By: Dr. Laura Bryan, Ph.D.
Dr. Bryan is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in North Carolina and an Assistant Professor and Clinic Director at Pfieffer University.
Below Dr. Bryan shares her insight from a therapist’s perspective about the Relationship Dynamics section of the PREPARE/ENRICH Assessment—what it covers, how the dynamics interact, and how it can help other facilitators, therapists, and couples themselves gain a deeper understanding of their relationship.
One of my favorite things about using the PREPARE/ENRICH assessment is the amazing amount of useful information contained in the report. For example, there are sections on personal stress, communication, conflict resolution, and much more. In the space of an hour, the couple provides detailed information that I, as the trained facilitator, can then use to help target and guide our sessions together. Very efficient and effective!
One of the first sections I review is Relationship Dynamics, which consists of four elements: assertiveness, self-confidence, avoidance, and partner dominance. As implied by the word “dynamics” (according to Dictionary.com, “pertaining to or characterized by energy or effective action”), the elements interact with each other in particular ways. For example, assertiveness, or the ability to “say what you mean and mean what you say” without being mean, is related to self-confidence (how positive you feel about yourself and your abilities). It makes sense that someone who has high self-confidence is able to be assertive, and vice versa. Likewise, someone low in assertiveness will probably express low self-confidence. We call that type of mutual influence a “feedback loop.” Because these two elements relate in this way, changes made to one will affect the other; if a PREPARE/ENRICH Facilitator helps a partner be more assertive in his/her communication, that partner’s self-confidence will likely increase.
Similarly, avoidance – the tendency to “beat around the bush” rather than explicitly state wants or needs – is related to partner dominance, or how much one feels dominated by their partner. Again, the connection makes sense: when a partner feels controlled, s/he is unlikely to feel s/he can speak up plainly. In this case, though, the feedback loop has negative consequences: as avoidance increases, partner dominance is likely to increase as well, which is detrimental for the relationship. A trained facilitator can still use this loop to advantage by decreasing avoidance (i.e., helping a partner clearly express wants and needs), which allows the “dominating” partner to step back.
As you can see, just the information contained in this one section of the report tells me a lot about the couple – about each partner, about the relationship, and about where I can make suggestions for change. Like the entire PREPARE/ENRICH Assessment, this section is not about who is to blame or how one person is wrong. Both partners are involved in problem creation and maintenance, as well as resolution and improvement. The information about Relationship Dynamics helps me know how to help the couple make changes to strengthen and improve their relationship – that’s what it’s all about!
Do you recognize any of these feedback loops in couples you work with or in your own relationship? Whether you are a therapist like Dr. Bryan, a pastor, a PREPARE/ENRICH Facilitator, or a couple who took it, understanding how these dynamics interact with each other can help you to understand yourself and your relationship on a deeper level.