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

How Is John’s Approach Different?

What you get working with John is markedly different than what traditional marriage counseling or couples therapy offers.

It differs in both format and approach.

The most obvious difference is John’s intensive retreat format. John has been conducting multi-day retreats for almost three decades.

A pioneer in this arena, he long ago found the intensive retreat format to give couples an unparalleled setting in which to transform habitual patterns, overcome reactive cycles, repair past wounds, renew broken trust, and reconnect with positive feelings.

The other big difference from traditional therapy is John’s unique approach. It is heavily based in ground-breaking scientific research on what couples need to build and maintain a secure, healthy, satisfying connection. And it’s a tool-based approach that enables couples to not only make significant changes in the retreat itself, but to take new tools home that keep them on track.

The application of scientific research that John bases his approach on is just beginning to make its way into educational institutions for therapists. To date, it has only been accessible in a few post-graduate couples therapy multi-year training programs. And John has been involved in developing the curriculum for such programs. So what you receive in John’s retreats is the state-of-the-art approach to working with couples.

Gaining a solid scientific background was part of John’s primary education in psychology. For over a decade, he was a research psychologist at Stanford University. After receiving his Ph.D. there, he co-founded an internationally prominent research center at Stanford funded by National Science Foundation’s Department of Psychobiology.

The Science of Love and Happiness

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.

Research in neuroscience provides critical information about how primitive parts of the brain, wired for survival, can hijack our higher brains. This is what unconsciously triggers couples into states of fight, flight or freeze — where they escalate into states of anger or withdrawal, blowing up or shutting down — where productive, loving communication becomes impossible. Because of the way longterm memory works, these reactive patterns intensify over time, eroding a couple’s ability to feel good together.

Studies based in attachment theory reveal how couples form emotional bonds and what determines whether a couple will form these bonds in a way that promotes security vs insecurity. 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 happiness — where each person feels understood, accepted, and their needs are met.

When it comes to applying attachment theory and neuroscience research to couples therapy, John provides you with an integration of today’s state-of-art clinical approaches. He has advanced training in the attachment-based Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) methodology of Sue Johnson — author of Hold Me Tight. He has also been trained in the Neuro-Affective Relational Model (NARM), the work of Larry Heller — author of Healing Developmental Trauma. He is a nationally-recognized expert in the Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT), founded by Stan Tatkin — author of Wired for Love.

Stan Tatkin says this about John’s work: “With decades of experience behind him, John is a highly intelligent, creative force in the arena of science and relationships. His work is inventive and inspiring.” 

In fact, John is 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.

Practical Tools Based on Scientific Findings

John has over 25 years experience in the practical application of scientific findings to helping couples transform their relationships into a secure and satisfying intimate partnerships. Integrating the most efficacious state-of-art clinical approaches with his own extensive experience working with couples, he has developed practical tools to help partners resolve emotional blocks, heal old wounds, tame inner triggers, and overcome insecurities. John helps partners to effectively do this healing with each other. Traditional therapy has largely missed utilizing the enormous power couples have to co-heal their own blocks and reactive cycles.

As a coach, John is dedicated to giving you the tools you need to shift the patterns of reactivity that keep a relationship stuck in negative feelings. His approach utilizes the most recent findings on what increases couples satisfaction and decreases reactivity. He shows you methods to successfully work out issues together as a team — and communicate in ways that help you feel more connected, accepted and valued by one another. In terms of attachment science, this is called secure functioning. But you don’t have to have a scientific background to benefit from the simple tools you will learn to turn an insecure, reactive pattern of relating into a secure, happy connection.

The approach found in typical marriage counseling still misses this vital methodology. Traditional couples therapy is just beginning to recognize the significance of findings from neurobiology and attachment research, and largely has not yet put this information to practical use in helping couples. This new, science-based approach is just beginning to show up in but a handful of educational institutes and training programs for therapists.

In general, the assumptions that have guided the field of couples counseling for the last half century have been based on individual therapy models around codependence and differentiation which largely guide people to become more self-sufficient. Traditional platitudes like “you need to love yourself first before you can love another” and “don’t base your happiness on someone else” echo this approach. This sometimes results in well-intentioned counselors recommending that partners do individual therapy instead of couples therapy. Inadvertently the traditional model promoted independence as a solution to codependence. But clearly, people don’t pair up to be independent!

A couple is an interdependent system — a unique and significant pair-bonded dyad that is more than the sum of its parts — not simply two individuals. A couple is its own kind of animal, a relationship like none other. To truly help a couple, one needs to train couples in healthy patterns of collaborative interaction and guide partners to function securely as a team. In other words, rather than moving partners towards independence, to stay happy a couple needs to learn how to achieve healthy interdependence.

The traditional approach to marriage counseling often misses the crucial elements that can guide a couple to acquire new tools and overcome negative dynamics. Statistically, the traditional therapy model 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 — because they over-emphasize self-sufficiency and lack specific training to support couples to overcome core reactivity or help them to build a happy, secure bond.

John’s main focus in how he works with you is to empower you to co-create a healthy partnership using methodologies derived from scientific research. While many therapists act as if it’s their job to arbitrate a couple’s issues, John gives you practical tools to solve your own issues — yourselves! Instead of trying to give you a fish, his approach is to show you how to fish.

Intensive Format + A Tool-Based Approach

As mentioned, the most obvious difference between the traditional model of 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 supply you with external answers to your issues, he coaches you to use tools that enable you to effectively find your own answers together — answers and solutions to issues that you both feel good about, that lead to increased happiness and satisfaction. In essence, he shows you how to be a much more collaborative couple, and overcome the tendency to be combative or competitive.

John’s approach focuses on showing you the skills to successfully work as a team to heal your triggers and reactive patterns, and resolve your issues. Due to shortcomings in the traditional view, counselors typically miss helping a couple repair underlying negative behavioral and emotional cycles that keep them reacting in an insecure mode of connecting — what attachment scientists call insecure functioning.

The traditional view of seeing couples in terms of power struggles and the need for conflict management misses giving partners what they really need. They need effective tools that are simple and practical to use, that work fast and get results. Unless a couple has the tools to shift into a secure mode of relating, partners will continue to suffer from underlying feelings like a sense of unfairness or injustice, not feeling good enough, not feeling cared about, feeling trapped, or feeling alone and disconnected.

John’s approach is to coach a couple to successfully work together as a team-of-two to build a secure connection — to communicate well and increase mutual happiness. His shows partners how to decrease triggering, insecurity, stuckness and reactivity. The point is to minimize stress or upset within the team, so you can maximize shared good feelings. The aim is to become a secure team-of-two, where you each feel fully accepted, valued, connected, and thrive in your intimate partnership.

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