PACT: A new paradigm for couple therapy

PACT couple therapy and counseling centennialIn four days, I will celebrate 17 years of marriage. To some couples, this might not seem like much in the larger scheme of things, but to me, 17 is very significant.

Don’t get me wrong. My intentions have always been the best. However, in doing what I “thought” I was doing right or doing what I thought I “ought” to do with the best of intentions was actually picking at the fabric of my marriage- one thread at a time.

In my practice, I have primarily focused on building attachment and creating safe and secure relationships with parents and their children who might be adopted or who come from difficult circumstances.

While I had heard of applying these concepts with couples and found the idea intriguing, I paid little attention to the importance of the quality of the relationships between the adults in these homes.

The work I do with adoptive parents emphasizes the importance of tuning into their children’s’ emotional needs as well as creating a home that feels safe especially when their children may never have experienced that before.

We work on identifying their children’s triggers and the importance of parents staying emotionally regulated at times their children get emotionally dysregulated.

Oftentimes in my office, I have observed a blank look on parents’ faces indicating they are shut down, not taking everything in or are just plain worried that things will not improve in the home. They often share that they and their partner have different ideas about parenting and are frequently even throwing each other under the bus in front of the kids.

At least half of adoptive and biological parents have told me through the years that they felt they could benefit from couple therapy.

Many parents let their romance completely atrophy because their children have such high needs.

Some parents have not shared alone time together for months or years let alone been intimate with each other.

Some parents claim they are on the brink of splitting apart because their children have found loopholes in the parental relationship and are pitting the adults against each other.

Repeatedly witnessing impaired, damaged and destroyed adult relationships of the families in which I work, a year ago, I decided to venture out and learn more about couples. I signed up for a training called the Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT). Little did I know the impact this undertaking would have in my practice and in my own marriage!

Stan Tatkin, PhD, is the founder of PACT. What makes his model appealing to me is that long before he became a couple therapist, he studied infant brain development and attachment. It was when his first marriage failed that he re-focused his studies to human pair bonding and coupling. He found many similarities between interaction in child/adult caregiver relationships and intimate relationships.

As he began his work with couples, he realized that our biology, early childhood experiences and state of being impact how we interact in intimate relationships. If we deny those components, we often miss the fundamentals of what it takes to survive in our partnerships.

PACT is based upon three biologically-based principles:

  • Developmental neuroscience- this is our unique brain wiring which provides the physiological backdrop for how we interact in our love relationships.
  • Attachment- this is our biological need to connect with other people. Our early relationships provide a template from which we draw in our interactions with our partner.
  • State of arousal (not sexual arousal) – Stan describes this as, “the moment-to-moment ability to manage one’s energy, alertness, and readiness to engage” (Tatkin, 2015). It also strongly influences how we move in relationship with our significant other.

Learning PACT has encouraged me to help the adult caregivers in adoptive homes secure their adult relationships and become as tuned in and sensitive with one another as they are with their children. This has in turn had huge trickle down effects in the feeling of safety and security in their children.

PACT has enabled couples I work with to re-prioritize their relationships and become a team in raising their children. PACT has also helped them to establish a mutual sense of peace and connection interpersonally if chaos breaks out with their children.

On a personal note, PACT has enabled me to realize that while I have the obligation to take the best care of my children, respect my elders and work hard in my career, the relationship I have with my husband CANNOT be sacrificed in the name of any of these things. I have never felt clearer about my priorities.

Doing PACT work professionally and personally has made a remarkable difference in my life. I know that while year 17 may not be perfect, but it will very likely be the best year yet and more important, the beginning of a new culture in my marriage.

I invite you to learn more about PACT and how it might benefit your relationship. To get more information please go to The Pact Institute.

If you have questions for me about PACT or wish to begin PACT in your relationship, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached via call or text at 303-475-2757, by email at suzanne@susmith.com or by clicking on the schedule button on the top right corner of this page. Please keep in mind that I offer a 20 minute no charge no obligation phone consultation.

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