From Reactivity to Relational Empowerment in Couple Therapy: Insights from Interpersonal Neurobiology

  • Mona DeKoven Fishbane
Part of the European Family Therapy Association Series book series (EFTAS)


While falling in love is easy, nurturing long-term love over time can be challenging. Distressed couples often get caught up in cycles of reactivity, each blaming the other. Emotionally dysregulated, each partner’s attempt at self-protection may agitate the other. This chapter, informed by neuroscience and relationship science, explores the interpersonal neurobiology of couple reactivity. Interventions are offered to transform the couple vulnerability cycle, helping partners “get meta” to their own process, bring prefrontal thoughtfulness to emotional reactivity, enhance emotion regulation, and reach for their best self in difficult moments. Rather than being driven by the automaticity of old relational habits and their emotional brains, partners can have choice; rather than being victims of each other, they can become authors of their own response and co-authors of the relationship. Specific techniques for cultivating relational empowerment are explored, including emotion regulation, self-responsibility, shifting from a linear view to a circular view of interactions, and empathy. The dynamics of habits and change are addressed, with interventions to promote relational change. In this work, ethics meets neurobiology, as clients are helped to live according to their higher values and cultivate proactive loving.


Interpersonal neurobiology Emotion dysregulation Emotion regulation Empathy Vulnerability cycle Neuroplasticity Couple reactivity Habits Change Proactive loving 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mona DeKoven Fishbane
    • 1
  1. 1.Chicago Center for Family HealthChicagoUSA

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