Reptiles in love
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Reptiles in Love. Don Ferguson The Goal. Reduce intensity between partners. This is exactly opposite of attempting to increase intimacy. Reducing their closeness and tension facilitates their ability to use complex neo-cortex abilities.

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Reptiles in Love

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Reptiles in love

Reptiles in Love

Don Ferguson

The goal

The Goal

Reduce intensity between partners.

This is exactly opposite of attempting to increase intimacy. Reducing their closeness and tension facilitates their ability to use complex neo-cortex abilities.

Steps towards change

Steps towards change

  • Partnership

  • Friendship

  • Intimacy

    With a parallel process of individuation

Reptiles in love

Application of fight-or-flight response to couples battles and


The psychological contract

The Psychological Contract

  • Assumed based on history, culture, needs

  • Subjective

  • Changeable

Warning signs of reptilian brain involvement

Warning signs of reptilian brain involvement

  • Raised voice

  • Repetition

  • Insults/sarcasm/put-downs

  • Withdrawal, shutting down, surrender, desire to escape

  • Intimidation or desire to injure

  • Need to defend self

  • Perceived need to defeat

Common fears when attempting change

Common fears when attempting change

  • It won’t change

  • It will get worse

  • It will change but it won’t last

  • The change will not be sufficient

  • I will be talked/coerced into doing or accepting things that are not good for me.

The treatment agreement

The treatment agreement

  • Following the initial assessment- I ask the couple to have a brief meeting about their experience of the intake. They should discuss whether this approach sounds reasonable and whether they both feel comfortable with me.

  • If agreeing to treatment, they will make one evaluation appointment for each and a conjoint session for recommendations.

Reptiles in love

I need

I can’t



You want too much

You’re bad

You won’t

You’re bad

Anxiety increases anxiety

Anxiety increases anxiety

  • Frustrated needs and desires will lead to increased anxiety and need for reassurance

  • As one acts out this desperation, the partner’s anxiety and desperation increases and so on

  • Getting one partner to surrender in some manner may only make matters worse

Family history

Family History

  • Warning: Remember risk of unfair fighting

  • Not to blame but to understand skills and defenses

  • Cultures develop myths and rituals

  • Expands the scope of your problems beyond the two of you

The mechanics assessment

The mechanics-assessment

  • How do they attempt discussions?

  • When do they have time together?

  • How do battles begin?

  • How do they diagnose each other?

  • The exceptions:

    • When do things go well?

    • When do they have their best times?

      • Be cautious when asking about exceptions.

The mechanics planning

The mechanics- planning

  • Planning meetings- timing, time-limits, preparation, decreasing surprises

  • Place- remember conditioning theory

  • Establishing rules of engagement

  • Soft start-ups, bids and increasing positives (Gottman)

We need to talk

We need to talk.

I really need to talk to you and get to know you better. I will feel closer to you.


I want to rip you open emotionally, make you feel guilty and inadequate and then tap dance on your bloodied useless carcass. This will take about four hours.

So what s the right discussion

So what’s the right discussion

  • First of all—can we at least help them have the same discussion?

  • Next they will need to decide what the large and small subtexts of the problem are and what each of them needs.

  • Their mythology may be that they should each have the same needs.

Defining the problem

Defining the Problem

  • Forcing your brains to organize the data

  • Specific and behavioral objectives

  • Select and define sub-arguments and distractions

  • What are the key subjects and what do they mean to each of you?

  • What would each of you view as a successful conclusion to the topic you have named as important?



  • In group or retreat approach consider diagramming a difficult discussion

  • Break down of parts and the relationships among the parts of the fight

  • Or draw out the pattern



  • Everything is negotiable.

  • The content is least important.

  • The content is symbolic.

  • When you are stuck, back up to the last point of agreement, no matter how minimal.

  • Break up old rhythms.



  • Used to move beyond rigid, hopeless thinking

  • Rapid proposal of options

  • No critique allowed

  • Playfulness encouraged

  • Paring down of options

The experimental nature of change

The Experimental Nature of Change

  • Everything a couple asks for or tries is merely an experiment.

  • Be prepared to back up because…

  • If an assignment fails, it wasn’t resistance. It was the wrong assignment.

Early building of positives gottman hendrix

Early Building of Positives(Gottman, Hendrix)

  • Wish list

  • Sacred times

  • Initiating times together (How do they get together after absences? The arsenic hour is described.)

  • Celebrating change

    Note: These are early interventions and do not necessarily address the big issues, yet.



  • Inoculating against catastrophic reactions to relapse

  • Using relapse as a learning tool

  • Celebrating new responses to old behaviors

  • Discussing continued growth

After relapse tx begins

After Relapse Tx Begins

  • Couples have an initial honeymoon

  • They then have a vicious relapse which is all the more painful because they thought they had made it.

  • Now they are ready to do the deeper work beyond just learning to be nicer to each other.

  • You need to invoke their curiosity.

Practice practice practice

Practice, Practice, Practice

  • The couple will need to build trust through repeated small acts of good faith.

  • They initially will wonder if they can expect reciprocity.

  • They learn that it’s not important.

  • Hebb’s Law provides hope:

    • If it fires together, it wires together.

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