How Is Our Approach Different?

river near retreat locationWhat you get in working with John is markedly different in a number of significant ways from what conventional marriage counseling or couples therapy provide.

What’s more, beyond the intensive format, John’s approach to helping couples is also quite different from what most other retreat programs have to offer.

The Format: A Dedicated Timespan for Transformation — The most obvious difference from traditional therapy is John’s intensive format. John has been perfecting his marriage retreat methodology for thirty three years, shaping it into a program where significant changes can be made in a short period of time.

As a pioneer of the intensive marriage retreat, he recognized early on that it provided couples with an unparalleled, concentrated focus to transform habitual patterns, overcome reactive cycles, heal past wounds, rebuild broken trust, and reconnect with positive feelings. Over the last three decades, John’s expertise using this format has evolved, maximizing its effectiveness.

The Approach: Get Tools and Coaching, Not Just Talk — Another key distinction is John’s unique approach, which empowers couples to make substantial changes during the retreat. Leveraging his background as a communication skills trainer and self-help author, he adopts a tool-based approach.

He teaches couples practical, proven, effective communication tools to improve their relationship. This equips them to stay on track in their daily lives after the retreat. This approach sets John apart from programs that rely on traditional therapy models.

Traditional couples therapy tends to fall short in being tool-based and often leans toward offering opinions, judgments or advice instead of empowering partners with effective tools for emotional repair and issue resolution. In light of this, John identifies as a coach rather than a therapist.

Grounded in Scientific Findings, Not Opinions — John draws from groundbreaking scientific studies that identify what couples require to maintain a secure, healthy, and fulfilling connection. Unlike opinion-driven methods, his approach is firmly grounded in evidence. The scientific basis for John’s approach is gaining recognition in therapy training institutions, albeit slowly.

Getting the training to know how to use this information to help couples is another matter, however. Currently such training exists only in a handful of post-graduate, multi-year educational programs. And John played a pivotal role in the founding core faculty and curriculum development of one of the top programs.

In summary, John’s approach combines the intensive retreat format developed over three decades with scientific research to provide couples with proven tools that catalyze profound changes in their relationship. He positions himself as a coach and educator, emphasizing the importance of tools, not just therapy, to help couples navigate challenges and strengthen their bond.

The Science of Love and Happiness

John’s training in psychology is extensive, starting as a research psychologist at UCLA, continuing to Stanford University, where he received his Ph.D and subsequently co-founded and directed one of Stanford’s most successful research centers, funded by the National Science Foundation Department of Psychobiology.

John’s work with couples brings together two scientific domains that shed light on the causes of satisfaction versus distress in long-term relationships: neuroscience and attachment theory. Thousands of studies within these fields reveal critical factors for nurturing a joyful, mutually satisfying, and intimate partnership. John also incorporates the most effective components of contemporary evidence-based models for couples therapy into his approach.

Informed by Neuroscience — The field of neuroscience provides vital insights into the functioning of the brain and nervous system. Of particular significance is how the primitive part of our brain, geared toward survival, can override our higher cognitive and relational functions. Unconsciously, such triggering and hijacking can take couples into states of fight, flight, or freeze, leading to escalations of anger or withdrawal. These reactions block productive, loving communication and will worsen over time, eroding a couple’s ability to share happiness together.

Drawing from Attachment Theory — The field of attachment theory studies how couples form emotional bonds and what creates a solid connection. It specifies what fosters security and positivity vs insecurity and dissatisfaction. It identifies pivotal factors and behaviors that underpin healthy emotional connections. In such connections, partners share a profound sense of security, well-being, mutual affection, love, and joy. Each person feels understood, accepted, and has their needs met.

Evidence-Based Clinical Models — John is well-versed in the latest clinical treatment models that incorporate neuroscience and attachment research. His training includes Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) by Sue Johnson, Somatic Experiencing (SE) by Peter Levine, the Neuro-Affective Relational Model (NARM) by Larry Heller, and a Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT) by Stan Tatkin. PACT is widely rated as one of the most effective methods 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

Notably, John played a foundational role as a core faculty member at the PACT Institute, actively contributing to curriculum development and training couples therapists and marriage counselors. His focus centered on helping them work with attachment styles and emotional arousal states, enabling their clients to build secure-functioning relationships characterized by compassion, love, and understanding.

Tools to Be a Strong Couple

With over three decades of experience applying scientific findings, John has developed an extensive body of practical tools that empower couples to overcome reactive cycles, resolve emotional blocks, mend wounds, manage triggers, rekindle positive emotions, and instill hope. Ultimately, this process elevates an unsatisfactory, insecure relationship into a resilient, harmonious, and mutually joyful 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 appreciated.

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.

Shortfalls in Traditional Therapy

Traditional therapy, whether delivered weekly or intensively, commonly fails to tap into the full potential couples have to co-heal ruptures and grow stronger together. This is because the field of clinical psychology, from Freud onward, has primarily focused on the structure and treatment of the individual psyche.

Consequently, assumptions that guide couples counseling have been dominated by individual therapy models. These promote overcoming codependency and developing healthy differentiation. Popular ideas like “love yourself first before you can love another” permeate pop culture and the practices of well-intentioned counselors who treat partners as if they were two individuals.

Yet, a couple is more than the sum of two individuals. A couple is a relational system-of-two that has unique properties. To be effective, couples therapy requires interventions that in many ways are the opposite of what is done in individual therapy. Thus, without knowing it, traditional therapy approaches can make things worse for couples.

Take a common example: Therapists are well-trained to validate and help individuals explore and express feelings. But doing this with a couple often only amplifies negative feelings, triggering, and emotional acting out. And it fails to deliver the most important outcome for partners: to engage in emotional repair. So couples can feel worse at the end of sessions and view therapy as only stirring up negativity.

Codependent, Independent, or Interdependent?

A couple is an interdependent system. While moving beyond codependence is healthy, emotional self-reliance and independence is not a sufficient move if you aspire to maintain shared happiness as a 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 — John’s focus is to empower partners to maximize shared happiness and minimize distress. His approach is to relay the principles of healthy interdependence and provide the tools to repair ruptures, to find win-win solutions to issues, and to function securely as a team.

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 negative patterns as a team. Statistically, traditional therapy has neither lowered our divorce rate, nor raised the level of couples’ satisfaction. In fact, 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.

Working with John will show you how to successfully build a secure connection, to communicate well, and to maximize mutual happiness. He will shows you how to minimize triggering, distress, and insecurity. The ultimate goal is to function securely as a united team, where both of you feel accepted, appreciated, and deeply connected in a thriving and fulfilling relationship.

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