Self-soothing and self-confrontation are two ways for an individual to work on him or herself. Working on yourself will increase your differentiation, your own health. (You can find out more about these terms by reading the works of David Schnarch. Passionate Marriage and Intimacy and Desire are two books of his that have a lot to say about differentiation, self-soothing, and self-confrontation.) But what does all this work on yourself have to do with couples therapy, you might ask. Couples counseling is about the couple, right? These concepts—working on yourself and your own differentiation—are what make couples grow and heals them. It is what a lot of couples need to do to repair damage in their relationship and/or in their sexual relationship. But wait, what? Working on yourself strengthens the couple? Yes, working on yourself—getting yourself healthy (mentally and emotionally more so in this context), moving towards differentiation, soothing yourself when your spouse disagrees with you and doesn’t want things the same way, confronting yourself about what you need to change in the relationship—these all make for a stronger couple. This focus differs from what a lot of people believe. It differs from what many individuals bring to couples counseling when they are focused on what their partner needs to change or when an individual focuses on how their partner has the problem.
Another term used by Schnarch is fusion. Many couples end up with rather fused relationships. What does that look like? It often means that both partners look to the other for their own validation (other-centered validation). So when your partner doesn’t understand you, or goes a different direction, or doesn’t do the dishes the way you’ld like, it causes big problems. But as couples move away from being fused to one another—that is, they become differentiated, self-soothe, self-confront—the couple gets better.
Can you begin to have a different focus in your relationship? Can you focus on yourself and self-soothe when you are starting to get upset? Can you self-confront about what you need to be doing and changing?
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