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Tennessean Article About Rod for Valentine's Day 2008

Dr. Love keeps marriage sparks alive
Therapist teaches couples that relationships are about more than candy and flowers
By LEON ALLIGOOD • Staff Writer •


Opening scene: panning shot of picturesque church followed by a wide shot of subject in his office, seated at a long table, facing a bank of windows.

The place where Dr. Love — not his real name, we'll get to that later — normally does his thing is St. David's Episcopal Church, high on a hill in West Meade.

Except  for Valentine's Day. Then he takes his relationship-righting crusade to the University School of Nashville for a one-night gig.

And, verily, those in need of a tune-up of the heart (the romantic kind, not the ka-thumping kind) show up by a steady stream of twos to learn or, in many cases, be reminded how to reconnect with their spouse.

Basic human relationship stuff.Knowledge you'd think homo sapiens would have mastered long since our knuckles stopped dragging the ground.

But we never learn, Dr. Love says assuredly. "We're human."

Cue music: "The way we were" by Barbara Streisand.

The 'Imago' explained

His real name is Rod Kochtitzky (Ko-TITZ-kee). But just call him Rod, master of divinity, with additional graduate training in psychotherapy.

That Dr. Love thing? Well, it was just a writer-ly lure, a device to get you interested in what the man has to say about why we fall in love, what we don't understand about this intricately complex subject and how couples can reignite their relationships on this, the day of hearts.

The first thing you need to know about Rod is that he, too, has loved and failed.

"I really want to understand myself and understand how to be less reactive in all of my relationships," he says.

It's all about understanding that blessed ignorant time when we're falling in love.

Rod is an adherent of Imago Relationship Therapy, a movement that stemmed from the work of Harville Hendrix, a pastoral psychologist who wrote the 1988 book Getting the Love You Want, A Guide for Couples.

Imago is Latin for image, or likeness.

In a psychological application, Rod notes, our imago (soft "i"-ma-go; accent on "ma") is what we project in order to find a mate.

"You literally have a radar inside of you that's out there looking. You're projecting your imago, your image that's an amalgamation of your primary caregivers, particularly the ways you got loved," he says.

But here's the kicker: In terms of romantic fireworks, our imagos blind that part of our brain that tells us "Who-a-a-a-a."

"It's not our rational minds picking our partners. It's our unconscious/subconscious mind that's picking our partners."

That explains how two otherwise rational people might, on a love-drunk whim, exchange vows and then have a public breakup a month or so later. Any celebrity couple(s) come to mind?

But this is news even commoners can use, Rod says.

For instance, everybody knows opposites often attract.

"You see what's missing in you. That's why together, that your halves make a whole and you have that wonderful feeling of finding that other half, or your soul mate, an idea that goes back all the way to Plato, and the idea of yin and the yang, the whole thing of completion," he notes.

The bottom line of the good therapist's message is this: "It's illusions that bring us together."

"The more you habituate, whether you move in together or whether you get married, the bubble pops, and you're going to end up in a power struggle and having to deal with each other's real persons. That's when the magic starts to wear out. The honeymoon's over."

Cue music: "He stopped loving her today" by George Jones.


Understand power struggle

Rod rises from the table and crosses to a couch, where his stash of bottled water is hidden underneath. The couch is where couples usually sit when they come to see him. On therapy days he sits in a 6-year-old graphite gray Herman Miller Aeron Chair that is his pride and joy.

Rod has brown eyes and his hair has gone salt and pepper. He's a native Nashvillian. His father was a beloved physician for many years. He's 54 now and, upon first glance, exudes a professorial air, but he's not a pontificating know-it-all.

Well, he knows a lot and tells a lot, but not as an overlord of the lectern, more as an energetic tour guide for couples as he leans back thoughtfully, and comfortably, in his Aeron.

Where do lovebirds make their first mistake?

The question falls on his face like a pebble in a pond, yielding ripples of information.

"I think it's the lack of awareness. What is natural to do is to fall in love and end up in a power struggle. You can't do anything about that. It's what's going to happen. It's what is.

"The mistake couples make is ending it there, just staying stuck in that power struggle. I think it takes some kind of outside help, whether it's reading a book — there's lots of them out there — or seeing a therapist-slash-coach, or minister, or doing a program in your church."

Seeking help "raises awareness of the unconscious forces that are going on in the relationship," he says.

