Noga (Rubinstein) Nabarro, PhD & Sara Ivanir, PhD
Rubinstein Nabbaro, N. & Ivanir, S. (2006) Using Maps and Visions in Family Therapy with Remarriage (ch. 16) in: When Marriage Fail: Systemic Family Therapy Interventions and Issues. Ed’s: C.A. Everett & R.E. Lee. Haworth Press: New York
Remarriages encompass a cornucopia of complexities. To mention just a few, it is convoluted by the fact that two families, which broke up under unhappy circumstances, are compelled to come together and create a new family while at once their members hold contradictory expectations for this union. They carry the expectation of becoming a new “happy and united family” (Visher & Visher, 1988), while, at the same time, expecting that this could never be like (or replace) the “real family”. Moreover, while the spouses are happy and pleased with the new life arrangement, others (e.g. children or grandparents) are displeased or unhappy with it. As time passes, unresolved issues from previous marriage/s cross over into the present one, eroding the couple’s and family relationships (Nichols, 1996, 1980).
Multiple subsystems that are directly and indirectly involved in the situation (Nichols, 1996, 1998) may complicate things further, as every change in one subsystem immediately reverberates throughout all of the others, often threatening family members and shifting relationships and alliances. This situation can certainly curtail the family’s capacity for effective problem solving.
In remarriages, unresolved issues develop exponentially into bigger problems while the flexibility essential for problem solving is reduced. As one client described it, “When it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work (in a big way) and then it radiates onto all other aspects, like an inflammation that spreads throughout all the relationships”.
In developmental junctions (e.g. adolescence, leaving home or marriage of an offspring), problems that were regarded as resolved or non-existent tend to erupt again, greatly amplifying existing problems. Unresolved issues of the “step” subsystem may continue into their adulthood, overshadowing the couple’s relationships (as in cut-off relationships). In such cases couples may survive from one crisis to another, applying “more-of the same” solutions (Watzlawick, Weakland & Fisch, 1974) that only exasperate the problems and diminish the possibility of resolution.
The family therapist working with remarried couples in this situation must develop a “Systemic Insight” (Rubinstein-Nabarro, 1996a, 1966b), grasping a panoramic view of the different subsystems, including the therapeutic system, and their delicate implicit and explicit mutual influence. Hasty interventions designed to contend with just one symptom or problem might create a short-lived solution and may elicit problems elsewhere in the system.
In this chapter we describe and illustrate two working concepts, or tools, that we found to facilitate our work with remarried couples, whether in short or long term marriages:
- The concept of the “Invisible Maps”
- The process of the Joint Vision for the remarriage
Utilizing these concepts enables the therapist to move the spouses from their habituated reactive stances of “putting out fires” to a broader, more expansive outlook and better solutions.
THE METAPHOR OF THE “INVISIBLE MAPS”
We find it tremendously useful to utilize visual metaphors and symbols that can assist our therapeutic thinking and conversation in complex therapeutic situations. A “map” is a natural metaphor, as people repeatedly use “map-like” expressions when referring to relationships. For example: ”my way is shorter/ quicker”; “a Dead-End situation/one-way street”; “there are too many road blocks”; “detouring the conflict”; etc…
Every person seems to have his/her own “map” in a relationship. We use the “personal map” to connote the clear and set paths of actions and directions that guide a person’s voyage within the relationship. The personal map is the culmination of past experiences in meaningful relationships and is an expression of that person’s worldviews, cognitive schemas (Dattilio, 1998), emotions, and perceptions. It represents one’s laborious efforts (conscious or unconscious) to translate those into a coherent territory of modes (“roads”) of actions and reactions in present relationship circumstances. The map allows one to navigate and plot a course of action in order to reach “desired destinations” or to avoid certain “undesired destinations”. The “map” becomes increasingly sophisticated with experience. Some of the pathways include helpful structures, such as bridges, while some have very deep ravines laden with obstacles that are difficult to overcome. Each partner enters remarriage “navigating by their own personal map”, which represents the outcome of their previous relationships.
