Wise Mind, Wise Marriage
Written by Scott Spradlin, LPC, LMAC

Couples therapy is often prompted by a rupture, or ruptures, in connectedness, a breach in the relationship. Anything from a slow drift into parallel lives to active hostilities during heated arguments. These ruptures, whatever their nature, manifest wounds in the hearts of the couples. Couples typically come to therapy seeking tools for mending the ruptures and healing for their precious relationships.

Whatever the degree of severity of the ruptures, couples in crisis and conflict can change their relational patterns when they have the willingness to be vulnerable, which requires courage, and when they have the right framework and tools to mend the ruptures.

Our work with what we are affectionately calling the wise marriage framework guides couples into learning about the importance of mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and relational intelligence. The wise marriage approach emerges from a confluence of interpersonal neurobiology, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Gottman-informed marital therapy. This approach isn’t evidence-based by way of formal double-blind controlled and replicated studies, rather it is based on our anecdotal, in-the-trenches practice and encounters with distressed couples and the judicious and discerning research-informed reflection on sound interventions and what works.

The basics of the wise marriage look like this, for now, and will evolve based on continued experience, education, and training, of course:

  1. Willingness and Courage: Couples need to feel safe to shed their armor.
  2. Mindfulness: Couples need skills in attentional regulation for increasing willingness, internal integration of thoughts, feelings, and bodily states, as well as interpersonal integration between partners. Mindfulness skills also help couples increase non-judgmental observation of dynamics in the relationship, and help reduce reactive hostility between partners.
  3. Distress Tolerance: Couples need distress tolerance skills to downregulate emotional flooding that interferes with constructive and respectful engagement between partners. Couples learn how to respond skillfully to emotional pain, averting states of suffering and co-escalation. Each partner learns self-soothing which primes each of them to share in soothing one another in co-regulating their shared emotions.
  4. Emotion Regulation: Couples learn the nature of emotions as fundamental to safety, connection, and wellbeing. Learning that emotions are fundamentally adaptive, they learn to identify the ways emotions work for them in bonding through emotional bids. They become more intentional in how they communicate with one another with heaps of generosity and gentleness reducing states of stress and guardedness. Emotion regulation training also entails couples learning how to reduce emotional vulnerability while raising their resilience, through acts of self-care, which many of us take for granted.

All of this is but an overview and introduction of basics. Marriage presents couples with a life of opportunity to grow in respective and shared maturity. And these tools establish couples in a lived stability that sets them on a surer footing for their lifelong journey together and there is much to be said about other practices and interventions that promote flourishing marriages. There is more to come.

As these requisite skills are established couples find their shared distress softening. They notice and demonstrate less hostility toward one another as they become skillful in embodying the love and care they have for one another. They have better tolerance for their reactive thoughts and emotions. They increase their inner fondness and admiration for one another. They begin to live into the reality that marriage is not a relentless stream of anguished arguments to be won, as if in some court of law, but is a beautiful opportunity to grow in shared love, meaning, and connection with one another, to one another and for one another.

Confluence sources with links:

Interpersonal Neurobiology is a consilient field emerging from attachment research as developed by Daniel J. Siegel, MD. 

DBT is a principle-based cognitive-behavioral therapy developed by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. and her colleagues in Seattle, WA. 

Gottman marital therapy is the work of Dr.s John and Julie Gottman.

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