About the Resnick Approach to Working with Couples
"A Bird May Love a Fish, But Where Will They Live?"
Rita F. Resnick, Ph.D. and Robert W. Resnick, Ph.D.
How to be connected with another and maintain a self is probably the ultimate and most complex human dilemma shared by all of us from birth to death, according to Rita and Bob Resnick, Ph.D.’s and Todd Burley, Ph.D. of Psychotherapy Training Associates International in Santa Monica, California. This delicate and profound balance between being an individual and yet being a vital part of a couple continues to frustrate and elude most people. While issues of individual and traditional family therapy (mother, father, children) have received much attention from therapists and theorists of many theoretical perspectives, relatively little attention has been paid to the core issues between individuals in a primary relationship.
Issues of boundaries, power, autonomy, how individuals make meaning, (phenomenology), cultural introjects, gender biases, communication, ethnic and religious differences, as well as the “larger field” all are domains that are crucial to functioning well as an individual and as part of a primary relationship. Critical to relationships is how individuals, couples and groups deal with differences – dealing with differences versus differences in dealing.
Dealing with differences is the second fundamental dynamic that is at the root of almost all couples issues. Most people are acculturated to view difference as dangerous (as threats to their autonomy, criticisms, attacks, betrayals, etc.) and therefore try to eradicate difference by either becoming like the other (fusion) or trying to make the other like them (conflict). In reality all contact (and connection) can only happen through difference. Difference is connective tissue. The Resnicks, respectful and appreciative of difference, have evolved new ways to collaborate, engage, compromise, trade and even celebrate differences.
The “Circle of Relating”, developed by the Resnicks, is a model for teaching therapists how to track and modulate the processes of contacting, connecting and separating or withdrawing (with support) – using isolation as one polarity and confluence (fusion) as the other. Issues of withdrawal, contact and intimacy are also addressed as part of this “circle”. The Resnick model of coupling, relationships and marriage has been evolving for more than forty years. It is an integration of many approaches and disciplines drawing not only on field and systems theory but also from Psychoanalysis, phenomenology, dialogic relating, social constructivism, postmodernism, Cognitive Behavioral and Gestalt Therapies. Anthropological and evolutionary psychology theories are also included.
Doing therapy with couples and families is more than embracing a theoretical orientation, a methodology or a set of techniques. It is more than coming up with "deep understandings" from childhood, negotiating “deals” where both people tend to do more of what they don’t like (thereby postponing the subsequent explosion and withdrawal) or unhooking couple's from their old stories (narratives) and trying to get them to embrace new ones. Good couples' therapy requires an understanding of individual functioning, the processes of coupling and uncoupling, relating and rhythms. Without these basic understandings, many, otherwise well trained and well meaning couples’ therapists struggle and often fail. Selecting bits and pieces from across the spectrum of therapies, a kind of “cut and paste” eclecticism – does not work well. An understanding of the integrated whole (individuals, relationship, context) is necessary for good therapy, regardless of theoretical orientation.
Bob and Rita Resnick, an ongoing couple for over thirty-five years (and frequently happily married), are constantly exploring and experimenting with ways of dealing with the basic process issues that all couples must deal with – differences, rhythms, power, intimacy, separateness, boundaries and connection
In training with the Resnicks, they suggest you bring your preferred theoretical orientation, your open mindedness to reconsider (and perhaps reorganize), and importantly, your sense of humor.