Using this metaphor, as long as each partner is routed on his/her map (their own territory), neither can see the other’s map. The partners’ maps remain invisible to each other unless they are willing to temporarily leave their own map and explore the other’s, or if both maps are juxtaposed by a third party (i.e. the therapist). All too often partners try to decipher each others’ map through their own coordinates, only to find that they have superimposed their own map, distorting the other (Berenstein, 1999), or achieving just a partial view at best.
The reader is invited to imagine a couple with two maps, both containing a “togetherness” destination. On the wife’s map there are three roads leading to “togetherness”:
1) “Share intimate of hurtful details of previous marriage”; 2) “[her] children always join them on vacations”; 3) “Joint decision making”. There are also roads that lead away from “togetherness”: 1) the road of “Make decisions alone” marked with a huge “beware!! No Entrance” signpost; 2) “Do things separately” marked with a “dangerous curve” sign; 3) “Leave [her] kids with the ex-husband”, which is a hanging bridge that can only be crossed with much support.
The husband’s map looks quite different. The wide roads to the destination of “togetherness”, are: 1)”Keep the previous marriage out of couple’s joint life”; 2) “Vacations should be taken only with spouse”; 3) “Surprise your partner by making big decisions on your own”. Imagine this couple after 5 years of marriage, when the husband decided to once again surprise his wife with an expensive pre-paid vacation for two, arranged for her kids to stay with their father, and bought her a new car of his choice that awaited them at the vacation resort…
Maps in Remarriage
Partners in first marriages leave their familiar families of origin and unite to work together on creating their own family life. They are usually more willing to see each other’s map and to expose their own map. Re-married partners, on the other hand, tend to continue using the map from their previous relationships, rather than taking the risk of paving new pathways in uncharted territory. Discarding the old map or exposing it may be reminiscent of bad past experiences. Moreover, one cannot totally discard the old map, as it entails “losing sight” of one’s previous family (e.g. children).
Metaphorically speaking, the interaction between partners occurs in the “space” between both personal maps. Within that inter-map space, a third map is created – that of the relationship.
One common destination on the “relationship map” of Remarriage is “not failing”. As one of our clients put it, “The first objective is not to fail. This requires carefully examining system. In the first marriage you go “blindly”. In the second marriage I wanted very much to know and make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen again.”
Yet, too many of them do fail. Much like young parents who vow “never” to raise their children as their own parents did, spouses in Remarriages may consciously disavow and avoid anything that might remind them of grim memories from the previous marriage.
If either one or both spouses view the Remarriage territory as treacherous, they will make sure to designate only those very few pathways that are presumably “safe courses” for them. This immensely limits the joint map’s alternative directions and destinations. They will create many “dead end’, “no exit”, “no entry” and “dangerous curve” roads for each other, rather than spending their energy on creating alternative ways that could ultimately lead to desired destinations. On the other hand, if one is blind to the obstacles, one will not build the necessary structures to overcome rough terrains and will repeatedly fall into unexpected traps. This bind is very common in Remarriages. On the one hand, there is an adamant determination to “not fail” (rather than “to succeed”) and on the other hand, one does not do what it takes to succeed, because of continuous scouting for signs of potential failures to preempt.
Dealing with Maps in Therapy
Working with the invisible maps of remarried couples can be an extremely confusing endeavor for the family therapist, since so many things are hidden from view and consciousness. Many interactional dynamics may not seem to make sense until the map becomes visible to all. This is why the therapist must help the partners, as soon as possible, create a safer environment that will enable them to disclose their own maps and then to leave their familiar territory and carefully study each other’s maps. Through well thought-out questions, the therapist can help them identify their differing maps and respectfully acknowledge the wisdom inherent in each of them.
