- Do you feel lonely and disconnected in your relationship?
- Do you find yourself having the same argument over and over again?
- Do you feel overwhelmed by your partner or feel like you're walking on eggshells most of the time?
- Do you want to re-discover your love and affection for each other?
If you answered "yes" to some (or all) of these questions, then Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy (IBCT) may be right for you.
IBCT encourages change and acceptance in relationships. It invites each partner to change their own behavior, based on an understanding of how it affects the other person. While it can provide specific behavioral suggestions, IBCT predominantly encourages couples to develop their own techniques to improve communication and intimacy. Initially, this is very hard. However, through the active guidance of an IBCT therapist, partners learn to share their vulnerabilities and improve their empathic understanding of each other. Typically, this process allows people to feel more connected and better understood. Further, by developing objective perspectives on their conflicts, partners learn how to come together more easily to solve them. As a result, they argue less often and less intensely, and recover more quickly.
IBCT is mainly focused on creating the space in which problems can be understood and addressed in ways that are non-blaming and non-defensive. To promote such intimacy among partners, it employs several strategies, including the following:
- Identification of Conflict Theme. Given each partner's history and personality, they can fall into problematic ways of interacting with each other during arguments. For example, a common dynamic is "the stone and the butterfly." The stone is a partner who is relatively even emotionally, while the butterfly moves through emotions more demonstratively and fluidly. Often, this emotional difference is a source of attraction. However, during an argument, the butterfly is likely to be upset quickly and easily. The stone, in contrast, is more likely to be silent or withdrawn. During a conflict, the butterfly will accuse the stone of being "cold" or "not caring," while the stone will blame the butterfly of being "too emotional" or irrational." After the argument, the butterfly can usually calm down more quickly, while it takes the stone a longer time to feel better. Identifying themes like this one can help the couple come together in addressing a common problem, as opposed to getting stuck in accusations and defensiveness.
- Expressing and Understanding "Softer" Feelings. When we argue, we feel angry. And, when we lead with anger in talking about an issue, the other person typically will get defensive and stop listening, which will prompt us to feel frustrated and stuck. However, behind anger, we can often find "softer" feelings, such as sadness, disappointment, shame, guilt, or fear. When we express these "softer" feelings, it invites the other person to be more open to our experience and allows us to be more easily understood.
Through the initial assessment, the therapist and couple have identified predominant themes of conflict and problematic interactions. Subsequent sessions focus on addressing these themes by discussing either (1) a recent conflict; (2) an anticipated conflict; or (3) the absence of a conflict when they would have expected one to occur. The purpose is not to rehash a disagreement, but rather debrief what happened in a way that promotes a better understanding of each partner's experience. During this discussion, the therapist is very active in eliciting "softer" feelings from each partner and supporting the other in truly hearing what's being expressed. In this way, partners practice in session the very same strategies that they will employ at home.
In NYC, Drs. Kaplan and Anders are two of only a handful of therapists with expertise in Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy (IBCT). Practicing this form of couples therapy, they have been substantively trained and supervised in the approach by Dr. Andrew Christensen, one of its co-founders. If you'd like to learn more about IBCT, please contact us or visit the IBCT website.