EcCT: Your relationships live in the space between you and your partner and that space is sacred – Martin Buber

© Jorgan Harris.

1. Introduction

EcCT is a powerful new way of marital therapy. Although it is nothing new, it is still new in the sense that EcCT is looking in a fresh way at the interaction between two people in a certain relationship. This model was developed by Hedy Schleifer, who is making use of a strong metaphorical model for people in a relationship to communicate effectively in order to solve problems between them effectively.

It is their premise that there is not a problem between the two members of a couple. The couple is not the problem. The problem is rather seen as a mystery to be solved.

It is also about a relationship between two adult persons where two individuals help each other to behave like adults to become more mature. These two persons are allies of one another’s best growth and transformation.

2. The core components of EcCT

EcCT consists of a few key components or as Hedi Schleifer calls it: invisible connectors.

The first component is the so-called relationship space.

Our relationships are living in the space between us. It does not live in me and it does not live in you. It lives in the space between us. It does not have to be the proverbial elephant between us. There is a space between us and this space is sacred. Problem-solving takes place in this specific space.

The problem in any relationship is not the problem of the husband or the wife. The problem lies within the interaction between two people in a specific relationship.

However, this sacred space can consciously be sullied by anger, criticism, disappointment, blaming, recriminations and so on.

When this space is uncomfortable, it becomes dangerous. Most people, when they enter this space, fight each other or they withdraw from each other.

A fight or a quarrel is just as effective as a hail storm on a farmer’s farm. It is not helping the farmer to try anything to avoid the hail storm. It also doesn’t help him to try to fight it. In the end, the farmer can’t do anything but hiding in his house watching his entire crop being destroyed by the hail storm.

The harder the words, the harder the hail falls. A fight does not resolve anything – it just continues to ruin the harvest. The more people in a specific relationship fight, the more powerless they become against the hailstorm and the more they defend themselves, or the more they attack one another, the less they listen to what the other one is saying. Therefore, the entire crop becomes destroyed.

However, the good news is that there is something else you can do.

The second component is your precious neighbourhood

Both partners come from different neighbourhoods with different sets of upbringing. Your separate neighbourhoods are sacred for both partners and your different points of view make sense for each of you. Both of you have your own values, norms and needs in your own respective neighbourhoods. No one is right and no one is wrong. Everybody’s neighbourhood is sacred for him or her. I have in my neighbourhood my home, my things that are important to me, my norms and standards as you are having your own.  There should only be respect for each other’s respective neighbourhoods. As the poet, Rumi puts it: “Between right thinking and wrong thinking, there is a field. I will meet you there”.

The third component is the bridge

To meet each other, there is a bridge to cross and we both have to cross that bridge. Between you and me there does not have to be an elephant. Between you and me there can be a bridge of meeting without us having to understand each other’s landscapes.

There is a bridge between our respective neighbourhoods. You will have to cross that bridge to experience the neighbourhood of your loved one. You invite your beloved to cross the bridge to visit your precious neighbourhood. When your partner crosses the bridge, he or she has to leave his or her own baggage on his or her side of the bridge. You are leaving your own issues on your side of the bridge and you are crossing the bridge literally naked and stripped of all your prejudices. You meet your partner in his or her neighbourhood with the utmost respect in an effort to better understand his or her world. There is an Arab proverb that says: Before you cross the gate to your partner, ask yourself: “Is it necessary, is it friendly, is it true?”

On the other side of the bridge, you will not necessarily explore new landscapes, but you will learn to see old landscapes with new eyes.

And of course, your partner has to cross the same bridge to your neighbourhood with the same intentions.

3. Practical application of EcCT

You love each other. It is after all, why you are together. When you talk, sit close to one another. Look each other in the eyes. This is what lovers normally do. Just look for a moment at that amazing person in front of you who is willing to share his or her life with you. Look at the landscape in your partner’s eyes. Become aware of his or her need to love unconditionally and to be loved unconditionally. Even if there is fear or hatred in your partner’s eyes, you can still be a witness of love in your partner’s eyes. Take a deep breath. Relax. Without having to say a word, say with your eyes: “I love you”. Say with your eyes: “thank you for coming over the bridge and thank you for wanting to work on our problem.”

Hold hands. After all, this is what people who are in love are doing. There is much more to it than only holding hands. By holding hands, something happens in your central nervous system. We remember more what our partner is telling us when we hold hands, rather than just to focus on our own point of view.

Tell each other now your wildest dreams for your relationship. Where do you want to go with your relationship? You do not focus on the problem, but on the solution and on your dreams for and with each other.

Invite one another to your respective neighbourhoods. Prepare your place for your partner. Make it sacred. Thank your partner for accepting your invitation to your neighbourhood. You can put your partner at ease by telling him or her that you are there without issues and baggage, by saying, “I am here. Just here. I have walked across the bridge and I have left my luggage behind the bridge”. Thank your partner for leaving his or her baggage behind. Now it is your turn to visit his or her neighbourhood.

In this sacred space, you listen. You listen with your eyes open. You listen with an open heart. You listen as if you are hearing a new language for the first time ever. You can say to your partner: “I hear you are saying … Do I understand you correctly?” When he or she confirms that you’ve heard it right, you can start talking.

Then tell your partner what you have learned from yourself or from him or her. Thank your partner for his or her visit to your neighbourhood and give your appreciation for it.

Take off your shoes, because that space is sacred.