Once the clients are familiar with using the metaphor, we often help them to literally chart out their maps on paper, filling-in the details as treatment progresses and revealing more routes that were hidden (from the eye and consciousness). We also use a procedure called the “Reciprocal Empathic Response” (Ivanir, 1999), in which couples are taught how to transform conflicts triggered by personal anxiety, into opportunities for self-exploration, personal growth and increased intimacy. Focusing on those moments of the conflict which are stressful, provoke and/or are provoked by personal anxiety, this procedure trains partners to empathically stimulate each other to discover conscious and unconscious elements in their internal maps, so that the maps become more visible and “road blocks” (i.e. obstacles to intimacy) are removed.
The personal maps are then used to co-construct a new map of the relationship with joint destinations, and roads and structures leading to them. The new map must also include an infrastructure for dealing with the entire family.
In therapy using the metaphor of the “map” enables spouses and therapists to move away from a language of conflicts and be more playful as in solving riddles. It also enables to immediately grasp which paths will ultimately lead to desired and undesired destinations in the relationship.
CASE EXAMPLE: DEBBIE AND ALLEX
Debbie & Alex asked for therapy in a state of severe marital crisis related to Alex’s son from his previous marriage. Debbie felt desperate and on the verge of separation.
Debbie (56), a physician and Alex (56), a Software Engineer, had been married 17 years. While Debbie had no children from her first marriage, Alex had two children: Guy (30), from whom Alex has two little grandchildren, and Maya (27). Alex & Debbie have a son together, Jonathan (16). While Debbie’s divorce was relatively simple, Alex’s divorce was traumatic as his wife left him for another man. Four years later, Alex and Debbie were married. Alex’s children were very fond of Debbie. They developed good relationships with her and were happy when Jonathan arrived. All went very well until Alex’s son, Guy, turned 16. He became increasingly verbally aggressive toward Debbie, instigating fierce arguments. He demonized her and invented stories of emotional abuse. His perplexing “vengeance trip” rendered Alex helpless and torn. The deterioration of Debbie and Guy’s relationship continued into Guy’s adulthood. Alex’s requests from Guy to change his behavior caused several “cut-offs” between them. Every time this happened, it was Debbie who pushed Alex to re-connect with Guy. However, the resumption of the father-son relationship always left her out of the loop. When the first grandchild was born, both spouses were excited and hoped for a positive change. However this did not happen and joint visits were scanty. Although Debbie never prevented Alex from visiting alone, she did express her pain. Since they lived far away and visits were a whole day affair, Alex began to lead “a double-life”, visiting his grandchildren mostly when Debbie was away, concealing his intentions to visit till the last moment and sharing little about his grandchildren. Debbie was concerned about the future and about Jonathan’s learning to “cut-off” as a means of dealing with conflicts as he distanced himself from his half-brother, Guy.
Deciphering and exposing the Maps
From the start, as the spouses related the details of the crisis that led to therapy, we began to decipher each spouse’s maps. We tried to utilize the metaphor of the map as soon as possible in the conversation.
Debbie described the event in which Alex all of a sudden announced “I’m going to visit Guy and the grandchildren! You can come if you want to but if you don’t, that’s fine! When she asked if she was invited, he became furious and said ” I have no intention of asking Guy to call and invite you” and stormed out…Debbie, who never had such a wish, felt completely misunderstood and was so hurt, that she seriously contemplated separation for the first time.
The therapist began by exploring Alex’s map:
Therapist 🡪 Alex: What did you have in mind that prompted you to inform Debbie about the visit at the last minute, telling her that you didn’t mind if she joined you or not?
Alex: I wasn’t thinking about how she felt…because this is a battle situation. The current constellation is such that this issue becomes a battle and you’ve got to watch out for ”mines”.
Therapist 🡪 Alex: One goes into battle to in order to win…
On Alex’s map then, this relationship area is a battle ground with mines, in which one either wins or loses. It is familiar ground from his previous marriage. Defending his territory necessitates keeping his map invisible and sometimes being harshly insensitive.
Further discussion revealed that the destination at stake was “grandchild-grand fatherhood”. Alex explained that he felt stuck in a Biblical-like “Solomon’s Trial”, exclaiming to Debbie: “what’s your sacrifice compared to mine… it’s my tangible grandchild that I have to give up, while for you it’s merely your feelings. I feel that your sacrifice is solely related to our couplehood while I’m risking losing my real-life grandchild…”
Therapist 🡪 Alex: So you are on a map in which there is only a two way junction: either overruling Debbie’s feelings or loosing your grand -parenting… Is there no third way?
