Marriage Retreat » Retreat FAQs » How Is John’s Approach Different?

How Is John’s Approach Different?

river near retreat locationPeople often ask how John’s approach is different than what they have experienced in traditional marriage counseling.

What you get working with John is markedly different in a number of significant ways from what marriage counseling or couples therapy typically provides.

John’s work differs in both its format and its approach.

The Format: A Dedicated Timespan to Get the Job Done — The most obvious difference from conventional therapy is John’s intensive retreat format. John has been perfecting the format of an intensive marriage retreat for over three decades, shaping it into a format where significant changes can be made in a short period of time.

As a pioneer of this format, he long ago found the intensive retreat gave couples an unparalleled concentrated focus in which to transform habitual patterns, overcome reactive cycles, repair past wounds, renew broken trust, and reconnect with positive feelings. The way John works within this format has evolved over the years as he became increasingly experienced with what maximizes its effectiveness.

The Approach: You Get Tools and Coaching, Not Just Talk — The other big difference is John’s unique approach that enables couples to make significant changes in the retreat. Because of his background as a trainer and self-help author, he has a tool-based approach. He teaches and coaches couples to use practical, proven, effective tools to improve their relationship and to have the tools to stay on track in daily life after the retreat. This approach differs from programs that use traditional therapy models in working with couples.

Traditional couples therapy is not tool-based, but often seems to be opinion-based. The typical counselor opines on who is right or wrong and gives advice, rather than teaching effective tools that enable partners to repair emotionally and solve their own issues. In light of this, John identifies as being a coach, not a therapist.

An Approach Based in Scientific Findings, Not Opinions — Also significant, John’s approach is based on ground-breaking scientific studies that find what couples need to sustain a secure, healthy, satisfying connection. Again, this approach is not opinion-based, but evidence-based. The science behind John’s approach is just starting to appear in educational institutes that train therapists. To date, it is only available in a few post-graduate, multi-year training programs. And John was on the founding core faculty and helped develop the curriculum for one such program. More on that below.

In summary, John not only employs the intensive format he developed over three decades, but his approach is based on scientific research out of which he gives couples proven tools that make powerful changes in how they relate. He holds that couples need tools, not therapy. So he takes the role of a coach and educator. This bypasses many of the traps traditional therapy falls into, which too often backfire badly for couples.

The Science of Love and Happiness

John has significant training in the science of psychology. His initial education was as a research psychologist at Stanford. After getting his Ph.D. there, he became a founding co-director of one of the most successful and prestigious research centers at Stanford, funded by the National Science Foundation’s Department of Psychobiology.

The work John does with couples integrates two scientific fields that shed light on the roots of satisfaction vs distress in longterm relationships. These fields are neuroscience and attachment theory. Thousands of studies in these two fields reveal crucial factors for maintaining a happy, mutually satisfying, intimate partnership. John also integrates into his approach the most effective components of current evidence-based models for couples therapy.

Informed by Neuroscience — This field provides critical knowledge about how the brain and nervous system work. Especially important is how a primitive part of the brain, wired for survival, can hijack our higher relational brains. This is what happens unconsciously when couples get triggered into states of fight, flight, or freeze — where they escalate into anger or withdrawal, blowing up or shutting down — and where productive, loving communication becomes impossible. Because of the way longterm memory works, these reactive patterns only intensify over time, eroding a couple’s ability to feel good together.

Keys from Attachment Theory — This field studies how couples form emotional bonds and what determines whether partners will form these bonds in a way that promotes security and good feelings, or insecurity and increasing unhappiness and dissatisfaction. This research pinpoints the critical factors and behaviors necessary for healthy emotional bonding — where partners share a deep sense of secure connection, well-being, mutual positive regard, love, and joy — and where each person feels understood, accepted, and their needs are met.

Evidence-Based Clinical Models — John knows the current state-of-art clinical treatment models that integrate neuroscience and attachment. He is trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) by Sue Johnson, author of Hold Me Tight. He is a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP), by Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger. He is trained in the Neuro-Affective Relational Model (NARM) by Larry Heller, author of Healing Developmental Trauma. And he is a recognized expert in the Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT) by Stan Tatkin, author of Wired for Love — which is broadly considered to be the most effective approach for helping couples in severe distress.

“John’s work is of help to anyone wishing to repair an ailing relationship. With decades of experience behind him, he is a highly intelligent, creative force in the field of science and relationships. His work is inventive and inspiring.” — Stan Tatkin

In fact, John was a founding core faculty member of the PACT Institute, where he helped develop the curriculum and trained couples therapists and marriage counselors to work with attachment styles and emotional-arousal states to help their clients build secure-functioning relationships based in compassion, love, and understanding.

