Ellyn Bader

I’ve been highlighting ways I’ve used Initiator-Inquirer when working with couples who have experienced infidelity. Recently I shared a role play with a couple we called Logan and Marta. I demonstrated how I might work with Marta, who had been cheated on in the Initiator role. You can find that exchange right here.

Now today, I’m going to shift to the part of the role play demonstrating how I might work with the other partner, Logan, in his role as the Inquirer. I began by feeding him a question:


Ellyn:Can you ask her to tell you what it's like to be tracking you?
Logan:Can you tell me what it's like to be tracking me?
Marta:Oh my God! It's exhausting, because it's not how I want to be, and I would hate it if you were tracking me. And so, like every minute of every day I'm trying to figure out, am I going to look at your phone or am I not? Am I going to look at your computer or am I not? And I mostly don't. But then I keep going back and forth. It's so exhausting.
Logan:That sounds exhausting.
Ellyn:There's a part of you that can really get that it’s wearying and exhausting, is that right?
Logan:Yeah. And you know, of course, I don't want her to have to do that and she's right I would never, I wouldn't spend my time that way.
Ellyn:So, you wouldn't want to spend your time that way.
Ellyn:And you can understand that she doesn't want to spend her time that way. Do you understand that she isn't sure yet that you will handle the part of you that lied to her?
Logan:I want us to just move on, no, I don't think I totally understand that because at some point I think we just have to…
Ellyn:It's not that simple. It would be really nice if it was. It'd be really great. But there was a part of you that was able to lie and hide and I don't think that part has faced himself yet. Like how come, and what made it easier? I know there were things in the relationship that we've talked about but for you, what makes it a choice to lie?
Logan:Do I have to talk about that now?
Ellyn:You don't have to talk about it right this minute, but I wonder how you feel as I'm holding up that mirror.
Logan:I think that's where I want to just solve the problem and not have to really spend all that much time there. It makes a lot of sense to me when we talked about how she's participated in that because you know, I don't talk about what my feelings are. I don't know, you know.

Ellyn:See, my guess is that you're starting to feel a little bit anxious since I'm holding up that mirror. And maybe it would feel a lot easier to talk about what’s going on between the two of you rather than face more difficult feelings.

I know what I'm bringing up is a challenge. So maybe you could just say back to her, “I hear what you're saying, and Ellyn is right, this is scary for me.”

Logan:I hear what you're saying, and this is where it gets scary for me.
Ellyn:And how was that for you to be that honest with her right now?
Logan:It's different from what we're used to doing. Usually, I would just not really do that. So, it feels very new, different.
Ellyn:New and different. And it's exactly this kind of new and different that's going to start making a real difference in your partner being able to let go of monitoring you and you being able to come forward and talk about what really was going on.
Marta:Come off it! Quit coddling him. This is ridiculous, I don't care that he's scared, that's ridiculous.
Ellyn:Well, you may not care that he's scared but I know one thing, you care about him not lying to you.
Marta:Well, yeah, but he should just do that. That's part of being a good partner.

Ellyn:But you know what? He's not ready, he hasn't been ready for that. You may have a fantasy about what your relationship is going to be like, and how you want him to be. But who he really is, is not that fantasy.

You see, he comes to your relationship with his own issues, just like you do. And I don't know enough about his history yet, but I do know that some part of him learned early on to protect himself by not being direct with women. And I don't know if that's his mom. I don't know where that comes from, but I know that it's been scary for him to be direct with you. And unless we can create the space in this room to find out what that's about, and why it's scary, and until you learn how to hear things that are hard for him to say, you guys will keep repeating the same pattern.

Marta:Yeah. That's what I'm scared of.
Ellyn:Yeah. And for good reason. So, your fear is right. Your fear is in reality right now. And what's good about what you did today is you took a real step forward because you brought it out in the open. Now the hard part is going to be next week when he initiates something about why telling the truth is tough for him, and you and I will need to find a way to hear where that resides in him.
Marta:Yeah. I'm not excited about that.
Ellyn:(to Marta) But I know you're not excited about future infidelity either.
Ellyn:Sometimes you have to go through really hard things to prevent what would be even worse.

