In Neurodynamic Couples Therapy, the goal of repairing dramas is the metabolizing of feelings which have been exposed through a couple’s recycling dramas. The metabolizing of feelings is complete when they are validated and understood. Validating a feeling is the opposite of dismissing it. It is the antidote to the “You don’t really feel that way” or the “You can’t feel that way because I didn’t do anything wrong” that are often part of recycling dramas. Understanding a feeling is more comprehensive. It implies that not only is the feeling accepted as real, but the exact character and intensity of the feeling is also known.
Validation and understanding both have a left-brain component and a right-brain component. The left-brain component is cognitive. It involves developing an intellectual comprehension of the feelings that both partners are expressing. The right-brain component is visceral. Partners who are experiencing right-brain validation and understanding feel “felt with”–emotionally enveloped in a deep sense of being known. Feeling with another means a willingness to connect to their internal world, literally “feeling their pain”.
We often use the word empathy to refer to this visceral element of validation and understanding. Some clients want to think they are being empathic when they are merely relating their partner’s story to their own story. The skillful therapist demonstrates that true empathy is immersion in the other person’s story–“I really get it what it’s been like to be you.”
Deep exploration into the nature of both partners’ feelings is necessary to fully metabolize them. Well-meaning and altruistic couples and their therapists are often too quick to say they understand before they actually do, cutting off the discovery of critical elements of a feeling. I have often used the phrase “I don’t understand yet” in therapy, implying that I want to and we need more exploration to give us a clear picture of the core and childhood origins of this feeling.
Exploration requires more and more questions about the feeling that all three of us are working to understand–“Tell me more about that feeling.”; “How many times have you had it before?”; “What was your partner doing that brought up that feeling?”; “When was the first time you felt it?”; “Can you give this feeling a name?”; “Are you ashamed of this feeling?”; and so forth. Often the explorations that are the most fruitful are the ones that completely surprise us. Once I was questioning a client about how he felt in the moment. When he said “hopeless”, I was stunned! Neither his partner nor I had any idea that feeling was at the bottom of his experience. It opened new discussions that helped both partners metabolize old feelings.
These explorations are done without judgments. They must demonstrate a willingness to go down an often dark road together so that the light of normalcy and companioned understanding can be shed on a previously scary place for both partners.