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Couple Recovery Theory and Gottman Research: A Perfect Recipe

Start with the Right Ingredients

A Theory of Couple Recovery

It has been a remarkable journey. I developed the Couple Recovery Development Approach (CRDA) in 2002 for my doctoral dissertation on couples in long-term recovery. The model is based on my research from the Family Recovery Project housed at Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California.

Drs. Stephanie Brown and Virginia Lewis, Co-Directors of the Family Recovery Project were the first researchers to study what happens to family relationships after a family member enters recovery from an addiction. Dr. Brown offered me the “Couples Focus Group”, one component of the study for my dissertation research. Using grounded theory I developed a theory of couple recovery.

Add Gottman Training

Gottman interventions: the missing ingredients

My First Gottman training occurred in 2005 when Dr. John Gottman presented a Level 1 Training workshop in San Francisco. I knew at that workshop that Gottman Method Couples Therapy was a perfect fit. Both models were completely compatible, and even had overlaps in emphasizing specific parts of the relationship.

I had a model to conceptualize couple recovery development, now there was a research-based approach that could be adapted to target those areas that needed attention.

I was invited to present my research at Gottman conferences. Later I became a Certified Gottman Therapist. John Gottman became very interested in the model seeing the value of a relational approach to addiction recovery. At the time he was researching affairs and saw overlaps in affair dynamics and active addiction. John invited me to collaborate in writing and researching a relational approach to addiction recovery that eventually became two workshops: Roadmap for the Journey for Couples, and Couples and Addiction Recovery Training for Professionals.

The recipe I had between 2002 and 2007 was about waiting until couples had established recovery before doing couples work. The stage was set to concentrate on couples with established recovery, however, something was developing during that time that surprised me and opened a new possibility. It turned out that couples I was seeing in my practice, and some of the research couples at MRI, were getting benefit while still in the early recovery phase. The new recipe included working with couples at the start of recovery

Add Field Trials and Feedback

I started to present at conferences and got feedback from therapists that the CRDA model could apply to couples experiencing any severe or chronic medical or psychological illness or disorder. Couples need to talk about the impact of chronic issues and how to manage the recovery process individually and as a couple/family.

In my couple therapy sessions we would identify addiction, (hopefully) get into recovery, and then what? I’m supposed to say, “Sorry I am not able to continue to work with you as a couple. You both need to focus on your separate recoveries.”

Some partners relapsed and it made more sense to continue the couple work to help establish or strengthen individual recovery programs as well as address what was happening in their relationship.

WAIT, we can work with couples in early recovery. This is going to be a surprise to a lot of people, and not necessarily well received in some corners. I challenged the prevailing norm with come backs:

Some reasons why we should consider couple recovery, especially in early recovery

Serving it Up

Roadmap for the Journey: A Workshop for Couples Embracing Recovery”, is a workshop for couples in early and in ongoing recovery. Roadmap provides direction and tools to navigate the path of recovery, individually and as a couple. With help from trained leaders, couples practice these skills in the workshop.

I had given the Roadmap Workshop twice to focus groups of treatment and addiction professionals. The first group of clinicians met at Santa Clara University, where I teach addiction studies to graduate counseling students. The second workshop I co-presented with John Gottman at Swedish Hospital in Seattle, Washington. At that time John was presenting on affairs, trust, and betrayal. The overlaps were easy to see for the addiction and mental health professionals attending.

It was time to give the workshop to couples in treatment programs. I was able to collaborate with treatment programs in Northern California, Southern California, Seattle, Washington and Greer, Arizona. When you give couples the tools and create ways to talk about the difficult stuff, couples can succeed. We learned a tremendous amount about what resonated with couples and received suggestions for changes in the curriculum going forward.

Responses – Yelp Me Out Here

Responses were positive

From the start, participants were enthusiastic. Of the 34 respondents who attended the first workshop, 76% reported “Yes” when asked: “Do you feel the workshop helped you to develop a recovery approach for your relationship?” 91% of workshop respondents felt the workshop was helpful or somewhat helpful for developing a couple recovery. When asked “Do you feel this workshop was helpful for your own recovery?”, remarkably, 82% responded “yes”; when adding in “Somewhat helpful” responses, 94% reported the workshop was helpful or somewhat helpful for their individual recovery!  A whopping 97% endorsed “Very important” when asked “How important is it for couples to address their relationship as a part of recovery?”

Granted, this was a self-selecting group that might have selected “Very important”, before the workshop. But the fact is we didn’t lose any believers, and we probably made a few new converts of those who weren’t sure before the workshop. So where does this lead us now?

Food for Thought

We need community to increase awareness of the importance and place for couple recovery. We have the ingredients for success, now we need to spread the word. Can we really help couples? The proof is in the pudding.

Dr. Robert Navarra

Robert Navarra, PsyD, LMFT, MAC, is a Master Certified Gottman Therapist, Trainer, and Speaker, and an author. He is is certified as Master Addiction Counselor and specializes in treating and researching couples in recovery from addictive disorders. Dr. Navarra created "Roadmap for the Journey: A Workshop for Couples Embracing Recovery" and "Couples and Addiction Recovery: A Gottman Approach for Therapists, Counselors, and Addiction Professionals".

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