Tools to Become a Stronger Couple

John has more than three decades of experience applying scientific findings to give practical help to couples to transform their relationships into secure and satisfying intimate partnerships. Integrating state-of-art clinical approaches with his own extensive experience working with couples, he has developed practical tools to help partners overcome reactive cycles and emotional blocks, heal wounds, repair ruptures, tame triggers, reconnect with positive feelings and hope by up leveling an unsatisfactory, insecure relationship to turn it into a strong, solid and mutually happy marriage.

John helps partners to effectively do this healing and growth with each other.

As a coach, John is dedicated to giving you tools to overcome patterns that keep you stuck in negative feelings. You gain power to successfully resolve issues as a team and to communicate in ways that keep you feeling connected and valued.

In the terminology of attachment science, this is called secure functioning. But you don’t have to have a scientific background to benefit from the practical tools you get to turn an insecure, reactive pattern of relating into a secure, happy connection.

Traditional therapy has largely missed tapping into the enormous power couples have to co-heal their blocks and grow stronger together. Traditional counselors seldom offer effective tools to partners to use to strengthen their relationship.

Common Shortfalls in Traditional Therapy

This is because the therapy field has been dominated with a focus on the individual psyche. From Freud until now, educational programs and diagnostic systems have almost exclusively focused on the psychological structure and treatment of the individual.

Yet, to put it bluntly, a couple is more than the sum of two individuals. A couple is a relational system-of-two that has its own unique properties. Due to lack of specialized training, many therapists treat a couple using individual models. This backfires.

At present, the field of couples therapy is just beginning to utilize the potential offered by neuroscience and attachment research. The therapy industry as a whole, and its educational institutions, have not yet put this information to much practical use in training therapists to apply it to helping couples.

So the assumptions that have guided the field of couples counseling for the last half-century have continued to be based on individual therapy models, focused on treating codependence and fostering differentiation.

This largely moves people to become more self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency concepts are reflected in commonly repeated mantras like “You need to love yourself first before you can love another” and “Don’t base your happiness on someone else.”

These ideas dominate not only pop culture but in the offices of well-intentioned counselors who treat the couple as if treating a pair of individuals, and perhaps even end up recommending that partners do individual therapy in place of couples therapy. And that often makes things even worse for the couple.

Codependent, Independent, or Interdependent?

A couple is an interdependent system. People don’t get together to be alone. Self-reliance and independence is a model for someone who is satisfied being single. It is not useful for someone who aspires to be part of a happy couple.

A Model of Healthy Interdependence — A couple is a significant pair-bonded dyad that is far more than the sum of its parts. It is not simply two individuals. A couple forms its own special kind of animal, a relationship like none other. Partners need to acquire the tools and principles to operate better as a team, not to become more independent.

Empowering You, the Couple — The key to helping a couple is to inform them of this model and give them the tools to repair their ruptures, to successfully collaborate, to find win-win solutions to issues, and to function securely as a team.

John’s focus is to empower couples to engage in healthy interdependence. For more detailed info on this model, go here →

While many therapists act as if it’s their job to solve a couple’s issues, John gives you practical tools to solve your own issues — yourselves! Instead of trying to feed you a fish, he shows you how to fish.

The traditional approach rarely gives couples effective tools to overcome their negative patterns as a team. Statistically, traditional therapy has neither lowered our divorce rate, nor raised the level of couples’ satisfaction. In fact, a great deal of anecdotal evidence suggests that traditional therapists tend to split couples up!

Intensive Format + A Tool-Based Approach

Again, the most obvious difference between traditional counseling and how John works is his intensive retreat format, which provides ample time, space and safety to discover what is at the root of your stuck places as a couple — and learn tools to get unstuck. But it’s John’s tool-based approach that truly differentiates him in the field. As a self-help author, John has long been dedicated to coaching couples to help themselves.

Rather than trying to give you solutions to your issues, he coaches you to use tools that help you find your own solutions, together as a team — solutions you both feel good about, that result in more happiness and satisfaction. He shows you how to be a collaborative couple, and to overcome the tendency to be combative or competitive.

Traditional therapy views couples dynamics in terms of power struggles and the need for conflict management. This misses giving partners what they really need: effective tools to successfully engage in secure functioning. Without these tools, partners will continue to suffer from underlying ruptures like not feeling valued or cared about, feeling things are unfair, feeling trapped, or feeling alone and disconnected.

The Right Tools for a Strong Relationship — John gives you the tools to successfully heal your upsets and reactive patterns, and to function as a team-of-two to resolve your issues. Due to shortcomings in the traditional approach, counselors often miss helping a couple repair underlying negative behavioral and emotional cycles that keep them reacting in an insecure mode of functioning.

Maximize Shared Happiness, Minimize Distress — John coaches couples to successfully build a secure connection, to communicate well and to maximize mutual happiness. He shows partners how to minimize triggering, distress, stuckness, and insecurity. The goal is to operate securely as a team-of-two, where you each feel fully accepted, valued, important, and connected. And enjoy a thriving relationship.

Read more details about John’s background, training and approach →