Alex: Right! …So instead of going there 4 times a month, I go twice a month, to spare myself the conflict. Of course it’s a far cry from what’s desirable for me…
Hence, Alex tried to pave another road. This new road did not take him to the desired destination, leaving him resentful and frustrated. It was a solution that only coincided with his own map, invisible to Debbie’s. She had no way of seeing that this was the best alternative on his map. Debbie could only be confused and disheartened by his reactions. On her map, we discovered, the destinations Security and Inclusion were crucial. Relationship was a ground for security, and Alex’s roads (if placed on her map) were leading to very undesirable and unsafe destinations. On Debbie’s map the roads which led to destination Security were: togetherness, visibility (information) and collaboration in problem solving.
On Alex’s map Security is reached by autonomy, resolving problems alone, vigilance and caution. For him, togetherness and collaboration leads to possible loss of autonomy and endangers the unity of his first family and grandchild. Thus, when Debbie wanted to be informed and collaborate on decisions about the family, Alex’s “warning lights” flickered.
Following the therapeutic session in which both maps became more visible, Alex invited Debbie to join him. On the visit, feeling much more relaxed, Debbie found herself playing and enjoying Alex’s grandchildren. Although at first Alex felt very tense and concerned about Debbie’s feelings, he recalled visualizing how on Debbie’s map, this led to destination Security and was able to relax. Interestingly, Guy relaxed, too and the whole event was experienced as rather positive.
Paving the Way to a Joint map
As Debbie and Alex became more conscious of their own and each others’ maps, they could untangle some of the complexities of their situation. They were able to converse about their relationship with his children and grandchildren without Debbie’s unduly interference. The therapist literally showed them that they must co-generate an alternative map with routes that take both personal maps into account; otherwise they will never reach their desired Destinations. They realized, for example, that Debbie could reach Security and Togetherness through visibility only if she removed all the mines, while Alex’s roads could lead to Security and Autonomy only by creating more visibility. Thus, their joint map should entail a safe and visible route to Security. This manifested itself, for example, in Alex visiting his son at his discretion, however always informing Debbie of his plans and occasionally inviting her along. They played with the grandchildren together but she also allowed him time alone with his son and grandchildren. As urgent issues were dealt with, the couple was ready to move on to the next phase, which entails working on their Marital Vision.
In the next section we will elucidate the concept of the vision specifically as it relates to remarriage and proceed to illustrate the process in therapy with the continuing case of Debbie and Alex.
THE MARITAL VISION IN REMARRIAGE
Bader et al. (2004a) defined “vision” as: “A strong desire that is aligned with partners’ values and supported by a plan…A vision involves fantasizing and identifying something you really want… A vision contains enough passion that you are willing to put in sustained effort to bring it about” (p.1).” A joint marital vision, thus, unifies defined aspirations the spouses have as a couple and for their family; the values they both share and cherish; their common interests and goals. A vision is always oriented toward the future, the horizon. However, the work to be achieved is always done in the present.
In a first marriage couples do not usually allocate time to construe their shared vision and dreams of their future life together. To quote a client: “…the first time around (first marriage), we were so innocent. Everything was so clear – it was obvious that you had kids, raised them well, developed your career, saved your money to buy a house and eventually had grandchildren”. Investing time and energy and sacrificing some individual needs to achieve the common goals seems almost automatic. Many aspects of the vision automatically cross over from both spouses’ respective families of origin.
Contrastingly, individuals whose marriages have ended in divorce or widowhood do not carry into remarriage the same natural vision they had in their first marriage.
Members of remarried families that include children from previous marriages have difficulty feeling rooted even after many years of marriage. The roots and legacy are associated with the first family, causing a sense of impermanency in the present family. Furthermore, there is a sense of disappointment and pain in harboring a vision that was shattered.