Unfortunately, he notes, most couples do not seek help, ergo many marriages in the United States end up in divorce. Some number crunchers say the divorce rate is as high as 51 percent, which Rod holds as true. Others argue the figure is lower.

Regardless, a New York Times analysis of census data indicated that in 2005 married couples became a minority of all American households for the first time.

Rod contends many couples who stay together end up in "parallel relationships."

"We get a kid between us or we're vested in work or other things, and that's what stabilizes the relationship. It's not really intimate or connected. It becomes functional more than passionate.

"A real relationship of deep commitment and intimacy is a rare thing. If it's happened it's because the couple has done something to make it happen. It doesn't happen naturally," he says.

Cue music: "What's love got to do with it" by Tina Turner.


Couple gets refresher

In his role as a marriage counselor, Rod usually sees couples in therapy sessions or at two-day retreats he offers. The Valentine's Day program is structured differently. Obviously, in an hour and a half he can't touch on all aspects of love and relationships that would normally be covered in several months of meetings or in a retreat.

"But what I want to do is to give folks a place where they can make a deeper connection than they might make on their own. It brings an experience of connection that will hopefully help the couple to have a deeper experience beyond hearts and flowers," he says.

This is the third year the Valentine's Day program has been offered. If tonight's program is like the previous two, many of the faces will be familiar. About one-third are former clients who come for a relationship refresher, Rod says.

Will and Lacey Steih of Franklin, who are parents of two boys, 5 and 3, are typical. The couple — he's a CPA, she's a "24/7 mom" — has been married for seven and a half years. They got to know Rod and his practice several years ago when they sought him for counseling. They have attended the Valentine's Day event as a relationship refresher and used the program to introduce friends and family to him.

"For me, and Lacey echoes this, Rod is somebody who personally and professionally has attached himself to a philosophy that he utilizes in his own marriage. Knowing that was an affirming and validating experience," Will noted.

"He's not just telling you how to help your relationship, he's telling you how he's used this in his own life."

Rod says if he didn't practice it at home, he couldn't preach it.

It all begins with understanding the emotional centers of the brain and how much they control our reactions.

"It's where all the arguments come from, where all the name calling comes from, where all the destructive things that we all end up doing in relationships. It's why they happen," he says.

Couples must learn "to talk rather than act out. It's the acting out that destroys our love. It's the talking about them and working through them that gets us connected in a more meaningful way," he says.

Who knows, he says, when two people learn to talk there's hope that "cities and nations, maybe even the world, could listen to one another."

So talk, don't fight.


Feel the good vibes.

Peace out.

Cue music: "Still the One" by Orleans.
Fade to black.

Contact Leon Alligood at 259-8279 or lalligood@tennessean.com.


Leo AlligoodGenerations An eclectic discourse about life and the journeys we follow
Report item as: (required) X Comment: (optional) Interview with a marriage counselor Interview with a marriage counselor Posted 2/13/2008 5:30 PM CST on Tennessean.com


Staff Writer

Recently, I interviewed marriage counselor Rod Kochtitzky about a Valentine’s Day program he hosts each year at University School of Nashville. I found what he had to say about marriage and love to be interesting so thought I’d include a portion of the text of the interview.

Subject: Rod Kochtitzky

Interviewed Feb. 5, 2008, at his office in St. David’s Episcopal Church in West Meade.

Bio info:  He grew up in Nashville. Completed his undergraduate degree at Sewanee and then completed graduate work at General Theological Seminary and at the Institutes of Religion and Health, a program for ministers who want to become psychotherapists. He returned to Nashville in 1991.

How long have you been offering the Valentine’s Day program?
“This is the third year.”

 What prompted it?
“The national movement. The program got initiated by Imago International, which is a consortium of therapists and lay public that are furthering the movement of conscious-relating and it comes out of the work of Harville Hendrix who wrote the book, Getting the Love You Want, A Guide for Couples.

“He’s the founder of what is called Imago Relationship Therapy.”

“Imago is Latin for image, or likeness. It goes back to Freud, who talked about the ‘parental imago,’ and how we introject our parents to stabilize what he called the ego and the id, the more primitive parts of us (so) we become good citizens.

