Three Perspectives on Marriage

Every so often I read something that speaks to a yet unarticulated thought or idea about my work with couples and families. Such was the case when I read NY Times columnist David Brooks’s article “Three Views of Marriage.”

He describes three prevailing perspectives on marriage: the psychological, the romantic, and, what he calls the moral view.

It was Brooks’s description of the moral view that spoke to me.

As a couple and family therapist, I am witness to the transformational power of love. I see individuals attempt to put aside their own agenda for the ‘greater good.’ This greater good is often the third dimension: the marriage itself. In my work I endeavor to give voice to this relational arena.  I try to make this otherwise silent and invisible domain come alive and use all the leverage that love and bonding bestow – to create something larger than the sum of two individuals.

“In this view marriage isn’t about 2 individuals trying to satisfy their own needs; it’s a partnership of mutual self giving for the purpose of moral growth…..(this is the) view of marriage as a binding moral project.”

Indeed, I have observed this in my work with couples, but didn’t have the words to describe what was happening.  It is a feeling of surrender, a letting go, only to find themselves part of something larger.  I see my clients delight in this experience.

Brooks also provides a lovely depiction of the inevitable trajectory of romantic love:

“…you need a few years of passionate love to fuse you together so you’ll stay together when times get hard. It’s a process beautifully described by a character in Louis de Bernières’s novel “Corelli’s Mandolin”:

“Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it. We had roots that grew toward each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.”

I admire a writer like Brooks who can so eloquently describe the mysteries of relationship and love.  And, who can articulate the feelings suspended in the air in my small sunny office that I can sense, but cannot yet put into words.

Read the full article here

Generosity and Kindness: Key Ingredients of a Long Lasting Relationship

At CCAF, we are committed to bring research about relationships and family life to the public.  In this spirit, I share the article, “Masters of Love” from this month’s Atlantic Magazine.

The article traces the 30 year history of research on marriage; the work of John and Julie Gottman of The Gottman Institute is featured.  Their work is noteworthy for their capacity to  predict, with up to 94% certainty, which couples will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later.

“Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship.”

That’s where kindness and generosity come in.  Those couples who accept each other’s ‘bids’ for contact, who ‘turn toward’ each other, do better in the long term:

“People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there.”

Gottman found that the more physiologically active the couples were in the lab, the quicker their relationships deteriorated over time. The problem was that these relationships, called the ‘disasters’ showed all the signs of arousal; they were in fact in ‘fight-or-flight mode’—in their relationships. In these highly reactive couples, it was virtually impossible to have a conversation, express feelings, and be heard.

“Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger.”

Fortunately, Couple and Family Therapists are trained to coach couples to shift to a less emotionally reactive posture.  In this way, couples can begin to express feelings and desires more effectively, and communicate how their partner’s behavior impacts them.

Read the full article here and learn about how to become more masterful at love.

Dr. Ellen Berman with Marty Moss-Coane and Ron Lieber: “Families and Money”

326aMoskowStudio    CCAF Founder, Dr. Ellen Berman was a guest on WHYY’s Fresh Air  with author Ron Lieber yesterday.  They had a lively and informative conversation about Families and Money.  Ellen and Ron  answer some of the more vexing questions about this important, delicate, and often very difficult to discuss topic.

“Money is all about values,” says Dr. Berman, who draws upon 30+ years of clinical experience with couples and families.  She talks specifically about the cultural shifts that impact ‘adult’ children, and offers clear, specific advice about how to avoid pitfalls and seize opportunities when dealing with the thorny issue of money and the family.

 

 

Welcome to our new CCAF Clinical Faculty Member, Michelle Jackson, MSS, LCSW

Welcome to our new CCAF Clinical Faculty Member, Michelle Jackson, MSS, LCSW

The Center for Couples and Adult Families extends a warm welcome to Michelle Jackson, a seasoned Couple and Family therapist who joined our Clinical Faculty last month.

There are many reasons I’m thrilled to have Ms. Jackson aboard, not the least of which is our ability to serve more couples and families at CCAF. Her arrival is evidence of our growth; clearly the word is out that there is couple and family therapy available at Penn.