Oftentimes a partner’s personal vision may not even be known to the other partner. Furthermore, the vision of the remarried spouses may not really encompass the whole newly formed blended family. In cases where the relationship had begun as an extra-marital love affair for which spouses left their previous marriages (Rubinstein-Nabarro & Ivanir, 1999), the couple’s vision may express an egocentric encapsulation of their love more than a well-thought-of and planned joint vision.
Ex: David (52) and Judy (46) had an extra-marital love affair for several years before David’s wife died of a disease. A year later, David pressured Judy to leave her husband, promising her marriage and wealth. Relying on David and following what appeared to be a joint dream, Judy left her husband, leaving him all of their joint property. She dreamed of building a new home and family with David, including her two young adult children and David’s two grown up children and grandchildren. When they married, a crisis related to David’s children brought them to therapy. In the first two sessions the discrepancy between both their visions became apparent. David was extremely involved with his son and daughter who greatly resented Judy for the affair. He also was extremely attached to his deceased wife’s family of origin who neighbored him on the family estate. His vision was to build an extensive multi-generation estate where his children would build a home, living in close proximity to him and his in-laws (who did not accept Judy). His vision included Judy with him, but not her children. He dreamed of being in her arms forever, free at last, without having to pay any price or having to do anything other than expressing his love. Their individual visions were so rigid and overpowering that no joint vision was possible, and they eventually separated.
A major task of the therapist is to facilitate a joint vision, which is neither the accumulation of their previous family visions nor merely the egocentric encapsulation of their love and unity as a couple.
The Importance of the Vision Process in Remarriage Therapy
We share the opinion of Bader & Pearson (2004a) that: “Bringing the larger dreams into better focus helps give partners a crucial incentive to do some of the hard work in front of them…Without big dreams, a part of each partner withers and dies and they begin to live their lives in’ quiet desperation ( p 1).”
Many remarried couples, when they are confronted with the complexity of their situation, experience the future as vague and uncertain, lacking the sense of security and unity of a first marriage. As our client expressed it, “Couples who have kids and grandkids together have a clearer picture. When it comes to a second marriage, everything is so uncertain… And then, when you get into a crisis you become skeptical about the whole system and tend to give up easily”
The most important functions and objectives of the Vision process in remarriages are: 1) Predicating the relationship on common goals and rooting it in the present and future rather than in the past; 2) Uniting personal and family resources on both sides for the sake of the blended family; 3) Going beyond the symmetrical and competitive struggles of “mine” and “yours”; 4) creating a sense of security and permanence in the relationship; 5) Fueling the relationship with new enthusiasm by revealing a new horizon.
In remarriages, it is essential that the vision and the common goals it comprises will permeate all areas of life, such as: family, couple/marital, personal growth, financial, spiritual, physical, hobbies, work/career, community/social, and health In doing so, even simple aspects of daily living can be viewed as a natural extension of the couple’s vision. Moreover, if a vision of remarriage does not include family aspects, it may provide temporary couple satisfaction but will eventually become problematic as the stepfamily will always have strongly- bound subsystems to which members remain loyal ( Keshet 1980).
Ordinarily, the process of generating the joint vision entails several major steps:
1) Clarifying the concept of the vision; 2) Defining common values; 3) Determining common goals in the different areas of their life: personal, couple and family goals; 4) Evaluating the resources and skills needed to achieve these goals
A clear and detailed vision, to which both spouses are committed, greatly facilitates discovering better ways to deal with some of the complexities encountered by the couple, while avoiding unhealthy solutions. It determines the important destinations on their relationship map and functions like a compass that points them in the right directions.
Dealing With Hindrances to Creating a Shared Vision in Therapy
The work of creating a shared vision in therapy of remarried couples typically blends feelings of love and enthusiasm with frustration, fears and despair. These require the therapist to skillfully recognize several fundamental hindrances and to utilize, remove or prevent them. Typical hindrances are:
1. Spouses do not recognize the significance of a shared vision as a unifying resource that can guide them in mapping out their new family life. The therapist must highlight what they do want for themselves rather than remaining focused on everything that they do not want.
