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Power to the Couple!

July 20, 2006
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With at least half of all marriages ending in divorce, there must be something better than chocolate to bring lasting happiness to couples.

Psychologists and married couple Peter L. Sheras and Phyllis Koch-Sheras have developed a creative, positive approach called couple-power therapy that teaches partners positive ways to create fulfilling loving relationships -- and have more fun together.

Sheras and Koch-Sheras say that people unhappy in their relationships too often blame each other and think their individual problems have to be fixed first, rather than starting with their own relationship, forming a vision of what they want it to be, and creating it together.

"Most couples come into therapy wanting us to make the pain go away, instead of exploring the possibility of creating joy," said Sheras, professor of clinical and school psychology and associate director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project.

Even though romance is important for a healthy partnership, it shouldn't be expected to be the all-consuming and only way for a couple to know and love each other. That's a way to become needy, or lose oneself in the relationship, explained Koch-Sheras.

Couples get stuck in patterns where their roles are too rigidly defined or they are too independent from each other, they added.

For all those brokenhearted or stoic people who'd like to find a lifelong valentine -- or who wish to try again -- Koch-Sheras advised that rather than looking for the perfect person, that they think about the kind of relationship they'd like to have, and then look for someone with whom they could imagine creating that picture together.

"You don't want to impose your vision on the other person, but you want to be committed to the relationship," stated Koch-Sheras, an adjunct professor who teaches CPT workshops with her husband to mental-health practitioners through several branches of the University of Virginia's School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

The Sherases have also described "the four C's" for achieving "couple power," to be worked on in this particular order: commitment, cooperation, communication and community.

Said Sheras: "Communication is not enough. Without commitment and cooperation, it can even make things worse."

In their recent book, Couple Power Therapy, they say that it's crucial for the two people to be committed to each other as a new entity -- the couple. The commitment serves as a map for the relationship, but is not static; there are many paths the partners may take -- and unknown directions they will take -- over the course of their lives.

Having developed CPT during 20 years of private practice, Sheras and Koch-Sheras say that using this model produces dramatic results, and couples say they are dealing with problems much better, as well as feeling more satisfied and fulfilled. They have begun documenting the results in the "Relationship Possibility Research Project," and preliminary findings bolster their experience, they said.

A 'We Proclamation'
The Sherases call their methods part of a new paradigm that fits into the profession's positive psychology movement.

Using CPT, they ask a couple if they are willing to let the past be in the past, and in the present commit to trusting themselves to follow their vision into the future.

The therapists have a couple work on a kind of vision statement -- a "we proclamation" --that reminds them of the kind of relationship they are committed to creating. Some couples write this as their marriage vows and repeat them every day.

The Sherases also encourage changing the proclamation as needed.

For more information, log on to the Web site: www.couple power.com.

This article was prepared in cooperation with Newswise.


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