If you and your partner are experiencing these or any similar issues, I can work with you to help you resolve them. Even if you have previously tried couples therapy in which you discussed and analyzed your relationship problems but never fully resolved them, I may be able to help.

When working with couples I draw from multiple theoretical approaches and over 20 years of experience working with couples. However, I am most strongly influenced by ISTDP and the Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy (PACT), developed by Dr. Stan Tatkin. PACT, like ISTDP, draws from research on neuroscience showing that real, enduring changes to behavioral and emotional patterns occur in the primitive, nonverbal parts of the brain rather than the cognitive verbal parts.

Relationship Conflict

Get Along Better

Are you experiencing any of these problems in your relationship?

  • You rarely feel heard or understood by your partner?

  • Ordinary conversations quickly devolve into disagreements without resolution?

  • You have a hard time recovering from a particular event or period or time in your relationship

  • Other relationships feel like a threat to the security or happiness of your couple relationship

  • Something is missing but it’s hard to put your finger on it

PACT starts with the simple driving principle that couples do better in a secure relationship. PACT draws from an understanding of attachment theory, neurobiology and arousal theory to help couples create relationships based on principles and actions that help create a sense of mutuality, safety, and trust.

 

A few of the principles of secure relationships include:

 

  • Partners are “experts” on each other

  • Partners understand and respond to each other’s needs and emotions through careful attunement to body language and facial microexpressions 

  • Partners are mutually protective of each other

  • Preservation of the relationship comes first

  • Partners aim for mutuality[O1] : “good for me and for you”

  • Love relationships must operate on attraction (flirting, influencing, bargaining, persuading), not fear

  • The relationship must be an ecosystem in which both partners can thrive and survive

  • Partners work to repair emotional injuries quickly before “bad relationship memories” set in: “It doesn’t matter if you broke it. If your partner is hurt, it is your problem”

  • When issues of safety or security arise, partners should make reassurances quickly

  • Commitment, permanence, and loyalty are fundamental to attachment security

Continued —

Other Relationships

Improve Friendships, Work Relationships

I also work with individuals seeking to improve their relationships with romantic partners, friends, work associates,
or family members.

In couples therapy we address every action that violates these principles, from both a “top down,” cognitive approach--such as the guidelines outlined above--and through “bottom up,” experiential approaches that allow both partners to practice these principles, experience them, and feel them on a bodily level. An action that departs from secure attachment might be as small as an unexamined facial expression that connotes dismissal to one’s partner. Or it might be as large as threats to the continuance of the relationship.

 

Violations of these principles can cause a downward spiral of conflict, throwing one or both partners’ sympathetic nervous systems into a state of danger alert or threat. In these negative emotional states, people respond in whatever lowest common denominator way they have learned (unconsciously) to respond when under threat. For example, one partner, in response to feeling rebuked or criticized, may respond by escaping to work or disappearing inside himself. This disappearing act, while comforting and emotionally regulating to him, can trigger an equally negative reaction in his partner, who is left suddenly feeling abandoned at a critical relationship moment. Even when there is a lot of love between two people and true strengths in the relationship, this negative cycle can cause a downward spiral of increasing conflict that, unless it is addressed, becomes harder and harder to turn around.

 

Figuring out what makes relationships work and not work is not rocket science, but it can really help to have some practical “street” knowledge about the neuroscience behind love, attachment, and the arousal systems. Having this basic knowledge can help us become curious and more compassionate toward the idiosyncrasies and vulnerabilities in our partners that otherwise can drive us to distraction. Developing a more refined “owner’s manual” of our partner’s attachment tendencies can help us respond to them more empathically. Learning these principles and, more importantly, experiencing the attachment security that results from putting the principles into practice, tends to greatly accelerate the recovery time that it takes in couples therapy to build a more satisfying relationship.

 

Listing

  • Psychology Today

Stuart Andrews, Ph.D. provides psychotherapy to individuals, couples, children, and adolescents. Dr. Andrews specializes in ISTDP and PACT counseling. He can help with concerns including depression, anxiety, relationship issues, procrastination, personality disorders, trauma and abuse, and Medically Unexplained Symptoms (MUPs), also called Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) or Psychophysiologic Disorders (PPD). His office is located in Reston, VA (near Alexandria, Arlington, Ashburn, Burke, Centreville, Chantilly, Fairfax, Great Falls, Herndon, McLean, Oakton, South Riding, and Vienna, VA; Silver Spring and Bethesda, MD; and Washington, DC).

 

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