2. One or both spouses may feel disloyal or betraying of their children from the previous marriage, as the joint vision strengthens their intimate bond (.Visher & Visher 1988). The therapist must ensure that the couple understands that a successful vision will also include the children of both spouses.
3. One or both Spouses may fear that a shared vision would curtail their personal freedom and jurisdiction over their families from the previous marriage. As a client professed, "I can’t commit myself fully to a vision that might add to or limit my commitments to the first family”. Thus, the therapist must identify and expose the source of the fear and challenge its contention by developing the fearful partner’s assertiveness, or by agreeing on clear rules rather than curtailing the vision. It is also useful to clarify and explicitly explore whatever was implicitly avowed to the children, enabling everyone to live well within the shared vision.
4. One or both spouses may fear impermanency of the relationship (see the following case of Debbie and Alex for further explanation and therapy).
5. There is an inherent inequality that typifies remarriage when one spouse has children from a previous marriage and the other is childless or living apart from his offspring. In an attempt to correct the imbalance the “disadvantaged” spouse may utilize distancing, threats of separation or divorce or other balancing mechanisms (Rubinstein-Nabarro 1996b; Ayal & Iwanir , 1991), which enhance insecurity and encourage the spouses to cling to separate visions instead of a joint, shared one. The therapeutic task would thus be to identify the meaning of divorce threats and reframe them as the spouse’s attempted declaration of presence and significance within the marriage. Subsequently the therapist can challenge the threatening partner to empower her/his status in the relationship by assuming an important role within this vision and its fulfillment.
6. Some remarriages occur out of convenience rather than romantic love (e.g. a widower marrying someone to care for the children, a marriage that eliminates financial concerns or remarriage for the sake of business building). In such cases a shared vision pertaining to the couplehood may be difficult to achieve. The therapist can assist the couple to launch the process with what they do have in common. A vision which is not based on romantic love can nevertheless include common goals relating to their choice of partners, to building a good family or business, personal and spiritual development or contributing to the community.
Working on a Shared Vision with Debbie & Alex-(case cont’)
Gradually exposing bigger parts of their personal maps to each other, allowed Debbie and Alex to make more sense of things and plan their actions and reactions better, thereby alleviating the threatening crisis. Alternative solutions began to appear on their joint map. A more balanced atmosphere fostered hope. After a few sessions, the foundation was laid for working on the couple’s joint vision. We chose to embark on identifying both overt and covert wishes and dreams that each of them harbored in entering remarriage. Debbie shared that she was deeply impressed by Alex’s devotion and paternal investment in his children, and was convinced that he would be a wonderful father to their own child. She dreamed of creating a close, warm family together with Alex, including his children from his first marriage, whom she was willing to regard as her own. Alex recounted: “My dream was that the children would love Debbie, and there would be a close-knit, harmonious atmosphere…. But that proved to be a lost cause. It could never become The home, or The family.”
They never really discussed together their dreams or vision. Given their sense of recurrent failure and disappointment (mentioned previously) it was obvious that without a clear joint vision that would spark a new interest and a growing sense of commitment, this second marriage for both will collapse.
As we initiated a discussion about the concept of the shared vision, we quickly saw their divergence: Debbie, seeking the security of “togetherness”, seized what she perceived as an opportunity to create a clearer future for a more cohesive family. Alex, on the other hand, had difficulty and felt resistant at first. Clarifying his reluctance, he revealed two major reasons: 1. Fear of impermanency of the relationship: “My past experience has taught me that she (Debbie) may not be there forever. If my children’s own mother bailed out, why couldn’t the same thing happen with her? It is scary to commit to some vague horizon”.
2. Fear that committing to a shared vision would curtail his personal freedom, particularly regarding his relationship with his children and grandchildren. The more Debbie showed investment in the potential implications of the shared vision on their home and family life, the more Alex felt threatened.
