February 14, 2006 — With at least half of all marriages ending in divorce, there must be something better than chocolate to bring lasting happiness to couples.
Psychologists and married couple Peter L. Sheras and Phyllis Koch-Sheras have developed a creative, positive approach called Couple Power TherapyTM (CPT) that teaches partners positive ways to create a vital, fulfilling loving relationship — and have more fun together.
Faculty members of the Curry School of Education, Sheras and Koch-Sheras say that people unhappy in their relationships too often blame each other and think their individual problems have to be fixed first, rather than starting with their relationship, forming a vision of what they want it to be, and creating it together.
“Most couples come into therapy wanting us to make the pain go away instead of exploring the possibility of creating joy,” said Sheras, professor of clinical and school psychology and associate director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project.
Even though romance is important for a healthy partnership, it shouldn’t be expected to be the all-consuming and only way for a couple to know and love each other. That’s a way to become needy or lose oneself in the relationship, Koch-Sheras explained. Couples get stuck in patterns where their roles are too rigidly defined or they are too independent from each other, they said.
For all those broken-hearted or stoic people who’d like to find a lifelong valentine, or try again, Koch-Sheras advises that rather than looking for the perfect person, they think about the kind of relationship they would like to have , and then look for someone with whom they could imagine creating that picture together.
“You don’t want to impose your vision on the other person, but you want to be committed to the relationship,” said Koch-Sheras, an adjunct professor who teaches CPT workshops with her husband to mental health practitioners through several branches of U.Va.’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies.
The Sherases have described “the four C’s” for achieving “C ouple P ower,” to be worked on in this particular order: commitment, cooperation, communication and finally, community.
“Communication is not enough. Without commitment and cooperation, it can even make things worse ,” Sheras said.
In their recent book, “Couple Power Therapy,” they say it’s crucial for the two people to be committed to each other as a new entity —the couple. The commitment serves as a map for the relationship but is not static; there are many paths the partners may take — and unknown directions they will take — over their lives together.
Having developed CPT during 20 years of private practice, Sheras and Koch-Sheras say using this model produces dramatic results, and couples say they are dealing with problems much better, as well as feeling more satisfied and fulfilled. They have begun documenting the results in the Relationship Possibility Research Project, and preliminary findings bolster their experience, they said.
The Sherases call their methods part of a new paradigm that fits into the profession’s positive psychology movement.
Using CPT, they ask a couple if they are willing to let the past be in the past and then in the present, commit to trusting themselves to follow their vision into the future. Each person needs to be committed to the partnership, not 50-50, but 100 percent and 100 percent, they say.
The therapists have a couple work on a kind of vision statement, a “we proclamation,” that reminds them of the kind of relationship they are committed to create. Some couples write this as their marriage vows and repeat them every day. The Sherases also encourage changing the proclamation as needed — because things change and get stale in life — as often as every few months. Some examples of proclamations include: We trust our couple. We are a playful dance. We are a winning team. We are creative and successful.
With each person dedicated to the couple, it is possible to cooperate, which Sheras and Koch-Sheras distinguish from compromise. If one person thinks he or she has to give something up, that could easily lead to resentment.
Over time, the Sherases say they’ve realized couples need a supportive community and shouldn’t try to live in a vacuum.
“Couples survive better in a community which provides a context that supports their couple ,” they said, rather than being involved in groups that come together to criticize their spouses.
Sheras and Koch-Sheras offer CPT workshops, groups and CDs for couples and have co- founded the nationwide network of “Couples Coaching Couples.” A way of creating that sense of community, the latter is a not-for-profit organization comprising groups of several couples, or “circles,” that meet regularly to talk about their relationships and support each other. See www.couplepower.com and www.couplescoachingcouples.org