Brain to Brain

Brain to Brain

New Ways to Help Couples Avoid Relapse

By Brent Atkinson

September/October 2002

Here we go again, I thought.

Loretta and Jack were back in my office, dispirited and fed up. "I don't think I love him anymore," Loretta began, and what caught my attention was not what she said but the way she said it: quietly, flatly, as though she was beyond caring.

During our first round of couples therapy, one year earlier, 31-year-old Loretta hadn't said anything quietly. She'd been chronically pissed off at Jack and had let him know via frequent, name-calling outbursts. Jack, 33, prided himself on his levelheadedness and often responded with patronizing mini-lectures like "Try a little rationality, Loretta," which, of course, had only fueled her ire.

I had spent the first four months helping them defuse these automatic, self-protective reactions and coaching them to become more attuned to each other's feelings. Next, I helped them open up to one another about their deeper dreams and trepidations, nudging them toward an intimacy they hadn't enjoyed since their courtship days. Not long after that, they missed two appointments in a row and left me a voice-mail message saying goodbye and thanks for "saving our marriage."

Now they were back and worse off than before. When I first met Loretta and Jack, at least they'd been full of fight and feeling. Now they were curiously subdued and all but resigned, it seemed to me, to the death of their seven-year marriage.

"What happened?" I asked. Sighing, Loretta explained that after leaving therapy…

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