We know that our relationship does NOT live in each other. It lives in the space between us. That space is sacred but over time, unwittingly, that space becomes polluted. This space is also the playground for our children. We as a couple and as parents are responsible for keeping the space clean and sacred. However, if we don’t know how to do this, the space becomes dangerous over time and we react to the danger in the space. The goal is to stay connected. If the space is polluted and dangerous, we become detached, disconnected and then the space becomes even more dangerous. So the goal is to clean it up before it destroys what we want to preserve and keep sacred.

How do we stay connected?

The great Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber told us that our brains are hard-wired for connection and when we disconnect, we go into crisis. Neuro-biologists have empirical data that tells us the brain is the only organ in the body that cannot self regulate. It needs another brain to do so. We call this brain resonance. When two people connect, the brain will self regulate and the central nervous system will calm down.

My mentor, Hedy Schleifer tells us that there are three invisible connectors. The first is the relational space, the second the bridge and the third the encounter.

What is the relational space?

It is where we live in our relationship. When the space is sacred, time is eternal. How do we make the space sacred when It has become polluted? We learn the art of presencing. What is that? That is when the couple sits across from each other, 18 inches apart, looking into the eyes of the other, with an open heart, warm eyes and gratitude that each showed up to cross the bridge to the world of the other. Crossing the bridge, the second invisible connector is where a visit occurs. This is not a dialogue. It is a visit. One partner invites the other over to discover the world of his/her neighborhood. The content is minimal. The process is most important. It requires the assistance of a trained therapist to facilitate until the couple has been able to integrate the process on their own.

The visitor is not allowed to bring their own conceptions, beliefs, opinions or responses to the neighborhood of the other. They can only carry a transparent plastic bag with their passport, so that the customs agent, the therapist is certain they are not bringing in an illegal import. If they unconsciously do, the therapist asks them to bring it back to their side of the bridge and return to the encounter. They are there to listen, repeat and confirm that they are with their partner who is the host. It’s simple, elegant and transformational.

It requires only a big fat YES from each partner to follow the process that is directed by the therapist. It is only successful when BOTH partners are in full cooperation to bring their relationship forward.

The Masters in Couples Therapy

I have studied couples therapy with many of the great contributors to the field. I was trained by John Bradshaw, (Creating and Maintaining Healthy Relationships), Lori and Morris Gordon, PAIRS, (Practical Applications for Intimate Relationships), Harville Hendrix, Imago Therapy, John Gottman, Elsa Perel and finally had the good fortune to train in a three year master class with Hedy Schleifer, LMFT. This three year Master Class included therapists from around the world. Hedy’s contribution to couple counseling was a paradigm that engages all the work I had learned that built a hierarchy of change in couple’s work. It is the pinnacle of all I have studied. Having been a psychotherapist for forty years, I am constantly surprised at the transformations that occurs doing this work. The healing, learnings and change it produces continues to amaze me with each couple that commits to the process.

Reclaim and Heal Your Relationship

Bottom line: For couples to reclaim their essence and heal their relationship, this work is key to making that happen. I talk about it briefly in my Morning Moments: Off the Couch series on Facebook, Linkedin and Youtube, but the time is too brief to fully share the process and benefits. That is why I have written a blog about each video I produce, so those interested can read more about the topic.

I welcome your questions and comments. Please feel free to contact me on my website. I look forward to your responses.

Joan E Childs, LCSW is a renowned psychotherapist, inspirational speaker and author of I Hate The Man I Love: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success. To learn more about how Encounter-Centered Couple Therapy can renew and restore your relationship, contact Joan

This article first appeared on joanechilds.com. Reprinted with permission.


  • Joan E. Childs, LCSW

    Psychotherapist, Author and Inspirational Speaker

    Joan E. Childs, LCSW is a renowned psychotherapist, inspirational speaker and author. She has been in private practice in South Florida since 1978 specializing in both individual and couple’s therapy. Her books include I HATE THE MAN I LOVE: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success, WHY DID SHE JUMP? My Daughter’s Battle with Bipolar Disorder and THE MYTH OF THE MAIDEN: On Being a Woman. Joan specializes in couples therapy using many modalities including Encounter-centered Couples Therapy, Imago Relationship Therapy, PAIRS (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills), as well as many others. She is also an expert in Codependency, Inner Child Work, Original Pain Work and Second Stage Recovery. After nearly 40 years in private practice healing the wounds of clients who’s lives had been fractured from personal traumas, she has taken her personal and professional knowledge, skills and experience to serve as an inspirational keynote speaker. As a professional speaker specializing in women’s issues, couple and family relationships, self-actualization and grief and loss, she has the qualifications and credibility to impact her audiences and effect positive change. Joan has appeared on many radio and television shows including Oprah and before live audiences. She produced her own television show, SOLUTIONS to provide education and resources to the community on mental health. Joan was chosen to be the first affiliate of the John Bradshaw Center in the United States and is a consultant to many corporations, hospitals, universities and academic institutions. In 2014 she completed a three year Master’s Class training with Hedy Schleifer and received her certification for ENCOUNTER-CENTERED COUPLE’S THERAPY. Learn more about Joan at https://www.joanechilds.com