“We use the same term for what it is that we project out in order to find a mate. In other words, this is why you fall in love with someone. You literally have a radar inside of you that’s out there looking. You’re projecting your imago, your image that’s an amalgamation of your primary caregivers, the ways you got loved and the ways you got missed. This is why we fall in love.

“It’s not our rational minds picking our partners. It’s our unconscious/subconscious mind that’s picking our partners.”

Is that why opposites attract one another?

“That’s one component of it, that you see in the other what’s missing in you. Because you see that it’s attractive because it represents an incomplete part of your self. That’s why together that your halves make a hole and you have that wonderful feeling of finding that other half or your soul mate that goes back all the way to Plato, and the idea that the yin-yang, the whole thing of completion.

“But the bottom line of all that — romantic love, opposites attracting, finding the other half — it’s illusions that brings us together. The more you habituate, whether you move in together, or whether you get married, the bubble pops and you’re going to end up in a power struggle and having to deal with each other’s real persons. That’s when the magic starts to wear out. The honeymoon’s over.”
 What was the motive for the Valentine’s Day program?

“I think a part of it was the movement trying to find a day to raise consciousness about relationships and their purposes and why they work and why they don’t. Valentine’s Day seemed like a good day to target.

“I found it helpful to provide an experience for couples to connect before going out on what could just be a superficial, maybe even, polarizing kind of evening. You’re doing dinner because you’re supposed to.”

“(It’s) a place where folks can make a deeper connection than they might make on their own. That’s the purpose of this event. I do a little psycho-educational talk about why we fall in love and end up in a power struggle, but then we do a lot of things to get them to affirm one another, to look for the positives in their relationship, finding a way of connecting in that hour and a half before they go out. We make it a social thing, where there’s food, a party kind of atmosphere.

“I really focus on making it an experience. So much of the other things I do are more educational, or more therapeutic, could be more personal. it brings an experience of connection that will hopefully will help the couple have a deeper experience beyond hearts and flowers.”

How many people usually attend?

“We’ve had between 30 to 50 couples come each year. “A third are repeats. People appreciate that opportunity to make that deeper connection and have someone facilitate that connection.”

It’s probably not for a couple on the verge of divorce or those talking to lawyers?

“But it would be for couples who are thinking of talking to lawyers and haven’t and who can come and act ‘as if.’

“That’s the key criteria. You’ve got to be willing to act as if you care, as if you love this person. You don’t have to feel it, but you need to have that attitude of I will do these simple exercises. I will say words of appreciation to my partner. I will look for the best in them.

“What happens is that when someone begins to act ‘as if’ feelings follows actions. So if you want to feel loving again, start acting lovingly. If you wait to feel loving you can wait a long time for that feeling to come. If you start acting that way the feelings, the odds are, are going to happen. That’s a part of what we do, provide the possibility of acting lovingly and then see if the emotions don’t come.”

Where do couples make their first mistakes in their relationships?

“You’re asking where do couples make their first mistake that lead to the disconnection. I think it’s a lack of awareness. I think — and this is why I believe in doing what I do — that what is natural is to fall in love and end up in a power struggle.

“You can’t do anything about that. It’s what’s going to happen. It’s what is.

“If you marry because of love, you’re going to end up in a power struggle with that person, because of the oppositeness, because of what we call that imago match –those unconscious forces that are drawing you together.

“The mistake couples make is ending it there, just staying stuck in that power struggle. I think it takes some kind of outside help, whether it’s reading a book (there’s lots of them out there) or seeing a therapist-slash-coach or minister, or doing a program in your church. It raises your awareness to the unconscious forces that are going on in the relationship.

“I think it’s that awareness that can change everything. Without that awareness my experience is if you . . . well, let me put it this way, 51% of all first marriages end in divorce. I think out of the other 49 or 50% that stay married I think the vast majority of them end up in a parallel relationship.

“A real relationship of deep commitment and intimacy is a rare thing. If it’s happened it’s because the couple has done something to make it happen. It doesn’t happen naturally.”

What’s a parallel relationship?

“It’s when we get out so far and we create parallel lives. We get a kid or two between us and we’re vested in work or other things and that’s what stabilizes the relationship. It’s not really intimate and not really connected. It becomes functional, more than passionate. What is normal is divorce or this parallel relationship.”

So is the therapist off the hook? Does this apply to your marriage?