When I’m working with a couple like this, and when it's hard to get through and one person just wants to put it all on the other person, I’m always looking for ways to help them understand that I get it, and I’m on their side. I’m always trying to communicate that, to be effective in a relationship you have to be able to listen, and you have to get to the place where you can be open, or the relationship will never progress.

Our “I to I” guide cards provide coaching and reminders for couples learning and practicing the Initiator-Inquirer communication process. The cards come in packs of 25 so that you can give them away as you teach your couples this powerful process.

For more information or to order them click “I to I” Guide Cards.

I’m interested in your reactions. Do you have questions or comments? Please share them below.


Ellyn Bader, Ph.D., is Co-Founder & Director of The Couples Institute and creator of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. Ellyn is widely recognized as an expert in couples therapy, and since 2006 she has led innovative online training programs for therapists. Professionals from around the world connect with her through internet, conference calls and blog discussions to study couples therapy.

Ellyn’s first book, "In Quest of the Mythical Mate," won the Clark Vincent Award by the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists for its outstanding contribution to the field of marital therapy and is now in its 18th printing. She has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News," and she has been quoted in many publications including "The New York Times," "The Oprah Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan."

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Joanna Parker
Joanna Parker
11 months ago

Wow! I found that so helpful. I can understand where staying with Logan and his reticence to go to difficult places is important, and how here you intimated that next week, you expected him to address it; but, how you worked with Marta was incredibly artful. I really need to sit with that, let that seep in to my therapist mind. Thank you!

11 months ago

Marvelous exchange with Marta after her “coddling” interjection. Great that she got riled up enough to say that out loud. Great that Ellyn’s gentle-but-tough confrontation (“But you know what?”) helped Marta to tolerate hearing where their work would have to go.

A Glossary of Terms that are sometimes Confusing

Couples Therapy is a counseling procedure that seeks to improve the adjustment of two people who have created an interdependent relationship. There are no standard procedures to help two people improve their adjustments to each other. Generally, a more experienced therapist will offer more perspectives and tools to a couple. Length of treatment will depend on severity of problems, motivation and skills of the therapist. A couple can be dating, living together, married or separating and may be gay, lesbian or heterosexual.

Marriage Therapy is a term often used interchangeably with marriage counseling. The term marriage implies two people have created a union sanctioned by a government or religious institution. The methods used in marriage counseling, marriage therapy and couples therapy are interchangeable and depend more on the specific challenges of each unique couple.

Psychotherapy is one or more processes to help improve psychological and emotional functioning. Examples are psychoanalysis, cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, Gestalt therapy, Transactional Analysis, Rational-Emotive therapy, or group therapy. Many forms of psychotherapy are blends of different approaches. For example, newer forms of psychotherapy called energy psychology draw upon recent advances in brain and neuroscience. These approaches often build on cognitive behavioral methods.

Clinical Psychologist. After graduating from college, it usually takes about five years of graduate school to get a Ph.D. in Psycholgy. It then requires an additional two years of supervision and passing a written (and often) an oral exam. There are a few states that allow psychologists to prescribe medications (with additional training) but that is uncommon.

Psychiatrist. After graduation from medical school, there is a generally a 4-year psychiatric residency. After the completion of this training, psychiatrists must pass an exam issued by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to obtain certification and legally practice in the field. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications.

Clinical Social Worker. This profession usually requires two years of study after obtaining an undergraduate degree. While specific licensure requirements vary by state, most require clinical social workers to obtain 3,000 hours or 2 years of supervised clinical experience, after obtaining a Masters degree. Social workers can also specialize in diverse fields such as human services management, social welfare analysis, community organizing, social and community development, and social and political research.

Marriage and Family Therapist. Obtaining this license requires a Masters degree which takes approximately two years of post graduate study. The license also requires 3000 hours of supervised work and passing written exams.

The Couples Institute. We have assembled a group of top notch therapists at The Couples Institute. Whatever marriage help or marriage advice you are looking for, we are here to serve you. While most other therapists see only a few couples a week, we specialize in marriage and couples relationships, working to develop and bring you the most current and effective approaches to couples therapy. For more information about couples therapy or marriage counseling, see our couples therapy section.