Krista Jordan, Ph.D., ABPP
PACT Level III candidate
“He doesn’t find me attractive,” she lamented, eyes cast downward toward his shoes.
My interest as this couple’s therapist was piqued: the woman before me could easily be mistaken for a model. I turned to him and said, “Tell her what you find attractive about her.”
After an uncomfortable pause, he offered, “I like her hair; it’s dark.”
I felt confused. What about her eyes? Lips? She looked even more dejected, focusing intently on the carpet. “What else?” I queried.
He seemed to be searching for a lost item. “Um, her back is really toned.”
I could see her collapsing further, the corners of her mouths starting to droop. “What about her face?”
He paused. “Um, I like her eyes. They’re kind.”
I began to wonder if we had stumbled upon a deficit. I turned to him and said, “Describe your daughter’s face.”
“She has dark hair, and it’s long. And she’s lanky, tall.”
I turned to his wife and asked, “Does he think your daughter is pretty?”
“Oh yes!” she exclaimed.
I locked eyes with her and said, “He can’t describe her face, just as he can’t describe yours. His brain doesn’t do that well. That’s a deficit.” I explained that his brain does not lock onto facial features, and that has nothing to do with her.
She brightened and looked at him for the first time since the discussion began. “So you do find me attractive?”
“Yes! I’ve just never been good at describing people.”
I could see affect rising in her, and turned to him. “What’s going on with her?” I asked.
“She’s sad I have this deficit.”
“No,” she said, “I’m sad because I’m thinking of middle school when everyone was getting crushes, but no one paid attention to me. I thought, ‘I’m never going to get married because I’m not pretty enough.’ In college, I finally got attention. Boyfriends said I was pretty, and I felt maybe I was okay after all. But you never complimented me like that. I dealt with it because you treated me well and I loved you, but it still hurt.”
I turned to him and said, “Do you see the childhood wound?”
“Yes,” he said, moving closer and taking her hand.
“Tell her she’s beautiful,” I said.
He looked right at her and said, “You’re beautiful!”
She still looked like she was holding back a bit, so I asked him, “How did that land?”
“I don’t think she trusts it.”
I said I agreed. “You need to step it up. Tell her how much you love her eyes, her cheeks, her lips.”
He moved in even closer and echoed my words. I saw relief and pleasure in her face, and asked him, “How is she now?”
He said, “She looks a lot better. Happier!”
When this couple left the session arm in arm, they both had a completely new narrative for their past seven years. They also had a new map to navigate this territory in the future. They had shared an experience that was reparative to both of them. He felt understood rather than judged, and felt empowered to do better by his partner with his newfound knowledge. She felt loved in a way that was reparative of a deep childhood wound that no one meeting her today could have guessed existed.
Without using PACT, I would not have been able to facilitate this beautiful transaction. PACT has taught me to look for deficits as well as defenses, and to generate hypotheses about why people act as they do. I test my hypotheses using interactions I can see and track right there in the session. Finally, and most powerful of all, I then share the data I gathered with the couple who just experienced the event. I show them that “the devil is in the details.” With those details, couples who were lost in misplaced narratives about why their relationships were failing can finally heal, and can do so while maintaining the dignity of both parties.