FACES – A sort of Road map for couples

I say sort of road map because I’m not sure if this is how Dan Siegel intended the use of his acronym, FACES.  It is brilliant.  I’m going show you how a couple could use this acronym FACES as a check in about the health of your relationship and with each other during situations and how these features can even be used for individuals. 

Let me start with relationships.  Relationships are largely taken for granted. It’s human instinct after all.  We are similar to other animals.  We meet, we are attracted, we mate, we have babies, we get sick, we get better and eventually we all die.  Except we’re humans.  We are most likely a little bit more sophisticated than most animals – we have houses, we go to shops to buy food or we can grow our own, we need some sort of income to survive in most western cultures, and we have something that we can’t yet prove whether any other animal can have and that is values and beliefs, concepts and ideologies.  That is what sets us apart from dogs apart from the obvious. 

Our mammalian brain connects us and because of our complexities in our human brain that also means when we connect with other humans, having an attraction to each other is most likely not enough to sustain compatible loving relationships.  One could even argue that the initial attracted connection wasn’t love but lust and the hope of potential longevity in the relationship.  Alain de Botton writes about the confusion of our work life and love life,

“In order to survive in the world, we have little option but to spend our lives being rather ‘defended’, that is, at one removed from our more vulnerable sides, closed off from certain emotions, focused – in many cases – on not feeling.

And yet in relationships, quite the opposite is required.  To be good at love means to have a capacity to reveal one’s hurt, desire and tenderness; to know how to be dependent and ready to surrender one’s autonomy to another.  It’s quite a balancing act: great strength for most hours of the day, well-handled tenderness for the few that remain.  It should be no wonder if the journey from independence to vulnerability can get rather fraught – and if the desire for closeness can be accompanied by terror and what looks like (but isn’t really) nastiness.”

It might be handy to have a road map to check in with each other – FACES acronym by Dan Siegel.  If you have a pen handy write this – F is for flexible, A is for adaptable, C is for coherent, E is for energised and S is for Stable.  Pin it somewhere you can see it, like your fridge.

Siegel is very interested in the mind as a self-organising process.  So when the self is at its optimal or in a state of well-being it is in harmony and has the capacity to integrate differences.  These are the five features of FACES.  In other words when couples and individuals are at their optimal self, they are flexible, adaptable, coherent, energised and stable.   Ultimately, this leads to the couple or individual being more receptive rather than reactive.  Whereas, if a couple or individual were not let’s say practicing the features of FACES what would be present? Siegel says, it’s Chaos and rigidity.  Generally, in couples we find there is one of each.  One will resonate more with rigidity and the other with chaos.  Well-being is about integration with differences. So many differences a couple can bring – backgrounds, culture, family values, core beliefs, education and on and on it goes.

Why would I say road map?  Because couples can check in with themselves and each other to see if they are on the right track.  This can be used to check in for the overall health of the relationship or for certain situations.  This is merely a suggestion and it does take commitment and honesty with yourself and your partner.  Let’s see how we can use FACES.

If a situation arises and you’ll know this because you might be lost for words, your heart might start racing, your voice is getting louder, you might feel a wosh of feelings, or you might not even want to talk about it.  This is when you can ask yourself –

Flexible. Am I being flexible?  If it is about boundaries then you need to make the call.  Is it relevant for me to be flexible in this situation?  Or is it about watching a certain tv program on a certain night and your wife wants to watch something else for a change? We can also ask – is my partner being flexible here?  Is it reasonable to ask for flexibility here?

Adaptable. Am I adaptable?  Can I adapt to watching a different program every 2nd week?  Can I adapt about going out with my partners friends?  This can be a bit contentious with couples particularly with partner’s friends and family.  Or is my partner being adaptive with certain situations?  Parenting is another contentious issues with couples.  How do we adapt with each other?

Coherent. Am I coherent? Siegel uses this word from the mathematical term meaning holding well over time or resilient.  I think couples could also use this in thinking of making sense or being sensible.  If I’m not making sense, why not?  Am I being really emotional?  Why am I so emotional?  What does this situation mean to me?  What does this remind me of?  Where else have I felt this way?  Or is my partner being coherent?  We need to be careful here and make sure we are not stepping into being judgemental.  Stay curious and caring.  What could be happening with my partner?  Why is he or she so upset by this?  Sometimes it is hard to be helpful for partners when they are in a heated argument.  But l always say someone needs to step up.  And generally, if there is not too much previous messy arguments one person in the relationship will have the capacity to do this.   Remember this is for the well-being of the couple – that is to have the ability to integrate differences.  We also need to be able to trust each other enough to do this.  Trust also builds in this process.

Energised. Am I energised?  Am I energised about this relationship?  Am I energised to stay present, to stay caring, to stay curious?  Or have I stopped doing these things – if so why?  What happened?  How do I become re-energised about this relationship?  It could be we are in dorsal vagal.  We could be depressed about the relationship.  We could be over fighting or given up and just feel stuck.  We could ask the same with our partner.  Are they energised about the relationship?  Are they willing to work out differences with you? 

Stable. Am I stable?  Can my partner rely on me?  Is there a certain safe predictability about me in this relationship? Can I rely on my partner – is he or she stable?  Has she or he got my back?  Is there a safe predictability about my partner towards me? 

Are we on the right track?

If we just looked at the well-being of the relationship we could ask – Is this relationship flexible, adaptable, coherent, energised and stable?  What area needs some attending to?  This could be the start of many meaningful conversations with your partner.  These are not rushed conversations.  Take your time and discover your differences and be patient with each other on how you learn to integrate them in your life together to lead to harmony in your relationship.

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