(laughing) “If you want to talk to my wife, you can get the real skinny. No, in fact that’s why I believe in this. I have been married twice. It was the failure of my first marriage that really attracted me to this, to really understand my part in the failure of that marriage. I did not want to do that again. I have used the principles of what we call conscious relating. There’s a tool kit you can get to unlock what we call the fright/flight mechanism, where that more primitive part of our brain. . .

(He holds fist up to represent the brain.)

“This is your spinal cord. (Pointing to arm.) This is your first part of your brain (pointing to wrist). It parallels the brains of reptiles. It connects to the brain stem. The reptilian brain is where that fight/flight response is. All reptiles have it. All reptiles have one part to their brain and it’s the equivalent of our brain stem. This second layer is called the amygdala and that’s the part that parallels mammals. What separates humans from reptiles and mammals are feelings and emotions. Humans have the cortex that encases what we consider to be that old brain.

“What we’ve learned is that the relational agenda gets scripted in the first four or five years of your life in relationships to your primary caregivers and how your needs get met. Early needs are food, touch and attention. How they got met got imprinted in this primitive part of your brain where the fight/flight response is, where feelings and emotions are registered. Your second developmental layer has to do with intimacy, closeness, distance and freedom. It’s where toddlers go because they have mobility. They want more distance and freedom but they also need the safe environment.

“The third developmental stage is identity. And I could go on.

“All those developmental issues get scripted in this primitive old brain. This becomes the foundation of your imago, which you project out in order to find a partner. So inevitably that partner is going to trigger your fight/flight response in your emotions and when they do you’re going to flip your lid and your cortex goes off line and you start reacting out of this (the ‘reptilian’) part of your brain. When you have two people reacting out of this they can’t connect.

“You’ve got this fight/flight emotional centers that are rooted in our unconscious and that’s where all the arguments come from, all the name calling comes from. Where all the destructive things that we all end of doing in relationships. It’s why they happen.”

“When you learn to master these parts of your brain and to begin to talk rather than act out, that’s when progress in the relationship can be made. It’s the acting out that destroys our love. It’s the talking them out and working them through that gets us connected in a more meaningful way.”

“I have been using this work in my relationships -- keeping our lids down and finding ways to help us do this.”

How long have we understood these connection issues?

“That’s a good one. I do a whole shtick on the history of marriage.  I tell them that marriage began tens of thousands of years ago as serial monogamy in a tribal context. OK, that’s how it got started. It existed that way until about 70,000 years ago. Tribes were living close enough to one another that in order to keep the peace they began to intermarry and that’s how monogamy started. We’ve only been monogamous for 70,000 years.

“Come up to about 15,000 years ago and that’s where we moved from tribalism toward individualism, it’s the birthing of creation of city states, and oligarchies. Democracy as we know it and the foundation of every major religion has its roots in this birthing of individualism and the unit moved from tribe to the family.

“Families arranged marriages up until the 1600s and 1700s. In Western Europe in the 1600s and 1700s people started picking their own partners, which is blossoming more toward individual rights. They didn’t do it out of love. They did it for the same reasons as their parents had, social economics, prestige, dowries, all of that.

“It’s only been 200 years that we’ve been marrying because of love, being in love.”

“If you could rearrange all time into one calendar year, marriage because of love has been going on the equivalent of one minute before midnight on Dec. 31.”

“That’s how much time has gone on before in comparison to this little bitty blip this 200 years represents. This is really, really, really a new thing.”

Why is this movement so important to you?

“If two people can co-exist and treat each other with mutual respect and admiration and not get caught up in the fight/flight center of the brain then we can have cities, nations, maybe even a world that could listen to one another. That’s the vision.”

Do you see a difference in couples from different generations who come to you for counseling?

“I get two clusters. The first cluster are couples in their late 40s and their early 50s who are going through the empty nest or are approaching it and they have the financial resources to do something about it. They realize their marriage is at a crisis. They don’t have the kids to hold them together. That’s probably my biggest cluster.

“My second is people in their 30s before kids. I get a lot of people in their 30s, most of them DINKs (double income, no kids). They see the handwriting on the wall and they’re wondering why are they going to have children if they have this much animosity. They’re coming in to see if they should stay together or break up.”

“For the younger couples it becomes terrifying when they realize they are about to bring a third entity into this relationship and their relationship is really a mess. It’s really sobering when they reach that 30-35 mark and that urge to procreate and the biological clock is ticking.”