Ms. Jackson’s sensitivity to issues of diversity in clinical work is in concert with the CCAF mission, as well as our curriculum in Culture and the Family that takes place across all four years of residency training in psychiatry.

Ms. Jackson’s life trajectory informs her fluency with individuals who have chosen or invisible identities, or who are part of biracial/bicultural couples, and multi-racial families. Her work provides a context in which to normalize alternative developmental pathways and strengthen resilience in the absence of cultural validation.

Welcome to CCAF, Michelle!

I’m so happy to have you as part of our team, and know that couples and families will be enriched through their work with you.  I look forward to a long collaboration together at CCAF.

To schedule a meeting with Ms. Jackson, please call Bryn Farrelly, 215-746-5900.

Read Ms. Jackson’s full bio

New Research: Family Psychoeducation Crucial in the Treatment of Schizophrenia

A landmark, government funded study finds that schizophrenic patients who received a combination of drugs, talk therapy and family support made greater strides in the first 2 years of treatment than patients who just received drug therapy.

Featured on the front page of yesterday’s NY Times, the report made clear that  family involvement and “talk therapy” are vital in the treatment of schizophrenia, and this combined approach provided more symptom relief to patients (and thus families) and capacity for higher functioning at the end of 2 years.  The study will be published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, and the article can be found here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/20/health/talk-therapy-found-to-ease-schizophrenia.html?_r=0

At CCAF we are well aware of the importance of family inclusion and family psychoeducation around certain illness, particularly those that strike in early adulthood.  We collaborate with Dr. Claudia Baldassano and her team of psychiatry residents to facilitate multifamily Bipolar Psychoeducation groups.  We have developed a series of 4 – 90 minute family group sessions during which:

  • information about the illness is presented, and families invited to ask questions,
  • families tell their story about how the diagnosis was made,   
  • families discuss the process of coming to terms with the illness,
  • we discuss how to handle relapse and emergencies, and
  • anything else the family wants to talk about.

The Center for Couples and Adult Families is fortunate to be situated within the Department of Psychiatry here at Penn.  We look forward to further collaboration to develop similar groups for families of schizophrenic patients.  

The Quality of Relationship Matters

The Quality of Relationship Matters

I had an interesting conversation with a reporter from NBC news about new research which shows that arguing with your partner creates a craving for a certain type of food.

This is but one of a number of studies that confirms what Couple and Family Therapists know so well: that the quality of relationship impacts health 0ver time  in a variety of ways.  

A stressful relationship can quite literally leave you heartbroken: researchers have found a correlation between severe relationship distress and heart problems, obesity, slower disease recovery,  and of course, depression and anxiety.

Relationship quality is also associated with positive well-being.  Marital satisfaction is strongly related to life satisfaction.

It is imperative that health practitioners screen for relationship distress and refer the patient and her significant others to a couple and family therapist.

 Healing is clearly not just an individual matter.  

Family therapy in the age of global mental health: Long live Shoufi-Mafi!

Family therapy in the age of global mental health: Long live Shoufi-Mafi!

An article by my friend and colleague Laurie Charles. We are board members of The American Family Therapy Academy; her work with families around the world informs and expands my thinking about health across the lifespan. Our psychiatry residents will also benefit from her experience as they move on to practice psychiatry in the US and around the world.

AFTA Blog

*This post is an updated and modified version of an article by the same name, published in the July/August 2015 issue of Family Therapy Magazine. Used here with permission.

Last night was the final meeting of our Shoufi-Mafi: Global Mental Health [1], a student driven task group at my university. The group originated from a confluence of events, one of which was the curiosity of my student Yajaira, who relentlessly quizzed me after our Introduction to Family Therapy course on Thursday nights. “Dr. Laurie, How do you get to travel so much? Who contacts you? What do you do?”

Yajaira’s persistence and genuine curiosity inspired my own: What could I do to support this interest in global mental health? Was there interest in such a group? Using Yajaira’s initial questions as a starting point, the Shoufi-Mafi met for seven sessions this past Spring, doing every thing from viewing…

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