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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Technique Toolbox - Putting an Affair on Ice

Credited toEvan Imber-Black, one of the authors of Rituals in Families and Family Therapy

For use with
: Adults
What you will need
A willing couple
Symbolic items representing the affair
Bowl of water (at couple's home)
Freezer (at couple's home)

What you do:

Have the couple identify separately an item or object that reminds them "of the unhappy time that has arisen between them." When they decide on their objects, have them meet together, discuss their symbols, but the objects in a large enough bowl to accommodate them, fill it up with water, and put it in the freezer.

The therapist then asks the couple to conduct an experiment (assuming they were willing to do the above). They are asked that the next time they begin a fight on any topic, they will stop the fight and take out the frozen bowl. The items have to thaw enough to be retrievable before they can fight about the affair. 

During the thawing out period, the couple is to talk about positive qualities of their relationship, both past and present. The discussion can be enhanced by the couple soliciting the opinions of their support network (people who have good things to say about them being together).

This ritual calls upon the couples' creativity, sense of humor, and playfulness--all of which are usually missing in a couple struggling in the aftermath of an affair.

Imber-Black discusses that by having each partner put a symbolic element into the water bowl to freeze, it introduces a symmetry into a system where one partner was viewed at the victim and the other the villain. By both "victim" and "villain" identifying an item that captures their feelings about the affair, they enter the game on a more level playing field. This process also confirms separate viewpoints regarding a joint problem and gives them both ownership.

Selecting an appropriate symbol helps the couple see the affair through the eyes of empathy for the other, rather than anger, blame, or defensiveness. In essence, the affair is re-contextualized collaboratively, and the couple uses their problem-solving abilities to conquer it. The ludicrousness of the frozen water bowl helps remind them that they can have fun even with a major rift between them.

Doing the above in the couples' home shifts the home from a place of catastrophe to a place of humor and problem-solving.

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