My coaching packages for couples Breathe New Life Into Your Marriage and Relationship Reset are based on the idealistic and inspiring approach of Hedy Schleifer, known as Encounter-Centered Couples Therapy. ECCT is a type of relationship healing that helps partners connect with each other more fully and authentically and empowers couples to discover new, more authentic ways to engage with each other in order for their relationship to thrive instead of simply survive.
Hedy Schleifer’s approach is rooted in Imago Relationship Therapy and in the philosophy of Martin Buber. She identified the ‘three invisible connectors’ that exist within relationships. These connectors—the Space, the Bridge, and the Encounter—serve to draw partners close to each other and allow them to fully connect.
Couples develop a ‘survival dance’ or pattern of interacting where one partner attacks or retreats and then the other attacks or retreats and round and round they go until their shared space is no longer safe. ECCT offers tools to help the couple recognize and identify their particular ‘survival dance’, STOP it and heal it through the ‘three invisible connectors’.
The Space is the atmosphere and environment shared by the couple. Both partners are fully responsible to keep their Space empty of criticism, judgement and detachment and full of acceptance, benefit of the doubt, smiles and forgiveness.
By crossing the Bridge to one another, each partner enters the world of the other with curiosity, warmth and empathy and the desire to learn something new about the other – without judgment. The couple then creates an Encounter – of souls, of essence, of good will, of presence and open hearts. It is crucial for each partner to bring their full and authentic presence into the world of the other, as this is what allows them to truly meet each other and have an “encounter” that can then provide the basis for a new or restored relationship that is nurturing and fulfilling.
Through ECCT, couples agree to be courageous, vulnerable and open to exposing new parts of themselves. Partners learn to listen with openness and empathy, with new eyes, compassion and curiosity. Along the way, they may explore each other’s past and uncover wounds that need healing. The goal is for the partners to become thoroughly connected with each other and to better understand the experiences of the other in the journey they have made together. Through ECCT, a couple develops new ‘muscles’ of relating and deeply connecting in a way that breaks the automatic survival cycle and replaces it with support and security, with love and closeness.