Therapists’ Blog

Welcome to our Therapists’ Blog, where we post insights and innovative techniques for couples therapists. Just scan and click to read the articles below, choose by category on the bottom right, or use the search box above. You can also sign up to receive these by email by providing your name and email address in the boxes to the right.

Couples Therapy: Confronting a Stuck, Betrayed Partner

Couples therapy with one partner who is stuck.For this blog, I’d like to address a common challenge in couples therapy:  how to confront a betrayed partner who remains in a victim position long after infidelity has been revealed. This situation is hard for therapists because the client seems to be a “legitimate victim” of outrageous behavior, when the spouse has had a long-term affair or lied in destructive ways. When I’ve surveyed therapists about stuck infidelity cases, they  expressed it like this.How do I help each partner recognize their role in the dynamic that contributed to the deception? How do I deal with the deceived person possibly “using the betrayal for leverage or punishment”?… Read more...

Confrontation Transcript: Disrupting Hidden Symbiosis

couples therapy confrontation transcript, disrupting hidden symbiosisTherapists who train with me know to look for symbiosis and understand how symbiosis impedes the tremendous growth potential that exists in any couples relationship. Sometimes symbiosis is obvious because a couple has been stuck there for a very long time. Other times it is more disguised. Below you will read a transcript from a session with a couple deciding whether or not to get married. In this couple, the female partner acts as if she is the more mature grounded partner. She is decisive where her boyfriend is anxious and conflicted. In this session I decided to confront her hidden “stuckness.” She had been dancing around his requests for several weeks.… Read more...

Confrontation Video: Challenging Hypocrisy

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couple in therapy confronting hypocrisyWith certain presenting problems, it’s obvious that some confrontation will be required. For example, the denial associated with drugs, alcohol or gambling addiction will inevitably require confrontation from either you or the spouse. Also, the major lies and deceptions that happen with infidelity are often obvious in calling for confrontation. However, there are some more subtle patterns, like symbiosis and regression, that also take skillful confrontation. Long ago I realized it would be impossible to do successful couples work without confronting the consequences of these behaviors. Without becoming skillful at disrupting symbiosis and recognizing and challenging regression, couples work will just skim the surface.… Read more...

Confrontation Transcript: Indecision After Infidelity

Unhappy couple in therapyMoving along in our series on confrontation, I wanted to share a series of confrontations  made by my husband, Peter Pearson, during a 90-minute session with a couple facing indecision after infidelity. Observe how his confrontations move from softer to more intense. Jeff and Julie came for their first session after being married for 40 years. Jeff was in the midst of an affair and Julie was very depressed. Jeff was severely conflicted. Should he stay married or go with Clara, his new love?  He was also “shopping” for therapists and had already been to several. Jeff was approaching his indecision from a passive, but painful position.… Read more...

Six Types of Confrontation and How the Cycle of Confrontation Unfolds

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couple in therapyConfrontation skills did not come naturally to me. When I was growing up, if I had issues with my sister or my mother, my father sent me to my room  saying, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” As a therapist, it took concerted effort for me to learn how to be nice and make effective confrontations at the same time. I had to learn how to make incisive confrontations or watch couples repeat the same negative patterns over and over. To be effective, you must be able to hold up a mirror so that partners can see (and recognize non-defensively) what they are doing and how they are getting in their own way.… Read more...

Are You Smarter Than a Fox?

killdeerHave you heard of the Killdeer? No, it’s not a mammal, but an amazing bird from the sandpiper family. The Killdeer do not build much of a nest. They lay their eggs in a nest on rocky ground areas. This makes them especially vulnerable to predators like foxes. So, the very smart killdeer developed special behavioral adaptations to protect the nest. What could this have to do with skillful confrontation in couples therapy?… Read more...

Couples Therapy Lessons From Tennis Camp

Pete and Ellyn at Tennis CampRecently I took a long weekend to go to The Tennis Congress with Pete. For a long time, I’d wanted to know  how top-level tennis players think. So, off we went to Tucson, Arizona for 3 days of instruction, both on and off the courts.  I loved the off-court instruction because the lessons were so parallel to what I believe about good couples therapy.… Read more...

How to Restore Momentum When Clients Evade Your Questions

Clients who evade your questionsMy recent series, Losing Control, Direction or Momentum in Couples Therapy, stimulated so many comments and notes of appreciation that I’ve been thinking even more about those situations – and what can be done about them. I started thinking about another common process that results in losing momentum. It’s when one partner blocks and evades communication with you.… Read more...

Losing Direction: With Narcissistic or Demanding Partners

Direction-imageIt is awfully easy to lose direction when working with narcissistic partners in couples therapy. They bring a dominant energy into the session and often make demands on you as well as their partners. They may have a loudly articulated direction they want you to go. My husband Pete likes to say, “they need what they don’t want and want what they don’t need – and don’t know the difference.”… Read more...

Losing Direction: When Intimacy Avoiders Lead You Astray

Direction-imagePartners who desperately want intimacy often push it away. It’s easy to lose direction with them. They demand more openness from their partners but then deflect, attack or give double messages when their partners are more open.… Read more...
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