Group Therapy Wed: Sunny Strasburg and the Four Horsemen of Relationship Apocalypse

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Today’s edition of Group Therapy on The Paul Duane Show featured Marriage & Family Therapist Sunny Strasburg.  Sunny has one foot firmly in Jung’s theories, and another firmly in Gottman’s empirically driven, groundbreaking work on relationships.  It’s fascinating to talk with someone who operates effortlessly and simultaneously from such different paradigms. Sunny mentioned something about one aspect of relationships that really got my gears turning: Witnessing.

The need for “witness”.  The need to look into the eyes of another, and to see that knowing depth in their eyes that says, “I see you. I acknowledge you as a human, being right here, right now. Your experience just went from being something theoretical in your head, to something real because now a separate being from you – I – am in on it.  You’ve become something more than a brain-in-a-bottle. My witness of you, in this moment, has made you real. It’s the observer effect. It’s science, it’s quantum physics, it’s poetry, it’s love – the Holy Grail.

It is not good for man to be alone, they say…

According to Sunny, it’s essential for parents to make this connection with their kids when they are small.  An insufficiency in this realm tends to sow seeds for some kind of attachment disorder in adulthood. Ever meet someone that has problems with intimacy? You can bet that their parents fucked up this stage of parenting for one reason or another.

We spent some time talking about the “Four Horsemen Of The Relationship Apocolypse”, a phrase coined by John Gottman. These 4 phenomenon are the harbingers of relationship demise. Gottman can predict with 94% accuracy which relationships will survive and which will perish, depending on the prevalance of the following:

  • Criticism: stating one’s complaints as a defect in one’s partner’s personality, i.e., giving the partner negative trait attributions. Example: “You always talk about yourself. You are so selfish.”
  • Contempt: statements that come from a relative position of superiority. Contempt is the greatest predictor of divorce and must be eliminated. Example: “You’re an idiot.”
  • Defensiveness: self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victim-hood. Defensiveness wards off a perceived attack. Example: “It’s not my fault that we’re always late; it’s your fault.”
  • Stonewalling: emotional withdrawal from interaction. Example: The listener does not give the speaker the usual nonverbal signals that the listener is “tracking” the speaker.

Another number of interest: Couples that stay together display a certain ratio of positive interactions to negative ones – 7:1, to be exact. How are you doing in your relationship?

Visit Sunny’s website to learn more about booking an appointment:

Learn more about John Gottman’s work here:

 Listen to the show ↓


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