In popular culture, we’re raised on romantic comedies, love ballads, and the perpetual search for a soulmate. With our hearts on our sleeves, we rush forward into the kind of love we’ve come to feel we deserve. Yet, while 90 percent of those living in Western countries will eventually get married, many of them will not stay together. For example, the divorce rate in the U.S. ranges from 40 to 50 percent and spikes much higher for subsequent marriages.These statistics are not indicative of a some kind of love shortage. Love is abundant and often enduring. Compatibility, on the other hand, is and remains fluid.Unfortunately, there aren’t many movies or songs that delve into this crucial reality. When John Lennon sang, “love is the answer,” it’s a shame he didn’t include footnotes! If he were around today, the “smart Beatle” just might be crooning about Pragmatic Experiential Therapy (Pet-C).couple-love

This method of couples counseling is not only based on neurobiological research but upon seeking out which attitudes and behaviors are present in relationships that succeed.Pet-C began to take form when it was discovered that the responses of each partner, during stressful interactions, follow a very predictable pattern. This is where scientific research comes into play. Over the last couple of decades, we’ve learned just how conditioned our brain circuits can be.These pre-programmed mood states are called “executive operating systems” or “intrinsic motivational circuits” and often result in non-productive fighting.Developed by Brent J. Atkinson, Ph.D. and his colleagues at the Couples Clinic and Research Institute in Geneva, IL, Pet-C allows therapists to assist couples in identifying these patterns and in taking responsibility for them. The challenge a Pet-C therapist will put towards each partner is articulated as such: “If you want to be treated well by your partner, you need to learn to think and act like people who almost always get treated well, and you certainly don’t want to be thinking and acting like people who almost never get treated well.”A therapist using Pet-C will help couples:

  • Identify internal mood states
  • “Re-wire” such attitudes, beliefs, and habits
  • Recognize how each partner is blocking intimacy-related feelings

Most importantly, the efforts of the Pet-C therapist are based on a scientific understanding of precisely what works for couples who are thriving. Thanks to ongoing research, we are becoming increasingly aware of a daunting yet powerful reality: In order to maintain a long-term, satisfying relationship, you must tap into a core set of emotional habits designed to nurture that relationship. The bad news is that most people do not currently possess or practice the habits that will carry them through periods of relationship distress. Okay then, so what’s the good news?

  • These habits can identified
  • These habits can be understood
  • These habits can be developed in all of us

Again, despite the pop culture mantras, it’s not easy to cultivate and maintain a healthy, satisfying relationship in today’s world. What Pet-C offers that other approaches don’t is an understanding that we aren’t always in control of the mood states and response patterns we formed at a young age. Thus, even when two people deeply in love have a disagreement, they can be unknowingly trapped by these patterns and led into the realm of non-productive fighting.

Pet-C is a path towards recognizing how our emotional habits sabotage our best interests; identifying other habits proven to provide successful couple interactions; and working towards creating the necessary changes to facilitate positive change.