage in Marital Quarrels,” 1991, by Suzanne M. Retzinger
Mt. Shasta, CA
Thanks, Sandy. Great quote.