Removing The Masks

Removing The Masks

Let’s Stop Wasting Time

By David Schnarch

November/December 2011

It’s an article of faith among many couples therapists that bad behavior in troubled relationships stems primarily from good intentions gone wrong. They see their clients as frightened children, who may hurt each other, but mean no harm.  Followers of attachment theory feel that an underlying “fear of abandonment” drives couples’ conflicts, and the ultimate therapeutic goal is to create a warm, empathic experience, at least partly to make up for what the client missed the first time around.

Thirty years of working with couples and observing the limitations of this attitude has led me to develop an approach not focused on clients’ fears, insecurities, or wounded “inner child,” or on the deficiencies of their early attachments. Instead, it reflects the idea that people typically don’t hurt each other because they’re out of touch, unable to communicate, or can’t help themselves because of their early experiences: they usually know the harm they’re doing, and often it is quite deliberate. Rather than triggered by fear, shame, or insecurity, people do hurtful things with impunity and entitlement to gratify their own needs and wishes. It’s not that they’re “unconsciously recreating their past,” it’s that they’re engaging in the form of relationship with which they’re most familiar, one that, in fact, they prefer.

The key to grasping the roots of this “inner game” is to understand the brain’s ability to map another person’s mind—what I call “mind-mapping,” a…

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Monday, April 22, 2013 2:39:11 AM | posted by Jackie Sacco
What about couples who have been married for 38 years and are in their 60s and who have gone through this tumultuous process of differentiation a few times in their years together, and who are tired and may have wordlessly decided to call it quits and settle for some peace??
Is it worth risking again?? How do you know? Is acceptance a cop out??

Thursday, March 8, 2012 11:07:42 PM | posted by laurie
thank you for this very mind opening article. Having been in couples counseling for years and feeling like my partners inconsistent ability to mind map - or selective mind mapping - has been a nagging issue. Any wiff of conflict that makes his behavior look unwholesome brought forward the defense of "i didn't know", or "i'm no good at this" and the therapist fell for it every time. I left counseling and inadvertently discovered what Schnarch calls, "self-validated intimacy" and am working towards healing myself within my marriage to a proudly self-proclaimed "dysfunctional" person who is still playing the game of blaming everyone in his past for his behaviors today.