We Do: A Book Review (part 1)

This is the first of a four part series of Stan Tatkin's new book, We Do: Saying Yes to a Relationship of Depth, True Connection, and Enduring Love. A special thanks goes to Peter Jones, EdD for writing this series.

In We Do, Stan Tatkin sets out a conception of successful relationships, what gets in the way, and what couples need to know to prevent and repair trouble.

With no lack of books on the market seeking to help couples, We Do is a significant contribution for its solid grounding in current neuroscience and attachment research, and Tatkin’s flair for making that research accessible in fresh language while articulating a rich model of successful relationship.

Tatkin offers readers a binocular perspective on relationships: one lens focusing on agreements, principles and social justice; the other lens focusing on automatic psychobiological (body/brain) wiring that can undermine couples’ best intentions. The binocular depth that results sheds new light on key areas of couples’ difficulties such as sex, fighting, and betrayal, while generating new strategies solutions and tweaks to handle them.

Tatkin argues that couples’ best chance at enhancing their survival in a dangerous world, and from there to thrive, is to adopt a model of relationship as “secure functioning”. We Do is a thorough exploration of secure functioning, what it looks like across lifecycle phases in a couple relationship, and how it can be unintentionally undermined.

Simply put, secure functioning couples learn who they are, including how they are shaped by their earliest experiences, know what they are doing together, what they agree to, how to collaborate on making changes, and how to minister to each other when in distress.

To do this well Tatkin helps couples collaboratively create explicit, shared “principles of governance” based in values such as fairness, justice, sensitivity and reciprocity. A variety of clarification exercises support users in exploring what the explicit underpinnings of their relationship are and agreeing to what they should be.

Success in secure functioning may be based in agreements but requires a sharp eye on how implicit human psychobiological wiring, especially the nervous system, either supports or undermines their collaboration.

Tatkin’s skill as an educator and writer shines in his ability to set out the complexity of this neuroscience and attachment challenge in fresh language. He grounds his exploration in the importance of grasping the “troublesome triad” of memory, communication and perception.

Memory stemming from our prior relationships, beginning in childhood, is our main resource for managing the present, and without awareness and skill, history will repeat itself.

Communication is necessarily partial and easily misleading, leading to compounding errors in perception if uncorrected.

Compounded errors in perception lead to compromised affect and arousal states, with partners increasingly seeming threatening to each other without intending it. In conditions of even low-level threat, collaboration and alignment with agreements and shared visions is compromised.

Thus, the job for couples is two-fold, with a need to explore and develop explicitly their shared vision on one hand, and on the other to watch for how their minds, bodies, and brains can play tricks on them.

Peter Jones, Ed.D, MAMFT trained as an educational linguist, studying interaction in and out of classrooms and teaching undergraduates and graduates with a focus on understanding interaction as a vehicle for learning. When he developed a fascination for relationships between interaction, learning, and healing, he trained as a couples therapy, receiving a MA in marriage and family therapy. He now works as a couples therapist at Clinical and Support Options in Athol, MA.

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