In Quest of the Mythical Mate: A Developmental Approach to Diagnosis and Treatment in Couples Therapy

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Psychology Press, 1988 - Psychology - 261 pages
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In Quest of the Mythical Mate presents a valuable and fertile developmental model for diagnosing and treating couples that is flexible enough to incorporate a wide variety of intervention strategies, yet purposeful enough to give a clear sense of direction to couples in distress. As such, this volume provides a powerful therapeutic approach for all professionals who treat couples.

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It is my recent interest in couple therapy and the relationships between the couple that prompted me to read In Quest of the Mythical Mate. Bowlby, Piaget, Loevinger and Mahler are mentioned in the bibliography, and Mahler clearly is acknowledged by the author couple as the overriding influence in the developmental approach to diagnosis and treatment in couples therapy. Unforgettable is also the work of Mary Ainsworth and Susan Campbell. The psychosocial stage theory of Erikson and additions by Barbara Newman also come to mind. The problem with stage theory is the indeterminateness of any stage and the fluidity of life itself, a stage may be missed, or prematurely lost, a developmental approach on the other hand, moves along multiple pathways, mother-infant pathways do not fit into any simple linear mode.Mahler had a stage theory formulation Bowlby had disagreed with.
Couples can be in same or differing stage, even in differentiating stage. Separation-individuation in childhood and in adolescence need not be the same in intensity.
Seeking proximity to caregivers is a survival mechanism for the infant, but healthy and wellbeing promoting to an adult for growth. There is a bringing nearness, rapprochement of the person to the other, union, reunion, physical, intellectual, psychological and emotional availability though ambivalence and separation may not be absent.
‘Practicing’ a bit confusing to those unfamiliar with Margaret Mahler’s work, is the self-actualizing, identity forming ,growing world of the self. The euphoria gives way to disillusionment and disappointment, ecstacy to agony and enthronement to dethronement. The couples realize that their partner has feet of clay. There has to be reassurance for the partners to understand that differentiation is a healthy process, Expectations about marriage may differ markedly. In general the developmental approach taken by the authors has a structure and realistic agenda like Thirty Day Plan, the Wish List which is Ericksonian's version of miracle question, as if’ who you want to be, daily conversation, and focus on mental health rather than marital distress perspective
The relationship in the couples is like a dance, one of them symbiotic now has to create more space and time apart in a flow, and the individuating partner has to create and take more proximate steps, there is a symmetry, balance, energy, extending, reaching, withdrawing for approaching, and approaching for withdrawing but the dance continues, the quest continues, there is the seeker, the sought is not missing.
Every man and woman is developmentally with child, we carry the child within us and few of us reach the maturity of self-actualization and flourishing. There is life, but the abundance just misses most of us.
Each partner tries to provide what is needed or wanted, and is expected at times to meet unrealistic needs. The authors insist on establishing an agreement to be in therapy, for a definite number of sessions, encourage discussions on what the couples want in order to take the relationship to a more positive level, set appropriate limits and ground rules on fights at home.
The couples are required to Investing in the relationship. The re-decision method helps them correct the course from the lessons learned in childhood. Being stuck in as ‘prisoners of their own device’ they learn to rein in anger, the development of empathy in each partner is supported by the therapist. As the process of separation, individuation, differentiation stage often involves a grief process, the couples complete the grieving stages.
Just as objects and events continue to exist and even when they cannot directly be seen, heard, or felt, there is a realization of object permanence. In pre-operational stage of Piaget, ego-centrism is inability to distinguish one’s own and someone else’s perspective. In couples, there is a a desire to e noticed, visible and onstage. It is not easy to mark when the optimal function is achieved at young adulthood, middle age, or late middle age or even


Diagnosing the Couples Stages
Treating Couples in a Developmental Model
Enmeshed Type
HostileDependent Type
The SymbioticDifferentiating Couple
The DifferentiatingDifferentiating Couple
The SymbioticPracticing Couple
The PracticingPracticing Couple
Rapprochement and Beyond
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Page iv - Loevinger (1966) states that a developmental model has the following characteristics: (1) there is an invariable order of the stages of development; (2) no stage can be skipped; (3) each stage is more complex than the preceding one; and (4) each stage is based on the preceding one and prepares for the succeeding one.

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About the author (1988)

Bader is an internationally expert on couples therapy and co-director of The Couple's Institute in Menlo Park, California.

Pearson is an internationally expert on couples therapy and co-director of The Couple's Institute in Menlo Park, California.

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