We challenged them to think of the developmental existential role that each of them holds in the in the life of the other. Alex immediately answered: “She’s like my “anvil”; she stimulates me to keep growing and moving forward… not to settle for where I’m at.”
Debbie said: “He teaches me, bit by bit, how to receive love in ways that are different than what I’m used to… and much more…”
It was apparent that affirming their mutual roles raised their sense of commitment and increased their cooperation. We began the discussion on the vision itself, taking a non-conflictual approach by enlisting the values they held in common and the manner in which they already manifested in their joint activities. As they spoke about a joint project with a group of underprivileged patients, Alex said: “…the value that both of us are inspired from is optimism…that no matter how bad the situation is – how bleak, one should always search for a ray of light and pass it on to others. Sometimes a little help from the outside goes a long way…together we can create a sense of hope.” It was obvious that he was now applying this value to his present situation.
Debbie added: “We have a mutual commitment to spiritual development…in that sense there is a strong connection between us; beyond the experience of daily life…it’s bigger than both of us…something that can only come from our togetherness. We both desire to realize the gift that has been given to us, to make a difference in this world. We don’t always use it well, but it’s a very meaningful vision.”
Alex happily agreed: “When it’s just the two of us, that’s when and where our creativity really flows…it’s like the two wings of a bird”, he continued: “there’s a kind of excitement, pleasure, transcendence beyond the ordinary or the mundane; little leaps out there and back again – but those leaps make all the difference.”
The next step (in the following session) was to expand the dialogue on the values and vision to encompass the entire family so that it would become a binding link aiding to overcome difficulties. Beginning this process with their joint son Jonathan provided a smoother entry. This was the first time they had a “parent talk” discussing how to create the circumstances that would ensure his growth, applying their shared values and vision. Debbie was relieved as she sensed Alex’s growing commitment. Further discussion was geared towards clarifying their aspirations and plans for the whole family. Alex became less vigilant and suspicious as he learned that he did not have to be torn away form his son and grandchildren. The couple was able to move into a realistic vision in which there are two families, practicing different types of affiliation bound by fondness, compassion, respect, love and mutual interests.
As teachers and trainers of Family Therapy, our aim is to research and develop working principles and tools that enable Family Therapists to tackle complexities such as those inherent in remarriages with all ages. We find that complex human situations demand two major abilities: One is to fully grasp the workings of the system at hand – that is to simultaneously experience the system from the “inside” and to view it from the “outside”. The “inside” gives the affective-interactional information and the “outside” enables seeing the system’s patterns and the rules (Rubinstein-Nabarro, 1996). The second ability is to see the uniting thread strings together all the elements within the complexity, into a new and functional whole.
In helping remarried couples and families, we are often impressed by their sense of confusion, of an obscured vision or horizon and loss of direction. Unexpected problems either in character or intensity tend to surface and endanger their relationships,
We see it as one of our first tasks to help these clients find ways to relieve some of the anxiety and helplessness and acquire a sense of direction and realistic unity, developing more stable and predictable relationships. We want to empower them with a counter – force to the problems that are pulling them down or tearing the system apart.
We find that the metaphor of the “maps” and the process of the Joint Vision presented in this chapter proved to be very useful, as well as interesting to work with.
Using the “maps” facilitates the therapeutic work for clients and therapist alike. Once the maps are visible and “map owners” are able to “move out” of their own maps to build the relationship map, the therapist and clients can acquire a good systemic view which enables them to predict the systemic -reactions and plan better moves. Working with the maps gives the entire therapeutic system a clearer, cleaner field of work, illuminating directions in which the spouses and the therapy can progress. As obscurity and confusion lessen, the entire system seems to calm down and a higher sense of security is fostered.
The vision-building process is the “unifying thread”, through which we come to know our clients’ deepest values as people and as couples or families. Co-creating the shared vision also helps to ground the therapeutic alliance.. The shared vision makes the horizon visible. Its uniting quality cultivates a sense of hope and renewed belief in the value and essence of the relationship. We have found that the shared vision points to the desired direction, and the maps show the way. Both have to do with the essence of moving towards desired goals. .
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