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Reptiles in Love. Don Ferguson [email protected] 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

Reptiles in Love

Don Ferguson

[email protected]

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

The psychological contract
The Psychological Contract and

  • Assumed based on history, culture, needs

  • Subjective

  • Changeable

Warning signs of reptilian brain involvement
Warning signs of reptilian brain involvement and

  • 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 and

  • 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 and

  • 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.

I need and

I can’t



You want too much

You’re bad

You won’t

You’re bad

Anxiety increases anxiety
Anxiety increases anxiety and

  • 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 and

  • 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 and

  • 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 and

  • 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. and

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 and

  • 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 and

  • 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?

Diagrams and

  • 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

Negotiations and

  • 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.

Brainstorming and

  • 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 and

  • 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 and(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.

Relapse and

  • 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 and

  • 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 and

  • 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.